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How to get a credit card if moving back to the US

Erica Sandberg

June 1, 2016

Q Hi, Erica,

After being in Bulgaria for more than 12 years for business, I will be moving back to the United States to work for my company’s new location in Pennsylvania. I have legal U.S. citizenship. I had a Visa credit card in the U.S. before the work assignment, and it worked well for me. There was no debt on the card when I closed the account and moved abroad. I am 57. Can I get a U.S. credit card now? — Antoni

A Dear Antoni,

I see no reason why you wouldn’t be able to get a credit card soon after you have moved back to the United States. However, you will need to start small. The credit history you developed when you lived here has likely been wiped from your consumer credit reports, since positively held accounts typically remain listed for 10 years from the date they were closed.

To check your credit reports, go to annualcreditreport.com and pull your files from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Your credit reports are free to access once per year. When you get your credit reports, you’ll see any activity that a creditor may still be reporting. In general, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your credit reports because you may find errors that need to be corrected, and you may discover evidence that you have been a victim of fraud.

If you do find information that should not be on your credit reports, file a dispute with one of the three big credit reporting agencies, and it will notify the others. Most disputes are resolved within the 30-day investigation period.

You’ll probably find nothing wrong on your credit reports, and that is a good start.

Next up is getting a starter card to help rebuild your credit.

Most issuers have cards specifically for people with limited or no credit histories. Some are secured cards, in which you put cash down as collateral, while other credit cards are unsecured and require no deposit. While either type will work as a starter card, do know that the cards you’ll be eligible for will come with more fees and a higher APR than those available to people with good or excellent credit ratings.

To apply for a card, you’ll need to have an income and an address.

Before applying, review as many card offers as you can, paying close attention to the interest rate and other details. You can check offers for secured cards and credit cards for applicants with limited or no credit history on CreditCardGuide, but also visit your local banks and credit unions to see what they are offering. Most card issuers furnish information to the credit reporting agencies, but make sure the card you’re interested in does this. After all, to build your credit history, your card activity must wind up on your credit reports.

When you’re ready, apply for a card. Don’t apply for a bunch of cards at once, hoping for the best. Each credit application causes a hard inquiry on your credit reports, which lowers your credit score temporarily. Instead, apply for one card at a time, and then wait for acceptance. Exercise prudence and patience.

Know that your starter card may come with a low credit line. But it’s a start. Use the card every month, pay your bill before the due date and keep the card’s monthly balance at zero. These are the building blocks of credit rating success. If you need more borrowing power, ask your card issuer for a credit limit increase after about six months.

When you have a year’s worth of positive data on your credit reports, consider adding another credit card to your wallet. When trading up from your starter card, look for a card with a higher credit limit, a lower interest rate and preferable terms. With a proven track record of using credit wisely, you’ll be able to choose from an array of rewards cards.

By wielding both cards responsibly – this second card as well as your starter card – you’ll be increasing your credit score. You’ll also stay out of expensive debt, and with your second card, you’ll earn cash back or airline points and miles.

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