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What does it mean to be credit invisible?

About 26 million Americans are 'credit invisible' and find it hard to get a credit card or loan. If this applies to you, here's how you can start establishing a credit history.

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Establishing a credit history is an important financial step to take. Without credit, you may be deemed "credit invisible," which can be as difficult as it sounds.

About one in 10 adults, or approximately 26 million Americans, are credit invisible, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When you're credit invisible, you can get by making everyday purchases with cash and debit cards, but you could have a harder time accessing credit products and have to delay important milestones, like buying a car or a home, as a result.

"Credit invisible means that a person lacks a credit history and is, therefore, 'invisible' to a lender," Rod Griffin, senior director of consumer education and advocacy at Experian, tells CNBC Select. This means lenders have little information to go off of when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card, loan, mortgage or even an apartment.

However, there are steps you can take to build credit and go from "invisible" to "visible." Below, we'll explain what credit invisible means and how you can establish a credit history.

What does credit invisible mean?

Someone who's credit invisible has no credit history with any of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and is therefore unable to prove any creditworthiness. 

That means that when you apply for a credit card, a mortgage, a car loan or sometimes even an apartment lease, your potential lender won't find any results when they check your credit report. This can limit the financial products you qualify for and may make some financial milestones, such as buying a house, difficult to achieve. Even utility and internet companies often require a credit history to let you open an account with them.

"There are many reasons why a person may be credit invisible, including being new to the country, being a young person who is completely new to credit or simply not using credit for an extended period of time," says Griffin.

Whether you are credit invisible because of your age or another reason, you can establish or rebuild credit through the options we list below.

How to avoid being credit invisible

If you are one of the millions of people who is credit invisible, Griffin says there are a few things you can do to start building your credit history so that you can be approved for the loans and services you need as you move forward in life.

Here are some options to go from "credit invisible" to "credit visible":

  • Become an authorized user on an existing credit card account: As an authorized user, you can piggyback off someone else's good credit actions without being liable for any charges made on the card. Make sure the primary account holder responsibly manages their credit so you benefit from positive behaviors.
  • Open a secured credit card: Secured cards, such as the Citi® Secured Mastercard®, are a great option for beginners who are looking to establish credit. The main difference between a secured card and an unsecured card is that with a secured card you're required to make a security deposit (typically $200) in order to receive a line of credit. Just like traditional cards, the actions you take with a secured card are reported to the credit bureaus.
  • Open a store card: While many experts warn against opening store cards due to the cards' high interest rates, you'll typically have a better chance of qualifying for a store card, such as the Target RedCard™, versus a card that can be used anywhere. If you decide to open a store card, make sure you pay in full every month to avoid interest charges.
  • Get credit for paying eligible bills: If you want to avoid credit cards altogether, you're not out of options. You can get credit for paying monthly utility and cell phone bills on time with Experian Boost, which is free to use. Simply connect your bank account(s) to your Experian account to find qualifying on-time bill payments and add those payments to your credit file.

Once you become "credit visible," you can qualify for credit cards, loans and other financial products. And if you have a good or excellent credit score (670 and above), you can receive the most competitive APRs from lenders.

Information about the Citi® Secured Mastercard® and Target RedCard™ has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.