Personal Finance 101: Getting Credit Without A Credit Card

Tips and Alternative Solutions to Building Credit

Mark writes in and asks:

I’m 18, and recently applied for a credit card at Citibank. They rejected me on the basis that I have no credit history. I’ve had a savings account at a local bank for nearly my whole life with all of my money in it, and I’ve started budgeting my money for when I go to college in September. So I know how to handle money, and I know all about interest rates and avoiding debt (partly thanks to your blog). Citibank has some of the best credit card deals I could find. But how am I supposed to build credit if I can’t get a credit card in the first place?

pf101Mark actually has several options for building positive credit without his own unsecured credit card. Here are some ways that Mark can build credit in this situation.

Have his parents add his name to their card.

They don’t even have to give him a card, just add his identity as an authorized user on their own card. This will make their card account appear on his credit report and thus he’ll get the benefit of their good management of their card.

Get a secured credit card.

A secured credit card is one where you’ve already paid a certain amount before you get it – say, $250 or $500. Then, each time you use the card, it’s immediately paid out of that money and then you are billed for that amount to replenish the balance. This builds credit, and when you cancel the card, you get the money back.

Make a moderate purchase on a store payment plan.

For example, you could purchase a piece of furniture at a furniture store or an electronic item at an electronics store. Sign up for their payment plan; it’s basically a form of credit. If you have a purchase you’re planning in the near future and already have the cash to pay for it, this is a route worth considering.

Get your student loans.

If you’re 18 and planning on going to college, student loans are likely in your future. Your parents may have to cosign on them, but they’ll be in your name and be a very good source of credit.

All of these options will put you in good shape for the future. One tip: when you start to build credit, you will be inundated with all kinds of offers. Forget them and shred them. If someone sends you an offer in the mail, there’s likely a better one out there that isn’t wasting marketing money on direct mail campaigns.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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