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March 15th 2023

How to get a credit score after moving to the U.S.

We showcase the real story of someone who built a U.S. credit score after arriving from the U.S., and give advice on how you can speed up this credit-building process yourself.

Nova Credit is a cross-border credit bureau that allows newcomers to apply for U.S. credit cards, phone plans, and loans using their foreign credit history.

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Louis DeNicola
Personal Finance Writer

Even though immigrants to the U.S. may have an excellent credit history in their home country, they need to start from scratch to build a U.S. credit score once they move.

In this article, we will discuss how long it takes to build a credit score in the U.S. and will showcase the real story of a person who did so successfully.

Ruby's journey

Starting from zero isn’t easy, but Ruby Escalona took a proactive approach to building credit when she moved from the Philippines to Florida in 2013. Immediately, she realized that establishing a local credit score was a priority. 

“At first, it was because I wanted great credit cards so I could start travel hacking and getting almost free flights to fly back home,” she says. “Then, it moved on to qualifying for a mortgage to own a home of my own.”

Ruby Escalona

Ruby Escalona moved to the U.S. in 2013 and actively took steps to build her credit

Did you know?

You can use your foreign credit history to apply for a U.S. credit card

Credit history used to stop at the border—until now. Your existing foreign credit history could help you get credit in the United States.

How credit scores work in the U.S.

Credit scores and credit history are incredibly important in the U.S. Without a U.S. credit history, it will be difficult to access many products and services, such as credit cards, loans, apartments, and more. You might be charged high interest rates, asked for a high security deposit for a rental or, even worse, be rejected.

While the U.S. credit reporting system may seem daunting, here are the key items to know:

  1. There are three major consumer credit reporting agencies, or “credit bureaus”: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. 

  2. The credit bureaus maintain large databases with consumers’ positive and negative credit information. Most of the data comes from creditors, such as credit card issuers and lenders, that send information to the credit bureaus periodically. The credit bureaus collect public information from the court systems, such as whether someone has declared bankruptcy.

  3. When you apply for a credit product, the financial institution or creditor can request a copy of your credit report from one of the bureaus. The bureau will then try to create a report by matching your identifying information (such as your name, address and Social Security number) with information in its database. The bureau sends this credit report to the creditor.

  4. Creditors can also request a credit score based on that credit report. If it does, a credit scoring model (there are many scoring models in the U.S.) will analyze and score your credit report. The credit can use the credit score and information from your credit report to help decide whether to approve or deny your application and to set your terms.

  5. There are several free credit-monitoring tools like Credit Karma and Annual Credit Report, which will help you check your current credit score and learn how to improve it.

Newcomers to the U.S. struggle to enter this system because of a circular problem. It can be difficult to get approved for a credit account if they don’t already have a U.S. credit history, but they need to open a credit account in order to build that history.

Additionally, credit scoring models have minimum scoring requirements. For FICO® Scores, one of the most widely-used scores, you’ll need to have an account that has at least six months’ worth of history before you are “scorable.”

It can be easier to qualify for a VantageScore credit score, which only requires one month of credit history. However, if the creditor only uses FICO Scores, having a VantageScore might not help open a new account.

Important: You do NOT need a Social Security Number to start your U.S. credit history. Experian and TransUnion will track and attempt to match your name, birth date, and address to your credit history. However, specified personal information like an SSN and ITIN make it easier for credit bureaus to report information accurately.

How to start building credit once you move

If you have moved from certain countries, you can use Nova Credit to apply for U.S. credit products like credit cards, phone plans, and auto loans using your foreign credit history. By managing these credit products responsibly, you will slowly begin to establish your credit history and build a credit score.

If you are not from one of the supported countries for Nova Credit’s services, you can get a credit score in the U.S. using one of the following alternatives:

Open a secured credit card

In most instances, it’s difficult to get a U.S. credit card without a U.S. credit history. When you open a secured credit card, you’ll need to give the issuer a refundable security deposit, which will determine your card’s credit limit. The security deposit reduces the credit card companies’ risk of lending money, which is why it’s easier to get approved. However, be mindful of the interest rate, as they are often considerably higher.

Open a credit-builder loan

A credit-builder loan offers a similar arrangement, but with an installment loan rather than a credit card. You’ll give the lender a refundable security deposit and receive a loan for the same amount. Once you repay the loan, you’ll get your deposit back.

View the Finance tab of our U.S. Arrival Map for some popular credit-builder loan options.

Become an authorized user

If you have a close friend or relative in the U.S., another option may be to become an authorized user on one of their credit cards. Once you’re an authorized user, the credit card company can send you a credit card that’s linked to the other person’s account. The company could start reporting the account’s activity to the credit bureaus with your information, and it may even report the account’s entire history as well.

Ruby did two of these. “I opened a secured credit card at first, and I was lucky because my boyfriend of a few weeks at the time (now husband) was sold on the travel hacking idea and put me as an authorized user on his credit card,” she says.

She adds, “It took me between three to six months after my authorized user addition to get to a score in the 720s. It was enough for me to get pre-qualified for some of the better travel hacking credit cards.”

How to get a great credit score after one year

While it is unpredictable how long it will take to get to a specific credit score, most credit scoring models consider similar factors to determine your score over time. Knowing and focusing on these factors can help you build a good credit history. 

The primary scoring factors are often broken up into several categories:

Payment history

On-time payments can help your scores, while late payments can hurt your scores. Falling further behind on payments can increase the negative impact on your scores.

Credit usage

The current balances on credit cards relative to their credit limits, also known as your credit “utilization ratio” or “utilization rate”. Having low credit card balances is best for your credit scores, while high balances could hurt your scores.  

Credit mix

Having a mix of installment and revolving accounts can show you know how to manage different types of credit, which could be good for your score.

Length of credit history.

Having a longer credit history may be better for your credit scores, as is a higher average age of your accounts. Therefore, you should never close a credit account, as that will impact the average age of credit accounts on your credit report.

Recent applications.

If you apply for a new credit account of your own (not to become an authorized user), a hard inquiry could get added to your credit reports. Hard inquiries can hurt your score a bit in the short-term, but your score will recover over time as you manage that new account..

Whatever types of accounts you want to start with, you may want to sign up for a free credit monitoring service. Many of these also give you access to a free credit score, and some let you see copies of your credit reports. Once you’ve established credit, you can also request a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit bureaus once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.

How Nova Credit can help you establish credit

Nova Credit helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to the U.S. bureaus’ databases, creditors and lenders can use your foreign credit history to evaluate your application for a loan, apartment, or another type of credit account.

“I think it would have helped if I came here on my own for sure,” says Ruby. “Without the help of my husband, I'm not sure I would have established credit as quickly as I did. I know it would have been challenging to get things like an apartment without a deposit.”

Ruby also sees the value for people coming from other parts of the world. “This would have helped people who lived in the U.K.,” she says. “One of their gripes (based on people I know who moved from the U.K. to the U.S.) is that they had amazing credit back home but had to go back to zero in the US.”

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

Use your foreign credit history to start your U.S credit history

New to the U.S.? Check if you can use your country's credit history in the U.S. to apply for credit cards and start your U.S credit history using Nova Credit.

More from Nova Credit:

How to get a credit card without a social security number

How to use credit cards to build credit history

How to build credit in the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

No credit check cell phone plans

New to the United States? Apply for a U.S. credit card using your foreign credit history. Explore cards