Not all lenders report payment activity to the credit bureaus; make sure yours does before applying for a credit card or loan.
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of “Help! I Can’t Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis.” She writes “To Her Credit,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women and credit, for CreditCards.com. She also has written for MSN Money and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.
I will have two paid-off accounts, but just found out that neither have been reporting to the credit bureaus. How can I get the lender to report them?
Unfortunately, there is no law saying lenders must report to all three major credit reporting agencies. If they don’t report, there’s not much you can do about it, except to make sure to check first the next time.
Dear To Her Credit,
I have two accounts, one of which I paid off recently with good payment history and the other will be paid off in April or May.
My problem is they checked my credit to get me the financing, but when I asked if all my payments have been reported to my credit report, they said no. I want these accounts to be reported on my credit report because I paid a lot of money over the years – almost $10,000 between the two of them – and to hear that they don’t report to the credit bureaus upset me. I asked for them to report this, but they just say they don’t do that.
What kind of recourse can I take to get this on my credit report? – Staci
Unfortunately, there is no law saying lenders must report to all three major credit reporting agencies. It costs them fees and set up an account to report. If they do report, they must make sure they are following all the relevant laws. The sad truth is, some creditors and lenders don’t report. If they say they don’t report, there’s not much you can do about it.
Tip: Before applying for a loan or credit card, always check with the lender or issuer to make sure it reports payment activity to the credit bureaus.
If you were counting on having a higher score because of these two accounts, don’t give up. You are still in a better financial position now, having paid off the balances. If you are applying for a home loan, you would have had to list the monthly payments on your application, and the lender could have limited the amount of monthly mortgage payment you were allowed.
If you have little or no other credit history and you want to buy a house now, be sure to find a mortgage professional who is experienced in loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). He may be able to use your payment history from rent, utilities, cable or cellphones.
Options for rebuilding your credit profile
In the meantime, the best thing you can do now is to move forward developing your credit in ways that do improve your history and score. A major credit card, for example, is one of the fastest ways to start a credit history. If your credit scores are poor, start with a secured card, which requires a deposit that serves as your credit line, and then move to a card with a small credit limit. Sometimes it’s easy to get a department store or gas credit card, as they come with low credit limits and high APRs.
Don’t get carried away – you don’t need a wallet full of cards to build history. One or two should suffice. And don’t spend money you wouldn’t anyway, or think you need to carry a balance from month to month. You can build a very respectable credit score with just a few ordinary expenses, such as gas or groceries, on your card occasionally and paying it off every month.
If you’re looking for a quick jumpstart to your credit score, and you have a family member or close friend who is willing to help, you can have them add you as an authorized user to their credit card account. You don’t have to apply to be an authorized user, and you don’t even have to use the card for its history to appear on your credit report. You also won’t be liable for the card balance. Make sure it’s an account in good standing, and the payment history and other information will show on your credit reports as if it belonged to you.
If the credit card to which you are added as an authorized user does not have such a great payment history, it will do you more harm than good. Awkward as it may seem, you should ask your family member or friend about the card’s payment history (meaning no late payments or high balances) before you let them add you to the account. If you check your credit report and see that the card is actually hurting your credit, ask to have your name removed.
It’s frustrating when you were making payments all this time, thinking you were building your credit history and score, only to find out that your lender doesn’t report to the credit bureaus. The good news, however, is that you have paid off your debts. You are in an excellent position to build your credit history with other accounts and to work toward your financial goals. Good luck!