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The “under 21” guide to credit cards

Start building a credit score early so you can graduate to even better options.

You can’t apply for a credit card on your own if you’re under 18, and card providers will be sticklers about checking your income if you’re between 18 and 21. Still, it’s possible to get a credit card. Here’s what you should know about restrictions, authorized users and cosigners, secured and student cards and your best options by provider.

How to get a credit card if you’re between 18 and 21 years old

Once you turn 18, you’re allowed to get a credit card on your own. However, it’s a little more difficult to get one when you’re under 21. Federal lawmakers didn’t want young consumers to accumulate mountains of debt, so they passed the CARD Act of 2009.

The CARD Act also stipulates that if you’re under 21, you must prove your ability to pay your card bill. You can report income that you earn on your own, such as scholarships and grants or wages from your job. If you don’t have sufficient income, your other option is to add a cosigner — someone who agrees to pay if you default. If you pay late, you could damage your cosigner’s credit history.

If you’re unsure whether your income qualifies or you need a cosigner, call your card provider. In many cases, your provider will contact you with further steps after you submit your application. For more information on whether you’re ready for a credit card, check out our full guide.

How to get a credit card if you’re under 18 years old

If you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to get a credit card on your own. It is possible to get one, though: You just need to be an authorized user on someone else’s card account. As an authorized user:

  • You’ll get a credit card in your name that you can use.
  • You’re not technically on the hook for making payments — that responsibility lies with the primary cardholder.
  • You may build credit as long as the primary cardholder makes payments on time.

Check out our full guide for credit cards for teens for more tips and advice on building credit when under 18.

Card issuers have different rules for authorized users and cosigned applications. Here’s a handy guide on what issuers allow (or don’t allow), as well as who offers the best secured and student cards.

Minimum age for authorized usersCosigner allowed for those under 21Secured or student options available
American Express15
xNo
xNo
Barclaycard13
checkmarkYes
checkmarkYes
Bank of AmericaNone
checkmarkYes
xNo
Capital OneNone
xNo
checkmarkYes
ChaseNone
xNo
xNo
CitiNone
xNo
checkmarkYes
Discover15
xNo
checkmarkYes
HSBCNone
checkmarkYes
xNo
US Bank16
checkmarkYes
xNo
Wells FargoNone
xNo
xNo

What are my alternatives?

If you’re between 18 and 21 years old, your main problem may be the lack of a credit history. Many card providers simply won’t let you borrow money until they can see how responsible you are. Try these options instead.

  • Secured credit cards. You can get a secured card with no credit history or a bad credit score. You can build your credit by making on-time payments with a card that reports to the three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Credit cards for new to credit. While secured cards can help those with poor credit, there are a few cards available designed specifically for those new to credit without a prior credit history. These cards can come with better rates and features than secured cards. The Petal 2 Cash Back, No Fees Visa card for example is open to those without a prior credit history while also offering rewards on purchases.
  • Student credit cards. If you’re a college student, you’re eligible for a student credit card. This is an unsecured card, 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. By starting a relationship with you early, they may win you as a customer for life. For excellent student cards, check out the Discover it® Student Cash Back, BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students, Journey Student Rewards from Capital One and Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card.

Compare under 21 credit cards

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
N/A
26.99% variable
$0
A no-annual-fee secured card that separates itself from the pack with a $200 credit limit after making a more affordable than average deposit of $49, $99 or $200.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
1% cash back on all purchases, 1.25% for months you pay on time
26.99% variable
$0
Earn 1% cash back on all purchases or get 1.25% cash back for months you pay on time.
Deserve® Edu Card
1% cash back on all purchases
18.74% variable
$0
Designed for college students to build credit history and earn rewards.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Frequently asked questions

  • Can I apply for a credit card over the phone if I’m under 21?
    No. You can only apply for cards over the phone if you’re at least 21 years old. If you’re 18 to 21 years old, you must apply online or by mail.
  • Do I need to be a student to apply for a student credit card?
    Yes, you’ll likely need to be a high school or college student who can show proof of enrollment.
  • What happens if I can’t make my payment?
    The first thing you should do is reach out to your lender to let them know your situation. They may waive the late fee one time if you’ve been a responsible borrower in the past.

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