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

If you’re wondering about your chances of getting a credit card based on your age, here’s what you need to know. (iStock)

If you’re hoping to get a credit card on your own, you need to be at least 18 years old to qualify. However, there are some restrictions for consumers until they’re 21 years old, and teenagers under 18 can only get a credit card if it’s tied to an existing account.

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If you’re wondering about your chances of getting a credit card based on your age, here’s what you need to know.

Can you get an account if you’re under the credit card age limit? 

It’s possible to get a credit card in your name if you’re under 18, but it’s not the same as getting an account in your name. Instead, you can get added as an authorized user on a family member’s account (typically a parent), and you’ll receive a card in your name that’s tied to that account.

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As an authorized user, you’re not financially responsible for any debt incurred on the main account, including charges you make with your card. That said, once you’ve been added as an authorized user on a credit card, that account’s entire history is added to your credit file, which can help you establish your credit history early on.

Of course, if your parent has missed some payments in the past or regularly carries a high balance, those negative items could hinder your chances of building a positive credit history. So check with your parents before you ask to be added to make sure you’re starting off on the right foot.

Credit cards for 18- to 21-year-olds

Once you’re 18 years old, you’re eligible to get a credit card on your own. However, it can be challenging to get approved, especially if you’re a college student.

That’s because credit card issuers are required by law to consider your ability to pay back any debt you incur with a credit card. If you’re a college student with just a part-time job or no job at all, your income may not meet an issuer’s required minimum.

Note, however, that you can also count scholarships, grants and regular allowances as income.

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Also, while student credit cards are designed with college students in mind, many of them still require some credit history, even if it’s limited. If you’ve never had the chance to build credit as an authorized user, you may have a hard time getting approved for a card on your own.

If you don’t have an established income or credit score, there are still some options available to you. For example, you can still get added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card account. Also, some credit card issuers allow co-signers, so if one of your parents has a good credit history, they can apply with you as a joint account holder.

Finding the best credit card for 21 and up

If you’re 21 years old or older, you may have a better chance of getting approved for a credit card on your own, even if you’re still a college student. For example, you may have had more opportunities to build your credit history, especially if you took out student loans and have already started making payments.

The primary reason, however, is that the Credit CARD Act of 2009 allows borrowers who are 21 and older to claim any income to which they have a reasonable expectation of access on a credit card application. That includes:

  • Personal income
  • Income from a spouse or partner
  • Allowances and gifts
  • Trust fund distributions
  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Retirement fund distributions
  • Social Security payments

While you now have a longer list of sources you can use, it’s essential to claim only that income that you can prove exists.

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In addition to your gross annual income, you’ll typically need to provide the following information on a credit card application:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number
  • Source of income
  • Housing situation and monthly payment

To find the right credit card for you, start by checking your credit score. Search for cards that align with your credit score range, then consider each card’s features and how they match up with your preferences and spending habits.