Q&A: How to build a credit history so you don’t turn ‘credit invisible’

Dear Liz: After reading about people being “credit invisible,” I’m wondering if I should have a credit card to build a payment history. I’m 67 and on Social Security. I thought having a guaranteed income and no outstanding debt would be appealing to a potential landlord while applying for an apartment, but maybe that’s not the case. What do you recommend?

Answer: Roughly 1 in 10 U.S. adults doesn’t have a credit report and is considered “credit invisible,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Without a credit history, many common financial transactions can become more difficult or expensive, and that includes renting an apartment. Landlords often check credit reports or credit scores or both when evaluating potential tenants.

You can use the free AnnualCreditReport.com site to see if you have credit reports at the three major credit bureaus. (Make sure you type “annualcreditreport.com” into your browser, because using a search engine may turn up a lot of lookalike sites that will try to charge you for credit monitoring and other services. If you’re asked for a credit card, you’re on the wrong site.)

If you don’t have a credit history, there are a number of ways to start building one.

Perhaps the quickest is to ask someone with good credit to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards.

Another good option is a credit builder loan, which is offered by some credit unions and online lenders. The money you borrow is typically placed in a savings account or certificate of deposit that you can claim once you’ve made all the monthly payments.

Finally, there are secured credit cards which give you a line of credit that’s usually equal to the amount you deposit with the issuing bank. Ideally, you would be able to upgrade to a regular unsecured card in a year or so.

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