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Finding credit the old-fashioned way

When my husband and I came to the United States from western Ukraine in 1991 on a visitor visa, we had only $300 in our pockets and could not legally work. After a long battle with immigration services, we received an official paper in 1994 that stated "authorized to work in the United States." We knew that that was only the beginning of our new adventure in America.

Speaking broken English, and being broke, we had only hope and faith about our discoveries in Western New York. We knew that we had to learn a new culture, to start somewhere and somehow, and to adapt to new rules and regulations. Fortunately, we began work at Colad Group and Russer Foods, where owners, managers and employees gave us tremendous support.

We started saving money, bought our first car, and thought about buying a house. Although at first we didn't know anything about a credit score, a credit report or a credit card, we soon learned that it would be our character that played the important role in adapting to new laws.

Coming from the former Soviet Union, a socialist country, we were used to paying for everything in cash. We calculated that to save for a house would take years, and we learned that to qualify for a mortgage we would have to be approved by a credit bureau -- and, most importantly, have a good credit report and credit score.

Never having had any credit cards before, we didn't find the process easy. Somebody told me that the credit score begins with a credit card. I went to Marine Midland Bank -- "my" bank, where we had a few thousand dollars already in a savings account -- and applied for a credit card. Shortly we received a notice: "Based on your history, you aren't eligible."

I applied again, this time consulting with the bank's customer service representative, who advised me to apply for a minimum amount of $500, which was only a small percentage of what we had in "their" bank.

I received another notice: "Based on your history, you aren't qualified." Same bureaucracy. The bank was abusing our relations. It was making more by lending my money at an 8 percent rate while paying me 5 percent for a CD, and didn't want to issue a credit card with a minimum limit because I didn't have a history? I was mad.

I went to a branch manager and explained the situation, but he said he could do nothing about it. I looked for alternatives; he didn't want to compromise. I made a decision to close my account and soon had our hard-earned $17,000 in my hands.

Two days later, I received a letter of apology for the misunderstanding. The local district manager stated that a credit card with a $3,000 limit would arrive shortly. The next day I received my first credit card.

My husband and I started building up our credit score by charging necessary purchases instead of paying cash, paying our bills on time and in full every month. That ethic paid off quickly. We established a good credit record and bought our first house in May 1996.

When I hear the word history now, I smile and think that any history is established by character -- whether it's a personal, a family or a community history.

Zanna Vaida, of Lackawanna, understands the importance of character.

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