How To Build Credit In The U.S.

By: Nova Credit

If you’ve recently moved to the United States, your foreign credit history from abroad will unfortunately not move with you.

Without a U.S. credit history, it will be difficult to access many services in the U.S., such as credit cards, loans, apartment rentals, and more. You might be charged high interest rates on loans or, even worse, be rejected for products altogether.

Fortunately, there are several ways to begin building a U.S. credit history as soon as you’ve moved. This blog post will discuss various ways to build credit in the U.S. and help guide you to the right option for you:

  1. Use your foreign credit history in the U.S.
  2. Apply for a secured credit card
  3. Become an authorized user on a credit card
  4. Establish a relationship with a U.S. bank
  5. Pay on time and be patient

1. Use your foreign credit history in the U.S.

If you move from certain countries, you might be able to use your existing credit history from abroad to apply for U.S credit cards using a cross-border credit bureau called Nova Credit.

With your consent, Nova Credit can translate your foreign credit data into a U.S. format and share it with lenders when you apply for credit cards, loans, and other products from its partners.

Once approved for a U.S. credit card, you can begin to establish your U.S. credit history by responsibly managing that account. This includes paying off your full credit card balance each billing cycle and keeping your credit utilization low.

You do not even need a Social Security Number (SSN) to get approved for a U.S. credit card and start building your credit history in the U.S. The main U.S. credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, will track and attempt to match your name, birth date, and address to your credit history even if you do not have an SSN.

Nova Credit currently provides this service to newcomers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland, and the U.K.

2. Apply for a secured credit card

If you cannot use your foreign credit history, consider applying for a secured credit card to help build your U.S. credit history. These cards, designed for borrowers who do not yet have a creid history, require you to put down a cash deposit at your bank account or credit union. Your spending limit is generally the amount that you have deposited.

Otherwise, secured credit cards work just like any other credit card. You can use your card online, connect it to mobile apps, and use it in stores. Many secured cards don’t say “secured” on them, and merchants won’t even know that it’s a secured card unless they happen to be familiar with a particular card’s design.

After a few months of making on-time payments on your secured card, you may become eligible for a credit card that doesn’t require a security deposit.

3. Become an authorized user

Another way to begin building credit in the U.S. is to become an authorized user on an existing credit account. Through this approach, you do not apply for a credit card yourself; instead, you are added to an existing open account and will get your own credit card to spend related to that account.

The arrangement is common among married couples, business partners, and parents who add their children as authorized users. However, you don’t need to be related or work with the primary cardholder to become an authorized user.

Once you become an authorized user, the account activity linked to your name will generally be reported to all three major U.S. credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, credit card issuers and credit bureaus have different policies for reporting and using authorized user accounts, so make sure to check with your specific bank.

As long as the primary account holder responsibly manages the account, becoming an authorized user can be a way to accelerate your credit-building journey.

4. Establish a relationship with a U.S. bank

Opening a checking or savings account with a bank may help you in the long run. As you build a relationship with the bank early on, you start signaling financial stability and open up the possibility of getting a credit card or loan with them down the line—both powerful tools to building U.S. credit.

While choosing a bank or credit union, consider your priorities. Does it have accessible ATMs? Does it have good customer service? What about monthly or annual fees?

Look out for banks or credit unions that can accept multiple forms of documentation for immigrants. Stopping by a local bank branch and explaining your situation can sometimes be more effective than applying online because bank agents can often easily check whether or not they can pre-approve you for a card in person.

Note: After you open a checking account, you should be careful to not overdraw as this may negatively impact your U.S. credit report.

5. Be patient and make payment on time

You’ll officially begin building credit in the U.S. as soon as you have a credit product (credit card, student loan, mortgage, etc.) that is being reported to the major U.S. credit bureaus.

Make your payments on time to demonstrate your creditworthiness and build a good credit history. Most providers will let you set up an automatic recurring payment from your checking account to ensure that you don’t fall behind.

Check your credit score regularly and look at credit card offers with a higher credit limit, as these help to keep your utilization low. To help monitor your credit and explore other products, you can use the free credit score and monitoring tools from Credit Karma or NerdWallet (among others).

Keep in mind that it can take multiple years to get back to the credit score that you had in your home country. Be patient, stay on top of responsibly managing your credit accounts, and you will get there in due time.


Having a credit history is critical in the U.S., so make sure you start to build one as soon as you arrive. You can do this by applying for U.S. credit products and responsibility managing them once approved.

Whether or not you’re applying for unsecured credit cards with your foreign credit history, applying for a secured card to get started, or using another approach, make sure to stay diligent and pay on time once you are approved.

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