[Published on SABEW]How to increase credit scores as an international student

Most international students have this problem – how to build credit in the United States when they are starting from zero?

It was once a problem to me when I first came to the U.S. But luckily, I found an efficient way to increase credit scores within one year.

The three credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian begin to calculate a score when you receive a US Social Security Number (SSN). However, many international students, especially those with F-1 visa, could not gain their SSN until they have an on-campus job.

If you have planned for a job, it would be great for you to start your credit journey by applying for basic credit cards with low credit line and very limited benefits. For example, you may apply for credit cards issued by local banks which may have 1% to 2% cashback; or you may apply for Bank of America’s Cash Rewards credit card. Usually, these credit cards are friendly to international students. You may want to check out the Capital One Newcomers Card —  it’s designed specifically for immigrants, and .offers 1% cash back, has no annual fee, and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Another option is a secured card, which means that you tie it to a savings account (as collateral). Secured cards are designed to build credit.

For those who haven’t planned for a job, it would be also helpful to apply for basic credit cards. Such credit cards are also open to international students without any credit score, and help international students earn credits inside the bank system. Although you are not earning credits in the official credit system, you would find it useful once you receive your SSN and start your credit journey.

The next step is to pay monthly on time and in full, which is really helpful to earn credit scores and build credit history in the long term. And starting from the first credit card, you could apply for other advance credit cards with more benefits in the future.

Finally, you may ask: How would I know my current credit scores? You could check your credit score once in a year for free Therefore, the best way to keep an eye on your credit would be using apps or websites, like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma.

[Published on SABEW] Troubled in managing your financial accounts? These mobile apps may help.

An international student may have many accounts. I’ve found it difficult to manage my accounts as well as credit cards. Using an app on your smartphone or tablet is one way to put everything in one place.

I found these which might be helpful:

1. Clarity Money: I started using this app three months ago when my favorite financial management app “Prosper Daily” was disconnected. It supports many banks in the U.S. and provides different features, including overview of all accounts, spending and saving analysis, free transaction between different bank accounts and etc. The app uses card-design layout, which is clear to present each single piece of information. You may choose to keep the features you like on the main page and discard other features. Also, it provides evaluation of your credit scores as well as notifies you to make payments to credit cards. If you would like to explore how you spend your money, “Clarity Money” is one of the best apps you could use.

2. Penny: I found this app interesting because of its style of presenting information. Just like texting with a friend, the app uses texting-style (dialogues) to inform you the financial situation. For example, if you would like to know your spending breakdown by category, you could type “breakdown by category” in the text box, then the app would text you back with the graphic of the information. In addition, each spending would fall into a category automatically, which would be easier for you to review you spending weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly. If you are interested in a fun financial management app, “Penny” would be your go-to choice.

3. Truebill: This app is a little different from the other two. In addition to features of keeping an eye on spending and account activity, it also manages bills and subscription services such as Netflix, Spotify and even Microsoft office. For example, I’m a subscriber to The New York Times, Netflix and Spotify at the same time but always forget when my subscriptions end. Therefore, I could add my accounts of these platforms to this app which would remind of the payment due day and related information. Another helpful feature of the app is that it would detect unwanted charges, such as a late fee, and help you request a refund in only one click instead of making you write long emails to the business. If you would like to save your time on financial management, “Truebill” could be a good option.

Media has reporting gaps on human trafficking stories

Originally from China, I felt the huge differences between China and the U.S. in terms of human trafficking.

Trafficking in China is a much more complicated issue. It is not just money-driven. The social reasons behind trafficking vary when it comes to single case.

While Americans are calling for equality, China is one of the countries that many still hold the stereotype: "Men are superior to women." This statement leads to inequality throughout the society: There are all-men-no-women villages; there are girls being abandoned because of their gender; there are parents selling their sons to those families which don't have one; and there are young females being trafficked to rural areas for marriages and pregnancy. Things are actually happening on the other side of the world. 

But I had never thought about the same thing would happen in the U.S. when I arrived at this land of freedom.

Thanks to my previous project, I was able to get in touch with experts and organizations. I was surprised by the fact that few people were educated about human trafficking, and the majority have not even heard of the term.

And media, one of whose responsibilities is to inform the public, only covers cold statistics or willing-to-share survivors, but seldom pays attention to survivors' post-trafficked lives. Almost every survivor has been through the troubles of social welfare. For example, it's really hard for survivors to gain medical care and social welfare when they go back to normal life.

What's worse, some survivors can never gain justice from laws, as it's difficult to define whether a trafficker is a trafficker (How ridiculous!). Especially for sex trafficking victims, they may be charged with prostitution even they were forced to be prostitutes. And if these victims are sex trafficked at a very young age, they may not know how to make a living after they are rescued.

But there is still a group of people caring about trafficking and trying to change. The past months I have met a lot of new friends from the coalition who are willing to share and to give.

Joy is one of these people. She is a survivor. When we walked out of building after a meeting, Joy gave me a hug, looked into my eyes, and said:

"I know you can see the world changes, and I know you can change the world."

Human trafficking is not rare, awareness of human trafficking is

It's hard to believe that the smiling lady sitting in front of me had suffered both domestic violence and trafficking before.

In Central Missouri Human Trafficking Coalition's monthly meeting, Robin shared her experience, again, after her story aired on ABC 17 (KMIZ) on Monday night.

"The more I share, the less I fear," Robin said.

She looked calm during the sharing, as she found it a so-called "healing process." Sometimes communications could ease the pain from her deep heart.

I cannot help but wonder if anyone will believe the seriousness of human trafficking around the country after watching Robin’s story. Everyone would like to believe what they want to believe, and now they may choose to consider Robin as a single case. 

But the truth is: It is not just about Robin.

So how can we raise people's awareness of trafficking? There is one way: To expose a massive number of similar cases.

Although occasional coverage of the issue will bring up attention among the public, people may be surprised about the news for a couple days and then forget it. And the loop will repeat when the next piece of story comes up.

A good signal is that more officials and citizens have a better understanding of trafficking due to growing education. And according to National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are more reported cases in the past year, meaning that more victims have recognized their troubles as trafficking.

However, current education is far from enough.

The majority of public are only at the first stage of understanding human trafficking. They may know "what it is" and "how it is," but they may not know how to prevent it and how to help the survivors.

That's why we still have a long way to go.