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How to Establish a Great Credit Score

During the heady days of the mid-2000s, consumers were seduced by easy credit and pay-later promises. But not everyone jumped on the credit bandwagon. People who weren't old enough to get credit, lived in another country or just didn't need any credit may have missed the easy-lending parade.

Post-meltdown, establishing a credit history may be a little bit tougher for people with thin credit files. But you can get credit by taking some shortcuts.

Overcome a thin credit file
Americans don't pop out of the womb eligible for credit and sporting a FICO score. Instead, credit histories must be built, and then, with an established credit report, consumers qualify for a credit score.

People with very little credit information are said to have thin credit files.

Craig Watts, public relations director at Fair Isaac Corp., says that his company estimates that 22 million Americans have no credit record at all, and another 30 million have thin files.

Thin files contain not enough information with which to calculate a credit score.

"The common definition in the industry of a thin file is a credit report that has less than or equal to three trade lines," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at Credit.com and a contributor to CNBC.

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A trade line is basically an account, such as a car loan or a credit card account. The accounts must be on the credit report for several months before the account holder qualifies for a credit score.

"Just because you have a credit report doesn't mean you have a score. The account has to be on your report for at least three months before you start to qualify for a score," Ulzheimer says.

Once the file can be scored, the rules change a little for the borrower.

With excellent credit management -- keeping the balance reasonable in comparison to the limit and making payments on time every month -- "there is nothing to prevent a lender from offering more unsecured lines of credit," Ulzheimer says.

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