** LEGAL UPDATE **
In the past, having a good credit score in the U.S., indicating how good one is at paying back debt, was considered important mostly for people in the process of applying for a loan or mortgage or trying to rent an apartment.
But now, in light of the Trump Administration's latest rules on how being seen as a likely "public charge" can make someone inadmissible to the U.S. and ineligible for a green card, it's relevant for intending immigrants, too.
So far, these regulations apply only to people applying to "adjust status" (get a green card) within the U.S., because the rules were promulgated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, don't be surprised if the Department of State (DOS) comes up with parallel regulations soon, affecting immigrants applying for visas via a U.S. consulate overseas.
Briefly put, we are shifting from a world in which having a U.S. employer offer the immigrant a job or having a U.S. family member sign an Affidavit of Support for that person was sufficient to prove the immigrant would be self-sufficient to a world in which immigration officials examine the "totality of circumstances" in each person's case.
USCIS can decide, for example, that factors in applicants' lives such as medical issues, a large number of family dependents, or past receipt of need-based government benefits effectively wipe out enough income or support that they will likely end up needing government help; and deny the green card on that basis.
Enter the credit score. As part of filling out the new Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, all adjustment of status applicants will be required to provide their score, as well a copy of a recent credit report (issued within the last 12 months), if either can be obtained. And even if they don't exist, applicants will have to provide a document from a credit reporting company saying as much.
If you've been living in the U.S. and had a credit card, or took out any other loan, you're likely to have a credit report on file., whether you've ever been aware of it or not.
The commentary accompanying the new regulations points out that a high credit score and good report can be useful to balance out negative factors with positive ones, saying that a high score "is a positive factor that indicates a person is likely to be self-sufficient and support the household."
But it also acknowledges that "lower credit score or negative credit history in the United States may indicate that a person's financial status is weak and that he or she may not be self-sufficient. Credit reports and credit scores provide information about a person's bill paying history, loans, age of current accounts, current debts, as well as work, residences, lawsuits, arrests, collections, actions, outstanding debts and bankruptcies in the United States."
Fortunately, there are steps you can and should take to find out what's in your credit report, correct any errors, and potentially improve your score before USCIS sees it.
Effective Date: February 24, 2020