You’re a foreign national living in the United States and you own a business. You want access to quick capital. You want the ability to distinguish between personal and business expenses. You want to rack up rewards from spending. In short, you want a business credit card. But you wonder: "Can I even get a business credit card?"
Why would you need a Social Security number?
A Social Security number is the prime identifier the government uses to keep record of a person’s taxes, benefits and wages, so it makes sense for credit card issuers to use that number to verify your identity and evaluate your card application. They want to know your business and personal credit history to make sure you qualify for a card, and they’ll most likely request a credit report from one of the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). But is a Social Security number the only form of identity accepted?
The official rule
The Social Security Administration states that “[a]lthough many companies, such as banks and credit companies, may ask for your Social Security number, you generally are not required to provide one if you don’t have one.” This is good news, in theory, but it still won’t be easy to apply. You will need an alternate form of identification.
You aren’t out of luck, though. The Patriot Act calls for “foreign nationals to apply for and obtain” an “identification number which would function similarly to a Social Security number or tax identification number.”
Using an ITIN and EIN
A tax identification number can include a Social Security number, an employer identification number or an individual taxpayer identification number. The last one is available only to certain nonresident or resident aliens who cannot obtain a Social Security number, such as foreign nationals working in the U.S.
You should use an employer identification number when applying for a business credit card. You will be asked to verify your identity and business, and that number will accomplish both. But to apply for an EIN, you need either a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number. So use the ITIN to get an EIN and then apply for that credit card.
Another roadblock: Credit history
Credit card issuers cannot deny an application based solely on the lack of a Social Security number. That said, issuers could deny you based on having bad or no credit history. If that is the case, you most likely will not be considered for a business credit card, and your best option is to build up credit through other means, such as a secured credit card. The best secured credit cards are out there if you know where to look.
The bottom line: Applying for a business credit card without a Social Security number is difficult but not impossible. Determine which business credit cards appeal to you and see which issuers respect alternative identification without a hassle. If this is not the case, you can remind them that an alternative form of ID is legally permissible.