There are plenty of people who choose not to use credit cards. But just because you don’t have or use credit cards, don’t underestimate the cunning of identity thieves. Your credit file may not be safe even if you choose not to get any credit cards.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information such as social security number, date of birth, or driver’s license and pretends to be you opening up new accounts, applying for loans, renting property, taking out a car loan, or committing other types of fraud.
Even if you have no credit, you are still at risk of identity theft. It’s a good idea to regularly monitor all your personal information including your credit file.
Do You Have a Credit Score Without a Credit Card?
Yes. If you have a social security number, then you have a credit file. There are three major credit bureaus that keep track of everyone’s credit report and credit score. Even children without any credit will have a credit file.
The three big credit agencies are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. They use factors such as your entire payment history, amount of credit/loans, card issuers' reports, and types of credit to calculate a FICO score or Vantagescore along with other credit scores for lenders to use when they make decisions about loaning you money.
It is essential to build credit over your lifetime, and a good credit rating will get you increases on your credit limits, lower interest rates and better terms on loans. If you have bad credit, you might not be able to rent or buy a house, apply for a mortgage or even get a credit card.
Many things factor into your credit file, not just credit cards. You build credit any time you borrow money or open a credit account. Some things that factor into your credit file are:
- Taking out student loans.
- Buying a house with a mortgage.
- Applying for a loan.
- Credit utilization.
- Borrowing from any financial institution.
- Late payments.
- New credit - lenders like to see "aged credit" for cardholders.
- Purchasing a car and financing it through your credit union or the car dealer.
- Store credit cards or financing to buy furniture or other items.
- Paying court-ordered alimony or child support.
- If you didn’t pay your cell phone bill and the debt went to collections, that would also show up on your credit report.
- Rent payment may also show up on your credit report.
How to Build Credit if You Don’t Have a Lot
You might think having a blank slate of credit is a good thing, but it can actually hurt you. Even if you don’t have any black marks on your credit, your score will remain low if you don’t have any loans or financing. You need to show the credit bureaus and lenders that you can pay back the funds you borrowed. Some ways to build good credit are:
- The first step is to see where you stand. Get a copy of your credit report. They are free each year from all three credit bureaus.
- You can get a secured credit card or credit-builder loan where you prepay a small balance and then use it to pay for things. This will help establish credit for you in a safe way.
- Take out a small auto loan or personal loan that you can afford.
- Apply for a federal student loan with a safe repayment schedule that you can handle.
- Have a family member be a co-signer on a loan for you.
- Be sure to make all your payments on time, and after about six months, you should see your credit score rise. Within a year, you will see your credit file completely fill in as you begin building credit, and you should be able to enjoy a score high enough to apply for other things.
The key to keeping an excellent, high credit score is to pay all your bills on time. Also be sure to have different types of credit. Credit reporting agencies and lenders like to see things like student loans, mortgages, credit cards, and loans to see that you are responsible with all your bills. Experian also offers a “Boost” program where you can get credit for paying other utilities. This may help your credit score if it needs improvement. Be very careful about adding any authorized users or co-borrowers to your account. They too could hurt your credit rating.
How to Check Your Credit Score Without Credit Card
One way you can always be sure that your credit file is up to snuff is to keep an eye on things. You can check your credit score in a few different ways.
Get an annual copy of all three of your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You are entitled to one free copy from each bureau every 12 months. Keep in mind each agency is independently owned and operated, and therefore, they use different scoring models and may have different credit scores for you. Lenders each use the credit bureau of their choice, so all your debts may not show on each one.
Another option is to create a free online account with each of the credit bureaus. They advertise being able to see your free credit score, however, you will only be able to see their score and your available credit information. The report you access will be limited, and you may have to purchase a plan to see more details.
A much better option would be to sign up for credit monitoring with IDStrong and have them monitor your credit file for any suspicious activity. You can access it 24/7 and see your credit score at any time. You will also be alerted to any new accounts, unauthorized users who access your file, and requests for copies. You also get notified if your information shows up in a data breach or on the dark web. If your information is compromised, IDStrong has professionals who can help you restore your credit profile and get things back on track after identity theft.
Regardless of how much credit you have, be sure to keep it clean and up to date. You can’t do much in life these days without a great credit score. Protect your personal information and your credit as you would your bank accounts.