How to Check [and improve] Your Credit Score Without an SSN

Posted by Frank Gogol

While living in the U.S., your credit score can have a positive or negative effect on many aspects of your life. As an international student without a Social Security Number (SSN), you might think that building a good credit score is impossible. However, below we will explain how to build credit without an SSN.

Can International Students Build Credit without an SSN?

International students do not have social security numbers (SSN) and this might cause you to think that you can not have a credit score. However, we have great news!

Yes, International students can build their credit score without an SSN (Social Security Number). For credit bureaus to make up a credit report, they will normally need a few things that include:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your current residential address
  • Your previous residential address
  • Your employment history
  • Your SSN (if applicable)

An SSN is only one of many other techniques used to pair your credit account information to your credit file. By having an SSN, the pairing process can be more accurate. However, this is still not necessarily needed by credit bureaus to put together a credit report.

Actually, it depends on the lender that you will use, whether you’ll need an SSN or not. You can read more about that here.

5 Ways to Build Up Credit

Your credit score, also known as your FICO score, is a three-digit number between 300 and 850 which tracks your credit habits. Some of the factors that this score takes into account are:

  • How much money you spend
  • How consistently you pay back money
  • If you’ve had late payments and how many
  • The percentage of your credit limit that you have used

A good credit score (typically above 700) can be linked to being seen by others as a good and responsible person who cares about how their life can turn out. In essence, lenders and employers will want to see on paper you will be able to pay back your loans. The higher your credit score, the better the chances are you will receive a loan. Therefore it is important to build up your credit score. There are ways to build up your credit score which we have set out below.

1. Get a Credit Card

There are a lot of financial institutions offering credit cards that are specifically made for students. Typically, these are cards with lower credit limits than standard credit cards and they normally have lower initial interest rates as well. Some financial institutions also have reward programs in place to get reward points when making use of the credit card. Obtaining and managing your credit card is a great way to teach you how to be financially responsible.

2. Open a Bank Account

Opening up a new bank account lowers your average account age. Your average account age contributes to your credit score. However, you should avoid opening a lot of new accounts all at the same time.

3. Pay Utilities on Time

A simple way how to build up credit would be just to pay your bills diligently every month. Your credit score will get damaged when you are inconsistent and have bad habits when paying your bills. Paying on time is a factor that contributes greatly towards your credit score.

Do not forget that even items that you would not normally associate with credit reporting can be just as important, such as library books. Libraries can phone the credit bureaus for any unpaid bills and the bureaus can add that to your credit report. You would not want that to affect your credit score.

If you struggle to keep up with due dates every month, you can set up automatic payments through your bank account. This will help you not to fall behind on payments. Even scheduling a monthly reminder on your phone should work, as long as you get that reminder to pay your bills!

4. Become an Authorized User on a Credit Card

You can ask a family member or someone close to you to add you as an authorized user on their credit card. This means that you will be able to use the credit card and build up your credit history. Since you will not be responsible for paying the bills, there is a possibility that using the credit card might not have a huge impact on your credit score. However, if you want to boost your credit history or if you have no history, this might work quite well.

We suggest you ask someone who does not use all their credit limit, and also someone who pays their accounts on time.

If you make use of this method, it is important to find out whether the issuer communicates any authorized users to the credit bureaus. It would be useless to make use of the other credit card if your authorized user status does not show up on your credit reports.

5. Take Out a Loan

You can make use of a credit-builder loan. Credit-builder loans do not require of you to already have good credit.

The purpose of a credit-builder loan is exactly as the name would imply- to build your credit. The money you borrow from the lender is not given to you until you have repaid the loan. The payments that you make will be reported to credit bureaus and will be added to your credit file.

Building your Credit with a Loan from Stilt

To build a credit history you need a loan, but by getting a loan you need a credit history. “This sounds impossible” might be one of the thoughts that came up while you read that. Luckily, we have a solution.

You can acquire a loan from a lender like Stilt who accepts applicants with either bad or no credit history.

Stilt Inc. is a financial technology company located in San Francisco and we change the way individuals build up their credit. We help individuals with limited credit history in the U.S. with innovative approaches.

The main criteria that you need to meet to apply at Stilt are:

  • Be physically present in the U.S.
  • Have a U.S. bank account registered in your name
  • Have a U.S. address

Stilt provides personal loans at low-interest rates and by getting a loan from Stilt, you can build up your credit score without an SSN.

Checking a Credit History without SSN

It is very important to check your credit history frequently. Your credit report contains very sensitive and important information such as your birth date, address, name and personal credit accounts.

With the amount of cyber theft that is increasing in this modern age, that information is exactly what identity thieves need access to.

When checking your credit report and your credit history frequently, you might be able to track any suspicious or unauthorized activity happening on your account. It also helps you to see which areas of your credit report are inaccurate, outdated or incorrect. Remember, this is the information passed on to lenders and banks, and it influences all your credit applications.

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There are some credit monitoring services that you can use to check your credit score, but usually, you will need to slot in your SSN and you will need to pay a small fee.

There are, however, some ways to check your credit history without SSN:

  • You can use FICO, a scoring model a lot of lenders use, to make an estimation of your credit score. FICO offers a free FICO score estimator which gives you an estimation after you have answered a few questions.
  • You can use the factors determining your credit score and the weight that each of them carries towards making up your score. You can find the exact weightings and factors used in the FICO model here.
  • You can compare your estimated credit score to the credit ranges to check the quality of your credit. Your credit score can range from 300 to 850.

What is an ITIN?

Governments all over the world have ways to identify people. They have instituted specific Identification Documents (IDs) that contain the personal information required to identify someone. But there are many types of departments in a government and each has its own way of identifying someone.

It’s exactly the same with the U.S. government’s tax collection department – better known as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS also has a specific way to identify taxpayers in America. They use a Social Security Number (SSN) to identify U.S. citizens and permanent residents (Green Card holders). But how do they identify someone who needs to pay tax who isn’t eligible for an SSN? Have you heard of an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

The IRS issues an ITIN to all taxpayers in the U.S. who isn’t eligible for an SSN. This number helps them track and record the tax payments of people without an SSN. An ITIN serves this main purpose but it could be useful in other scenarios as well, as we will see below.

Difference Between SSN and ITIN

Both an SSN and ITIN contain numerical digits and both have a total of 9 digits. But right from the start, we’ll notice that the two numbers are different. In 1997 the IRS decided the ITIN will start with a 9. It will also have either a 7 or an 8 in the 4th position of the number.

The SSN has had a specific structure since its inception. As of 2011, however, they have adopted a new strategy to promote better randomization for the issuing of numbers. Numbers no longer reveal the geographical area of the holder’s filing address. Instead, the number now has a unique structure to better distinguish it from other 9-digit identification numbers.

Can You Use an ITIN to Build Credit?

If you’ve been living and working in the U.S. without an SSN, you may have applied for credit or similar types of financial services only to be denied because of your lack of SSN. So you are probably wondering how can you get and build a credit score without SSN?

You can use your ITIN to build credit in the U.S. Use your ITIN when you apply for credit cards, loans, and other types of credit. It helps lenders and credit bureaus identify you. You can build a credit score without SSN in this manner.

Remember though that once you get an SSN you may need to inform the credit bureaus about this to prevent them from creating a new credit profile for you. You can ask them to transfer your old credit report from your ITIN to your new profile under your SSN.

Credit Score with ITIN

Even though you can use your ITIN to build credit, you don’t need an ITIN or an SSN to build credit. The credit bureaus definitely use it to personalize your profile. But they will use different ways to identify you as a borrower if you don’t have an ITIN or SSN. Your residential address, passport number, immigration details, and other types of personal information can also identify you.

Obtaining credit is actually the only way to build a credit score. An ITIN just helps to identify you. Find ways to get loans and credit cards that do not require an SSN and provide your ITIN as another method of identification. There are personal loans available for immigrants and there are also credit cards which only have basic eligibility criteria. Apply for the ones you are eligible for and start building your credit.

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is something that helps measure your ability to repay credit. Credit comes in many shapes and sizes. The most common are credit cards, personal loans, car loans, and mortgages. Other types of accounts like cell phone bills and life insurance payments may also affect your credit score.

The three largest credit bureaus in the U.S. are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. They keep a record of your financial history and give it a rating that ranges between 0 and 999. The higher your score is, the better.

People who pay their accounts on time and who have a healthy relationship with debt have stronger credit scores. People with stronger credit scores get better loan offers and cheaper interest rates. A good credit score will definitely help you build a better financial future.

Your credit score can also drop if you do any of the following things:

  • Miss payments on accounts
  • Have more debt than you can repay
  • Apply for credit regularly
  • Have a high credit utilization rate (i.e. how much of your available credit you have used)
  • You closed an old account (deleting your credit history attached to it)

People without an SSN may struggle to build credit. But some companies offer credit cards to people who only have an ITIN. If you’re struggling to get credit without an SSN, you can also get a secured credit card to build credit.

How to Check Your Credit Score with Your ITIN

So how do you get a credit score without SSN? You can get a credit score if you have provided your lenders with sufficient personal information and if they report it to credit bureaus. You can apply at Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion for your credit score. Some of them may even grant you a free annual credit report.

Please note though that not having an SSN will affect the way your credit is reported to credit bureaus. They may not have all of your financial history reported. But having a credit score of any kind is a start.

Go online on the credit bureaus’ websites and check your credit score without SSN. Enter your personal information and provide your ITIN as another way to distinguish yourself. Pull your report and also verify the validity of the information. You can ask the credit bureaus to change incorrect information about your financial history. Be patient though, because it might take a while to correct errors on your record.

Conclusion

As an international student, there are ways to build credit score without SSN. Making use of lenders like Stilt, LendingClub and SoFi, who provides loans to individuals, can help you to improve your credit score without an SSN. This enables you to get the necessary credit you need for emergencies, your future or a big life decision like buying a house!