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Book 3

My third book is released! Learn what you'll need to know in order to become an embedded engineer.

Book 2

Check out my second book; learn practical stuff about building robots and control systems around Linux PCs and the Atmel AVR.

Book 1

My first book gives you all the intro you need on developing 32-bit embedded systems on a hobbyist budget.

useful sites: credit forum
credit info center

reporting agencies:
trans union

Building Credit in the USA

Life in the USA is irksome without a solid credit file. Whether you're moving permanently to America, or working here on a temporary visa (like me), or even if you're a U.S. citizen who for whatever reason hasn't yet got a detailed credit file, you may find this information useful. Unfortunately, like pretty much everyone else in America, I'm mostly guessing about how the system works. I have spent a lot of time reading various Web-based and other resources about credit scoring and so forth. I also have the best part of two years' first-hand experience with the system.

The absolute first step towards creating your identity is to obtain a Social Security number (SSN). This is essentially a tax file number, but it's used as a unique identifier in a lot of other [commercial as well as Governmental] contexts. To get a SSN, you'll need to apply in person at your nearest Social Security office, with appropriate identification paperwork indicating your right to live (and work, if applicable) in the United States.

Once you get your Social Security card, it will make your life much easier if you get an official ID card or drivers' license. Although you can use your foreign passport in most situations where photo ID is required, lacking an official DMV ID or drivers' license immediately puts your paperwork into the "abnormal" basket, and in the world of credit scoring, abnormal = risky = evil = Satan's child. To get your ID card, just go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles with sufficient acceptable proof of ID. The easiest set of ID proof for a newcomer to use is your Social Security card, a credit card/ATM card from your homeland (it must have your name embossed on it), and your non-US passport.

Having a check-bearing bank account is pretty nearly essential to hassle-free life in the U.S.A., so this is the next thing you need to open. Note: When you open a bank account, there's an 80% or better chance that the bank will run two checks on you, based on your name, address and SSN:

  • A ChexSystems check. This company is one of several consumer reporting agencies that keeps track of delinquent check-writing behavior. There are other agencies that do the same thing, but ChexSystems is the largest (and unarguably the most maligned). ChexSystems also owns Deluxe Check Printers, who print a large proportion of the USA's checkbooks and personalized deposit slip books.
  • A regular credit check.

These checks will both come up with "insufficient data" for you, since your files are empty or even nonexistent. (In fact, when I opened my checking account, it was the act that first created a credit file for me - and since the bank clerk misheard my middle initial, Trans Union had my initial wrong too for at least a year, until I noticed the error). What happens then depends on the bank. In my case (The Bank of New York), the clerk overrode the error condition and created the accounts anyway. Other banks, or other staff, may be less sympathetic.

The best next step to building a credit file is to obtain a secured credit card. A useful resource for finding cards that meet specific criteria is My first credit product in the U.S. was the Western Security Bank secured Visa card, with a $500 credit limit (security deposit = $625). The WSB card may be discontinued now, but you can find

At this stage, your credit file will contain at least the following: one inquiry from your bank, one inquiry from your credit card company, and a tradeline from your secured credit card. Now, I don't know this for sure, but from my experiences, I believe that at this point the three major credit reporting agencies still don't have much uniquely identifying information for you, and so when you fill out future applications for credit, the CRAs will only tentatively match your file based on standard application information. I further believe that the confidence with which the CRA can match your identity with the file they have on you influences the risk score that they present to the prospective credit provider.

One piece of evidence I have for the first of these beliefs is that when I asked the CRAs for my reports, I was unable to follow the "quick path" for on-line delivery of my credit files. So I think a next important step in solidifying your credit identity is to "seed" the CRAs' files with verified data, which you can do by simply requesting your credit files. This will cost you a total of about US$25, depending on what state you live in, and you can perform most of the file request process online at the CRA web sites (see the links at the upper left of this page).

CRA illuminati reading this may care to confirm the second of my beliefs.

At this point, pretty much all you can do is wait. Depending on your personal spending habits, your credit file will thicken more or less over time. Time is the big factor here. After six months of regularly using a secured credit card, you'll start to receive mailed solicitations for (expensive) unsecured cards. and all original content herein is © Copyright 2001 by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards. "" is a trademark protected under U.S. and international law. Infringement or attempted dilution of the intellectual property rights held by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards will be prosecuted to the fullest possible extent.