Your credit history can make or break you when trying to convince lenders you're a good risk. Here are some simple ways to build the best record you can -- before you need it.
Getting credit when you don't have any -- or when you're recovering from a credit disaster, like bankruptcy -- can be daunting. Without a good credit history, it's hard to get new credit. But without credit, it's tough to build a good credit history. Tough, but far from impossible. Every day, people take steps that establish and improve their image in the eyes of lenders. So can you. Here's what you need to do:
Open a checking and savings account
Having these accounts establishes you as part of the financial mainstream. Lenders want to know you have a checking account available to pay bills, and a savings account indicates you're putting aside something for the future. Opening accounts is something you can do even if you're too young to establish credit in your own name. Until you're 18, you can't legally be held to a contract, so any credit you get will have to be through an adult -- either someone who co-signs a loan for you, adds you to their credit cards or opens a joint account with you. Having you own savings and/or checking accounts, though, gets you started on the right path and gives you practice in managing your money.
Get your credit report -- if you have one
Next, you need to find out how lenders view you. Most base their decisions on credit reports, which are compiled by for-profit companies known as credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major bureaus each year. Typically, a credit report includes identifying information about you, such as your name, address, Social Security number and birth date. The report may also list any credit accounts or loans opened in your name, along with your payment history, account limits and any balances you owe. If you're young or newly arrived in the United States, you may not have a report or it may have little information. If you've had credit problems, your report will list them.
Fix any errors or omissions
Some credit reports include errors -- accounts that don't belong to you or that include out-of-date or misleading information. You should read through each of your three reports and note anything that's incorrect. You may also find that your report doesn't include credit accounts or other information that it should. Negative information, such as late payments, delinquencies, liens, and judgments against you, should be dropped after seven years. Bankruptcies can stay on your report for up to 10 years. Once you have a list of problems, ask the bureaus to investigate errors listed on their reports.