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Demetrius Harrison, a 21-year-old college student and promotions specialist in Louisville, Ky., Submitted his application for the new Apple Card when it debuted in September. As a frequent user of Apple Pay, with only one other credit card (one student card) in his name, Harrison thought it would be a great opportunity to build his credit.
The only problem: his request for an Apple card was refused.
And that’s understandable. With a TransUnion score of 562 (out of 850), Harrison’s credit score was too low to qualify for the Apple card. His request also cited too many credit requests in the past 12 months, which he found frustrating – after logging into his CreditWise account, the only other recent request on his report was for his apartment lease. Due to his $ 11,000 student loan balance, the rejection letter also stated that his debt-to-income ratio was too high.
He is not the only American to have faced the same disappointing reality; new survey finds more than half of Americans have at some point been surprised to be rejected for credit.
Why people get a rejection surprise
The survey, conducted in September by ScoreSense, a digital resource where consumers can access their credit scores from the three major bureaus, finds that consumers are denied credit for three reasons: ignorance of credit, having too much lines of credit or, on the contrary, have none at all.
Younger consumers were by far the most likely to suffer from ignorance about credit, with 54% of Gen Z respondents saying they didn’t know their credit scores. Only 23% of Millennials, 20% of Baby Boomers, and 18% of GenXers were unaware of their scores.
There are now dozens of ways for consumers to access their credit scores regularly and for free. Fintech companies like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame now allow users to view their credit scores for free as soon as they log into the app; they also send notifications via push alert or email to notify users of changes to their score. For those who don’t want to give their personal information to a third party to access their credit score, extracting it for free once a year at MyFreeCreditReport.com is also an option. Some credit card companies also offer cardholders free access to their credit scores.
This doesn’t mean that obsessively checking your credit score will help you. Because credit reports from the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — aren’t updated daily, credit scores aren’t updated daily either. TransUnion, for example, says credit reports are updated at least monthly or every 45 days.
Gen Z Harrison monitors his credit score with CreditWise, a free credit report tool. He says he knew a rough estimate of his score when he applied, and even though he knew his chances of being approved weren’t high, he wanted it anyway.
“I thought this was a great card (reasonable interest and above average cash back) for less than occasional use, and offered great benefits,” said Harrison. “Also, there was a lot of hype surrounding the card when it was launched.”
Having at least a general idea of your score can help you determine which credit cards are worth applying for. Some credit issuers will include an “approval range” on their web page or in their terms and conditions. Since the card request will lead to serious investigation of your report and could lower your score by a few points, checking whether you fall within the approval range first will help to avoid any unexpected request denials.
Having the wrong combination of credit cards also hurts consumers when it comes to accessing new credit. The survey finds that 38% of Americans have three or more credit cards; Baby boomers have six or more. There is no magic number for the number of credit cards a consumer should have; it largely depends on personal preferences and build a suite of cards that meet an individual’s needs. What’s important is to keep your overall credit usage below 30% to avoid negative ratings on your overall score.
On the other hand, more than a fifth of Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 do not have a credit card.
“From a credit standpoint, maintaining more than three credit cards can potentially reduce your reputation,” ScoreSense wrote in a press release for the survey. “But not having a credit card can also look bad.”
How to improve your credit
Harrison says he was not surprised when he was denied the Apple Card, noting that it appears to suit the “upper / upper middle class.” But he has qualms about credit in general and how difficult it is to build a score.
“It’s just frustrating to see how credit works – your number seems to reflect your qualification as a person,” Harrison says. “My credit isn’t great, it’s just almost non-existent. I am 21 years old and I am a student.
For people who are just starting out and have little to no credit, there are options to create a credit score from scratch. Secured credit cards, for example, are lines of credit backed by a deposit made by a cardholder, so they pose little risk to a lender. These specific credit products help a consumer build credit by making all of their payments on time. Some of these cards also allow cardholders to switch to an unsecured card after demonstrating a certain period of responsible use.
Those who have established credit but have seen it drop due to missed payments or amounts sent to collections also have ways to replenish their scores. Secured lines of credit are a great option, but some people may be hesitant to open a new line of credit. Instead, paying your bills on time and reducing your debt to lower your debt-to-income ratio can be a good start.
Harrison doesn’t expect to apply for another credit card anytime soon, mainly because he pays most of his purchases in cash. Once he graduates from college next year, he hopes to stay largely debt-free while he pays off his student loans. But he still finds the credit rating confusing and somewhat unfair.
“However, I am moving out of my apartment in February and renting a house with two friends,” Harrison says. “I guess Apple can expect another serious investigation into my report then.”