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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Personal Finance: Steps you can take to build credit, get a card

Gone are the days when credit card companies barraged you like a lovestruck suitor. Today, bruised by economic losses and consumer defaults, many credit card companies are spurning the customers they once wooed.

And if you've got a dinged-up credit score or no credit history, getting a new credit card is next to impossible.

We know one young man – a recent college graduate with a decent-paying job and no major credit dings – who's been turned down for a credit card repeatedly, even from department stores like Macy's.

"Credit is still tight, so issuers are not approving as many people with no credit or bad credit as they did 18 months ago when the economy was good," said Bill Hardekopf, founder of LowCards.com. "It is a very big challenge for them."

Those with bad credit have long had trouble getting credit cards or finding cards with affordable interest rates.

But those with no credit are in an altogether different category. Typically it's either "young students or the 'under-banked' population – people who don't have a long history with traditional banking services," said Kenneth Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com, a San Francisco-based consumer Web site.

"Absence of credit is distinctive," known in the industry as a "thin file," according to Lin.

He said it could be newly arrived immigrants or those who've stayed away from traditional banking for loans and financial transactions. Often it's college students, sharing expenses with roommates or getting financial support from parents, who don't have any record of paying bills.

Ironically, the stingier credit card climate is coming ahead of – or perhaps because of – next month's installment of the federal Credit CARD Act, which creates more consumer protections by limiting how credit card issuers can impose payments and fees. In the wake of those protections, which started rolling out last summer, a number of credit card companies have hiked interest rates, slashed credit limits and initiated annual fees.

How should you begin your search for a credit card?

Start small. "Do what I had to do when I got out of co

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