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College graduates saddled with student loans may find this hard to believe, but there is one upside to having to pay back all that debt: It helps you build credit.
That may seem like a small consolation — particularly if the balances you owe are even average — but credit can be hard to come by. Of course, all hope isn’t lost for those who don’t have student loans.
Here are some ways to build credit without that kind of debt.
1. Get a Secured Credit Card
The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act prohibits lenders from giving credit cards to anyone under 21 who doesn’t have a willing co-signer or a demonstrated ability to repay, but if you’re over that age or you have a source of income, you can apply for some entry-level plastic.
Secured credit cards — which require you to put down a deposit that serves as your credit line — are specifically designed to help people repair or build credit. These cards generally require a deposit to “secure” the limit of the credit card. (You can go here to learn more about the best secured credit cards in America.)
There are also student credit cards geared to young borrowers that could be worth considering. The better ones have low credit limits that can keep new borrowers out of trouble and tout rewards or alerts designed to build smart-spending habits.
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2. Become an Authorized User
If you can’t qualify for a credit card, you may want to see if a parent, guardian or family friend is willing to add you as an authorized user to one of their credit cards. Authorized users aren’t responsible for paying off an account, but will get credit (pun intended) for any good activity associated with it. Just be sure to have the primary cardholder check if the issuer reports authorized users to the major credit bureaus, since not all of them do so.
3. Take Out a Credit-Builder Loan
An alternative to starter credit cards, credit-builder loans, offered by some credit unions and banks to help people improve their credit, allow you to borrow a nominal amount (often $1,000 or less) and make payments for 12 to 24 months. The payments are deposited in an interest-bearing CD or savings account. These loans typically have relatively low interest rates and can help people with a thin credit history develop a more solid credit profile as long as on-time payments are reported to the three major credit reporting agencies. (Again, you may want to check this ahead of time.)
4. Apply for a Personal Loan
You may be able to qualify for a personal loan. These installment loans do not require collateral and typically have slightly higher interest rates than secured loans. A bank or credit union that you have a relationship with may be willing to extend financing, though you may be asked to get a co-signer.
5. Establish Good Habits
Of course, you’ll only build good credit if you use any financing you are able to obtain wisely. You can establish a good credit score over the long term by making all your payments on time, keeping debt levels lower than 30% (ideally 10%) of your total available credit limit(s), and adding a mix of credit accounts (revolving lines, like credit cards, and installment loans, like an auto loan) as your score and wallet can handle them.
You can track your progress by viewing your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com. If you make a misstep, you may be able to fix your credit by disputing errors on your credit report, identifying your particular credit score killers and coming up with a game plan to address them.
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