Tag Archives: credit history


I know I write a lot about credit cards in this blog… It is one of those things that keeps surprising me… apologies for bringing this up again!

I’ve been travelling so much for work (and holidays) the past months, that I have come into issues with my credit card limits. Staying in hotels, rental cars, airfares, restaurants,… it adds up. My employer is really good at reimbursing expenses; I’m usually the one who takes too much time to expense all my notes in time. Anyhow, I’ve never really had issues paying off my credit card balance. Just like back in Belgium, I use my credit cards as an extension of my checking account, rather than as a loan. Since I’m using a very high percentage of my credit card limits, constantly (20%-80%), this has a negative impact on my credit history. So I thought, lets give the bank a call and let them raise my limits. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I do have 100% on-time payments.

Oh boy. I almost forget what I joke this is. Somehow they always make you feel like a criminal when you apply for a card, or raise of limit as was the case now. It’s just the way they talk. I explained the situation, but that of course did not matter. Answered some questions and the computer came back with a slight raise in limit (less than 20% of what I asked for). Whatever.

So now this is finished, the bank tries to sell me all kinds of other stuff. Apparently the ‘personal loan’ is an all-time favorite. “You can get really low rates”. I tried to be nice and explain to the lady at the other end of the phone, that I do not need a loan, I need limit to pay for travel costs. I have the money, I need a way to spend it. She did no sound like she understood what I meant.

A little ‘fait diverse’, without much consequences. I just thought that I had crossed the magical ‘Credit History’ line and I would just be able to get what I asked for (especially, since I do not feel like I’m asking for something I could not afford). I keep forgetting, the system does not care about what I can afford, it cares about what I used to pay off. But in a country where even the President’s credit card gets refused, what did I expect? :)


1 year USA

I am here for 1 year now. It is still fun and exciting, for example this month I got my first credit card approved (party!), I renewed my vehicle inspection sticker, I visited the DMV (changed the address on my car, they did not even ask my ID… I must have a very trustworthy face),…. yes, I do find those things fun and exciting! It is part of life here, and it is fun to feel part of life. The holiday feeling I’ve had the past year, is starting to fade a bit. Perhaps it will come back with the heat, we will see.

Some news in Dallas this week! The city council is banning free plastic and paper bags starting Jan 2015! This means we all have 9 months left to stock up on bags!

Dallas City Bans Free Bags

Also see 6 months in the USA

Credit Card Issues

By now most frequent readers of my blog know that one of my biggest frustrations in this country is related with credit cards; it is impossibly hard to get a credit card, which is an issue because america runs on credit. It is hard to imagine for Europeans, but literally everything here is paid with credit cards. It does not matter whether you are paying for a “$4,00+tax sandwich” or a “$1200-20% clearing discount + tax HD-TV”; you pay everything with credit cards. This includes the drinks you buy on Friday evenings.

Last Friday, I went to my favorite bar -The Old Monk-, met some new people of which I forgot most of their names (sorry!), had some fun. Around midnight we decided to go the another bar and ended up at the Dram, a fancy lounge-bar across the street. All good, met some more new people; had more fun, all was good… until the waitress came back with my bill… and a blue MasterCard -which did not have my name printed on it-…

I knew right away this was not good. I have only one credit card, and kind of have a lot of things to purchase the next weeks, so I could really not have the very hot blonde waitress loose my card right now. Unfortunately she did. They ‘looked’ for it, but did not recover it by the time the bar closed. As with any major crisis in the USA, the manager took action and came to apologize with me. They had reversed my last drinks (sadly I closed an earlier tab already) and gave me her number in case something was wrong.
The people I just met did the same; gave me their number in case I needed help with something, and I went home. Slightly drunk, but seriously frustrated.

I called the bank, locked my card. Refused to pay $16 to get my card within 3 business days. It takes them 7-10 business days to send a card someone else lost for me. Then I realized that all my utility bills get paid trough this card too, so I had to cancel all my recurring payments and replace them with other payment methods. It is kind of a miracle I thought about this at 4am on a drunk morning, but it probably saved me hundreds of dollars (in fees, un-reimbursed security deposits and interests) and a credit history hit that would take months to recover from.

Other than that… not much happened the past weeks. Or nothing I want to share with the internet anyway :-)

Edit Aug 3rd: I received a letter from the bank asking to call them about my credit card to verify account activity. I call, telling them all is OK, I’m just waiting for me to receive a new card. Funny thing… apparently no new card was on its way. They only locked it. So now they blocked my account and I will need to wait another 7-10 days to get my card… I thought I was pretty clear on that last week, so now I just lost another week. I really need to get a backup-card somewhere for when something like this happens again. Maybe I should try Macy’s again… although that didn’t work out too well last time :-) !
… aaaah credit history, it is a funny thing.

Week 3 & 4: Drivers license, car, insurance, furniture and a Stetson

I’m finally getting the final pieces of the puzzle in order. My furniture was delivered last week, it fits perfectly into the little apartment I have. It really feels like home now.

I got my drivers license, theory and practical. Using a fully insured rental car. If you want to use a rental car, make sure they actually write the car details on the papers, or you could end up waiting 45 minutes, frustrating all the other 16 year old kids doing their license test. I got 7 points deducted (you can have 30 points deducted before the test ends in fail here). Some minor stuff. I don’t think the practical exam makes much sense to do, but I do understand why the government makes us do the theoretical test. Even though you can perfectly function on the road, it is good to know the different rules.

While getting a drivers license is not so difficult as one might think, getting a car it really difficult. All the great commercials on TV are suddenly gone, all because you do not have a credit history. The way the american system works is they do not really give a shit about how much money you make, or the value of the car. They only look at your ability to pay back credit and this is calculated 100% based on your past repayments of credit. When you just enter the country, you do not have the worst possible score, you are way below that; you are officially a ghost. “A ghost” is the actual word they use for people that do not exist in the credit system, I have heard it many times the past weeks. The result of being a ghost is that your best finance rate is 18%. It does not matter if you take a loan with the car dealer or with the bank. They always come back with 18% (Trust me, I tried). For European immigrants there might be a possibility with BMW, Audi or Volkswagen because they use a European financing firm. I did not check that because maintenance costs of European cars is too high here in the USA (Although I will miss my little Audi A3 very much here).
I ended up transferring money from my Belgian bank account (it is being transferred as we speak). En expensive joke, but not 18% expensive. And will pay my car cash. This potentially saves a bit in insurance costs too.

Last weekend I went out car-shopping. I ended up finding a nice pre-owned certified car. One previous owner, a leasing contract. In theory the best type of previous owner you can get. If you buy a used car, always ask for the “Carfax”, this is a paper that shows you all the registered actions on the car (first time sold, miles at maintenance, accidents, type of contract,…). Most decent dealers will give it for free. If you go shopping yourself, you might want to get the carfax app and pay 50$ for unlimited Carfax checks on used cars.
Anyhow, I found a car and gave the dealer a deposit to keep the car for me till I have the money on my US bank account and started making insurance quotes.

Insurance is a bitch. It is far more expensive than Europe is… Painful. Most quotes I got are between 200 USD and 320 USD a month for 6 months. State Farm seems to be cheaper, but everyone keeps telling me not to go with them because they are very difficult to pay out. Geico and Progressive were close to each other, Progressive being slightly less expensive for me. Just before I wanted to sign up, I got a call from an insurance broker who helped me get a quote at 160/month with a subdivision of Farmers (Not to be confused with State Farm). It seemed allright, but about everything that could go wrong actually did go wrong. On the first documents I received, my Address was wrong, my car VIN number was incorrect (I know I have a funny accent, so I check everything 3 times; a habit I am trying to force myself in but a habit I really really REALLY dislike I need. Then once that was fixed I found out that the guy put me as a first drivers license on 16 instead of 20 (BE)/26 (US), as I told him. This immediately explains the difference. Since I do not want wrong information, I am not getting the car before it is changed and I have the new price, if any. It is starting to stress me out because I really just want to get my car and have it all over with. My conclusion: Stick to the online forms, or force them to send you all the input information before you give your credit card number to pay. Learning money I guess. At least I got the guy to confirm by e-mail that all is OK and I can legally drive the car without problem. And he is going to fix the age thing tomorrow.

Let’s get back to Credit History for a second. All of the credit history stuff you will read tells you not to have too many credit cards because that lowers your rating. However, in order to raise your rating you must show to use different types of credit and the ability to pay those back. If you are not willing to pay 18% interests, there are 2 other possibilities:
You can get a “secured loan”, Basically that means you pay the bank -for example- 10,000 USD in order to get a 10,000 USD loan (no typo). The 10,000 USD depost goes to a blocked savings account that does not generate any interests. On the loan you pay the “normal” interest of 3-4%. Basically you are paying the bank 400 USD (+opportunity cost) to build credit history and you get nothing in return. Needless to say I did not go for that option.
The other option is to build credit history using credit cards. Yup, do exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to do to get a good credit score. Because, the easiest way to a good score is to have a score in the first place. It takes 6 months to get a score, according to what people tell me. I’m curious what that will do…(my guess is not much, since I don’t need credit once I have everything).

Anyhow. It have been rather nice weekends since I arrived in Dallas. There was the Saint Patricks day parade, where I got sunburn and talked with an Irish guy who thought I was Irish too. Not sure if it was because of my accent or the amount of alcohol in his blood. Last weekends I went car hunting in beautiful weather and I enjoyed reading a book at the swimming pool (I got it as a gift from a friend for moving to the USA, it is pretty cool, I’ll write a blog post about it when I finished it -Warning: I read slow and unfrequent-). The water is still too cold to actually swim in it, but sitting in the sun gives me a vacation feeling. Happy times.

Talking about presents I got from friends and colleagues. To celibate that arrival of my furniture we enjoyed beers and went to Arlington to buy a real cowboy hat (a gift from my Belgian colleagues). I wore it for fun at work today and made everyone laugh wearing my cowboy hat in meetings.

I guess that is about the most important things that happened the past weeks in my USA adventure. I’m still cleaning up my room getting trough all the papers. I’m getting tired of all the stuff that is involved with moving to a different country (this has been going on for 8 weeks now), it is time for some rest and time to actually meet some new people here. Start to learning how to play golf.

Almost there?

Step by step, we are getting there.

Last Friday I went to the Social Security Office to apply for my social security card. I had my SS-5 form ready, so armed with and all my papers (passport, I-94, employment contract proposal and my tablet) I went to the SSO. I expected this to be a pain, because that is what people told me it would be. I walked into a room with a lot of people speaking all kinds of languages, took a number, and sat there waiting for my number to be called. I started my tablet, to learn for my Texas drivers license while I was waiting and was ready for a few hours of waiting-game.
However, only 27 minutes later, my number was called. I gave the nice lady my papers, she typed everything over into her computer program (which is why I recommend filling in the PDF form before you print it, just like I did! It saves on spelling errors) and I was gone in 3 minutes.
I’m supposed to get my papers within 7-14 days. I just wish everything was as smooth as this process. *touch wood*

The past days, I also received my bank debit card, a nice letter asking me for my social security number in order to complete my credit card application (which I not have at the moment) and a weird letter about Debit Card Overdraft Service explaining to me that my debit card actually allows me to spend more then I have on my account and using this “service” will cost me money if I do not make a covering deposit the same day. Well duh.
The banking system in Europe and the USA are very different, yet both seem to have a weird need to send as many separate envelopes as possible. I guess it is a hidden subsidy to the national postal services.

The above reminds me of the letter a Belgian bank sent me last year to get their 43 eurocent of interest. The funny thing was that a postal stamp costs 56 cents and the account I was supposed to pay the 43 cent for was blocked and in debt due to their own miscalculation of value dates. They fixed it (for free), but I thought it was pretty funny they paid a 56 cents postal stamp to get 43 cents of income (and I’m not even calculating the cost of manpower, paper and ink).

Anyhow. The really weird thing -for me as a foreigner- I received from Wells Fargo is that my debit card comes with a “POS limit” (POS = Point of Sales) of 1500 USD. Basically this means I can only spend 1500/day with my debit card on sales. (Any European will find this extremely weird, as far as I know my Belgian debit cards limit is the amount of money on my checking account, I certainly have never had a blocked debit card). So , I send my personal contact person at the bank a nice e-mail asking him how they expect me to pay for furniture, electronics or a car with a 1500 USD limit debit card and no credit card at all (remember, the US uses credit history, which I do not have yet since I have no US history at all). He came back to me that I can simply let him know I’m planning to spend “a lot” of money and they will make sure it is OK. I understand why. If you steal my debit card in Belgium, you really cannot do anything with it without my pin-code. However, in the USA while you actually do have a pin-code (used to get money from ATM’s), you never need your pin when buying things at a random shop. Consequently, you loosing your debit card is a big deal. It’s funny and weird, but OK. If this is how it works, I’ll join this game and let the bank know when I go out shopping.

For your information (especially if you are also an immigrant like me), when you call Wells Fargo to active your debit card, at some point they ask you for your social security number (which you might not have at this point): Simply press start (*) and the voice message will just continue and not care that you didn’t enter it. I do not know whether this is a bug or a feature, I just pushed anything I could think of and it worked. :-)

Totally unrelated note while writing this post: Why on earth is Geico changing their cool green salamander (or whatever that thing is) into a pig???

On Edit 01/31/2013: Social Security Card is in!!! Next: Drivers License. I also found out that paying by Debit Card generates a direct update from your checking account here in the US. In Belgium you need to wait till the next day to see the changes, since the store payment terminals are updated “in batch”, in the USA it seems to be real-time. Kinda cool.