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

You typically need to be 18 or older -- but there are exceptions.

Brother and sister looking at father explaining finance with credit card at kitchen island - stock photo
Maskot/Getty Images

Young adults can build their credit to help them get off to a strong financial start. While you can legally apply for a credit card at 18, qualifying for a credit card before you turn 21 can prove challenging if you don't have a cosigner or a strong credit history. On the other hand, those younger than 18 may be able to leverage someone else's credit history in some cases, too.

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

The minimum age requirement for opening a credit card account as the primary account holder is 18. Still, people aged 21 and older have a better chance of qualifying for a credit card as long as they have a credit history. If you're under 21 and lack an established credit history (or have poor credit), some credit card issuers will require you to have a cosigner. Alternatively, there are special credit cards for people with no credit or bad credit.

How to get a credit card if you're under 18

If you're under 18, your parent or guardian can opt to add you as an authorized user. As an authorized user, you'll get a credit card with your name on it, but you're not technically responsible for paying the bill. You'll be able to piggyback off the primary account holder's good credit to build your credit history. Becoming an authorized user can help you avoid applying for a card on your own, according to Bankrate, CNET's sister site. This is a major benefit if you currently have bad credit or no credit history. Most issuers report data on authorized users to the credit bureaus, meaning your credit score can benefit from being an authorized user. Keep in mind, if the primary cardholder has poor credit habits, their actions can negatively affect your score, and vice versa. 

How to get a credit card if you're 18 or older

If you're 18 or older, you can apply for a card on your own. First-time cardholders at this age generally have thin credit files and may not get the best credit card benefits right away. This can feel somewhat limiting because most unsecured credit cards require at least good credit to apply. Secured credit cards, however, offer a way around a limited credit history and path toward building better credit. 

A secured card is a type of credit card that requires a refundable security deposit to open an account. Your deposit often equals your credit limit, which tends to be 50% to 100% of the initial deposit. If you open a secured credit card and put down a $200 security deposit, you'll likely have a credit limit of $200. 

Secured credit cards function similarly to regular credit cards -- the cardholder can use the card to make purchases and must pay off the balance each month. However, if you keep up with your payments, you can eventually upgrade to an unsecured credit card.

Student credit cards are another excellent option for young people working to establish credit. As you might have guessed, student credit cards work like any other credit card, but their rewards and features are geared toward a student's needs. Student credit cards often don't require a credit score to apply, giving students applying for their first credit card a relatively seamless way to start building credit.

The bottom line

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to how long it'll take to establish credit, but one thing is certain: There are no shortcuts. Establishing good credit takes time; the earlier you can start building credit, the better.  

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Correction, 7:30 a.m. PT Jan. 25: We've replaced phrases that were not entirely original.