By Stephanie Miller


5 Min. To Read

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Applying (and getting approved) for your very first credit card is an exciting rite of passage. Many of us are eager to fill out that initial application with our personal info, awaiting the plastic spending power that will soon be ours. But what if you don’t have everything you need to complete an application – namely, a social security number?

An SSN is a requirement for credit card applications, thanks to the Patriot Act. However, there are many in the United States without one. This may be because they are nonresident foreign nationals or, for whatever reason, don’t have a U.S. birth certificate. So, what are these individuals to do if they want to begin building credit? Is there any way to get a credit card if you don’t have a social security number?

Why an SSN is Required

The Patriot Act requires that banks verify their customers’ identities before opening accounts in their name. This, of course, includes credit cards.

In order to verify someone’s identity, the bank must first obtain the customer’s Social Security number. They may also ask a number of identifying questions, but the SSN is an integral part of the process. This ensures that banks aren’t issuing credit or handling funds for people operating under illegal aliases.

If a customer doesn’t have a social security number, there is one acceptable alternative: the ITIN. This stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, and is the number issued by the IRS to everyone working in the United States.

This tax processing number is necessary because everyone working in the country must file a tax return. They are required to pay taxes on their income, even if they are a foreign citizen. Since non-US citizens don’t have issued SSNs, the ITIN allows the IRS to identify them.

How to Get a Card in the US

So, what are the best ways to go about getting a credit card in the U.S. if you don’t have a social security number? Let’s take a look.

Ask to Use Your ITIN

As mentioned above, anyone who works and pays taxes in the United States has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This goes for resident and nonresident aliens, too.

Some credit card companies will accept an ITIN in place of an SSN, especially smaller banks and some credit unions with credit card products. This number is even in the same nine-digit format as an SSN, and can sometimes be used in its place. It’s certainly worth asking, if you don’t have a social security number to provide.

Get on Someone Else’s Credit Card

While it’s not the same as getting your own credit card, you can begin building up your credit by piggybacking on someone else’s credit card account. This can be done by either being added as an authorized user, or even jumping onto a card as a joint account holder.

As an authorized user, you’ll be able to utilize the available credit on the account and make purchases on your own. The history of the account (including the credit utilization and payment history) will typically be reported to the credit bureaus under your name, as well as that of the primary account holder.

If the primary account holder were to default on the debt, you would not be responsible for paying it back, and the creditors could not come after you. However, any irresponsible management of the account could negatively impact your credit score, so be sure that you’re only added on to an account with someone who you know will manage it wisely.

As a joint account holder, you’ll be equally responsible for the account as a whole. You’ll have full access to the line of credit, but you’ll also be responsible for paying off any debts incurred. The payment history, credit utilization, etc. will be reported to your credit history each month.

Get a Secured Card

Secured credit cards were designed for those with poor or limited credit history, and are meant as a stepping stone to “regular” credit cards. They require a deposit, which is the same as your credit limit.

This makes secured credit cards much easier to get, and may be a viable option for those without a social security number.

Find a Card with Foreign Products

If you have credit established in your home country, you may be able to leverage that when applying for a card in the U.S., even if you don’t have a social security number. You’ll be able to use your taxpayer ID number and your foreign credit history to seek approval.

Companies like American Express offer programs like the Global Card Transfer, where they will help you move existing cards between countries in which they do business. This makes it incredibly easy to take a card from your home country and move it to a United States-based product of the same nature.

Another option is a card designed for students or immigrants. One such card is the Deserve Edu, which is an international student card that doesn’t even require an SSN to apply and has low credit history requirements. It does have a higher interest rate than some others and it has an annual fee, but this can still be an excellent option if you don’t hold a balance from month-to-month.

Opening your first credit card is exciting, whether you’re 18 or 58. If you’re not an American citizen and don’t have a social security number, it can be a bit tricky to get approved for credit, however. Using the steps above, you have the opportunity to not only open a card, but begin to build a positive credit history.

Applying (and getting approved) for your very first credit card is an exciting rite of passage. Many of us are eager to fill out that initial application with our personal info, awaiting the plastic spending power that will soon be ours. But what if you don't have a social security number?

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