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How to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number

Getting an ITIN is a great alternative.

Updated

If you’ve attempted to apply for a credit card, you’ve probably noticed most applications require a Social Security number (SSN). But if you don’t have an SSN, acquiring a card might feel near-impossible.

But don’t give up: There are cards you can apply for that don’t require SSNs.

How to apply for a credit card without an SSN

There are three main options if you want a credit card but don’t have a Social Security number: Apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), look for a card that doesn’t require an SSN or — if you’re from an eligible country — apply for an American Express personal credit card.

Get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number that’s issued by the IRS. It’s available to someone who can’t get a Social Security number.

To get an ITIN, fill out IRS Form W-7. Submit this form by mail, along with relevant immigration forms and proof of identity. Or, present these materials at an IRS walk-in office or authorized Acceptance Agent. Visit the IRS website for more information.

Once you have an ITIN, you can use the nine-digit number where providers usually ask for your SSN.

Get a credit card that doesn’t require an SSN

Some providers target certain cards specifically at foreign students and new arrivals in the country. If you’d like one of these cards, be prepared to produce supporting information, such as proof of employment in the US, your student visa, etc.

Apply for an American Express personal credit card

In late 2019, Amex announced an intriguing new partnership with Nova Credit. The big news: If you’re from an eligible country, Amex can now pull your credit history from your home country to evaluate your application for a personal credit card. This means you don’t need a Social Security number to apply, though you’ll still need a US-based address.

These are the currently eligible countries:

  • Australia.
  • Canada.
  • Mexico.
  • India.
  • United Kingdom.

Amex and Nova Credit say they’ll add more countries in the future.

If you don’t have a Social Security number, Amex may now be a great option for you. The provider offers nearly 20 personal credit cards, and many of them are market-leading options in their spaces.

To take advantage of this new feature, simply check the “I don’t have a credit history in the US” box when applying for an Amex card.

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These two things are typically required for a credit card

After overcoming the hurdle of a Social Security number, you should consider two additional factors in particular: your credit score and income.

Credit score

The credit score is typically a major factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a card.

Unfortunately, your credit history from your home country doesn’t carry over to the United States. This means you’re building your credit from zero. It also means most credit card providers won’t offer you the best credit cards.

One of your best options then is to get a secured credit card. This requires an initial security deposit your provider can take if you fail to pay your bill. A provider is often more willing to offer this type of card without seeing established credit.

Income

Credit card providers want to see that you have enough income to pay your credit card bill. They’ll look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which is your monthly debt repayments divided by your monthly income. Generally, a DTI of 35% or below is considered good.

On your application, be honest about your annual income. The provider may require proof to support the figure you provide.

Credit cards that don’t require a Social Security number

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Jasper Mastercard®
N/A
15.49% variable
$0
Credit card for professionals relocating to America without a US credit history.
Deserve® Edu Card
1% cash back on all purchases
18.74% variable
$0
Designed for college students to build credit history and earn rewards.
Petal® Visa® Credit Card
Up to 10% cash back from select merchants, on other purchases earn 1% back, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments
12.99% to 29.49% variable
$0
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Who are these cards best for?

If you aren’t able to get an SSN, try one of the cards in the table above. With most of them, you can apply with an ITIN.

With CreditStacks, you can apply with your passport, visa information and proof of employment in the United States. Deserve may or may not require an SSN “depending on your current status,” according to the provider’s website.

What to do after you get your credit card

After you get your new credit card, it’s time to build your credit score. It takes six months of credit card use to get a FICO score, which is the most widely used score in the United States. During that time, keep these two things in mind:

  • Pay your card bill on time, every time.
    Lenders want to see they can rely on you to pay them back. The more you show you can do this, the less risky of a customer you’ll be. Keep up with your payments consistently, and you’ll eventually be rewarded with a strong credit score. If possible, pay off your balance in full every month.
  • Keep your debt low.
    Lenders also want to see that your debt is manageable, which hints that you won’t have trouble making payments. Try to keep your credit card balance below 30% of your credit limit. This keeps your credit utilization low, which has a positive effect on your credit score.

Getting your FICO score is a big milestone. Once you know what it is, keep building it with the same strategy you’ve been using: on-time payments and low debt.

Bottom line

It may seem like you’re out of luck for a credit card if you don’t have a Social Security number. But you have other options. Most people opt for an ITIN, which some providers will accept on their applications. Other providers may let you apply with the right supporting documentation.

After you get your credit card, pay your bill on time and keep your debt low. As your credit score increases, you may qualify for some of the best credit cards.

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