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How to get a credit card if you’re under 21 years old

Find out the best way to get a credit card if you fall between the ages of 18 and 21 years old. 

You can legally apply for a credit card when you turn the age of majority in your province, though this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get approved. Find out what factors credit card companies look at when qualifying your application and learn how you can improve your chances of getting approved for a credit card when you apply between the ages of 18 and 21.

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

You need to be the age of majority in your province or territory to apply for a credit card in Canada. This can be either 18 or 19 years of age, depending on where you live. You can consult the table below to find out how old you have to be to get a credit card in your province.

Must be 18 years old to apply for a credit cardMust be 19 years old to apply for a credit card
  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • British Columbia
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

Can I get a credit card if I’m under 18?

You may be able to get a credit card if you’re under 18, though this usually involves signing on to your parent’s account as an authorized user. You can find out more about credit card options for teens in our guide.

Should I get a credit card at 18?

Most experts agree that it’s a good idea to get a credit card at 18 if you make your payments on time and can handle your money responsibly. You may want to start out with a secured credit card to help build your credit and become familiar with how a credit card works before you sign onto an unsecured or student credit card.

Check out some of the most common benefits and drawbacks of using a credit card when you’re between the ages of 18 and 21 below:

Benefits of getting a credit card at 18

  • Helps to build credit. You can use a credit card to build your credit so that you can apply for other forms of financing with lower interest rates in the future.
  • Learn how to manage a budget. You’ll learn how to figure out a monthly budget so that you can plan for your payments.
  • Earn rewards for spending. You may be able to earn points or cashback for making purchases, which you can exchange for merchandise, gift cards and travel.
  • Take advantage of credit card benefits. Many credit cards come with complimentary benefits such as mobile device protection and travel insurance.

What to watch out for

  • Annual fees. You could end up paying an annual fee for your card to get better rewards or benefits (though there are plenty of no-annual-fee cards to choose from).
  • Interest rates. Most cards come with 19.99% interest rates for purchases, which can cost you a lot of money if you’re only making the minimum payment each month.
  • Easy to overspend. You may be inclined to spend more than you make since the money is readily available to you at all times.
  • Damage to your credit score. You could end up damaging your credit if you spend too much and can no longer afford the minimum payments for your credit card.
  • Difficult to qualify for. You could have difficulty qualifying for a credit card if you don’t have a credit history to prove your credit worthiness.

What are the requirements for getting a credit card at 18 or 19 years old?

Most credit cards require you to meet basic requirements in order to qualify. These include the following:

  • Income requirements. The majority of credit cards require you to make at least $12,000 per year to qualify. You may be able to prove your income using a number of sources such as employment income, scholarships and government subsidies.
  • Credit history. You’ll usually need to have a minimum credit score to qualify for a regular credit card. You may not have a credit history to rely on so you can build credit by taking out a secured credit card or making all of your bill payments on time. You may also be able to take out a student credit card if you don’t have a credit history.
  • Other financial information. Each credit card issuer will have its own process to evaluate the risks involved in lending to you. Your provider may ask for information about your current debts or assets. For example, you might report that you have student loans and an outstanding car loan (but you have a new vehicle to fall back on as collateral).

How to build your credit score with a credit card

There are a number of ways you can use a credit card to build your credit. Here’s how to manage your credit card wisely to get the best benefit:

  • Make your payments on time. Make payments like clockwork to build your credit score and avoid late fees.
  • Pay your card in full each month. Pay your balance off in full whenever possible to save money on interest and keep your payments manageable.
  • Pay more than the minimum requirement. When you can’t pay your balance off in full, pay more than the minimum payment to drive down your principal balance.
  • Avoid using your card for cash advances. Avoid taking out cash advances using your credit card since these often come with higher interest rates.
  • Keep your card balance below 30% of your credit limit. Spend 30% or less of your credit limit each month to maintain a good credit utilization ratio and build your score.
  • Tap into welcome bonuses. Sign up for a credit card that offers a generous welcome bonus to get the most out of your rewards or cashback.

How to get a credit card at 18 or 19 years old

As an 18 or 19 year old, there are generally four different ways that you can qualify for a credit card even if you don’t have a credit history. Check out the best ways to get a credit card below:

1. Apply with a cosigner

You can apply for a credit card with a cosigner with some financial institutions. A cosigner is usually a friend or family member with a good credit score who agrees to take over your payments if you default. This person’s credit score will also go down in the event that you don’t make your payments on time. Applying with a cosigner is a solid way to get approved for a credit card even if you don’t have a credit history.

How to apply for a credit card with a cosigner

2. Get a secured credit card

Getting a secured credit card is probably the easiest way to qualify for a credit card with no credit history, but you’ll need to have an adequate amount of savings to go this route.

Here’s how it works:

  • Apply for a secured card. Apply for a secured credit card and put down a security deposit to secure your credit limit. This deposit sits in a separate account and can be used by the bank to pay off your outstanding balance if you fail to make your payments.
  • Spend money on your card. Once your deposit is accepted, you can spend up to that limit on your card. You can use your secured credit card just like a regular credit card, including to shop online, pay bills and pre-authorize payments.
  • Make payments. You’ll make payments on this card whenever you spend money. As you make on-time payments, your credit score will go up and you’ll be in a better position to apply for an unsecured credit card in the future.
  • Close your account. When you’re ready to close out your secured credit card, you’ll get your deposit back as long as you don’t have an outstanding balance left over on your account.

How to apply for a secured credit card

Compare secured credit cards

Name Product Min. Required Deposit Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Reward
Refresh Financial Secured Card
$200
17.99%
N/A
$12.95
The Refresh Secured Card has no credit check, a low annual fee and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with anywhere from $200 - $10,000.
Take advantage of a low annual fee, with no credit check and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with some funds.
Home Trust Secured Visa
$500
14.90% - 19.99%
19.80% - 19.99%
$59
Improve your credit score and make purchases with the Home Trust Secured Visa. Choose between paying no annual fee or low interest.
Choose from three card options: No Annual Fee ($0 annual fee, 19.99% purchase rate), Low Interest Rate ($59 annual fee, 14.90% purchase rate) or a Low Monthly Fee ($5 monthly fee, 14.90% purchase rate).
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Compare up to 4 providers

3. Get a credit card for students under 21

There are many options for credit cards for students under 21. These cards are unsecured cards so you won’t have to put down a security deposit. Additionally, many providers will approve you even if you don’t have a credit history as long as you have some form of income to fall back on. This is because they anticipate that you’ll make decent money in the future and they want to cultivate a longstanding relationship with you while you’re young to secure future gains.

How to apply for credit cards for students under 21

Compare credit cards for students under 21

Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard For Students
800 Miles
1 Mile per $25 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 800 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $80 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash). Get a 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to balance amounts transferred.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
Balance transfer offer
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
2,500 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Earn 2,500 bonus SCENE points when you spend a minimum of $500 on eligible purchases in the first three months as a new SCENE Visa cardholder. Apply by July 1, 2021.
BMO CashBack Mastercard For Students
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get up to 5% cash back in the first three months (up to max. spend of $2,000). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months (with a 1% transfer fee).
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Compare up to 4 providers

4. Become an authorized user on someone else’s card

If you’re having difficulty getting approved for your own credit card, you may be able to sign up as an authorized user on someone else’s card. For example, you could sign up to use your parent’s credit card until you can qualify for your own. To become an authorized user, the primary cardholder must call their card issuer and provide your name, date of birth and (if required) Social Insurance Number (SIN). They may also be able to add you via online banking.

The benefit of this approach is that you can build your credit score over time as long as the primary cardholder makes their payments on time. The drawback is that your credit score can go down if the person who owns the card misses payments or acts irresponsibly with their money.

Not sure which type of credit card to get? Take our quiz.

Find the right credit card

Steps for how to get a credit card at 18

You can follow these steps to apply for a credit card when you’re between the ages of 18 and 21 years old:

  1. Figure out which credit card you want. Compare credit cards from a number of different providers to find the one that best suits your needs and budget.
  2. Make sure you meet eligibility requirements. Double check that you meet income requirements and credit score criteria for your chosen credit card before you apply.
  3. Apply for the card of your choice. Apply for the credit card of your choice by visiting the main site of the provider you’re interested in. Click the green “Go to site” button in the tables above to get started.
  4. Fill out application details. Fill out personal details such as your full name, address, email and phone number to start your application.
  5. Authorize a credit check. Submit to a personal credit check to see if you can get approved for the credit card of your choice.
  6. Click submit. Once you’re ready to apply, click submit on your application or call your credit card provider to apply over the phone.

Major card provider policies on authorized users, secured cards and student cards

Card providers have different rules on how old you have to be to become an authorized user to someone’s account, and not all providers offer secured cards or student cards. Check out the table below to learn what many of Canada’s most popular credit card companies offer for young card holders.

Minimum age for authorized usersSecured credit card?Student credit card?
American Express13cross-iconscross-icons
BMO13transparent-green-ticktransparent-green-tick
Capital OneNot listedtransparent-green-tickcross-icons
CIBCNot listedtransparent-green-ticktransparent-green-tick
RBC14transparent-green-ticktransparent-green-tick
Refresh FinancialAge of majority in providence/territory of residencetransparent-green-tickcross-icons
ScotiabankNot listedtransparent-green-ticktransparent-green-tick
TDNot listedtransparent-green-ticktransparent-green-tick

Alternatives to credit cards

Not sure if getting a credit card is right for you? You still have options, whether your goal is to fund a large purchase or simply build your credit. Take a look at the options below:

  • Get a prepaid debit card

    A prepaid debit card is like a secured credit card in that you have to provide your own funds to use the card. But a prepaid debit card is reloadable, whereas a secured credit card merely requires an initial deposit. Once you load a prepaid debit card, you can use it like you would an ordinary credit card, which can be handy for certain types of transactions like making online purchases. The downside is that using a prepaid debit card won’t build your credit.

  • Get a personal loan

    If your goal is fund a large, one-time expense like a new laptop, college textbooks or a spring break trip, you may want to get a personal loan instead. Unlike a credit card, a loan is a one-time disbursement of funds that must be completely paid off within a certain time frame (usually anywhere from 6 months to 7 years).

    You don’t have recurring access to funds, and you can’t just stick to making minimum interest payments. Unlike prepaid debit cards, you can build credit by making personal loan repayments on time and in full. And you may need a cosigner to apply if you don’t have a job.

  • Get a line of credit

    A line of credit works a lot like a credit card. You get access to a pool of funds from which you can draw at any time, and you only pay interest on the funds you use. If you don’t use the money, no payments are required. But a line of credit doesn’t come with a card that you can use at retailers. However, a line of credit typically comes with lower interest rates than you would get with a credit card. And, similar to a personal loan, you may need a cosigner to apply if you don’t have a job.

  • Get financing for large purchases (like an auto loan)

    If you want to build your credit score but don’t need spare cash per se, consider financing major purchases, which lets you build credit while paying for something you need like a laptop for school or a car. Many retailers offer in-house financing programs for large purchases as do most car dealerships.

    If you don’t have any prior credit history, you may need a cosigner or at least a consistent income to get approved. If you already have a car, an auto title loan can give you access to funds by borrowing against the value of your car.

  • Start an automatic savings programs

    If building credit isn’t your priority and you just want to make sure you have access to funds when you need it, set up an automatic savings program at your bank. These programs let you schedule regular withdrawals from your account, say, every time you get paid or whenever you use your debit card, and the funds are deposited into an investment account or savings account.

    There are several apps that let you “micro-invest” using this type of strategy. While an automatic savings program doesn’t give you access to cash now and won’t build your credit score, it’ll keep you out of debt and help you save for the future.

Bottom line

There are a number of ways to qualify for a credit card if you’re between the ages of 18 and 21. Your best bet is to apply for a secured credit card or student credit card if you have no credit history. You may be required to show proof of income and a decent credit score if you’re applying for a regular credit card. Find out more about how to qualify for a credit card if you’re under 21 years old and compare cards to find the best fit for your needs.

Frequently asked questions

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