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How to Build Credit in the U.S.  

By Royal Bank of Canada

Published May 1, 2024 • 6 Min Read

If you’re a Canadian looking to spend time in the U.S. – either part-time, full-time or even temporarily – it’s a good idea to build a credit history south of the border. Here’s why it’s important and how to get started.

Why build credit in the U.S.?  

In the United States, as in Canada, a strong credit rating is a crucial element of your financial picture. While good credit can help you save money on everyday essentials such as insurance and a cell phone plan, the main advantage is that it makes it easier to borrow money. This is because a strong credit score signals to lenders that you are a trustworthy borrower and likely to pay money back on time. 

For example, if you’re looking to buy U.S. property down the road, qualifying for a mortgage becomes easier with a U.S. credit history. While some lenders will take your Canadian credit score into consideration when qualifying you for a mortgage, a strong U.S. credit history may help make the mortgage application process smoother and might make it easier to qualify for a lower interest rate.

How to build credit in the U.S. in 5 steps

So, how to build credit in the U.S.? Establishing a U.S. credit rating isn’t difficult, but it does involve a few steps. As there are several different credit scoring models, or ways of calculating credit scores, it’s wise to demonstrate solid money management in more than one way. Here are five steps you can take to build credit in the U.S.  

1. Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN)

You can apply for credit without an SSN. However, you’ll need one to ensure your credit file is complete and reported accurately to the various credit bureaus in the U.S., which is what will ultimately enable you to build your credit history. For information on how to get your SSN, please visit the Social Security Administration.

If you’re a not a U.S. citizen, you must be authorized to work in the U.S. to qualify for an SSN.  If you’re unable to get an SSN, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to non-U.S. citizens who do not have or are not eligible for a Social Security number.  While credit bureaus don’t use your ITIN as an identifier, you may be able to use it to apply for a line of credit, which can help get you on your way to building a credit history.

2. Open a bank account in the U.S.  

Having a U.S. bank account may not directly affect your credit score but establishing a relationship with a U.S. bank can demonstrate financial responsibility and lead to an opportunity to apply for a U.S. credit card or line of credit. 

If you’re an RBC Royal Bank customer, this is easy to do, as you don’t need to be a resident of the U.S. or have a U.S. address or Social Security number to open an RBC Bank U.S. account as a Canadian. To sign up for an account, you simply need to be 18 years or older, live in Canada or the U.S. and have a Social Insurance Number and government ID.

3. Apply for a credit card  

A U.S. credit card is another great starting point on your path to establishing credit south of the border. As a Canadian, you can apply for some U.S. credit cards without a U.S. credit history, as your Canadian credit history can be used to qualify you. 

Another option is to get a secured credit card, where you provide a certain amount of money as a security deposit. The amount of your deposit is equal to your credit limit – so if you deposit $500, your limit is $500. Secured credit cards are typically easier to obtain than unsecured cards. Over time and after a pattern of solid repayment history, it’s typical to be upgraded to an unsecured card.

4. Pay your credit card bill on time

The way in which a credit card can really help you build credit in the U.S. is by using it and making regular, on-time payments. Payment history is a key factor of your credit score, so as you make your payments on time, you’ll build a positive credit history and open the door to qualifying for more credit – such as in the form of a loan or mortgage. If you miss a few payments, however, this behaviour will also be recorded.

It’s also important to avoid letting debt accumulate, as one of the inputs in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. This is the percentage of available credit you’re using on your credit cards and other lines of credit. It is used by lenders to help determine how well you’re managing your current debt. Maintaining a low credit utilization ratio can lead to a better credit score.  

5. Pay your other bills on time  

While credit scores are largely based on how well you have handled debt like loans and credit cards, paying your other bills – such as your rent, utilities, internet and phone – is also a factor.  Credit bureaus will see a consistent pattern of paying these bills, which can positively affect your credit history in the U.S. Don’t have a U.S. phone or address? Consider getting a store or gas card to give yourself additional opportunities to prove your good credit behaviour.

How to check your U.S. credit rating

When your credit rating is established, you can request a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.: Equifax,® Experian,® and TransUnion.® You can also easily request your report online at or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

Your credit rating affects many aspects of your life in the U.S. Building credit and maintaining a good rating can help you enjoy your U.S. lifestyle and provide homebuying and other opportunities (that require some borrowed funds) into the future.

Want to build credit in the U.S.?

Sign up for our cross-border bundle to start building your U.S. credit.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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