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November 24, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

MetaFilter's Credit Wizards: How should I go about acquiring a credit card ASAP when I'm 38-years-old and *possibly* have no credit history?

My aim is threefold; in summary:

1. get a credit card as soon as possible
2. [re]build my credit most advantageously
3. take full/best advantage of work opportunities that are driving #1 and which could aid #2

Reason for the urgency: my employer is sending me on an international trip in mid January. I'll soon need to buy plane tickets, etc. So I figure I need to acquire a credit card by Dec 15th with which to make this happen. At my company, everyone who travels uses their own cards then submits expenses which are reimbursed promptly. There *may* be an option for the company pay up-front for airfare and hotel, but my thinking is that if I get a credit card, then rack up several thousand in charges and pay them off quickly, it's a big win for building my credit. (Other folks on my team travel frequently so I've no concerns about prompt re-imbursement.). Plus, if I pay using my own card (as opposed to an AMEX Corporate Card, which I've been told I can get), I'll get "the miles".

As for my concerns about getting a sufficient amount (~$5k - $7k) of credit, quickly, here's the context:

- I haven't had a line of credit in about 7 or 8 years. I'd gotten a huge amount of unsecured credit (from Citibank) early on in life (probably a "student" card, initially, in 1992-1994, but frankly I don't remember); but over time I didn't manage it well. I paid the minimum balance *for years* yet repeatedly received unsolicited extensions to my credit line until finally in 2004 or 2005 I made a couple late payments, then missed payments, on a ~$20k balance I'd been carrying for a couple years. This led to Collections. I eventually paid this off by writing a ~$20k check to the collections agency (and have the records to show it, FWIW), but subsequently my credit history still showed this as a write-down for Citibank, so, no win there. Sigh. Anyway, I have been living without use of any credit for 7 years & feel I'm ready to give it another go.

- I don't know my current credit score; I haven't run a credit report in years. But a few months ago (mid-2012) while shopping for a new car, my wife and I both had credit checks run by a would-be car seller (Toyota). Hers is stellar, but when the guy came out of the back office to tell us what he'd found about mine, he was flabbergasted. He literally said, "I've never seen this before. You're, like, totally off the grid. There's NOTHING on you." There wasn't even a score for me (?). Anyway, between her sterling credit and my monthly income (about $5700) we had no problem getting a loan (from BofA - see below) for the car.

- I'm able to apply for an Amex Corp Card through my employer, but I'm unsure of the implications in terms of:
(a) the extent to which my own credit history (or lack thereof) might complicate this;
(b) is this a non-starter if my aim is to [re]build, to the greatest extent possible, my own credit standing?;
(c) at about the same time (in '04, '05) as I'd fell behind on the Citibank payments, I had an ~$1800 on a personal Amex card, which was sent to collections and which I completely ignored/avoided. I've not seen an attempt from the collections agency in a few years. So I can understand why the credit check performed by the car dealer may not have detected this, but I'm certainly concerned that AMEX may delve a little deeper into their own records to see if a miscreant such as myself may be asking them for a card, again, just a few years later....

- My personal bank accounts are with Bank of America, as are my wife's ; and together we have a couple shared checking and savings accounts. So one option of course is to apply for a card through BofA, and they know how much I make ($2800 paycheck is direct-deposited every two weeks); however, earlier this year there were a couple overdrafts on our shared checking accounts so I'm not sure how much that might deter them from extending credit to me. On the flip side: the car loan mentioned above, which is in my wife's name, is currently being paid every month by Yours Truly, via a transfer from my personal BofA checking account, to the loaner (which is also BofA).

SO, my dear, patient, and much appreciated (!) reader, we are finally at some specific questions:

(1) Is there (a) even a decent possibility that I might obtain an unsecured line of credit (~$5k to $7k) within the next two weeks, or (b) does my credit history (or potentially the lack thereof) suggest that my only (or best) option is to pursue a secured credit card?

(2) If 1(a) then: Should I go for the Corp AMEX, or eschew it altogether? Would my faithful repayment of charges positively affect my own credit standing?

(3) Should I bother to run a credit check myself prior to applying for a card, or would the record of my having just done that instead "count against me" in the eyes of the would-be credit application reviewer?

(4) Should I go for a card from my own bank (Bank of America) or would it be better to apply to another company (INSERT_YOUR_RECOMMENDATION_HERE)? Another option is USAA - my wife has a card through them.

Thanks very much for your help, hivemind!
posted by armoir from antproof case to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I recommend separating the issues. You have an immediate timeframe for the corporate trip, I suggest getting the corporate card for that. You can then take your time to figure out what the best card for you is. I suggest this be part of working on a more comprehensive plan about your finances. Take your time, develop a budget, see what role a credit card has to play with your finances and then research the best one for you. If you still get overdrafts, you don't have a solid plan for your finances—and a credit card will only make things worse. There is nothing wrong with not having a credit card, and there is nothing right with having a credit card if it only ends up hurting you.
posted by ifandonlyif at 8:54 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


(3) Running your own credit is in a whole different category than running an inquiry for a new credit line, and it won't ding you.

(You didn't ask, but) Be aware that when you get a new line of credit, whoever holds the $1800 debt is probably going to find you. They're potentially going to be sort of aggressive but they'll go away if you have whatever nominal amount they're going to want.
posted by ftm at 9:01 AM on November 24, 2012


@ifandonlyif : thanks for the consideration & suggested approach. FWIW, the overdrafts occurred (in the shared checking account) not due to poor planning or overspending but because of a communication issue between the missus and I, which has since been addressed.

I mentioned it only to find out if it would affect the chance of getting credit from BofA.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:10 AM on November 24, 2012


Honestly, I would just tell corporate to book the hotel and plane, so you don't have to worry about all this with a travel deadline. You can then rebuild your credit in your own time.

Here's what I'd say to the company comptroller / CFO (if a small company) or manager (if a larger one): "what do I need to do to have this travel put on the company card?"

Note: putting things on the company card is likely less work for whomever deals with money than handling your form, your receipts, and your manager's signature.
posted by zippy at 9:26 AM on November 24, 2012


The obvious first step is to see where your credit is actually at, since you don't seem to know.

Pull your free credit report at annualcreditreport.com and see what it actually looks like. You can use the information therein to input into a FICO score estimator (or just pay to get the actual score) and you'll have a better idea of where you stand.

If it's bad, no way you're going to be able to fix that in 21 days. Better to find another way to make this work than to suck it up with a 20% APR.
posted by zug at 9:30 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look into getting a Travel Advance from your company for the trip, then you should be able to use your debit card to pay for meals, taxis and other incidentals. This will avoid straining your finances while waiting for them to reimburse your expenses after you return.

1) you might try walking into a local credit union and seeing what they can do. You will get to explain your situation to a person sitting across a desk from you who has the authority to help you. This was how I got my first card and auto loan when I came to the states. I doubt they'll give you a $7k limit though.

2) having a corp Amex card doesn't seem to appear on your credit report, so it won't help your score.
posted by monotreme at 10:14 AM on November 24, 2012


I'm not sure if I missed this but to solve the immediate "need card for the trip" problem, why don't you just have your wife issue you a secondary card on her account? Then once the trip is done, you can pull your free credit report, get a real assessment of what you are looking at, and go from there. At this point, assuming you have mended your bill-paying-problem ways you can start autopaying the autoloan on a new maybe not-great credit card to quickly build up credit and then move to one that is more based on where you are now financially.
posted by jessamyn at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


If your wife has good credit, have her make you an authorized user on some of her cards (preferably the oldest, highest limit, lowest utilization, best payment history accounts). You should legitimately benefit from her good history. It's the law. There were some controls related to authorized user abuse that should be suppressing any score help for unrelated authorized users, but it's not supposed to apply to spouses.

Having accounts with good payment history will help immensely. If you do have other unpaid debts showing on your report (which I doubt, given that the guy at the dealership didn't get a score at all) and have the funds to clear them, do so, but only after negotiating with the creditor to remove the trade line from your report entirely after you pay them and getting a signed contract to that effect.

FWIW, the underwriting standards for the Corporate Amex are lower, but still exist. You can get denied if your personal credit is bad enough.
posted by wierdo at 6:25 PM on November 24, 2012


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