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The “under 21” guide to credit cards
Typically, it’s much easier to apply for credit cards if you’re at least 21.
Before that age, you may have a tougher time getting approved. If you’re under 18, you can’t apply for a credit card. And if you’re between 18 and 21, card providers will be sticklers about checking your income.
Still, it’s possible to get a credit card as long as you know what you’re doing. Here’s what you should know about restrictions, authorized users and cosigners, secured and student cards and your best options by provider.
Our pick for cardholders between 18 and 21
Deserve® Edu CardRead more
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.
How to add an authorized user
It’s simple to become an authorized user. The primary cardholder must call their card provider with your name, date of birth and — if required — Social Security number. They may also be able to add you online.
Not all cards allow you to add authorized users who are under 18. However, here are a few cards that allow you to add users who are 15+ years old.
Be careful about becoming an authorized user
As an authorized user, you’re not responsible for making card payments. Though that’s a plus in some ways, it can also be a negative: Your credit history will rise and fall with the primary cardholder’s payments. If the primary cardholder makes payments on time, you may see a boost in your credit score. But if they’re consistently late on payments, your score could drop.
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.
Try a secured or student credit card
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. In that light, two great options are secured cards and student cards.
Secured credit cards
A secured credit card lends the opportunity for someone under the age of 21 to learn how to responsibly use a credit card while positively building their credit.
- To open a secured credit card, you must first put down a security deposit of typically $200 to $300 — some providers may offer lower deposits. That refundable deposit amount will then act as your credit limit.
- The deposit is also a form of collateral, which makes it easier to be approved for a secured card — this ensures the provider will be repaid if you fail to pay your bill.
- Making on time payments and paying off your monthly balance in full will show lenders that you’re a trustworthy customer.
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.How to apply for a student credit card
Provider rules and recommended credit cards
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 users||Cosigner allowed for those under 21||Recommended secured credit card||Recommended student credit card|
|Bank of America||None|
Secured credit card banks and lenders
American Express cardholders can add authorized users as young as 15. The company does not allow users to cosign applications for individuals under 21.
Amex is unlike other card providers, because it doesn’t offer any student or secured credit cards.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders can add authorized users with no minimum age. BofA is one of the few that allow cosigned applications.
The BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card is rather weak compared to its competitors. However, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students is among the best student cards you’ll find.
Capital One allows authorized users with no minimum age. It doesn’t allow cosigned applications.
Chase allows authorized users with no minimum age but doesn’t allow cosigned applications. It’s also not known for its secured or student cards. If you have good credit, however, consider starting with the Chase Freedom® or Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
Citi allows authorized users with no minimum age but doesn’t allow cosigned applications. The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is solid, if not spectacular.
Wells Fargo allows authorized users with no minimum age, but it doesn’t allow cosigned applications.
The Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card is a so-so pick, but the College Cash Back Card is a fine choice for students.
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