Credit scores are determined by credit reports, which are built over time by those who utilize credit.
However, there is a sizeable portion of the United States population, numbering in the tens of millions of individuals[i], who either have no credit history, credit history that’s too limited to provide a score, or credit history that’s too old to provide a score. These people may be rejected by lenders simply because they can’t prove their creditworthiness.
A large segment of these citizens are either just becoming adults and have yet to build a score, have little access to today’s modern financial system, or are from older generations who no longer need loans and thus their history has become “stale” or too old for scoring purposes. New immigrants who have no credit history in the United States also face this issue. The invisibles tend to cluster in dense urban centers or in small, rural towns, and, according to the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s report, lack of internet access seems to have a stronger correlation to credit invisibility than access to a physical bank branch.[ii]
The detriment of credit invisibility
It might seem better to always cover your bills with cash and simply save up for whatever items you wish to purchase. And this is generally a sound practice. However, if doing this leads to credit invisibility, it may have a detrimental effect on your financial life.
Most people – even if they have enough money on hand to cover normal bills and the occasional emergency – might someday want to purchase a home, start a business, or need a new car. It’s not usual that someone could pay for these high-dollar items with cash. Entering a loan agreement for any of these situations may be something you choose to do if the benefits seem to outweigh the costs, and if you have a solid strategy in place to repay the loan. If you can’t prove your creditworthiness, it might be more difficult to secure a loan for these things.
How to avoid being credit invisible
If you are credit invisible because you have little to no assets and lenders refuse to open accounts for you, one possibility is obtaining a secured credit card.[iii] The cardholder deposits cash and the deposit amount is usually the credit limit. The issuer has zero liability against your non-repayment, because they already have the money. Using a secured card and paying the balance back on time helps you build a credit history if you have none.
Once you’ve started to build a history, you may be able to apply for a “real” credit card. At that point, you’ll want to be cautious with your spending (according to a budget, of course) and always make sure to pay your bill on time, especially in full whenever possible so you can avoid interest. Then you should be on your way to establishing a solid credit history, which may help you with other milestones in life, like buying a home, replacing an old car, or even starting a new business venture with a friend.