Is it time for a credit health check-up?

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 through one of our free online webinars. Register for one today!

Jessica Horton is a former copywriter and community manager at MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.