On Friday, LP and I bought a car. The car is pictured to the right. It is a Prius. I have named it "Al Gore".
(Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al has been anointed as its theme song.)
I have lived long enough to see myself become a type; I am a twenty-something, married, NPR listening, socially liberal San Franciscan.
Anyway, I digress. So, LP and I had settled on this particular car. We were seated in the office, with our surprisingly-genuinely-charming-for-a-car-salesman salesman Jayson (we had to this point made small talk about several topics, including how he wanted to be a police officer). We were investigating with him financing a small part of our purchase. The issue of credit history came up. LP has great credit. I have no credit history. If we were going to proceed with financing (we decided against it) it would have to be with only her name on the loan papers.
Your credit score governs so many things here. It's not that my score is under the recommended 600 in the USA, or it needs work. it's that when they input my details I melt their system. It's like they're inputting a ghost, or, at least, some sort of terrorist.
Credit is a sticky proposition in America. As a foreigner, the only way it seems that you can display credibility and integrity in society and assimilate is by borrowing money and then reliably paying it back.
But for how important credit is in America, developing a credit history from scratch is pretty impossible. I came into the game two-and-a-half years ago a blank slate, but it's not good being a blank slate here. No one trusts a blank slate.
My current credit standings reflect some bad decisions on my behalf, but these were things that I couldn't really have identified as bad decisions at the time.
When I had been in America for a week and was signing up for a phone contract with AT&T, having no credit record I was asked to pay a $500 deposit. I balked at this, thinking it an excessive optional cost that I could avoid (not having the foresight to identify that I'd get that money back). I chose instead to go on a family plan with LP with Verizon and the bill is in her name.
Following on from that snafu, when we got to Boston our power and gas suppliers balked at our accounts being in my credit-less name. I was busy with school and so it just became much simpler not to try to fight against that and put the accounts in LP's name.
Sure, my name was on the lease and eventually when we changed Internet providers a year in, my account was in her name. But the horse had bolted from the stable. I've been living rent-free in the basement of LP's aunt's family home for eight months now and in the eyes of any potential creditor I'm just a guy that has been living in America for two years and hasn't made a mark on anything.
What this means is that I'm likely going to be completely reliant on LP to carry us through the big things. No one, as it stands, is going to be giving me a mortgage in a hurry here.
Renting a car for me has been a particularly patchy endeavour without a credit card. LP has recently secured me, as her spouse, a credit card in my name that is attached to her account. It has a picture of a Tiger on it, which pleases me no end, but it is no use in providing me with a credit history.
I do not enjoy having a credit card. I dabbled with credit between the ages of 18 and 22 with some disastrous consequences. In my early 20s I settled up my accounts and closed up my overdraft and credit cards in New Zealand. Ever since then I've bought everything outright. When I've had no money, I've taken solace that at least I'm not technically at minus a couple thousand dollars.
But now, as many people informed me, the only option I have to build any credit is to front up to a bank and, through some miracle, get them to give me a line of my own credit with its own card (and not some pretend card my wife lets me have that has my own name on it).
I don't even know if I can get a credit card. Nor am I too happy that the only solution to this problem of credit history is to further feed the runaway beast that is the big banking system. Credit has always struck me as a ruse in which people who can't afford things are lured into trying to live beyond their means.
Now it seems it is my only pathway to fulfilling a central tenet of responsible American living.
Which doesn't quite seem right to me, you know?
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