How to check (and repair) US credit as an American living abroad?
June 22, 2021 9:02 PM   Subscribe

American citizen living overseas for over six years would like to move home in a couple years. I tried and failed to get a copy of my credit report. How do I view and revive my credit standing at home while living thousands of miles away?

I'm an American who has lived out of the country for 6.5 years, and I've been researching what I need to do to move home in the next few years.

I just read up on tips for US expats to maintain one's credit while living abroad, and it seems I have basically done everything wrong: closed my US bank account, credit card, didn't maintain a US address, etc. Unfortunately my credit was at best "iffy" when I left the US. I don't recall what my score was though.

Yeah, I should have read this before I left to take a job overseas. Now I'm wondering what my options are. I had a moment of panic earlier where I thought I'd never be able to go home. I thought I'd try something constructive instead like asking the green for advice.

My question: as someone who lives out of the country, what are my options to a) review my credit situation and b) improve it?

Caveat: while I've been away, I have gotten married and changed my surname. I've updated my name everywhere including passport and social security card. I tried to request my free credit report (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/) but it didn't work. I'm wondering if the name mismatch is preventing me from accessing info.

Should I get a secured credit card? I'm happy to do so and use it X% while paying on time. But does this work?

Are there legit services, banks or accountants who could help me sort this out? I think my first step needs to be getting a copy of my credit report.

I'd like to be in a position to successfully rent a decent apartment in NYC with my (non-American) husband when we move over, and perhaps even get a mortgage sometime later.

For what it's worth, I have family who can provide me with an address in the US. I work for a US employer. I am up-to-date on all of my taxes.

Additional caveat / pandemic wrinkle: I live in Australia, which continues to have a travel ban, and I cannot physically go to the USA for the time being đŸ˜­ It likely doesn't matter, but I have excellent credit in Australia, a high limit credit card, and own a car plus a house here. Thank you, I appreciate any advice the hive mind has for me.
posted by jacquilinala to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: A couple of avenues to take for getting your credit report:
- Did you only try to get the free annual report via the website or did you try phoning and/or mailing in the paper form? Here's the FTC page for requesting a report via various means. Talking to a human might be more useful than the website.
- You could try just applying for a credit card and seeing what happens. It's my understanding that CapitalOne will give credit cards to non-US residents in some situations, and, like most US credit cards, they give cardholders access to a free approximation of their credit report and credit score (it's not your actual official credit report, but it's usually very similar). Randomly applying for and getting rejected for credit cards is not *great* for your credit, but the negative effect generally drops off your report within a few months to a year (and applications disappear from your report completely after two years). If you're approved, this also helps you start rebuilding credit (and yes, paying on time is the #1 easiest thing you can do to improve your credit score).
- Sign up for one of the paid credit monitoring systems (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion all have their own products, they're all kind of annoying and overpriced IMO but if you're paying them they'll hopefully be more incentivized to help you out).

For building/rebuilding credit:
- Would your family who are willing to provide an address also be willing to add you as an authorized user to one of their existing accounts? (This is pretty easy to do with most credit cards nowadays, and they could even set up a restriction on how much you are actually allowed to charge.) Obviously requires some trust, but it's an option.
- Could you open a deposit account (checking or savings) with a US bank or credit union (might be tough, since CUs often have requirements for membership)? A deposit account won't affect your credit report much one way or another but a bank that you already do business with is more likely to want to do more business with you (in the form of a credit card).
posted by mskyle at 5:41 AM on June 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Take a look at this page : https://krebsonsecurity.com/2020/08/why-where-you-should-you-plant-your-flag/

Also: https://www.creditkarma.com/

You'll probably get better, more specific, advice but that's a start.
posted by metadave at 6:22 AM on June 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Credit scores have way more to do with age and income than you might expect. Do you earn a better than average income? Are you getting older (35+)? To fix it, just get a US credit card or two. You don't have to use them. That's where you should start.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2021


As noted by mskyle above you can get your credit score easily. I find a free account at Experian is useful (each time I log in they try to upsell to their premium account, but the free account is good).

Credit Karma gives free frequent emails about your current score (you get a little advertising email but not much).
posted by anadem at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Assuming you can easily a credit card in Australia, American Express allows you to transfer an account (and cards, and history) from country to country. A way to repair your credit rating could be to do this prior to actually moving (using a relatives address or something).
posted by ryanbryan at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


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