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How to Get Credit Cards if You’re New to the US?

How to Get Credit Cards if You’re New to the US?

Million Mile SecretsHow to Get Credit Cards if You’re New to the US?Million Mile Secrets Team

If you don’t have a credit history in the US, you’re almost certainly NOT going to get approved for many of the great miles and points credit cards such as the Citi American Airlines cards with a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus.

Most of the lucrative miles and points credit cards are NOT targeted to folks applying for their first credit cards.

Fortunately Getting a Credit History is Easier Than Dealing With Immigration
Welcome to the US, but Don’t Forget to Establish a Credit History!

Limited Credit History

Folks new to the US have the same issue as students – a limited credit history.

Banks are often hesitant to lend to folks with no credit history.  This includes students, folks who’ve never taken out a loan, and folks new to the US because of the increased risk of not paying back their debt.

But there are still ways you can establish and build credit.

How to Build a Credit History?

1.   Authorized Users

One way to build credit for people who are new to the US is by being an authorized user on someone’s account.

If you have a friend or relative who has a long, good credit history, consider asking them to add you as an authorized user on their credit card.  Remember that your friend or relative is responsible for the amount you charge on the card, so don’t spend a lot on the card.

But not everyone has this opportunity.

2.   Student Card

If you’re a student who is new to the US, you can apply for student credit cards.  See this post for more details on which student card to apply for.

3.   Capital One Card for Newcomers

Update:  The Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers has disappeared from the Capital One site.  I’ll update the link if it returns.

Link:  Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers

The Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers is designed to help build credit and reports directly to all three credit bureaus.  This means that you are building a credit profile with all 3 major credit bureaus in the US – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

But before you apply for any credit cards, be sure you are aware of the 5 dangers of applying for credit cards.

Apply for the card and charge 20% to 30% of your credit line and pay your balance in FULL each month.

After about 4 to 7 months, you should be able to get approved for the regular miles and points credit cards.

Other benefits of the card include:

  • 2% cash back on travel purchases
  • 1% cash back on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

You earn unlimited cash back that doesn’t expire and you can get your cash back anytime as a credit to your account or a check mailed to you.

After a few months of using the card and paying your balance in full each month, you’ll build your credit history so you could apply for other miles and points cards.

4.   Transfer American Express Card

If you have an American Express card in a few select countries outside the US, you can transfer your card to the US.

Bottom Line

You won’t be able to get miles and points cards with a large sign-up bonus unless you have a credit history.  But banks realize that folks new to the US don’t have any credit history and have specific cards to help them establish a credit history.

Folks new to the US, can establish a credit history by applying for a student credit card or the Capital One card for Newcomers.  After you get the card charge 20% to 30% of your credit line and pay your balance in FULL each month.

After about 5 to 7 months, you should be able to get approved for the regular miles and points credit cards and embark on the miles and points version of the American Dream!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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For those with small CL on a first card who need or want to charge larger amounts than 20-30% of CL, you can make a payment mid-cycle. Most banks typically report the balance your statement closes with to the credit bureaus, so once you get more than one card you can optimize your credit score by having one card report a small balance and the others all report a zero balance every month regardless of how much you are actually spending. The only exception I know of to this is US Bank, who reports balances at the end of a calendar month instead of the end of a statement cycle.

Thanks for this very informative post Daraius 🙂

Do you know if foreign students in the US are eligible for business cards? I have an excellent score but have been only applying for personal cards so far. Thanks!

Have you looked into correcting your link for card or find out where it went?

Million Mile Secrets

@Damon - I've updated the post to mention that the card seems to have disappeared. I'm not sure if it will return, though.

By the way, what exactly is that "Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers"? Clicking the link opens up a selection of nine cards, none of which are named "Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers". Thanks.

I arrived in 2011, was added as an AU in Feb 2012, now have 93500 in total credit. Score of 720 (as 12 inq are still burning a hole) my wife with no SS, just ITIN got a citi (just apply online). Chase also works with ITIN, so does amex, but have to call.

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