Not having a Social Security number is a serious stumbling block when you want to apply for a credit card, since most financial institutions specifically ask for one on your application. However, there are ways to get a credit card without a Social Security number.
An alternative identification number
Although credit card issuers almost always ask for your Social Security number on the application, you’re “generally not required” to provide one if you don’t have one, according to the Social Security Administration.
In general, only U.S. citizens and noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. are eligible for a Social Security number. Others can obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, which follows the same nine-digit format as a Social Security number (XXX-XX-XXXX) and can be used in place of one on credit card applications. You can obtain an ITIN regardless of your immigration status.
You’ll need more than a number for approval
Simply having a taxpayer ID number to put on a credit card application isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll be approved. Credit card issuers will also look at your credit history, and that creates an entirely different challenge.
In addition to an ID number, you’ll need a credit history and income to qualify for most cards.
If you don’t have a Social Security number, it’s most likely because you’re not an American citizen. Even if you had a positive credit history in your country of origin, foreign credit history can’t be transferred to the United States. As far as American credit card issuers are concerned, you have no credit history at all.
You may need to start building your U.S. credit history by applying for a secured credit card. With these cards, you provide a deposit, usually $200 or more, that the issuer holds in case you don’t pay your bill. In most cases, your deposit becomes your credit limit — put down a $500 deposit, for example, and your credit limit is $500. There are also a few companies that offer credit cards specifically for recent immigrants and international students.
You’ll also need income to qualify for a credit card. Card issuers want to see that you’ll be able to pay for things you charge. If you’re 21 or older, you can list any income to which you have access, including that of a spouse or partner. If you’re under 21, you can list only your own income on a credit card application.
Good behavior means good credit
Can you even begin to build credit without a Social Security number? The answer is yes. The credit bureaus will use other information about you, such as your name, address and birth date, to gather information about your credit activity all in one place.
To build good credit, you’ll need to show positive payment history over time. This means making regular purchases and paying off your balance on time every month.
It takes about six months of credit activity for a FICO credit score to be created. Once you have a FICO score — the score most commonly used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness — you may find a wider variety of credit cards available to you. You could move up to an unsecured credit card (one that doesn’t require a deposit) and eventually cards that offer juicy rewards.