How do I help someone Overseas build credit in the US?
March 4, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I build someone's credit while they are overseas and not a US citizen? I am getting married to someone who is Japanese (in about 5 months) and lives in Japan right now. Because I know we will one day want to buy a house, I want to start building her credit as soon as possible because I know that it is easier to get a loan with two people signing instead of one.

I am making about $60,000 and live in the Atlanta area. I am thinking of (after a year of marriage) buying a townhome or single family home; not too far away from the city, somewhat close to a Marta rail station, and in an area that is likely to appreciate in value.
posted by locussst to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, I should probably add that she will likely have a job making around $40,000 maybe a little more, but that will start at least a few months after she lives here.
posted by locussst at 11:45 AM on March 4, 2014

At this point, credit is going to depend on a Tax Payer ID/SSN. So until she immigrates here, it's not like you can apply for her and start taking out a bunch of loans or putting her on your utility bills. That would be fraud.

As for buying a house, all in good time. Better to get each milestone completed before rushing to the next.

1. Your intended immigrates.

2. You marry.

3. She gets a job. (her getting a green card right away is NOT necessarily a given.)

4. You save up enough money for a down payment, emergency fund and 6-months of expensies before applying for a mortgage.

Housing in Atlanta isn't going anywhere. There's no reason to rush any part of the homebuying process. Also, even before the housing collapse, Atlanta was a flat housing market. It's not speculative here as a rule. You should only purchase a house if you plan on living in it for at LEAST 6 or 7 years at this point.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:00 PM on March 4, 2014

Someone may have more helpful information but what you want to do, under normal circumstances, does not seem possible. It may be possible if the person already has a SSN for some reason. But if I understand your situation correctly, it sounds like she doesn't. Even then, you will have to co-sign on everything in the beginning since she has no credit profile now. If you want to wait until later, and don't want to co-sign anything, then she can go to a bank, and get some kind of obnoxious pre-paid credit card, where they'll start her off with something like $500 credit, but she has to give a $500 deposit to use so it's not really credit. However, paying off the amount due every month will help her build credit.

Good luck! Moving spouses to the US is a complicated process.....:/
posted by cacao at 12:01 PM on March 4, 2014

Once she has a SSN, you can add her to your credit cards so that she can benefit from your good credit. Not much you can do until then.
posted by chaiminda at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2014

I know that it is easier to get a loan with two people signing instead of one

You might be surprised. When one partner has good credit and sufficient solo income to handle the mortgage payment, I have found that it can be easier to get a mortgage loan on behalf of just the one person, despite both being on the title of the home.
posted by exogenous at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm an Aussie that has emigrated to the US and married a US citizen. When we went for a mortgage, even though I had lived here/been married 2 years, I was only on my 2 year green card, paid taxes had a SSN & credit cards etc here for that time it was not enough history to be seriously considered when we applied. I had to track down a copy of my Australian credit history and get a letter from the bank in Australia I had previously had a mortgage with. They used that information when processing the joint loan application. So make sure she has copies of that information before she moves here because trying to organize that stuff from another country is a pain in the neck.

We did however go through a very helpful Credit Union, have a largish 25% deposit and my husband has an excellent credit history.

You should be warned too that trying to save for a deposit on a house and pay all the fees involved in your wife getting a green card will not be easy, unless the fees have dropped in the last couple of years think many thousands of dollars in application fees, biometrics fees, lawyers fees (if you need one we didn't use one) heck even doctors fees etc. That's just to get her here and on a 10 year green card, heck it's another $600-800 to go for citizenship, we are saving for that at the moment. The people suggesting worrying about the immigration and immigration paperwork first have the right idea.

You may find it useful to combine your finances as early as possible though into an account you both actively use, it will help both with immigration and her credit history.
posted by wwax at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could check with some banks/mortgage places to see how much of a difference it might really make. If you can do it with just your credit, that will probably be easier.

She gets a job. (her getting a green card right away is NOT necessarily a given.)

Depends on your visa process, but if you're doing K-1 for example she can work after coming to the US while waiting on adjustment of status (green card) through the I-175 / EAD process. Exact timing details on this seem to vary, but it can be much faster than waiting for Conditional Permanent Resident status. K-3 might be a little different (you say marrying in 5 months, so either you're already moving along in the K-1 process or you're doing K-3, I'm guessing).


While the credit issue is not strictly a visa question, I would look over at to see if anyone else has stories about credit like this.

Good luck -- I'm currently in the K-1 visa process with my Japanese fiancee :)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:07 PM on March 4, 2014

I think you'll be better going it alone for the house.
The greencard takes a few years, and the intermediate visa is not viewed as permanent by the credit agencies (heh "flight risk" is almost the impression I get), so even though she'll be building fair credit via credit card, in my experience she'll still be flagged as too risky for a loan of any significance until she has both credit history and established residence history.
I'm not even sure that a greencard counts for anything at all - in the case I'm most familiar with, even though still on temporary visa, the loan floodgates opened after the magic 7 years of credit history, so I'm guessing the bureaus might not have access to immigration status, but just flag you if you immigrated within the recorded period. (6 years several months in, the maximum car loan offered was probably not even enough to buy the cheapest new car on the market, a few weeks later, Hey! You want money?! WE GOTS MONEY FOR YOU! Buy yourself a luxury car! At low low rates!. That's strictly anecdata though, and even that anecdote didn't involve much shopping around.)

Consider a credit union as a way of getting her a decent credit card without hidden barbs the moment she gets her SSN. Some credit unions have membership requirements and demographics that allow them to put less emphasis on lack of credit history.

Perhaps that's what you can do ahead of time - find a really good credit union that will accept you, open accounts there, and which has policies that because of your membership with them would also accept her the moment she has a SSN, even if she wouldn't qualify otherwise.
posted by anonymisc at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2014

One thing I checked --- despite what I thought, it seems FICO scores still consider authorized user data. So if you add her as an authorized user of your credit cards that should start to build some credit history (not much, but better than nothing). (My fiancee is an authorized user on my cards, you don't have to be married and they don't have to be a citizen/resident). This might be worth it even if you don't add her name to the mortgage.

The greencard takes a few years

This is not generally true, average processing times are in the 5-6 month time. Unless you mean the 2 year vs 10 year expiration period, but even during conditional 2 year period you are considered a permanent resident with a "green card" (there is no official definition of green card of course, the official term would be permanent resident which happens after adjustment of status --- at least via K1 or K3 which are the likely visas in question here).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:51 PM on March 4, 2014

If Ruthless Bunny is talking about the ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) when she says "Tax Payer ID", you'll at least be relieved to know that your spouse does not have to live in the US to have an ITIN, and, strangely, does not even have to pay tax to have an ITIN. I live in Japan, my wife is Japanese, has never lived or worked in the US, but has an ITIN. Getting an ITIN is a straightforward process.

Also, if your wife has an ITIN, you can file a joint income tax return (this is why my wife got one). What's nice about that is that, as a non-American person working outside America, she does not actually have to pay any tax on her income in Japan (obviously), but you still get the benefits of filing a joint tax return.

Now, I don't know if an ITIN actually qualifies her for credit, etc. or if she'll need an actual SSN. I'm just saying that if an ITIN is sufficient, then you can get one once you're married, without waiting for her to move to the US.
posted by Bugbread at 6:37 PM on March 4, 2014

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