How Canadians Can Establish Credit In America

by Mr. Cheap

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I actually lived in the US for a couple of years, but foolishly didn’t establish myself financially beyond opening a bank account. I used my Canadian credit cards, never owned property and just lived my life there.

Over a year ago when Prosper.com started up and I wanted to try it out, I wasn’t able to open an account since I didn’t have a US address or any US credit history. I tried a number of ways to get established with US credit and they were all quite difficult. The “official” way to do it is you go to a bank, offer to set up a GIC (they call them CDs south of the border) and an account with them. You then get a credit card with a limit significantly less than the CD’s value (so if you don’t pay your bill they have the CD). I tried to set this up, but the bureaucracy wore me out before I could have it set up.

Department stores, credit card issuers or anyone will just turn up their nose at you when you apply and don’t have any credit (this happened to me everywhere).

There is an easy “back door” which I used (and would suggest to others, this may also work in Canada or other western countries). Basically you use a friend who lives in the country that you want to establish credit in. Together you get a joint credit card, which they’ll be able to easily get if they have any sort of credit at all. The limit doesn’t matter. If your friend doesn’t trust you fully, that’s not a problem, just get the joint card and tell them to keep both cards when they’re issued.

Then you (or your friend) charge things on the card. The amount doesn’t matter, but its good to keep something on the card (buy a latte every month and just pay it off when the bill is due). Almost IMMEDIATELY you’ll be in the credit system and will get a FLOOD of credit card offers. Sign up for one of them, and when you get the card, get your friend to cancel the joint card. I’d recommend holding out for a credit card that has no annual fee, the interest rate doesn’t matter (since you’re going to pay it off every month, right?). Rapidly they’ll increase the limit if you just use it and pay it off consistently.

You now have started a credit history in that country, your friend isn’t liable for you any more, and you’ll keep getting more offers as you use and establish your credit in your own name. I always pay my credit cards in full (along with all other bills) and got a Visa, Mastercard and AMEX early in life and have never gotten more cards (except for a gold AMEX I only use for renting cars, because it covers the insurance). When it came time to get my first mortgage, the rep I was dealing with expressed amazement at how high my credit rating was. I expect if I ever apply for a mortgage in the US, my credit should also be fairly decent.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 guinness416

That’s the same approach I took too when I moved there lo so many years ago, with an additional credit card on my now-husband’s account; it was pretty funny how quickly it went from NO CREDIT FOR YOU! to getting the offers in the post. I did notice that after 11 Sept it became trickier again for H1Bs like me to get credit, trying to decide whether or not to tell the truth for the “permanent resident” questions on the applications, more paperwork required in-branch, etc. Never easy to be a furriner.

It’s just as bad for the newly arrived in Canuckistan, by the way, and bank people tend to be much more by the book up here. My excellent US credit was very helpful in allowing me to get a mortgage quickly up here though, which was great.

2 telly

Cheap,
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working in the US for a number of years. To date, I still do not have any real credit history in the US but I’ve found it to be incredibly easy to get a store credit card, though lending practices may be stricter now and I have no use for department store-specific credit cards. I recently picked up an application for a BP gas Visa and was considering applying but haven’t done so yet.

There is a relatively easy work around for creidt history in the US: if you apply for an RBC Centura USD account, you are able to use your Canadian credit history for loans and even mortgages in the US.

Check out this link:
http://www.rbcroyalbank.com/RBC:R2krnY71A8YADzCozSc/usbanking/credit-history.html

3 Fecundity

Great idea, Mr. Cheap. The only flaw in the plan is that you have to fully trust your American friend. If s/he racks up the bucks on the joint card and doesn’t pay, you’re stuck with the bill or a suddenly negative U.S. credit history. But naturally you’ve picked someone responsible who already has a good credit record, right?

I can just imagine how irritating the paperwork for building your own credit can be for foreigners in any country though. I love that RBC US will take your Canadian credit rating. I imagine the other Canadian banks currently expanding down there will follow suit if they haven’t already.

Can’t see any current need for me to establish a US credit record, but it’s good info to know in case we ever end up moving somewhere other than, heh, Canuckistan.

Side note: I’d forgotten all about dear old Pat Buchanan. Thanks for the reminder, Guinness.

4 Adeem Zafar

Don’t you also need to have a US social security number in order to get started on Prosper?

5 Mr. Cheap

guiness & telly: Good advice!

Fecundity: There’s definitely trust involved with both parties when you get the credit card in both your names. As long as its a low limit and you close it down in a month or two once you start getting other credit offers I *THINK* its manageable, but you’re right that you wouldn’t want to do it with just anyone…

Adeem: Yes, you do I believe. Fortunately I have a US social security number (it was easier to get then a credit card believe it or not – they want you to have one so that you pay tax).

6 Kim

How did you get your social security number? Do you have to have a TN visa? (Or any work visa?)

Great topic!

7 Mr. Cheap

Kim: I had a TN visa. I forget the exact process, but I remember it was very easy.

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