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What Age Can You Get a Credit Card

Establishing a positive, solid credit history at a young age can make it easier for you to qualify for other forms of credit later. In fact, getting a credit card and using it responsibly can be an effective way for starting off your credit journey on the right foot. You can get a credit card in your own name at 18 years old, but there are stricter requirements that you have to meet until you reach 21. 
Below we cover the minimum age for opening a credit card in your own name, ways to get a credit card if you’re at least 18, how to get a credit card if you’re under 18, and also what parents need to know to get a credit card for a child.

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

You have to be at least 18 years old to get a credit card in your own name, or as the primary cardholder. Meeting the age requirement is the first step in getting your own card, but at 18 you will also have to meet certain requirements that are not necessary for those 21 and older.

How to Get a Credit Card at 18?

For 18-year-olds who would like to get a credit card in their own name, there are a few options; the Credit Card Act of 2009 requires applicants under 21 to either 1) provide proof of an independent ability to repay their credit card debt or 2) have a co-signer when applying for a credit card. With these requirements in effect until an individual is 21, many are not able to get their first credit card until then. However secured credit cards are a possible option for individuals as young as 18, and they can be useful for building credit history.

Proof of an Independent Ability to Repay

One of the ways the CARD Act protects potential credit cardholders under 21 is by requiring them to prove that they have an independent means of repaying any debt, fees, etc., they might incur as a result of having a credit card. To assess this, card issuers evaluate an applicant’s current or reasonably expected income or assets. Examples of current or reasonably expected income include salary, wages, bonuses, tips, and commissions, whereas examples of assets include savings accounts and investments. All in all, if an applicant under 21 is unable to demonstrate proof of an independent ability to pay for a credit card, then they may want to consider getting a co-signer as an alternative method for approval.

Get a Co-signer

If you cannot prove that you have the independent ability to repay your credit card debt between the ages 18-20, a co-signer may help you qualify for a credit card. However, do note that there are some credit card issuers who do not allow co-signers, so your options may be limited. If you do elect for a co-signer, make sure it is not only someone you trust (e.g., a parent or guardian) but also someone with a good credit history. Moreover, ensure they know that by co-signing with you for the card, they are agreeing to be financially responsible for paying the balance if you fail to do so and agreeing to have their credit score be subject to your actions.

Get a Secured Credit Card

With a secured credit card, the cardholder provides a security deposit that typically becomes the credit limit for the card. Because the card limit is secured by the deposit, getting approved for this type of credit card is normally easier than getting approved for an unsecured card. If you have zero or limited credit history, a secured credit card might be a worthwhile option for you to start building credit with responsible use. Plus, some secured cards offer the option to upgrade to an unsecured card in the future.

How to Get a Credit Card Under 18?

Technically you cannot get a credit card in your own name if you’re under 18, but that does not mean you have to miss out on building your credit history with a credit card. If you have a parent, guardian, or relative with good credit, you may want to consider asking them if you could become an authorized user on one of their credit cards. If that card reports to the credit bureaus, then responsible use on your behalf and theirs, should positively impact your credit score. Keep in mind that the opposite is true as well. Irresponsible use can negatively impact the scores of the primary cardholder and authorized user(s). The minimum age for authorized users varies by issuer, and some do not have a minimum age at all. Be sure to have the primary cardholder check with their issuer to see if you meet the age requirement.

When Should My Child Get a Credit Card?

The idea of letting a child under 18 use a credit card may come off as peculiar to many parents, but some parents are handing credit cards to their kids to teach them how to use them responsibly before they get their own at some point. When used responsibly, a credit card can be an avenue for building credit history for a child who won’t be able to open an account in their own name until they are at least 18 and can provide proof of an independent means to repay your credit card debt.

All in all, the timing of when your child should get a credit card depends on a combination of factors, but two of the most important to know before making a decision are the benefits of credit card use and your child’s readiness to wield that kind of swiping power.

Reasons for Getting a Credit Card for a Child Under 18

For some parents, it may be hard to believe that there are any good reasons for getting a credit card for their children, but there are three reasons that are worth considering.

  1. Building Credit: Credit history is a significant factor when you apply for different forms of credit such as a credit card, car, home, etc., and if your child is under 18, there is a good chance that they won’t have any credit history at all. By getting a credit card for your child, you can help them start building their credit history with responsible use, which may open the door to more affordable interest rates on loans and valuable credit cards in the future. At the same time, do note that if you do add a child as an authorized user, your child’s credit score and yours could be damaged with irresponsible use.
  2. Learning Opportunities: As a parent, you can educate your child on what responsible credit card management looks and feels like before they get one on their own. You can help them comprehend the importance of paying the balance in full every month to avoid being charged interest, when and when not to use a credit card for an expense, and more. In fact, walking alongside your child in credit card management could be an easy way to segue into other conversations in the realm of financial literacy like budgeting, saving, and spending within your means.
  3. Rewards for You: Many credit cards offer rewards in the form of points or cash back that are determined by how much is spent using the card. This means that your child’s additional spending could generate more in rewards. Just be prepared for the increased spending and continue to pay the balance in full every month to avoid being charged interest.

How to Know Your Child is Ready for a Credit Card

There are a few questions that you will want to ask yourself before adding your child as an authorized user on your credit card. We also recommend that you add to these as you see fit.

  1. Will They Follow Your Instructions? Establish a credit card code of conduct for your child that you’re comfortable with and enforce it. Figure out who is going to be paying the bill every month. You could pay the balance, have your child pay their portion, or have them pay you for what they’ve spent. Determine how much your child can spend, which purchases are allowed and those that are not. For instance, you could limit your child’s purchases to a specific amount like $50 per month. You could even allow them to only use the credit card for certain items like gas for their car or fast food. Whatever instructions you come up with, stick to them, and if you don’t think your kid can meet those expectations, then perhaps you should postpone this responsibility for later when they seem ready for it.
  2. Does Your Child Understand How Credit Cards Work? You need to ensure that your child knows the credit card basics. They don’t have to be experts, but it’s going to be difficult for them to use a credit card responsibly without knowing the fundamentals. For example, make sure that they understand the difference between the payment date and closing date, the credit limit, the consequences of missing a payment, how credit card interest works, etc. Take some time to assess their credit card knowledge, educate them to fill in the gaps, and move forward when the time seems right.
  3. Are You Prepared to Protect Your Credit? Once you make your child an authorized user on your credit card, you are agreeing to be held accountable for every purchase your child makes as if you made them yourself. The reality is that you can create a clear set of card instructions for your child to adhere to, but they could miss the mark (creating a learning opportunity). Remember that poor credit decisions made by your kid could hurt your credit score, and it’s your job to protect your credit. We recommend checking card transactions frequently and going over expenses with your child regularly to reinforce expectations and cultivate transparency so that you and your child both benefit.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to credit, a head start can go a long way. Whether you’re under 18 and looking to get your first credit card or you’re a parent who wants to get a credit card for your child, the authorized user option can be an effective way of building credit when the card is used responsibly. Furthermore, responsible credit card use at a young age could provide invaluable experience and reap dividends later on when it’s time to manage and apply for other types of credit.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Can You Get a Credit Card?

Generally speaking, at 13 years old, you can become an authorized user on the credit card of a parent, guardian, etc., but you won’t be able to get a credit card as the primary cardholder until you are at least 18.

If you are between the ages of 18-20 and want to get your own credit card, you will have to prove that you have an independent ability to repay your credit card debt or obtain a co-signer (if applicable). If you’re under 18, becoming an authorized user would afford you a credit card that you can use (it might even have your name on it), but you won’t be the primary cardholder. In spite of that, as an authorized user, you can build positive credit history if you and the primary cardholder use the credit card responsibly.

What is the Minimum Age for an Authorized User on a Credit Card?

The minimum age for an authorized user on a credit card varies by issuer, but there are several with no minimum age requirement and some that allow you to have an authorized user as young as 13 years old. According to Experian, here are some of the credit card age requirements for some common issuers:

Credit Card Issuer Minimum Age Requirement for an Authorized User
American Express 13 Years Old
Bank of America No Minimum Age
Barclays 13 Years Old
Capital One No Minimum Age
Chase No Minimum Age
Citibank No Minimum Age
Discover 15 Years Old
U.S. Bank 16 Years Old
Wells Fargo No Minimum Age
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