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How to Qualify for First-Time Cards and Lending

Credit impacts two major and basic consumer credit instruments that most people need when they get started on life’s journey: credit cards and loans. You may think that you know how these instruments work, but things have changed because of regulations like the CARD Act and the financial meltdown that threatened banks with failure due in large part to lax underwriting standards.

Getting a credit card

Getting credit for the first time used to be easy. All you had to do was drive to your nearest gas station and fill out an application for a gas card and then wait for the mail to arrive with your new plastic. If you were a city dweller, the trip may have been on foot to a department store, which would often grant credit on the spot.

Both types of credit were relatively easy to get, and they reported your credit history to the three bureaus so that you built a credit history quickly. More and more department store and gas cards are tightening their standards to reflect tightened credit conditions.

You can try for cards issued by banks that use a national transaction network such as Visa. Though these cards are more versatile and powerful than their earlier counterparts, they’re also harder to get. Getting that first card now requires a new approach.

To begin with, you need a credit history. But how do you get a credit history without credit? Two of the most popular ways are to use someone else’s credit or to use a secured credit card.

Use other people’s credit

In most instances, when you use another person’s credit, the other person is a family member or a person with whom you have an emotional attachment. Why? Because using someone else’s credit can be dangerous to that person if you mess up. Only someone who really likes you is willing to risk helping you get started.

You can piggyback on another person’s credit in two ways. The most popular way is to be added to the person’s account as an authorized user. The other way is to have the person cosign for you.

Become an authorized user

Being named an authorized user on someone’s credit account enables you to have his or her credit history reported on your credit report while you use a card for which the other person is solely financially responsible. The card statement goes to the account owner, she pays the credit card company, you pay the card owner, and the card’s credit history is reported in both your and the owner’s files.

Problems with this approach can arise if the account owner defaults or is late with payments, because then those negative marks go on your credit history, too. Another common pitfall is that you overcharge and the account owner has to ask you for more money than you have available, which can cause a rift between you.

Cosigners

Cosigning on an account is more often than not a recipe for disaster, and it’s not usually recommended. The cosigner’s credit history doesn’t show up on your credit report. Instead, all that shows up is your own payment history. The statement for a cosigned account doesn’t go to the cosigner, so unless you share the information, the cosigner has no idea what’s happening to the account.

Often, the cosigner first hears of a problem when a collector calls and demands an overdue payment. Unfortunately, if you make late payments, the delinquency history appears on the cosigner’s credit report, and negative information stays on the cosigner’s credit history for a full seven years.

If you decide to go the cosigning route, its’ a good idea to commit to paying this bill before almost any other. You also need to have the courage to keep your cosigner informed of any changes in your financial picture, especially if you may be late on a payment.

Using secured cards

A secured card looks and works just like a credit card but is backed by a cash deposit at the bank that issues the card. Typically, your deposit qualifies you for a credit card with a limit equal to that deposit amount.

As a result, limits on secured cards tend to be low, but the real value here is to establish a credit history so that you can get an unsecured card and reallocate your deposit to a better purpose, like your emergency savings account.

You can find and compare secured cards on a number of websites. Two good sources include Bankrate.com and Creditcards.com. You want to balance services, fees, and interest rates to find the best card for you.

Use savings for credit

Most banks are happy to lend you your own money. If you accumulate some savings in a passbook account, you can use the savings to secure an installment loan of the same or a lesser amount. With 100 percent collateral in cash for the loan, the interest rate should be very low. Make sure that the loan is reported to the credit bureaus so that you build your credit.

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