How old do you have to be to get a credit card? (2024)

Using a credit card responsibly can be a great way to build credit from scratch. But in most states, you need to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card account and you may have a hard time getting approved for one on your own until you’re older.

Here’s what you need to know about credit card age requirements, how to increase your approval odds and other credit-building alternatives to consider.

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How old do you have to be to get a credit card? (1)

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How old do you have to be to get a credit card?

In most states, you need to be at least 18 years old to enter into a binding legal contract, such as a credit card agreement — some credit card issuers may require you to be 19 if you live in Alabama or Nebraska.

However, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) stipulates that credit card companies can’t approve consumers under the age of 21 unless they have a creditworthy cosigner over the age of 21 or can prove that they have sufficient independent income to repay any debt they incur. That income includes:

  • Personal income from a part- or full-time job
  • Scholarships
  • Grants

Most major credit card issuers don’t allow co-signers on credit card applications. But if you can’t meet income requirements, check with community banks and credit unions in your area to see if co-signers are allowed.

Once you reach the age of 21, you can include other income sources to which you have a reasonable expectation of access. Examples include:

  • Spousal income
  • Alimony or child support
  • Gifts or trust fund payments
  • Social Security payments
  • Retirement fund payments
  • Investment income

In other words, getting a credit card under 21 is possible, but it can be challenging.

How to build credit history at a young age

There are several ways to get started with building credit but your options may be dependent on your situation.

Becoming an authorized user: What you need to know

If you can’t get approved for a credit card on your own, consider asking a loved one to add you as an authorized user on their credit card account. Once you have authorized-user status, the card issuer will typically add the account’s full history to your credit reports. But remember: Before you enter this partnership, know that how you and your loved one use the credit card can affect each other, and ultimately your relationship.

If the primary cardholder has used the account responsibly, including paying on time each month and maintaining a low balance relative to their limit, it can help you establish a positive credit history.

The account holder may also opt to give you a physical card linked to the account, which you can use to make purchases. However, only the primary cardholder is responsible for making payments, so you’ll need to arrange to pay for your charges to the account.

Anyone can become an authorized user as long as they meet the card issuer’s minimum age requirement. However, this option may be more appealing to people under the age of 21.

Bank/issuerMinimum age for credit card authorized user

American Express


Bank of America




Capital One








US Bank


Wells Fargo


Secured vs. unsecured credit cards for beginners

Some credit card companies offer cards designed specifically for credit newbies. With a secured card, for instance, you’ll put up a security deposit — typically $200 or more and equal to your desired credit limit — when opening the account.

Some card issuers will refund the deposit when you close your account, while others may offer to refund it sooner and convert your account to an unsecured card.

Other card issuers offer unsecured starter credit cards for people who are new to credit, but requirements and terms can vary. For example, some lenders may make a decision based on how you manage your income and expenses instead of your credit history. Others may give you better approval odds if you have a bank account with them. That said, income requirements still apply.

If you’re considering an unsecured starter card, avoid options that charge excessive fees and interest rates.

“You can avoid interest charges by paying your balances every month, but a fee just for having the card will eat into your budget regardless of how you use it,” said Richard Barrington, a chartered financial analyst with Credit Sesame.

Student credit cards

If you’re a college student, you may consider a student credit card. There are income requirements for applicants under the age of 21 but some credit card companies don’t require a credit history to get approved. Others may require some credit history, but requirements are less stringent than most unsecured credit cards.

The role of co-signers

If you’re under the age of 21 and you don’t have enough income to get approved for a credit card on your own, applying with a creditworthy co-signer could improve your odds.

A co-signer is someone who agrees to pay off the credit card balance if you can’t. As a result, the credit card issuer will consider both your and your co-signer’s credit history and income to make a decision.

That said, the account will show up on both your and the co-signer’s credit reports. So, if you rack up a large balance or miss a payment by 30 days or more, it could damage both of your credit scores. Also, most major banks don’t offer a co-signing option when applying for their credit cards.

Before asking a loved one to co-sign your credit card application, make sure they understand the responsibility and potential impact on their credit history.

How to prepare for your first credit card

If you’re thinking about applying for your first credit card, here are some steps you can take to prepare:

  1. Check your credit score: Even if you don’t think you have a credit score, sign up for a free credit monitoring service to make sure. Experian’s free credit monitoring service, for instance, offers free access to your FICO credit score — the score most top lenders use — and your Experian credit report.
  2. Compare your options: Depending on your credit situation, take a look at a variety of credit card options to determine which ones you have a good chance of getting. If you have no credit history at all, consider cards that don’t require one or use other means to evaluate your financial responsibility. If you’re under the age of 21 and don’t have much income, research card issuers that allow co-signers or ask a loved one to add you as an authorized user on their account.
  3. Consider getting pre-qualified: As you narrow down your list of options, check to see if the card issuers you’re considering offer pre-qualification. This process allows you to gauge your approval odds without impacting your credit score.
  4. Submit an application: Once you’ve determined the right credit card for you, submit an application online. You’ll typically need to provide some basic information about yourself, including your name, Social Security number, date of birth, contact information, address and income. If you’re applying with a co-signer, you’ll also need to provide their details.
  5. Develop good credit habits: If you get approved for a card, you’ll typically get it in the mail within a week or two. To establish a good credit history, make it a priority to practice good credit habits. For example, try to keep your balance low relative to your credit limit (even if it’s not much). Also, plan to pay your balance on time and in full every month to avoid interest charges. You may even consider setting up automatic payments on the account.

Remember, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get approved for a credit card, even if the card has relatively low requirements. But these steps can help you avoid unnecessary credit inquiries and application denials.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

It can be difficult for someone under the age of 18 to establish a credit history. While some credit card issuers allow parents to add a minor to their account as an authorized user, they may not report the account to the credit bureaus until the child reaches the age of 18.

Others may not have that restriction, however. So, if you’re a parent who wants to help your child build credit, check with your card issuer to determine how they report authorized-user status to the credit bureaus.

Like other credit cards, student credit cards typically require you to be at least 18 to get approved. However, you may have difficulty getting even a student credit card until you’re 21 years old if you don’t have sufficient independent income or a co-signer.

A co-signer agrees to pay off a loan or credit card balance if the primary borrower can’t. As a result, becoming a co-signer on a credit card impacts the credit score of both the borrower and the co-signer equally.

Yes, there are many credit cards designed specifically for younger consumers who haven’t yet had the chance to establish a solid credit history. Whether you’re new to credit or you have a limited history, take your time to shop around and compare several options to determine the right one for you.

I'm an expert in personal finance and credit management with extensive knowledge of credit cards and credit-building strategies. I've worked in the financial industry and have successfully helped individuals navigate the complexities of building and managing their credit.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article you provided:

  1. Credit Card Age Requirements:

    • In most states, you need to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card account.
    • The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) stipulates that credit card companies can't approve consumers under the age of 21 unless they have a creditworthy cosigner over the age of 21 or can prove sufficient independent income.
  2. Income Sources for Credit Card Approval Under 21:

    • Personal income from a part- or full-time job.
    • Scholarships, grants.
    • Spousal income, alimony or child support.
    • Gifts or trust fund payments.
    • Social Security payments, retirement fund payments, investment income.
  3. Building Credit History at a Young Age:

    • Becoming an authorized user on a loved one's credit card account.
    • Responsibility of both parties in maintaining a positive credit history.
    • Some credit card companies allow co-signers, especially community banks and credit unions.
  4. Secured vs. Unsecured Credit Cards:

    • Secured cards involve a security deposit, refundable upon closing the account or meeting certain conditions.
    • Unsecured starter credit cards may consider factors like income and expenses instead of credit history.
  5. Student Credit Cards:

    • Available for college students.
    • Some may not require a credit history, while others have less stringent requirements.
    • Income requirements for applicants under 21.
  6. Co-signers and Their Role:

    • A co-signer agrees to pay off the credit card balance if the primary borrower can't.
    • Impacts the credit score of both the borrower and the co-signer equally.
    • Major banks may not offer co-signing options.
  7. Preparing for First Credit Card:

    • Check your credit score.
    • Compare credit card options based on your situation.
    • Consider pre-qualification.
    • Submit an application with necessary details.
    • Develop good credit habits.
  8. FAQs:

    • Difficulty for someone under 18 to establish a credit history.
    • Student credit card eligibility and age requirements.
    • Impact of being a co-signer on credit scores.
    • Credit cards designed for younger consumers with limited credit history.

Feel free to ask if you have any specific questions or if you'd like more detailed information on any of these concepts.

How old do you have to be to get a credit card? (2024)
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