Financial independence is one of the first major steps into adulthood, and getting a credit card is a great place to start with that. However, if you’ve never applied for a credit card before, then instead of thinking about which credit card you should get, you may be wondering whether you’re even old enough to get a card in the first place.
Here’s everything you need to know about the minimum age requirements for credit cards and what other options you have if you’re not quite old enough to qualify.
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What’s the legal age required to get a credit card?
You must be at least 18 years old to open your own credit card account. However, you might have difficulty getting approved if you’re under the age of 21, thanks to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (Credit CARD Act) of 2009.
This act is a federal law that was introduced to limit access to revolving credit (aka credit cards) among young adults who don’t have the financial independence necessary to repay their debts on their own.
Requirements for getting a credit card if you’re under 21
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 21, then you can technically get a credit card, but it’ll be difficult. You’ll need to show your prospective credit card issuer that you’re financially responsible and able to make all your payments on time.
In accordance with the Credit CARD Act, credit card companies require applicants aged 18, 19, or 20 to meet the following requirements: 1
- Show proof of financial independence: This is financial documentation showing that you can repay your debts on your own. Credit card issuers may require proof of income or employment, as well as evidence that you can afford your other daily expenses, like rent and transportation.
- Apply with a cosigner: Your cosigner must be someone over 21 years old. They’ll take joint responsibility for repaying the debts that you incur. Often a cosigner will be a parent, legal guardian, or spouse.
This means that if you’re still living at home or you depend on your parents to cover your living expenses, you probably won’t be able to get a credit card until you’re at least 21 years old. However, you’ll be able to get a credit card at 18 if you have a job and pay your own rent.
What to do if you’re not old enough to get a credit card
If you’re too young to get a credit card—or if you’re old enough, but you can’t get one because you’re not yet financially independent—don’t worry. You can still get access to credit in other ways.
These methods will give you most of the benefits of having a credit card, including the ability to make online purchases and build your credit so you can qualify for favorable terms from lenders in the future.
1. Become an authorized user
Many credit card companies allow primary cardholders to add minors as authorized users on their credit cards. This means that your parent or guardian may be able to name you as a secondary cardholder.
As an authorized user, you’ll get your own physical credit card and be granted access to the same line of credit that your parent uses. However, you won’t be responsible for paying your monthly credit card bill. Instead, that responsibility belongs to the primary cardholder.
Even though you can become an authorized user before the age of 18, some companies have minimum age requirements for authorized users. To ensure that you’re eligible, check what credit card company your parent uses and consult their age requirements in the table below.
Authorized User Age Requirements for Different Credit Card Companies
|Credit Card Issuer||Age Requirement|
|US Bank||None specified|
|Capital One||None specified|
As an added benefit, in most cases, becoming an authorized user will improve your credit score. This makes it one of the most popular ways to build credit when you have no credit history.
2. Get a debit card
Unlike credit cards, debit cards are linked to funds that you (or your parents) already have. These funds are held in a checking or savings account, and your debit card allows you to access them, either through debit card purchases or ATM withdrawals.
Many major banks offer debit cards for teens, kids, and students, including:
However, it’s worth noting that the age requirements and features of these accounts may differ, and your parent or legal guardian will need to be with you when you open the account.
3. Get a prepaid card
Prepaid cards look just like credit cards, often operating on the Visa or MasterCard network. 2
As with debit cards, you load money onto them, which becomes the limit that you can spend. You also need to have someone who’s at least 18 years old purchase the card for you.
One of the key benefits of prepaid cards is that you can simply buy one rather than go through a lengthy application process. However, these cards often come with high fees, so shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
What’s the best age to get your first credit card?
The best age to apply for your first credit card is the earliest age you feel that you have a handle on your finances and a good understanding of how to budget.
Starting your credit journey sooner rather than later will give you more time to establish a strong credit history for when you really need it—for example, when you’re thinking of taking out your first auto loan or a mortgage.
In fact, when it comes to your credit score, the earlier you get your first credit card, the better. The length of your credit history is a key consideration for FICO and VantageScore (the two main companies that produce credit scores), and it also shows lenders how much experience you have managing debts.
Note that although it’s good to start building credit early, you shouldn’t overuse your new credit accounts—it’s best to use your credit regularly, but in moderation. Opening a new credit account is a good way to start building credit at 18, but if you spend carelessly, you may get overwhelmed with debt or end up with a bad credit score due to an inflated debt-to-credit ratio.
Best options for your first credit card
If you’re 18 years or older and you’re ready to get your first credit card, then you have a range of options to choose from.
Below are some beginner credit cards designed for people with no credit score or an insufficient credit history, along with descriptions of these cards to help you choose the right one for your circumstances.
It’s worth looking at two of the main types of starter credit cards—secured cars and student cards—in more detail.
Secured credit cards
Secured credit cards are an easy and low-risk introduction to using a credit card. They usually have more lenient eligibility requirements than traditional unsecured credit cards because you have to pay a security deposit when you open the card.
The downside to secured cards is that your credit limit will usually be capped at the amount you put down as a deposit. Moreover, if you fail to pay your bills on time, your lender can keep your deposit (otherwise, they’ll refund it when you upgrade or close the card).
However, you can still build credit with a secured card. Each on-time bill payment you make will strengthen your payment history and improve your credit score, which will make it much easier to qualify for a “normal” (unsecured) card in the future.
Student credit cards
Student credit cards are just what they sound like—credit cards specially designed for college students (including 18-year-old students).
Student credit cards can be secured cards or unsecured cards. Some require you to prove your status as a student, while others are laxer about checking.
What to do after you get your first credit card
Once you’ve applied for and received your first credit card, you’ll need to be careful with how you use it. If not, you could face consequences like delinquencies, charge-offs, and even debts being sent to debt collectors.
Follow these tips to make sure you’re using your credit card responsibly:
- Always pay your credit card bill on time: A common mistake new credit card users make is assuming that missing a single payment isn’t a big deal. In fact, a single late payment can do a lot of damage, both to your credit score and your relationship with your creditor.
- Don’t just make the minimum payment: Credit card companies make money by charging you interest on any balance you leave unpaid at the end of the month. If you only make your minimum payment, you could end up paying more in interest and even struggling to get out of credit card debt.
- Don’t max out your card: Maxing out your credit cards will hurt your credit by increasing your credit utilization rate (the amount of your credit that you’re using). This is one of the key factors influencing your score, and increases how risky lenders perceive you to be as a borrower. This will make it more difficult to take out new loans in the future.
- Ask for help when you need it: If you’re having trouble keeping up with your credit card bills, contact your creditor as soon as possible. Many credit card companies offer hardship programs to people experiencing financial difficulties, and reaching out before you go into default will help you stay on good terms with them.
While credit cards can help you build credit and serve as an excellent financial tool, it’s important to remember that they’re a serious commitment. As with all types of credit, you’re borrowing money, and you should only use a credit card when you know you can afford to pay it back.