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

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In a Nutshell

You have to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card account in your own name, although you can become an authorized user on someone else’s account earlier. Getting a credit card at 18 can be tough, though, and will likely require a co-signer or proof of income. After 21, these requirements loosen up a bit, but approval for a credit card will likely still depend on your credit health and history.
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If you’re ready to get your first credit card or if you’re a parent looking to get one for your child, you may be wondering how old someone needs to be to qualify. Not just anyone can get a credit card, and there are age requirements for taking on the responsibility.

In order to get a credit card account in your name alone, you must be at least 18 years of age. But there are additional financial requirements from ages 18 to 21, including the ability to prove independent income. The process gets a little easier after you turn 21 years old, but there are still important things to know to set yourself up for the application and qualification process.

This article shows you how to navigate the process at every age along the way.

Getting a credit card before 18

Typically, you can’t open a credit card in your own name until you turn 18 years old.

But there are still options for getting access to a credit card account. What you can do if you’re under 18 is become an authorized user on someone else’s account.

What is an authorized user?

An authorized user is someone who is added (by a primary cardholder) to a credit card account with authorization to use that card. Typically, the authorized user will get their own credit card with their name on it. Their payment and card activity then posts to the primary cardholder’s account.

The authorized user can make payments as they would with any other credit card, but only the primary cardholder is held responsible for payments. For that reason, it’s important that the primary cardholder and authorized user set expectations together about how much can be spent and who will pay.

As an authorized user, you may be able to benefit from the primary cardholder’s good credit. Typically, the primary cardholder’s account history and activity are reported on your credit reports, which can help you to build up your own credit profile. Not all credit card issuers do this, though, so consider asking if your card issuer reports activity on authorized user accounts.

Getting a credit card from 18 to 21

You can get a credit card at age 18, but getting approved may be challenging as you typically need to have a credit history and credit scores. If you have no credit history, it’s unlikely you have any credit scores.

Even if you have built credit as an authorized user, getting a credit card from ages 18 to 21 involves meeting some tough requirements.

If you apply for a credit card while under 21, you need to prove that you’re capable of handling payments on your own — which usually means proving you have independent income from a job or other sources — by supplying a pay stub or bank statement.

If you’re an applicant under 21, you might be a student without established independent income. In that case, you will likely need a co-signer when you apply for credit cards.

Getting a co-signer

If you’re unable to get approved for a credit card based on your own credit history and profile, some credit card issuers may require you to apply with a co-signer. Whether you get approved with a co-signer depends on that person’s credit history. The co-signer takes responsibility for payments if you fail to make them, so the credit card issuer typically wants to make sure that person has good credit and the ability to repay debts.

For applicants under 21, a co-signer is typically a parent or guardian. Before going through with the process, it’s a good idea to discuss expectations regarding who will make payments, the potential consequences for each person’s credit and various other responsibilities.

Credit card options for young adults without a co-signer

While it can be tough to get your own credit card without a full credit history or a co-signer, there are options.

You can look into student credit cards, which are designed for (and advertised to) students specifically. To learn more, you can compare student credit card offers on Credit Karma.

Additionally, there are secured credit cards, which require you to “secure” the account with a cash deposit. The downside is that the secured credit card limits are often tied to the deposit amount. But the good news is that the card could help build your credit history.

Getting a credit card after 21

If you’ve already turned 21 years old, then your ability to get a credit card depends on your credit history and profile. But if you just turned 21 and don’t have steady income, you probably have a limited credit history.

However, length of credit history is just one of the factors considered when credit card issuers look at your application. Two of the most important factors to your credit scores are your payment history and the amounts you currently owe to lenders. If there are missed payments and outstanding balances on your reports, your credit might not be strong enough to qualify for the card you want.

Regardless of your credit history, there may be a credit card out there that fits your needs. Many credit cards are aimed specifically at borrowers with limited credit profiles, so the key is to do the proper research to find the right one for you.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.