Getting started with credit at a young age can help you get ahead on your credit profile; however, getting access to credit before you’re 21 can prove challenging. But it isn’t impossible.
If you want to start building responsible credit habits now, there are some strategies you can try, like becoming an authorized user on a parent’s account or signing up for a secured credit card that requires a deposit to fund your credit line.
Here are the general credit card age requirements and how to build credit depending on your age group.
Age requirements for a credit card
Typically, you’ll need to be 18 or older to get your own credit card. But if you’re under 21 and have a poor credit score or no established credit history, you may struggle getting approved for a traditional credit card. Whether you’re under 18 or old enough to apply for credit, here are some options you can explore.
Can you get a credit card if you’re under 18?
If you’re younger than 18, you can leverage a line of credit by piggybacking off your parent or guardian’s credit card account as an authorized user. As an authorized user, you’ll usually get your own card, but the primary cardholder is responsible for paying the bill. Becoming an authorized user can positively impact your credit -- as long as the primary cardholder uses the card responsibly and the card issuer reports this data to the credit bureaus. Your credit could also take a hit if the primary cardholder misses a payment or doesn’t manage the account responsibly.
Most issuers report data on authorized users to the credit bureaus, but each card issuer has its own minimum age requirements and reporting rules for authorized users. Some issuers allow you to add a minor as an authorized user but may not report the minor’s card activity to the three credit bureaus, according to Experian.
American Express, for example, allows authorized users as young as 13, but it doesn’t report authorized user activity to the bureaus until you turn 18. If you aren’t sure what your issuer’s policy is regarding minimum age requirements, call and speak with a representative using the number on the back of your credit card.
How to get a credit card if you’re 18 or older
Once you’re 18, you can apply for a credit card. However, if you have a thin credit file, you may not get approved for the best credit card rewards and benefits right off the bat. This can feel somewhat limiting because most top credit cards require a good credit score to apply.
Secured credit cards
If your goal is to build or fix your credit score, secured credit cards offer a way around a limited credit history. A secured card requires you to supply a security deposit upfront, in exchange for a line of credit. Your credit limit typically equals the amount of your deposit. For example, if you open a secured credit card and put down a $250 security deposit, you’ll likely have a credit line of $250.
Aside from your security deposit, most secured cards work like regular credit cards. You can use your secured card to make purchases, and you should pay off your entire balance each month to avoid high-interest charges or penalties. However, if you make regular, on-time payments, you may be able to upgrade to a traditional credit card and receive your security deposit back. If your card provider doesn’t offer an upgrade, you can also try applying for a traditional credit card after establishing a solid history of making on-time payments for approximately six months to a year.
Student credit cards
Student credit cards are another solid option for young people wanting to establish credit. Student credit cards work like a regular credit card, but unlike secured credit cards, they usually don’t require a security deposit. And unlike other standard credit cards, they’re geared toward students’ needs. You also may not need a credit score to apply, making it easier to begin building credit while you’re in college.
Credit-building cards also offer another avenue to credit access, and some even look at alternative credit data -- like your income or on-time bill payments -- rather than just your credit report.
Credit cards with a cosigner
If you’re still struggling to get approved for a credit card, you may consider asking someone with good or excellent credit to cosign a credit card with you. Not all credit cards let you add a co-signer, though, so be sure to check with the issuer before you begin the application process.
Correction: An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine and it used some phrases that were not entirely original. Those phrases were replaced. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.
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