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Dear Dr. Don,
I have never applied for a credit card, and because I have no credit history, no one will give me a chance.
I was brought up to pay with cash. How can I build credit, and who would give me a credit card to build credit?
— Troubled Tony
There are banks that specialize in extending Visa and MasterCard credit cards to applicants who are just establishing a credit history. Pick a bank, and see how you do. Don’t apply to more than one because credit applications show up on your credit report, and multiple rejections make you look desperate for credit.
If that application doesn’t get you a credit card, there are two basic approaches. The first is to start with department store credit cards and oil company credit cards and build a credit history using the cards. These cards are easier to obtain than Visa or MasterCard charge cards.
Establishing a payment history will help you qualify down the road for the major credit cards. Apply to one, meaning either a department store or oil company, and see if you are approved. Wait a few months before applying for another card.
A second approach is to get a secured credit card. With a secured card, you place a deposit with the credit card company and they provide you with a credit card. The credit limit is typically equal to the deposit.
Carrying a small balance on the department store cards or secured card isn’t a bad idea because it shows that you can handle an outstanding balance. I don’t think it makes as much sense to carry a balance on an oil company card because it conveys a message that you can’t keep current on your gasoline purchases.
It’s critical that you stay current on all of your bills. Late payments, missed payments or other payment problems will undo all your efforts to build a credit history to the point where you have ready access to credit.