If you’re an international student studying in the U.S. and you’re planning to stay here after you graduate, it’s wise to begin building a credit history. This is because a credit score is used to determine your creditworthiness when you apply to rent or buy a home, apply for a job, finance a car and more. These are all things you might do as you build your post-school life here, even if you only intend to stay in the U.S. for a few years.

If you use your time as a student to your advantage financially, you’ll finish college or graduate school well-situated to begin your adult life.

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Step 1: Identify Bank Requirements

Applicants are required to meet certain qualifications to obtain credit from financial institutions. Each bank sets its own requirements, and one of these requirements may be to have a valid social security number. International students, however, may not have a social security number, which can present challenges to getting a credit card. Students may be able to apply for a social security number through the U.S. government, depending on the type of visa or status they were granted.  Alternatively, some banks may only require a tax payer identification number (and not a social security number), so this may be an alternative for international students who are seeking a credit card.

Step 2: Open a U.S. Bank Account

Opening a bank account in the U.S. will give you a place to save your money and can be a great help in establishing your finances. You can also pay your credit card bill out of the bank account if you set up the bank account as a source of funds to make credit card payments from.

Step 3: Get the Right Credit Card

To get credit, you often need a credit history. For international students, this may be challenging but you do have a few options to get you started.

Banks sometimes offer cards specifically designed for students. These are designed with the needs of college students in mind (such as cash back rewards), and can also help students build their credit history when used responsibly. Alternatively, a secured card may also be an option for consumers with limited or poor credit histories. If you are approved for a secured credit card, you make a security deposit that is usually equal to your credit limit, up to what the credit issuer can approve. For example, if you want a $500 line of credit, you’ll need to provide $500 upfront. Once you’ve had this card for six to 12 months and have used it responsibly, you may be able to upgrade your secured card to a more traditional credit card. Talk to the bank or credit card issuer for more information.

Step 4: Use Your Credit the Right Way

The key to building a good credit score is to use credit responsibly. First, know your credit limit, and try not to spend more than 30% of it during each billing cycle to keep your debt-utilization ratio (the amount you charge divided by your total credit limit) lower. Debt utilization is a factor in determining your credit score.

Start by only charging small and manageable amounts. Get in the habit of paying your bill in full and on time. As you get more comfortable, you can use your credit card more often, but be mindful of what you can afford to spend.

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Remember, a credit card isn’t an unlimited source of free money — it merely lets you borrow money for a short time. If you don’t pay that money back, you’ll have to pay interest, and that can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. As you establish a longer credit history, you’ll eventually be eligible for different kinds of credit cards that offer higher credit limits and greater rewards.

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