It seems most travel blogs include a post about how great the author’s credit is and how important it is to maintain that. And then some other posts about how their score may “dip” from say the high 700s to the mid 700s briefly after applying for a bunch of cards. While I wholeheartedly support the view that maintaining your good credit is hugely important, the simple fact is the majority of the population has some kind of issue with their credit report. According to CreditKarma, 38.6% of the population has a credit score above 700. So this post is aimed at the rest of us 61.4% who sit below the halo line.

The Fair-Isaac credit scoring system runs from 300 to 850 points. When I moved from the UK in the mid 2000’s, I was used to the UK credit scoring system which capped out at 1,000 points. The last time I checked before leaving I was somewhere around 995, a near perfect score. So it was of course quite shocking to come here and basically have no credit history whatsoever. It felt like being an 18 year old kid again, but without all the fun. Amex was my one saving grace as they were willing to open lines of credit off of my UK history and they even reported them as being open from the time my first UK accounts were opened, so I got a little credit for that. Anyway over the next couple of years I managed to build a reasonable score, though my average account age was obviously not long. I monitored my credit quite regularly – I used (and continue to use to this day) Transunion as I like the reporting format (and I am one of those people willing to pay for these subscription services). So I regularly saw my score creeping up and up as I was able to add car loans, car leases, mortgage etc. Then one day I get an email alert that something had changed and I was not expecting anything. I logged in and was stunned to find a “Judgement” recorded on my account by Albany County Court. A true WTF moment! After some panic and then looking it all up, it turns out I owed NY State a pretty small amount of interest from a prior year tax return, and they had put it out for judgement. Literally overnight my score dropped through the floor and I figured the whole credit game was over for me. I quickly paid the outstanding amount with NY State but knew this thing would stick on my report for a long time. Indeed my score has never really recovered properly, as you can see from this chart of my score history:

Not terrible, but not great either and certainly not in the 700+ range that everyone assumes you need to be to make the most of the credit card opportunities.

My biggest concern was not travel cards but my ability to finance major purchases such as cars and homes. Well it turns out it was not at all ruinous on this front. We refinanced our mortgage in 2010, a pretty large mortgage I must confess, and we got a highly competitive rate. I did have to explain to them what happened, and produce the papers showing the judgement was paid. In fact I recall the discussion with the mortgage officer at the bank and he said that he deals with judgements all the time, mostly for medical bills. Maybe he was being nice to me but he said at least a third of the people he reviews have medical judgements, where you got service from some hospital and there was an unpaid amount and they just ship it out to some collection agency. I have friends who have similar issues with maybe an old cell phone bill.

I have also since been able to finance car loans at 1.49% (pretty much the best rate in the market) as well as refinance the mortgage again at market leading rates, so the plain fact is you can survive having a big scar on your credit.

Now in terms of credit cards, what it has meant primarily for the past few years is no more instant approvals. I virtually always get turned down at time of application. As such I have become quite “expert” at reaching out to the credit reconsideration departments of the various card issuers. I will post some follow ups on each of the “big three” banks that I have dealt with (Citi, Chase and Amex) has each has it’s own unique quirks in terms of getting through to someone who will actually listen to your story. But it is ultimately possible and you can get past prior credit transgressions.

Whenever I suggest to someone they get into the credit card game, the first question is always “doesn’t that ruin your credit?”. I always answer pretty firmly “no”. In fact the interesting thing I have found is that now I have gone through so many cards recently with the big players, I am actually back in the game of getting instant approvals. In fact on my last app-o-rama I fully planned a post about Amex in particular, who have a particularly odd but effective reconsideration department… but then I actually ended up getting approved without having to go through all that.

The one impact of all the app-o-rama and churning is that my average account age is still very low:

So CreditKarma gives me a pretty poor score on this front. But I am still able to get pretty much any credit card I want and have not had any issues getting the best possible rates on major financing such as mortgages and auto loan and leases.

I think the gist of my message here is if your credit is less than perfect then you should not be deterred from playing this game. I certainly advocate protecting your credit and making sure you don’t let these things happen to you, but if you have past digressions don’t worry about it, these are things that can be overcome. And I certainly have found that the impact of getting 5 or 6 new cards every single quarter has really not been bad at all. So go on, be brave!!!

  • “the impact of getting 5 or 6 new cards every single quarter has really not been bad at all. So go on, be brave!!!”

    Would it not be better advice on a post about readers with less than perfect credit to start SMALL (rather than to be brave), with say 1-2 cards every quarter to make sure they can do this well (not to mention the spend needed for 5-6 cards)!

    • MilesAbound

      I think it is a fair point and those who don’t feel comfortable or want to test the water can always start smaller and grow from there. I just wanted to get across the point that people should not automatically assume they can’t play this game if there score is sub-700, and I have seen direct claims to the contrary on other blogs so wanted to throw out a counter-opinion. Of course the beauty here is we get to debate and put forward each other’s opinion without them being censored…. 😉

  • Sure it is easy to have a discussion when readers are respectful and decent. However, when someone is disrespectful and personally attacks other readers, or the OP, I take great pride that I take the stand to censer those who have no class or charter to be respectful of others. This in no way takes away from those who disagree. To me, to disagree is 100% fine as long as it is done in a respectful way! It seems to me you have the same level of respect for others.

    I do you give you great credit that you have the “guts” to start a blog and publicly post what you think. Most are just to afraid to take this step! Well done and much success. – Rene

  • Thoomas

    I have excellent credit, however my wife does not and we’ll love do doubledip..however we’ve always been told to wait till here’s is 700+..her recent history is great and there is no longer any misinformation on her report, however it is still below 700. She gets offers for reward Citi TY, Citi AA, and US Air 40K bonus..Are there any rewards cards that you think would be the best to try first? ie are there any banks that are easier to get approved for vs others?

    • MilesAbound

      I would say Chase are a good place to start primarily because you can always get through to a credit analyst who is generally very empowered, so if there is a good story beyond the credit score, you should be able to get her approved. Not to mention they have a really great line up of cards. I would say Bank of America have very good credit analysts too.

      I think to his credit Delta Points makes a good point above and applying for say 1 Chase card and 1 Bank of America card for her would be a good test of the water. If she is denied think of why you think she should be approved and call up the reconsideration lines and you will probably be pleasantly surprised.

      The banks I struggle with are Citi (you have to go through the executive office as the regular agents are useless) and the outliers like Capital One and US Bank actually have pretty stringent standards

  • @Thoomas I would say MilesAbounds advice is perfect and spot on and you should follow it. The only thing I would add would be if you have to call for reconsideration, offer to be approved for a very low line and then after a few months of proven 100% on time payments you can then request a higher line.

    Chase Credit Card Reconsideration

    888-245-0625 Personal card credit analyst

    800-453-9719 Business card credit analyst

    888–609–7805 Application status department

    800-436-7927 Application status – automated

    888-270-2127 Application reconsideration department

    888-622-7547 Chase Executive Office


    Bank Of America Credit Card Reconsideration

    866-458-8805 credit analyst

    877-721-9405 application status press 3

    866-421-8153 Credit analyst – existing cardholders

    800-718-6072 Credit analyst – for existing cardholders

  • Thoomas

    Hmm I thought most chase cards (and BOA) were Visa Signature cards?
    That is at least the case with mine…Sig cards, from my understanding require a minimum of 5000 credit limit. Can you recommend any that do not require a 5000 credit limit?

    • MilesAbound

      Again I don’t know your wife’s specifics but it is possible she will qualify for the Visa Signature cards (or equivalents) anyway. I’d still say Chase is the best bet given the ability to call a human being on the recon line. In fact what you may want to do is call the recon line in advance and ask one of the credit analysts about your wife’s circumstances and whether it is at least possible they would approve. They won’t say “yes that would be approved” but they would likely tell you “no there is no way that would be approved”. Good luck and keep us posted

      • Thoomas

        Good idea..will do. Have a great trip