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Ask Carmen: How to rebuild credit after a bankruptcy

Visa credit cards

We asked you to send us your credit questions, and here to help us wade through the maze of credit conundrums is Liz Weston, a personal finance columnist and author of the "Ten Commandments of Money: How to Survive and Thrive in the New Economy."

Michael in St. Paul, Minnesota, asked us his daughter, currently a freshman in college, should get a credit card to start building her credit record. Michael's wife thinks opening a credit card is a post-college thing to do, but Michael thinks she's better off building a credit history now.

Weston says: “She would probably need a co-signer, since she doesn’t have an income.” Due to new restrictions in the CARD act, college students without income don't have available access to credit cards like they did in the past. “I would argue, don’t wait until she gets out of college. Although it's a little more difficult to get a credit card, it’s still going to be easier to get one in college than afterward.

"If you don’t have kids that are quite to college age yet ... I might want to start them with a credit card before they even graduate high school. This would have been anathema a few years ago, but the idea is you are kind of putting training wheels on a credit card. You are having them use a credit card while they’re still under your roof, still have some influence on them, you can talk about the importance of paying off the balance in full, every single month.”

Yvette, also from St. Paul, Minnesota filed for bankruptcy in late 2013 and also went through a divorce. She now wants to recover and fix her credit. She's been approved for a credit card with a $400 line, but with a $35 annual fee and 18 percent interest. Should she also look at an auto loan to rehab her credit score?

Weston says: "The interest rate on the card doesn't matter because you won't be carrying a balance. The best way to have a credit card is to pay it in full. Use only a small portion of the credit limit and pay it off in full before the due date. Add an installment loan such as a personal or auto loan to further help rehab your credit."

“I think the mistake a lot of people make with credit cards, is that they carry a balance thinking that will help them. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t benefit you at all. So don’t do it. And the other thing they do is, they max out that card, because they think, ‘$120, how much will that get me?’ Don’t use it as a buying tool, use it as a tool to build credit, which means small purchases, pay them off in full. Use that card lightly, but regularly."

“I’m not a big fan of going after an auto lan right after a bankruptcy, because you are going to pay through the nose in interest. But a personal loan, you can borrow a small amount, pay that back over time, not have an outrageous interest rate, and that too will build credit. The idea of having both an auto loan and a credit loan, is you want both types of credit. You want revolving credit and you want an installment loan.”

To listen to more questions from listeners on protecting yourself from identity theft and separating finances from a spouse, press play above. Have a question of your own? Ask Carmen on Facebook, Twitter, or email us!

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

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