I have written this guide as a balanced approach to building credit if you are starting out. It is not intended to give you the maximum credit score, since that would require that you know perfectly how to manage credit from the beginning, an unrealistic expectation. If you follow this guide, at the end of the first year you should have a solid credit history that would allow you to get approved for most credit cards and obtain reasonable interest rates on auto loans.
Your credit score is a number that represents your creditworthiness. It is a number calculated from your credit history based on an algorithm to predict how likely it is that you will default on your debt. While your credit score is not the only thing that determines the outcome of your mortgage or auto loan application, it is one of the most crucial factors, if not the most crucial.
So it’s Halloween, and a cunning elf breaks into your house and steals your Xbox One for his early Christmas gift. You are angry because you just bought it for yourself 3 days ago as your main entertainment through the end of the year. What do you do?
Well, you’d better have used your credit card to buy the Xbox One, because then you’d benefit from purchase protection.
It is almost the holiday shopping season, the merriest time of the year for all, and the most profitable time for the retail industry, and I’m sure each of us has our own shopping list for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And every year, millions of dollars’ worth of stuff is returned to stores right after the holidays. If you have a change of heart about a gift you bought and try to return the gift for a refund ….
Unlike Visa and Mastercard which only process but not issue credit cards, and like Discover, American Express also issues credit cards. The origin of American Express is also very distinguished from those of the competitors. They started out as a domestic express mail service back when the US Post Office did not yet deliver packages. They made a lot of money, and very quickly established the American Express brand as a premium service provider. Later on, American Express gradually transformed itself into a financial services company while skillfully retaining and enhancing the brand nationwide and worldwide.
When I started my credit journey in January 2012, all I wanted at the time was the first card, and I stayed with one card for the next 9 months until I learned that there were better cards in the market. For the next 3 months I went on an app spree and finally came to the point where I felt adding another card to my portfolio wouldn’t do me much good any more.
Apparently the number of credit cards I have is absurdly high to many people. The common perception is that more credit cards suggest more financial trouble. Knowing that a high percentage of the population tend to abuse credit and get themselves into a debt spiral, I totally understand how this perception was created.
Needless to say, if you have had credit before and found yourself often charging credit cards up to the maximum allowed and not paying the balance in full, 1 credit card is enough. You still need a credit card to maintain your credit history, but for that purpose one card can be sufficient if you do not abuse it. On the other hand, if you are able to handle credit well, never charge to the limit, and always pay statement balances in full, then you should have multiple credit cards. If you want to know the reason, please read on.
I personally don’t carry a credit card balance unless my credit card is offering a 0% APR promotion because one of my goals in the credit quest is to build a perfect credit history without paying a penny in interest. But from my observation, I’m not the norm. Many people I know carry balances from time to time, and when they come to me for advice, I always tell them to at least pay the minimum to avoid late payment fees, and over time I have helped them save quite a bit of money from that.
Many years ago, before I came to America, I was studying for the IELTS test. The IELTS is a test of English language skills that students coming from countries where English is not the official language have to go through if they want to study in an English-speaking country. For the listening portion of the test, exam-takers listen to an English conversation to answer questions related to the conversation. The conversation topics are sometimes specific to the country that administers the exam: either the UK or Australia.
One of the questions from the listening portion left me really confused at the time, so confused that I still remember it today. Actually the question was easy to answer; it was the content of the question that was not understandable to me. The conversation occurs in a store where the guest is asking whether the store accepts Discover or American Express, to which the waitress responds that they only accept Visa or Mastercard. I had never heard of these names before, and would not until years later when I actually set foot on a country where credit card use is the norm. My reaction at the time was something like: What? What’s American Express? A newspaper? OK, Mastercard is probably a card, but what about Visa? Is it the same sort of thing as a tourist visa? Continue reading Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express: What are they really?