Based on everything you've written, I'd say she has a lot of other more pressing and urgent issues to worry about (her income and spending/budget patterns, for example) before considering building up her credit. Of course, if she starts early, it will definitely be better, because the improvement might be there just in time for her in the future after she gets the financial part of her life back in order.
1. Instead of CreditKarma as a first step, go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com
and request her comprehensive credit report
(probably from all 3 at the same time; at this point she has nothing to lose or gain by staggering the requests from the 3 bureaus---some people suggest staggering by four months so every four months you'll have one updated one). I won't pay for the score, because the important stuff is in the report, and the score is just a very crude summary that won't help you interpret the report (and if the score is low it will just be sad and unhelpful). This is where you make sure that everything on the report is actually true and also this is where you know exactly what negative marks you need to work on. If it does appear that some accounts have gone into collections, it is not guaranteed that paying the remaining balance in full will remove it from one's credit reports. In fact, is it not a given, and you often need to fight for it / ask for mercy. The default is that it stays on the report for 7 painful years. [if there is anything I'm unsure of, it is this]
2. I'd go through her bank if the information on the checking account's statement is not sufficient to know who is withdrawing the monthly fee for monitoring her credit. And before I cancel the monitoring service, save all the data it's supposed to tell her. She paid for it, anyway.
3. This is where http://www.CreditKarma.com
, and http://www.Credit.com
will come in useful. The numerical estimate for a credit score is, in my opinion, only helpful when trying to gauge what kinds of credit options are available to someone. Chances are she will have bad credit, and chances are even a low-balance credit card is out of the picture. Update us with more information and maybe we'll be able to be more helpful. Her last resort will be to go for a secured credit card, which works like a prepaid debit card, except that---you have to make sure that the company does this---the credit card issuer also reports to the credit bureaus, so one can grow one's credit history in this manner. It doesn't look good, but it looks better than a bad credit history. Also, if you want her not to lie but play her cards right, she could (according to her own judgment) take her internship income, treat that as her annual income, and spread that across 12 months for her monthly income and report that. I'm not sure what kind of monthly income you'll be seeing, but the lowest balance I've ever gotten was $250 unsecured (before a pre-approved credit limit increase for paying my bills on time for X months) from CapitalOne; it was also my first ever credit card. According to my friend who works in the credit card division of CapOne, they seem to be the best at being forgiving and granting people with poor credit low-balance credit cards to begin their credit histories. I had no credit history at all (non-citizen) and they were my first in. In my opinion, your best secured option: http://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/ ... astercard/
and your best unsecured option: http://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/platinum/
. There are annual fees for those, but my Platinum card was actually pre-approved with no annual fee ever, so if your friend starts being in CapOne's system through having the secured card, maybe they'll find her creditworthy to have the no annual fee version one day. My own story is that I applied twice and failed (I was young, foolish, and uninformed... and I definitely applied for CapOne cards beyond my reach not knowing what I should have done), but they kept my file alive in their system, I guess, and that's how one day a piece of good news came in the mail for me.
4, 5. Is she paying per credit taken? If not, that is much more worrisome. This is actually what I meant when I said she seems to have much more pressing and important matters to deal with before considering growing her credit history (well, unless it's really just so that she can rent a place to stay). I hope she appreciates you and your help. On a side note---even I have trouble listening to my own advice sometimes, but---you shouldn't work harder than she does for her credit history.
Here's to a true friend.