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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The (credit) risky side of interplanetary travel

While I, subalien that I am, have yet to reach the first rung in the ladder of evolution on our new planet, even superaliens we’ve discovered have a long way to go before they can stand on their own two feet and hold their head high, proud in the knowledge that as they’ve matured, so has their credit rating.

Before we landed on Planet Big Apple, I had vaguely heard about how important credit ratings and credit scores were to our new hosts. I had not appreciated however how all-important they were. It didn’t take long. Just a trip to the local mobile phone company where we had to pay hefty deposits for each line we rented, deposits the company held on to for a year, interest free, just for the privilege of being able to use its network and pay the company even more money.

The problem, we quickly discovered, is that while interplanetary travel these days allows you to bring your offspring, Christmas decorations, unicycle and two chocolate fountains, it has not managed to find a way to transport your credit history. Obviously en route it gets de-atomised, de-itemised and disappears altogether. 

Moreover apparent language difficulties mean that bank statements from other planets with evidence of funds, applaudable payment routines and general upright citizenship are not translatable. No matter how many zeros you may have at the end of your previous bank balance, they mean nothing as far as a credit rating is concerned. Or rather zero.

The best is the credit card clinch – no, not a new variation of the credit card crunch post-September 2008 but what we've been held in since we arrived in September 2008. You need a US credit card but as you don’t have a US credit history, banks are not exactly falling over themselves to give you one. You eventually succeed after handing over every financial statement known to you, your husband, even to the UK taxman. You gratefully receive US credit card only to see that you have been given a credit limit that equates to dinner for two at your local diner.

Moreover because one of you has subalien status and is socially insecure i.e. without a SSN, you are not entitled to two separate accounts, only two identical cards and a shared credit limit – so you are each down to the equivalent of dinner for one.

Then here’s the clinch – in the UK and France, spending up to our credit limit and paying it all off on time like good little girls and boys usually resulted in lovely letters from our bank inviting us to use the card even more. Here, apparently, it’s the opposite. The best way to ensure you don’t improve your credit rating is to spend up to your current limit even if you pay it all off.  I’ve even seen one recommendation that you only spend up to 30% of what is available to you  - so down to just a starter at the local diner then.

The obvious solution is to have a number of credit cards and spread your spending around. But (and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this), in order to get more credit cards, you have to have a good credit rating which means not spending up to your limit etc etc etc. And let's not forget the icing on the cake - if you are brave enough to apply for another credit card and get rejected based on your credit report, it brings your credit rating down even further!

Nearly two years on from our first full report, I just did our latest annual credit check. It was a bit like waiting for your A level results and seeing whether you’d made the grades for the university of your choice. The good news was that our credit rating had gone up. The not so good was that I checked on the internet to see how the new score compares and found kids in their 20s at the same level.

Seems we’ll just have to wait and let evolution take its course.

Creative Commons License by Caroline Eagles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.