Improving Credit Access for Adults with Disabilities

Americans with disabilities are often locked out of the benefits of good credit. This blog unpacks how this happens – and what we can do about it.

Key Takeaways

Whether you want to buy a home, start your own business, or weather an unexpected financial emergency – it helps to have access to affordable loans and credit cards. Unfortunately, Americans with disabilities are often unable to obtain the credit products they want and need. 

A 2019 study found disabled adults applied for credit cards, personal loans, and credit lines at higher rates than those without a disability, but were more likely to be denied or receive less than they asked for. 

Access to credit plays a powerful role in our society. When our credit needs go unmet, it can be harder to build economic resilience or achieve financial goals. 

According to the American Disability Institute (ADI), nearly 1-in-4 of Americans living with a disability have an unmet need for credit; that’s 1.7 times greater than for people without a disability. 

How can a disability affect credit access? 

No two situations are the same, and there are a variety of reasons a person may have trouble obtaining credit. However, there are several unique elements that impact credit access in the disabled community. 

While many adults with disabilities have well-paying jobs, disabled Americans are more likely than those without disabilities to 1.) have lower incomes, 2.) work part-time, and 3.) not participate in the workforce. 

These factors are closely linked to credit health and access. But according to the NDI, Americans with disabilities are credit constrained beyond what these socio-economic characteristics alone would predict. In other words, they’re not the only ways a disability can impact credit outcomes. 

Because they often experience less financial predictability, individuals with disabilities may be reluctant to take on new debt to build credit. Sudden health shocks can result in unexpected medical expenses and loss of income that create financial strain. And misperceptions among lenders and a lack of disability-conscious resources can make credit less accessible.

Credit barriers become hurdles to financial wellbeing

Access to appropriate, affordable credit products makes it easier to improve your economic situation, pursue personal goals, and build resistance against financial emergencies.

Barriers to credit can also become barriers to financial security, especially for folks whose disabilities make it harder to work or incur high healthcare costs.  According to the NDI, over half of adults with disabilities say they don’t have $2,000 to cover an emergency expense (compared to 32% for individuals without a disability). 

Americans with disabilities are also more likely to rely on non-bank credit products, like payday loans with predatory interest rates and penalties. These companies rarely report to the credit bureaus – so even if a borrower manages to repay their debt responsibly, it won’t help improve their credit. 

Weak credit can be expensive, too. Some cell phone companies and utility providers charge security deposits to customers with poor credit. In some states, your credit score can even affect your insurance premiums. For disabled individuals balancing high expenses and tight budgets, these extra costs can be particularly challenging. 

Lastly, many landlords and employers screen applicants’ credit as part of their review processes. When folks with disabilities have difficulty building their credit, it can affect their ability to land a better apartment or higher-paying job.  

Improving Credit Access: Tips for Adults with Disabilities 

Despite facing unique barriers to credit access, Americans with disabilities don’t need to be shut out from our credit system altogether. These strategies can help them access the credit products they deserve. 

Step 1: Focus on financial literacy and resilience

For most folks, improving credit access starts with building financial literacy. Strong credit is the result of positive financial behavior in the past. But many people are never taught how to manage their money wisely, regardless of their disability status. 

People with their finances in order are able to turn their energy to other goals – like paying down debt, saving for future purchases, and building greater economic resilience. These StellarFi primers are a great place to start. 

Learn More: This Financial Resource Library contains information about government financial empowerment programs in the US. The NDI’s Financial Resilience Center and Your Money, Your Goals (Disability Community Focus) are also designed specifically to help folks with disabilities achieve their financial goals. 

Step 2: Building a healthy credit history

Borrowers with good credit are more likely to be approved for loans and other credit products. Unfortunately, CDI research shows folks with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to report their credit records as “bad” or “very bad.” 

Improving your credit can feel impossible on a tight or unpredictable budget. Many folks simply can’t risk the expenses that come with many forms of credit building. Secured credit cards and credit builder loans, for instance, both require borrowers to make an up-front security deposit and take on an additional monthly payment. 

Millions of Americans pay their bills on time each month, including countless folks with disabilities. Unfortunately, these responsible habits rarely show up on our credit reports. That’s because landlords, cell phone providers, and utility companies usually don’t report to the credit bureaus – unless our accounts become delinquent.

StellarFi turns your monthly bills into credit-builders. 

Our credit system creates unnecessary hurdles that keep millions of Americans from accessing affordable credit. But now, you don’t have to take on additional debt to improve your credit. 

With StellarFi, anyone can build credit using the bills they pay each month already. Simply link monthly expenses like your rent, health insurance, and even your Netflix subscription. StellarFi pays on your behalf and reports your positive repayment activity to the credit bureaus. 

Getting started is easy, and only takes a few minutes. There’s no credit check, no security deposit, and no hidden fees. Plus, members can access free one-on-one credit counseling to optimize their financial journey. 

Learn more about StellarFi – and start building better credit today.

Images courtesy of Disabled And Here


StellarFi (StellarFinance, Inc.) and its affiliates do not provide financial, tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own financial, tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. StellarFi receives a referral fee from the partners mentioned in this article.