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The Question Most People Forget to Ask When They Apply for a Credit Card

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Even someone new to credit may have a general sense of what they should look for when pull up that good ole Schumer Box and vet a credit card: What’s its purchase annual percentage rate? Does the card have an annual fee? Are there penalties for paying for late? And, maybe even more immediately, what type of rewards will I get?

But there is another question everyone — and credit newbies in particular — should be asking as they scour the fine print. That is, does the issuer report my card use to the major credit reporting agencies?

Do I Really Have to Ask?

The answer to that question sounds like a given — of course, credit card issuers report their accounts to the credit bureaus, right? Eh, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

See, creditors essentially have to pay to report to the credit bureaus and, in turn, pull consumer credit files when they’re sussing out whether or not to give you a loan, and not all issuers can afford to loop in each one. Some may only report to one of the Big Three (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and a few may not report at all.

A complete lack of reporting is more common when you’re talking about secured credit cards, which require a cardholders to put down a cash deposit to serve as their credit line. It can also become an issue when you’re an authorized issuer on someone else’s credit card, as opposed to a primary credit cardholder. But given both of those options are largely viewed as starter credit — a means for people to either build or rebuild their credit — it becomes even more important to verify that your card use is going to wind up on your credit reports.

How Do I Figure Out if I’m Getting Credit?

An issuer’s reporting practices should generally be listed in a card’s terms and conditions, but, if they aren’t, or you simply can’t find the section, you can call the issuer and ask them directly about whether they report to the major credit reporting agencies. You can also verify whether you’re getting credit for an existing account by pulling your credit reports. (You can get your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

If a particular credit card isn’t appearing on your credit report — and its absence isn’t an error — you can ask your issuer if you might be eligible for an upgrade. Secured credit cardholders who demonstrate the ability to use a card responsibly are often offered the opportunity to move to a traditional credit card after some time. (And most traditional credit cards do report to the major credit bureaus.) Authorized users, too, on accounts in good standing may be afforded the same option.

If your issuer won’t, you can also look into getting a new credit card that does report to big three. Just be sure to verify ahead of time if they do so. You don’t want to blindly apply for every piece of plastic out there in hopes of getting credit, since those applications can generate a hard inquiry on your credit reports, which can hurt your credit score.

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  • Harold

    Great article Jeanine, many forget about these things.
    As someone in personal finance, i see many who don’t have a clue as for what questions to ask and which things to be concerned about.

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