Give yourself a credit check-up

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You can’t have a strong credit history or good credit score without having any credit history at all. And while this is a common problem for young adults and those just entering the work force, it can also be problematic for women.

In some cases, women can be both the primary spender and the sole bill-payer for their families, yet have almost no credit record of their financial responsibilities independent of their spouse. Credit history is reported separately for each debt holder, and if you are listed as an additional cardholder rather than an account owner, all of the hard work you’re putting into paying your household’s bills on time may not show up on your history. And whether you’re just out of college, newly married, long married, divorced or widowed – you need your own solid credit history.

Without a credit history, lenders are unable to evaluate your credit worthiness. How will they know that you’ll pay back the loan on time if there’s no history showing that you’ve paid loans on time in the past? If you are unsure of your credit history, it’s time to do some research. Use the following steps to help determine if you have built a strong credit history:

  1. Review all of your family’s accounts, including mortgages, loans, and credit cards. Check to see if you are listed on these accounts as an authorized user, or if it’s a joint account.
  2. Request a copy of your free annual credit reports from the three credit reporting bureaus to see if all of your accounts are listed. Any account where you are a joint account holder should be included on your credit reports.
  3. If you are an authorized user, not a joint account holder on some accounts, ask the primary account holder to contact the creditors to see if you can be added as a joint account holder or a responsible party.
  4. If you’ve ever had credit under a different name, such as a maiden or married name, send a letter to each credit agency explaining your name change. Then, request the free copies of your credit reports to make sure that your reports reflect all of your credit history, including everything under your prior name.
  5. After taking these steps, if you are still light on credit history, find a way to establish credit under your own name, but make sure you start small. Open new cards or credit lines gradually. Make sure you do your research and read the fine print before applying for a credit card. And if you do sign up for a credit card, remember to consistently pay down the balance each statement period. Using credit and paying debts consistently will go a long way toward improving your credit history.

Learn more about the importance of credit scores and credit reports with our free eBook, Getting the Credit You Deserve.

This is an updated version of an article that originally ran in January 2012.

Tagged in Understanding your credit report, Build your credit score, Self care

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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