How to Establish Credit When You Have None

Young man shopping in a fancy shopping mall

I was standing at my mailbox in a light snow, hoping for two things: that the snow would stay until Christmas and that I’d find my first credit card acceptance in the day’s pile of envelopes.

This was before the days of online credit applications. I was barely 18 and still in high school, but had recently learned that the length of your credit history is a key part of your credit score. Already taking an interest in finance, I had decided to get a credit card to begin establishing good credit.

That day’s mail was filled with credit card offers (once I applied for a credit card, tons of offers flooded my way) but the only response in today’s letters was another rejection.

I had been rejected by every card I applied to, and I walked back down our long, slippery driveway frustrated at how the game is rigged.

How is anyone supposed to establish credit if getting it requires you already have a credit history?

The solution I eventually found, sometime after our not-so-white Christmas, was a secured credit card through my bank.

I provided a $500 deposit, and they gave me a credit card with a $500 spending limit. After using the card responsibly making regular, on-time payments for months, I reapplied for a rewards credit card and was finally approved.

The secured card let me establish a credit history, and now I was credit worthy.

While my story may seem like it only relates to young people who cannot get a credit card, secured cards provide a good solution for those with a bad credit history too.

Even though secured credit cards are subject to credit approval, you’ll find they are much easier to attain, and having one gives you a way to improve your score. It gives you a chance to prove you are now capable of making regular, on-time payments, while also protecting you from yourself, since your initial deposit will be able to pay up to your credit limit if you accidently charge more than you should.

By the next winter, I was at that same mailbox getting a letter that I was accepted into the finance program at the University of Kentucky. And ironically, in the envelope behind it was a pre-approval offer for a university credit card.

 

Adam Lucas holds a Finance degree and an MBA from the University of Kentucky. His work has appeared in many major outlets including AARP.org and GoBankingRates.com.