Building credit when you're young is getting tougher

Money Talk

Dear Liz: I am 20 and trying to build my credit. I rented an apartment for a year, and I bought a car last year but needed a cosigner to get the loan. It seems like none of this is factoring into my credit score, because I can't get a credit card! I applied for one through my credit union and was denied.

Is there any other credit card I can get besides a secured card needing a deposit? I want to refinance my car to get the cosigner's name off it, but if I have zero credit I'm not sure I'll be able to.

Answer: You're right that your apartment rental probably isn't being factored into your scores. Landlords typically don't report rental payments to the credit bureaus. But your car loan should be helping build your credit as long as it's being reported to the bureaus and you're making every payment on time.

The fact is, building credit when you're young is tough -- and it's about to get tougher for people under 21, because of new restrictions on credit card issuers that go into effect Monday.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act requires issuers to make sure people under 21 have an independent source of income before giving them a card. If the applicants don't, they'll need an adult cosigner.

But credit card issuers were tightening their standards even before the CARD Act was passed last year. Even credit unions, which traditionally have been easier places to get credit, raised their standards for who could get a card.

So unless you can find someone to add you to an existing card as an authorized user, or who is willing to cosign an account to make you a joint account holder, a secured card is probably your best bet.

You'll want a card that reports to all three credit bureaus and that has an annual fee under $75. You can find offers at CardRatings.com, CreditCards.com, LowCards.com and the Index Credit Cards site.

How federal gift tax laws work

Dear Liz: I would like to give my three children monetary gifts they can use for college or a car. I understand that I can give them up to $13,000 as a nontaxable gift. Is that correct? How would I file the tax return, and would I be allowed to pay the tax on their gift?

Answer: It sounds like you're misunderstanding how the gift tax works.

You could give your kids a monetary gift of any size, and it wouldn't be taxable to them. But it could have gift tax implications for you.

If you give more than $13,000 to any one person, you're supposed to file a gift tax return (IRS Form 709) noting the fact. Any amount over $13,000 per person per year is deducted from your lifetime gift tax exemption, currently $1 million. Once you've used up that exemption, you would owe tax on any later gifts in excess of $13,000 per person (or whatever the annual exemption is then). You'd have to be really generous to ever pay a tax.

Where to get a free credit report

Dear Liz: What is the best source for a free credit report with no strings attached (that is, you're not required to sign up for credit monitoring or other offers)?

Answer: The one and only site to get your free, federally mandated look at your credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com. There are plenty of look-alike sites that try to fool you, so make sure you get to the right one.

Also, be aware that you're entitled only to free credit reports, not free credit scores. If you want to see the FICO scores that lenders use, you will have to buy those at the MyFICO site. If you want to see free credit scores that aren't FICOs but that give you some idea of where you stand with lenders, visit the Credit Karma site.

Questions for possible inclusion in Liz Pulliam Weston's column may be sent to 3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd., No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or via the "Contact Liz" form at www.asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.

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