ASK Musings

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Sunday

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December 2019

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Getting a Credit Card

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Another thing that is frustrating about the banking system here is that your US credit history means nothing in the UK. Even companies that appear to be the same (say, Capital One in the US and Capital One in the UK, or Experian credit agency) act as though you’re brand new and have never had a credit card.

And for all I know, you might be! This might be your first time applying for any sort of credit card, and so the process might not seem all that odd to you. But for someone like myself, who has been lucky enough to have over 20 years of good credit history in the US (I say lucky because yes, I manage my finances well but also, I’ve never had any unexpected medical expenses or other major financial hardships, and I’ve always been able to earn above a living wage), this is obnoxious.

My partner and I arrived hoping to start building our credit in the UK. We aren’t sure how long we’re going to live here, but who knows if we’ll ever find ourselves in a situation where it’s important that we have strong credit. I didn’t have a job for the first 11 months, so I looked into a bunch of starter credit cards, thinking well, I’m starting out in the UK, so these are perfect for me!

Wrong.

Most let me go through a check before actually applying so it wouldn’t hurt my (non-existent) credit, and I was not successful with any of them. The main issue seemed to be not my lack of UK-earned income, but my address history. Because we’ve only been in the UK a couple of months, these credit card companies would ask for my previous address, but would only allow for an address in the UK.

You see the dilemma here, yes? I don’t have credit because I’m new to the UK, I can’t build credit without a credit card, but I can’t get a credit card because I’m new to the UK.

With that in mind, my partner and I decided to try for a joint credit card from the bank where we have our current (checking) account. After 45 minutes in person (including about 15 minutes of the bank employee on the phone with the underwriters), we were successful in getting a joint credit card with a reasonable credit limit!

But.

Because the account is primarily my partner’s, I’m not allowed to view any statements or purchase history. I can MAKE purchases, but I can’t access anything via online banking. That’s kind of a problem, since I’m the one who manages our finances. We figured something out, but I find this to be a very frustrating situation. In the US the main joint credit card we use has my partner as the primary just because he signed up for it first, yet I can still sign in and view it any time I like.

Deep sigh.

Because I want to build my own credit, I asked about whether I could apply for a starter credit card in my own name. Nope. Because I didn’t have a job yet (and even if I did, it needed to pay at least £8,000 / year), I didn’t get access to credit on my own. Even if I had income from a US-based venture (say, consulting), because it’s dollars, it didn’t count.

The whole experience continues to be illogical and frustrating, but hey, at least we have a credit card now.

My advice to you is that the same day you open your joint account, ask if you can apply for a joint credit card as well. It’ll save you some time and get you on the way towards building some credit. And who knows, depending on your bank, see if they’ll issue you a very low limit personal credit card. They might have different rules than HSBC. In a couple of months, after you’ve shown that you’re making payments and that income is being deposited into the current account, make another appointment to see if you can get the limit increased.

And as soon as you get a job, apply for your own credit card!

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