How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

Article Summary:

Technically, anyone over the age of 18 or who is a legal adult get their own credit card. However, regardless of age, applicants will need to prove that they can financially support themselves and the responsibility of having their own card.

One of the first signs of financial independence for young adults and college students is getting a credit card with their own name on it. To be the primary account holder of their own credit card, borrowers must be at least 18 years old. Applicants must also have their own reliable source of income and must actively work at paying balances down in a timely manner.

A student credit card is often a great way for young adults to begin building credit. If they don’t qualify for a student card, a secured credit card is another option they could choose to start with. Those under 18 years old may begin building a credit history by becoming authorized users on someone else’s credit card, but that comes with its own set of risks.

Here are a few tips on how to get a card for everyday spending regardless of your credit background, or lack of one.

Two important ages when it comes to credit cards

There are two numbers to consider when it comes to credit card age requirements. They are ages 18 and 21. Anyone over the age of 18 can potentially be approved by a credit card company. However, ever since the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, it has become much more difficult for those under 21 to get a credit card without a family member as a co-signer.

Technically, if someone is under 18 years old but has become an emancipated minor, they would be legally allowed to get a credit card. However, the credit card issuer would still need to approve their application.

Options for those under 18

If an individual is under the age of 18 but wants to begin making payments with a credit card, there isn’t really a credit card that can be issued in their name alone. If a family member trusts the individual and believes them to be financially responsible, they can make the person an authorized user on the family member’s credit card account.

Legally, there is no minimum age to become an authorized user; however, most financial institutions and credit card issuers have their own age policies. Failure to pay down the spending of authorized users will have a negative effect on the credit scores of both the account holder and the authorized spender. Because of this, there needs to be a significant level of trust between the account holders and authorized users.

While the authorized users are not legally responsible for any debt they accrue, failure to pay will have a negative impact on the credit scores of both the user and the primary account holder. The payment history and status of the account with the authorized user will be added to the credit reports of both individuals.

Two cards that young adults can use to build credit

To qualify for a credit card, applicants must have some level of independent income since it will be their responsibility to make timely payments. Many different credit card options are geared specifically towards students and other financially responsible young people.

A student card or a secured card can be a reliable first choice for people beginning to build their credit. Each type of card comes with its own unique requirements and will require an application. A student card is an unsecured credit card, just like other traditional credit cards, whereas a secured card is similar to a prepaid card, except it will affect the user’s credit score.

Student credit cards

Card issuers know that every primary cardholder has to get their first card to begin building a credit history. Student credit cards are full-fledged unsecured credit cards that are generally meant to be someone’s first credit card.

An unsecured credit card means that, just like other traditional credit cards, there will be a credit limit, and users will be charged interest on any purchases they carry on the card longer than the grace period. The applicant will need to prove independent income to show they can pay for their purchases.

Student cards generally have lower credit limits, but the interest rates are usually better than other easy-to-acquire cards. A notable benefit of a student credit card — other than being a bit easier to qualify for — is that borrowers will generally earn rewards on various purchases. Admittedly the rewards from student credit cards don’t really compete when compared to a premium rewards card, but their general lack of an annual fee makes them a great place to start when looking for a first credit card.

Pro Tip

Being a student doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be approved for a student credit card. On the other hand, you don’t always need to be a student to qualify for one either.

Secured credit cards

Secured credit cards are a little bit different than traditional credit cards. Instead, a secure credit card is more similar to a debit or prepaid card. That being said, there are a few differences in how they work.

Secured credit cards can be used at all of the same places as normal credit cards, such as gas stations and grocery stores. However, instead of being unsecured debt, the card’s credit limit will be based on the user’s security deposit, similar to a prepaid card.

How do they differ from prepaid cards?

Unlike prepaid cards, the credit card issuer tracks the secured card’s usage like any traditional card and adds that use to the user’s credit report. This reporting is important because a secured card is meant to help someone build or rebuild their credit from the ground up. Even if an applicant has the ability to earn cash and make the initial security deposit for an account opening, that does not guarantee a card issuer will approve the application.

Secured cards are generally easier to qualify for, but that is not the same thing as being pre-approved. A card issuer will still consider the applicant’s credit profile. If the credit bureaus have a record of some major issues in the applicant’s credit history, such as a recent bankruptcy or if they have an outstanding debt that has been sent to collections, then the application may very well result in a denial.

To prevent your application from being denied, be sure to consider all of your options before applying for a secured credit card.

Pro Tip

Secured cards are a great way to improve a credit score without as much risk to the spender’s credit health. But, they also don’t offer the extra benefits the way a student cash back card does when it is used to pay. Additionally, unlike other credit cards, users likely won’t get any direct rewards for using the card.

After establishing a credit history

If someone already has a credit card but wants to get a card that better suits their spending habits, there are a few important things to consider. Many cards with the most benefits will require an annual fee, which can usually be offset by the cash back rewards or other fringe benefits.

For example, someone who travels frequently should likely consider looking for a card that offers no foreign transaction fees in addition to a percentage back on other purchases. Other cards may offer more cashback but will place a quarterly maximum on earnable rewards. You can start comparing your options for rewards credit cards below.

Key Takeaways

  • An individual must be a legal adult to qualify for a credit card (meaning, generally, they’re at least 18 years old).
  • Becoming an authorized user is one option for those unable to get a credit card in their own name.
  • A student card can be a great first step to begin building credit, and they also don’t necessarily require applicants to be a student.
  • For those unable to qualify for a traditional credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card to help build a positive credit history.
  • After establishing a good credit score, consider applying for a credit card that complements your everyday purchases and spending habits.

Build your credit the smart way

After establishing a positive credit score with the credit bureaus, most people will want to consider financial products with more premium benefits.

To get a credit card with greater rewards, such as a higher percentage of cashback, potential borrowers will want to apply for the specific credit card that best suits their needs. Some credit cards will offer significant benefits to those who travel, such as airline miles or free access to the airport lounge, while others may give a percentage or two more back at gas stations.

When someone decides that they want to get their first card or would like to upgrade to a card with more premium benefits, our comparison tools are a great place to start looking.

View Article Sources
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  2. Emancipation Manual — Legal Services for Children
  3. About Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income — IRS
  4. Are Credit Card Rewards Taxable? — SuperMoney
  5. Interesting Credit Card Facts That You Didn’t Know (Yet) — SuperMoney
  6. How to Build Credit at 18 — SuperMoney
  7. Best Business Credit Cards | May 2022 — SuperMoney
  8. Best Credit Cards with Rewards | May 2022 — SuperMoney