By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

Your credit score, that three-digit number, can dramatically expand or restrict access to purchasing property, goods or services you may need. Personal finance experts say knowing your credit status is the first step to becoming credit worthy.

But for nearly 50 million American adults, making this first step is not possible because they don’t have a credit history, or it is limited.

Those “credit invisibles,” as some financial services companies identify them, have trouble securing emergency funds, housing, transportation and are often subject to predatory lending practices.

To help address this problem, Experian, the financial services and credit reporting company, has created a first-of-its-kind program to help individuals establish lines of credit without having to go into debt. Experian Go, which officially launched in January, is an app that allows users to create a credit report, tradelines and credit history within minutes. Users also have instant access to financial offers.

Experian Go is the first step in establishing a credit profile and report. Another app the company provides, Experian Boost, puts the users’ new credit information on their credit report.

Early analysis of the pilot release of the program showed that 91% of users with no credit history input their recurring cell phone, streaming service, internet and utility bills directly to their Experian credit report and became scoreable with an average starting FICO Score of 665.

“Living with a nonexistent or limited credit history can be a significant barrier to financial opportunity in America,” said Craig Boundy, CEO, Experian North America.

“We believe every individual deserves the opportunity to reach their fullest financial potential,” Boundy continued. “Innovations like Experian Boost and Experian Go help to ensure people can access the credit they need when they need it. This new program is a direct reflection of our mission to bring financial power to all.”

African Americans make up more than 5 % of California’s population, but they secure only 3 % of all home loans. And women of color make up about 30% of the state’s population but account for 8 % of all home loan recipients, according to the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based non-profit committed to creating to helping build an inclusive economy.

Across the United States, the average credit score for Blacks is about 677 as compared to an estimated 730 for Whites and 745 for Asian Americans, according to data compiled by a number of personal finance and credit payment processing companies.

Once a consumer downloads Experian’s free mobile app or (visits online here) and enrolls in a free Experian membership,

they’ll be asked to authenticate their identity using a government-issued ID, Social Security number and a face picture.

From there, personalized recommendations will help users add accounts, also known as tradelines, to their Experian credit report. Users may also receive information about becoming an authorized user or be invited to apply for a credit card designed specifically for those new to credit. Others may contribute their on-time bill payments directly to their Experian credit report with Experian Boost.

As part of their free Experian membership, users will receive education about how credit works and recommendations to further build their credit history, including access to free Experian credit reports, credit monitoring and more. Consumers can also get help setting and meeting financial goals through Experian’s Personal Finances tool.

Users must be 18 years of age of older.

The program aims to be a tool for minority communities disproportionally affected by financial illiteracy and accessibility. A recent Experian survey revealed 1 in 5 Black consumers and one-third of Hispanic consumers don’t have any credit in their name, with 65 percent of Black consumers and 51 percent of Hispanic consumers unsure of the steps to take to establish or improve their credit.

Wil Lewis, Experian’s Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer recently shed some light on these figures during a virtual briefing organized by the company.

“Twenty-eight million consumers have been excluded from access to mainstream credit today. Out of that 28 million that have been excluded from access to mainstream credit, 28% of those folks are African American consumers. 26% are Hispanic consumers. 16% are White and Asian consumers. I bring that up because you can see that this cuts across all demographics. This is not a problem just for a few, this is a problem for many. At Experian we’re committed to helping more consumers get access,” he said.

To aid in this effort, Experian has partnered with Operation Hope. The nonprofit founded in 1992 focuses on equipping people with tools that help them secure a more stable financial footing. Operation Hope clients are counseled on improving their spending habits and developing personalized plans for building their own businesses, raising their credit scores or buying homes.

“We recognize the correlation between credit scores and opportunity in America and view credit worthiness – or the lack thereof – as a barrier to financial mobility and success,” said John Hope Bryant, CEO and Founder of Operation Hope. “We are thankful for our partnership with Experian and stand with them as we work together to amplify an actionable plan that increases financial access to all.”