Getting A Credit Card Without A Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN) is one of the most basic forms of identification in the U.S. If you have no SSN or if you aren’t eligible for one – for example, you are a recent immigrant to the U.S. – it can be difficult to obtain credit for two reasons. Credit card applications typically […]

Daryl Brown

| April 1, 2019

A Social Security Number (SSN) is one of the most basic forms of identification in the U.S. If you have no SSN or if you aren’t eligible for one – for example, you are a recent immigrant to the U.S. – it can be difficult to obtain credit for two reasons. Credit card applications typically ask for an SSN to prove identity, and it’s very likely that if you have no SSN, you have no credit history within the U.S. (Immigrants may have a credit history in another country, but that information isn’t accepted in the U.S. market unless it involves U.S. lenders and creditors.)

If credit card companies can’t be sure of your identity and can’t properly assess the amount of risk that you present, they won’t approve your application.

You can break this cycle by getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The ITIN is accepted in lieu of an SSN by some of the major credit card issuers, including Capital One®, Chase®, and American Express®. Other card issuers will only accept an SSN for identification – check the requirements on the card issuer’s website before applying.

To apply for an ITIN, you may file a Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Tax Identification Number, with your next federal tax return. You may also apply in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center or an IRS-Certified Acceptance Agent.

Non-citizens will need sufficient supporting documentation as outlined in the Form W-7 Instructions. To avoid mailing in original or certified copies, it’s best to apply in person.

Some lenders will accept a passport as suitable identification along with other supporting documents. Without an SSN or an ITIN, you’ll generally need to apply in person at a lender branch.

Once you have suitable identification, search for a credit card that meets your needs. Without a credit history, your options may be limited to cards with higher Interest rates and lower credit limits.

Cards are available that target specific sets of people without credit histories – for example, several lenders target cards toward international students. Online guides are available to compare fees, interest rates, and rewards programs on cards that don’t require an SSN.

You can bypass this system by piggybacking on someone else’s good credit rating – either by having them co-sign your credit card application or asking them to add you as an authorized user on their credit card.

Co-signers are using their own credit history to vouch for your creditworthiness. Keep in mind that poor actions on your part can hurt their credit scores as well as yours, and your co-signer is responsible for the debt if you default.

As an authorized user, you aren’t legally responsible for the debt. You’ll need to work out payment details and terms with the primary cardholder. Not all cards report authorized user activity to the credit bureaus – so if credit-building is your goal, check the terms of the card to make sure your activity will be noted.

Once you have your credit card, it’s extremely important to use it wisely. You can build – or ruin – your credit in a relatively short time.

Keep your credit card spending well below the limit (30% or less is recommended) and make sure that you pay your bills on time every month. Payment history is the largest component of determining your credit score, with the amounts owed right behind. Don’t let irresponsible use of your new card waste all your credit-acquisition efforts.

Check out our top cards for people with limited credit history.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/pondsaksit

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