On September 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed changing how it determines whether an alien is inadmissible to the United States under section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) based on whether he or she is likely to become a public charge at any time, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status. Aliens who seek adjustment of status or a visa, extension of stay, or who are applicants for admission, must establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge, requiring them to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits. The consular officer or the Attorney General at a minimum considers the alien’s age, health, family status, assets, resources, and financial status; and education and skills.

Under current regulations, the burden of demonstrating that the alien is not likely to become a public charge typically falls to the sponsoring United States relative, who must complete and file an Affidavit of Support.

The INA does not define the term “public charge.” DHS is proposing to define a public charge as an alien who receives one or more public benefits, as defined in 8 CFR 212.21(b). DHS is proposing to consider whether the alien has received since obtaining the nonimmigrant status he or she seeks to extend or to which he or she seeks to change, is currently receiving, or is likely to receive public benefits as defined in the proposed rule, when adjudicating an application to extend a nonimmigrant stay or change a nonimmigrant status.

As noted, one of the elements in analyzing whether an alien is likely to become a “public charge” is the alien’s “financial status.” When reviewing whether the alien has any financial liabilities or past reliance on public benefits that make the alien more or less likely to become a public charge, DHS is proposing to review an alien’s credit histories and credit scores, among other things. Part of this proposal would add the burden of completing and filing a new form, the proposed Form I944, and would require applicants to bear the cost of obtaining a credit report and credit score from any one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States and submit it with the application.

As also noted, DHS also proposes that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) would consider an alien’s liabilities and information of such liabilities in a U.S. credit report and score as part of the financial status factor. Not everyone has a credit history in the United States. Nevertheless, a good credit score in the United States is a positive factor that indicates a person is likely to be self-sufficient. Conversely, a 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 contain information about a person’s bill payment history, loans, current debt, and other financial information.Credit reports may also provide information about work and residences, law suits, and bankruptcies in the United States. A U.S. credit score is a number that rates a person’s credit risk at a point in time. It can help creditors determine whether to give the person credit, affect the terms of credit the person is offered, or impact the rate the person will pay for a loan in the United States.

U.S. banks and other entities use credit scoring to determine whether a person is likely to repay any loan or debt. A credit report takes into account a person’s bill-paying history, the number and type of accounts with overdue payments, collection actions, outstanding debt, and the age of the accounts in the United States. USCIS would generally consider a credit score characterized as “good” or better to be a positive factor as it demonstrates an applicant may be able to support him or herself and any dependents assuming all other financial records are sufficient.

A “good” credit report is generally near or slightly above the average of U.S. consumers, and therefore the person may be self-sufficient and less likely to become a public charge. A poorcredit report is well below the average of U.S. consumers.

The absence of an established U.S. credit history would not necessarily be a negative factor when evaluating public charge in the totality of the circumstances. Absent a U.S. credit report or score, USCIS may give positive weight to an alien who can show little to no debt and a history of paying bills timely. An alien may provide evidence of regular and timely payment of bills, and limited balances on credit cards and loans. In addition, USCIS would not consider any error on a credit score that has been verified by the credit agency in determining whether an alien is likely to become a public charge in the future.

In any event, and in anticipation of the entry into force of these proposed regulations, any alien who is intending to apply for a visa or to adjust status should consider his or her credit score and how it can have an effect on the adjudication of the immigration application, and should try to take those steps necessary to improve his or her credit history and score, to the extent possible.

In light of these proposed changes, what steps can an applicant take to improve his or her credit history or score? The first stepis to obtain a current and complete copy of your credit report. There are many sources available to obtain this information. By law, you are entitled to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. The site to obtain this information is:, which will provide you with current copies of your credit histories, as maintained by the three national credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and Transunion. The site will not provide you with your credit scores. If you want to obtain your scores here, the credit bureaus will charge to provide them to you. They are not inexpensive.

It may be a better option to obtain your credit scores from a consumer credit monitoring site. For example, you can obtain your credit score from Experian at a site Be aware that these sites sometimes utilize different scoring models to calculate your credit score. The two most commonly used scoring models are called FICO and Vanguard. If you are looking at your score to monitor whether it is going up or down, it doesn’t really matter which of these scores you look at, just be certain that you are comparing your scores from the same scoring model. (In other words, compare your FICO score only to another FICO score and your Vanguard score to another Vanguard score)

Vanguard scores are utilized on one of the most popular sites for free credit monitoring, credit karma. You should be advised that Vanguard scores are oftentimes as many as sixty points different than an individual’s FICO score. This is important because FICO scores are the scoring model most frequently used by lenders and accordingly, are the scores likely to be utilized by the USCIS.

Once you have obtained a copy of your credit report, the second step is to review it closely. Oftentimes, items appear on individual’s credit reports that do not properly belong to them. If this happens to you, you have a right to dispute such improper items with the credit bureaus. Be cautious about how you dispute these items, the credit bureaus will offer you the opportunity to dispute these items online but doing so may result in your waiver of important legal rights.

Reviewing your credit report may reveal accounts that you owe. Be careful when addressing these accounts, paying them off does not necessarily boost your credit scores like you may expect them to. Entering a payment plan on older accounts could also potentially retrigger the statute of limitations on the account, allowing you to be sued when such suit had previously been time barred.

If you don’t have and use a credit card, the American credit scoring models make it difficult for you to have a high score. What if your credit score isn’t high enough to qualify for a credit card? You may want to investigate a “secured credit card.” These cards allow you to make a deposit into an account, which “secures” any charges you make on the card. These cards typically do not require a good credit score, and in fact the card issuer ordinarily doesn’t even look at your credit.

The third step, and perhaps most important, one of the keys to a healthy credit score is paying your bills on time. Late payments on mortgages, auto loans and credit card bills will seriously damage your credit score. If you find yourself in a “cash crunch” prioritize these bills. Other bills, like utility bills, cell phone bills and rent typically do not report to the credit bureaus, unless and until they are sent to collection. If you need financial breathing room, you may be able to delay payment of these types of bills for a short period of time. (Just be sure that you don’t let them go into default status where they will be sent to collection.)

Credit scoring is “forward looking.” You may have to clean up some older derogatory items on your report, but if you start today with timely payments and proper card utilization, you can begin to grow your scores in a positive direction.

There are companies that can assist you with growing your scores and understanding the credit scoring process. They can help you to avoid some of the potential pitfalls discussed above.Make certain that you are diligent in researching these companies before choosing one to work with. Look for a company that has been in business for five years or more and has well credentialed employees. Be cautious with big “internet” credit repair companies. Often all that they do for you is repeatedly send letters to the credit bureaus, they don’t provide you with education about the credit scoring models or give your credit issues proper individual attention.

Richard Hein (@STLLawyer) is a bilingual (Spanish/English) immigration lawyer in Saint Louis, Missouri, and Board Member of International Law Firms, an international association of highly regarded law firms with member firms in more than 70 cities and 50 countries worldwide. Rick regularly provides legal analysis on domestic issues of international interest, and has appeared on CNN enEspañol, Voice of America, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle, Univisión, NTN24, El Clarín (Argentina), and TeLoCuento News (Caracas).


Charlie Scanlon (@123pccStL) is a lawyer, public speaker, consumer credit expert, and President of Phoenix Credit Consultants, a nationally recognized credit repair and restoration company in Saint Louis, Missouri, and General Counsel for Commencement, LLC, a student loan debt counselling company. Charlie frequently writes on the subject of credit and the laws that govern it; he is well versed in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other legislation that impacts the proper reporting of consumer credit.

Rapid Response!

“I am very impressed with the attention and rapid response to my credit situation. Charlie stayed on the phone with me and talked me through several scenarios to help improve my credit. Next step is to talk business credit. Thanks, Charlie, Thanks, Phoenix Credit Consultants”

– Salvatore C.

Holiday Credit Tip Sheet

Holiday Credit Tip Sheet


Credit Cards and Credit Card Utilization


One of the primary factors that go into computing your credit score is “Credit Card Utilization.”

In its simplest terms, credit utilization is a fraction. The amount of credit that you have available to you on credit cards is the bottom half (or denominator) of that fraction. The amount of credit that you have used is the top half (or the numerator) of that same fraction.

For example, if you have $1,000.00 dollars worth of credit available to you and you charge $500.00 on the credit card or cards that you own, your resulting credit utilization rate is 500/1,000, or 50%.


If you don’t pay any portion of that 50% off when your bill comes after the holidays, your credit utilization rate will be computed by the credit bureaus at that 50% rate. That level of utilization will damage your potential score. Not as bad as 75% utilization or 100% utilization, but it will leave significant credit scoring “points” on the table.

We want to help you build your score. If you’re hoping to get your score to a place where you can pre-qualify for a mortgage in the spring or summer-it is best that you spend only at a level that will allow you to pay your credit card bill down to 30% (or less) of its applicable limit BEFORE it is due next month.


In-Store Credit Card Offers

If you make a purchase at a national retail store like Target or Macy’s during the holiday season, it is likely that you will be offered a discount on your purchase if you apply for and use that store’s credit card when you checkout. The offer is typically something like a 10% or 20% discount on all purchases made on the day that you make the credit card application.

Offers like this can be very tempting. (That’s why the stores make them!)

But, think about the following:


  1. Research has shown that people tend to spend more money when they use credit cards in lieu of cash. The spending likely increases even more if you are given a “one day only”, limited time discount. If the 10% discount only applies to purchases made that day, you are very likely going to spend more money on that trip to the store than you had initially planned to.


  1. When you apply for a store card, it will show up as a “hard” inquiry on your credit report. Although the hit to your credit score will not be massive, you could potentially lose five or ten points. If you are planning on applying for a mortgage or auto loan in the next few months, those points could cost you a significant amount of money.


If you find yourself unable to resist the urge to apply for and use the store card, it bears repeating: be sure to pay the statement balance in full and on time BEFORE it is due. At the very least, pay the balance down to no more than 30% of the available balance.


  1.  Interest rates on store cards are high, often in the range of 20 to 25 percent. Surprisingly with these cards no matter what your credit score is whether it is 620 or 850, you will receive that same high-interest rate.


If you use the credit card to finance a big purchase, the cost associated with that high-interest rate would quickly eliminate any savings you received if you don’t pay the bill off in full upon its arrival. Finally, if you don’t pay all or most of that big purchase off before the interest becomes due, that high-interest rate can result in your credit utilization moving upwards very quickly, even if you don’t spend anymore using the card.


0% Interest”  Offers Oftentimes Aren’t Really 0%

When you are ready to buy something in a store, or online, you might be tempted with an offer of 0% financing. Pay close attention to exactly what you are being offered. Not all 0% offers are the same.


Sometimes the offer will “waive” the interest during a certain, set promotional period (for example, “90 days”).


Other times the offer does not waive the interest, but defers it, instead. If you fail to pay the balance in full during the defined time, the retailer may retroactively charge you interest for that full period. In that instance, you never received the benefit of 0% interest at all. You should only consider utilizing this type of offer if you can pay the balance in full BEFORE the expiration of the defined period.


Before signing up for any of these sorts of offers, “READ THE AGREEMENT”, make sure you understand whether the interest is being “waived” or “deferred.”

If At All Possible, Avoid Going Into Debt to Buy Gifts

It feels great to give gifts to the ones who you love during the holiday season. But, if your goal in the next several months is to grow your credit score to a point where you can qualify for financing for a new home, going into debt to buy those gifts can expose your credit score to damage and jeopardize the fulfillment of that dream.

Rather than going into debt, consider gifting alternatives. Everyone loves the gift of home-baked Christmas cookies. Think about giving the gift of your labor or of a special talent that you might be able to offer to others.

Feel free to share with your loved ones that your special gift to them is helping you to realize your dream of owning a home next year.


Consider Giving Your Friends or  Loved Ones the Gift of a Credit Restoration Expert in 2018

You may want to consider giving the gift of the services of a professional, reputable credit restoration company to help your friends or family along the path to better credit.

They may attempt to fix damaged credit issues on their own, but the process can be hard work. It will require their time, patience, diligence and perhaps some aptitude for understanding what the credit bureaus and collection agencies are required by law to do.

Should you choose to give this gift, we would like to chip in. Anyone who contacts Phoenix this month or in January of 2018 (314-429-2040)  and tells us that they found out about us through this Holiday Credit Tip Sheet will receive a $25.00 dollar discount on their initial first work fee, should they choose to engage our services. Feel free to tell folks that this discount it is your gift to them!


Credit Bureau VIP Files

It has long been rumored that each of the three national credit bureaus maintains a list of consumers they identify as “VIP” files.
A TransUnion employee once testified in a deposition:
Q: And some references have been made in prior cases to maybe a VIP category. Is there such a category? [… ] For example, if a lawyer makes a dispute, it’s handled by your department?
A: That is correct.
Q: If a politician or [a person] known to be a politician makes a dispute, are those the types of disputes you might handle?
A: Yes. Q: And celebrities as well?
A: Yes.
Deposition of Shontese Norwood, Mullins v. TransUnion, Civ. Action No. 3:05-CV-888 (Sept. 21, 2006)

All Of This Is Because Of YOUR Help!

You’ve been so awesome, I wanted to share this. We got approved by a local bank to buy the house we want – now all we have to do is sell ours!!! All of this is because of YOUR HELP! You have been phenomenal and I am truly thankful.

– Jen H.

Restoring Your Credit-Nothing is Impossible (The Cubs and Indians are Playing in The World Series!)

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians for winning their respective league’s Championship Series and earning the right to face off against each other in the World Series.

As a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, it is somewhat difficult for me to offer congratulations to the team from Chicago’s Northside, the Cardinals’ “loveable loser” rival for most of my lifetime. But, here it is: “Congratulations, Small Bears! Your long suffering fans deserve it! Good luck to you against the Indians!”

How unlikely was a Cubs/Indians match-up in the Series? The Cubs last played in the fall classic seventy-one years ago, they were last World Champions in 1908, an astounding One Hundred and Eight years ago! The Indians last earned World Series Championship rings in 1948, despite the fact that they have competed in the series three times since.

The Cubs and the Indians start their series in Cleveland tomorrow evening. Indeed, anything is possible.

As you enjoy the games between this unlikely pairing, perhaps it’s a good time to consider the things in your life that you consider “unlikely” to happen. Have you given up on the dream of home ownership because of poor credit? Do you think that your credit problems are something that are, “NEVER” going to go away?

Ahem, the Cubs and the Indians are playing in the World Series! Nothing is impossible, especially when it comes to your credit. I have written a great deal about how poorly educated American consumers are about credit scoring. I would hazard a guess that more Americans know the length of Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak (It’s 56 games) than know their own credit score.

Here’s an important piece of information for you to know about credit: Generally speaking, your credit score is “forward looking.” Just as the management of the World Series participants have rebuilt them into contenders, you can start to rebuild your credit, TODAY!

Where do you start? (First Base) -The very first thing that you should do is to obtain a current and complete copy of your credit report. You are entitled to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months; here’s a great site for this.

Why start with your credit report? You can’t know the players without a scorecard. It’s the best way to see the “whole ballgame.” It will also tell you what, if any, negative items are being reported against you. Read it carefully — you would be amazed at the number of credit reports that look like they were assembled by Milwaukee Brewers Shortstop Johnathan Villar. (He committed 29 fielding errors this past season to the lead the Majors in that inauspicious category!)

What’s Next? (Second Base)-Make sure that you are paying your bills on time. Nothing damages your credit score as much as late payments. The longer that payments are late, the more damage they do to your score. So, if you’re behind on a payment or payments, make every effort that you can to bring those accounts current and once they’re current keep paying on time. (As Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said: “If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”)

Then What? (Third Base)-Pay down the balances on any credit card debt that you might have. Credit utilization is one of the major factors used in determining your credit score. Good credit utilization means that you use credit, but you use it responsibly.

Ideally, the credit scoring formula looks for you to utilize 30 percent of a credit card’s limit or less. So, take the winnings from the wager that you made that the Cubs or Indians would make it to the World Series and pay down any credit cards you have where the balance is in excess of 30 percent. Do so, and you can expect to see your credit score begin to increase like Nolan Ryan’s strikeout total. (The Hall of Fame pitcher struck out an amazing 5,714 batters over the course of his big league career!)

Score! (Home Plate)-Doing the things that we have discussed as you “rounded the bases” will significantly help you to rebuild your credit score to a Championship level. There is much more that you can do to strengthen your score. Just like it did for the Cubs and Indians, the process involves dedication and hard work.

One of the key components of the Cubs’ and Indians’ successes was the hiring of a skilled, knowledgeable manager. You may want to investigate hiring a professional, reputable credit restoration company to help manage you along the path to better credit. A well-qualified credit restoration company will provide you with important guidance as to how to address negative items that appear on your credit report, help you to maximize your credit utilization, teach you how to acquire and properly utilize a secured credit card, and help you with negotiating collection accounts.

Enjoy the Series! Good luck to both teams!

Don’t Let Divorce Devastate Your Credit

This post was recently featured in The Huffington Post.

The ending of a marriage is a difficult process for everyone involved. Even if you are the one who “wants’ the divorce, it can be difficult to watch the impact it has on all those that it touches. If your spouse doesn’t want to be divorced, it can be difficult to watch that person struggle with the change. Needless to say, if the divorcing couple has children, the impact it has on the kids can have long lasting effects.

Many people who go through the divorce process also suffer long-lasting effects to their consumer credit. Indeed, a large majority of people that we help at my credit restoration business had “great” credit until the “Big D” happened. But somehow, during or after the process of dissolving the marriage their credit was severely damaged.

Sometimes this process is unavoidable. Maintaining two households on an income that used to pay for only one can lead to missed payments.

More egregiously, if the spouse who is the primary breadwinner chooses to use their earning power for leverage, they can simply stop paying the bills. Although this process more than likely damages both their credit, as well as their spouse’s, it can give them enormous negotiating power in the divorce. If the mortgage isn’t getting paid and creditors are calling the house for payment, a spouse who may not be in a hurry to get divorced may become motivated to get things over with and “settle” for less than they otherwise would.

A spurned spouse may also start to refuse to pay bills simply to “get back” at their soon to be former partner. Once again, both members of the couple’s credit will be damaged, but the spurned spouse “doesn’t care” they just want to get back at the husband or wife that no longer wants them.

That same rejected or angry spouse can also damage their ex’s credit after the divorce has been finalized. We frequently see instances where the order granting a divorce directs one party to pay certain outstanding debt that was incurred by the married couple. What happens if that party refuses to do what the court ordered them to do?

Our clients are frequently surprised when a creditor comes after them for debt that their ex was ordered to pay in the divorce decree. Guess what? The creditor was not likely a party to the divorce case. They don’t care if your ex-husband agreed to pay for a debt in the divorce. If you jointly acquired that debt while you were married, you remain responsible for it and they will come after both of you for payment. If your spouse doesn’t pay what they agreed to in the divorce or even if they fail to pay on time, it will likely be reported against BOTH of your credit history.

Pretty incredible, eh? You can take your ex back to court and have the court find them in contempt or request that the court order them once again to pay the debt that they previously agreed to pay, right? Going to court costs a significant amount of money. Attorneys fees can add up quickly and it is likely that your attorney is going to want to be paid before they head back to court on your behalf.

It may cost you as much to go back to court as the bill that you are going to court over. What if your spouse still refuses to pay or claims an economic inability to pay? More attorneys’ fees are a strong possibility.

Incredibly, many people end up paying the debts their ex promised to pay themselves. The damage the unpaid bill causes to their credit score costs them serious money. Additionally, they may not be able to obtain certain financing, like a mortgage while that unpaid debt is showing up on their credit report. Those credit cards in both of your names and that co-signed mortgage don’t seem so romantic anymore, do they?

Has your credit been damaged or destroyed by a divorce? Don’t give up. Credit is forward looking. A good credit restoration company can help you deal with problems like an unpaid debt that was supposed to be paid by your ex as part of a divorce decree. They can also help to educate you about how credit scores really work and give you the tools to get your score where you really would like it to be.