Getting a credit card when you’re under 21
Typically, it’s much easier to apply for credit cards when you’re 21 or over.
Before that age, you may have a tougher time getting approved because of your lack of credit history. 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 the different cards open to you 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 can start to build your credit history. Your credit report is essentially your financial history and details how reliable you are when it comes to borrowing money. Whenever you open a credit card or store card or take out a loan or mortgage, the bank or provider will refer to your credit history to determine if you’re a good candidate to lend money to. Having a bad or low credit history can be caused by missed or late payments or a low income, and could have future implications on your finances.
As a young person starting to build your credit history, your options for credit cards are:
- Student credit card. Available to adults 18 or over in part-time or full-time education. Student credit cards often require you have a student bank account with the same provider.
- Any credit card. In theory, most UK credit cards on the market are open to UK residents aged 18 or over. However, your lack of credit history means you may find you aren’t eligible for many.
- Credit builder credit card. This is a great option for those looking to start their credit history from scratch and, if used correctly, can be a stepping stone to mainstream credit cards in the future.
- Additional cardholder. A good introduction for those nervous about having a credit card is being added as an additional cardholder to a family member or partner’s credit card. However, the primary cardholder will be the one liable for any missed payments and it’s their credit history at risk.
Try a student credit card
If you’re a college or university student aged 18 or over and in part-time or full-time education, you’re eligible for a student credit card. Many providers will only give you a credit card if you already have a student bank account with them.
Student credit cards tend to have low credit limits and no annual fees to help make them more affordable. They usually don’t offer many rewards with them, so it may be worth looking at a rewards debit card with cashback or points instead if that’s important to you.
Compare credit cards
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.
Most mainstream credit cards are – in theory – available to all UK residents aged 18 or over. However, your eligibility is considered on a case-by-case basis, with providers looking at your credit report and income to determine whether or not you should be allowed credit.
Before applying for a mainstream credit card, always make sure to do the “eligibility check” on the bank or provider’s website first. This will give you an indication of how likely your chances of success are in being approved. This is considered a “soft search” and does not impact on your credit history. Any credit card applications, whether they are successful or not, are considered “hard searches” and can affect your credit history.
Compare cards by type
Try a credit builder card
Credit builder cards are designed for those with no or bad credit history. These cards offer a simple way for you to build your credit history over time.
Generally, these types of cards have a low credit limit and a high interest rate to encourage you to pay off your bill in full every month. Your provider will regularly monitor your payment history and your credit limit may be raised over time if you prove you’re a responsible cardholder.
These cards rarely have many benefits or extras, but could pave the way for you to progress to a mainstream or low-rate credit card in the future if your credit score improves.
How to become an additional cardholder
If you’re nervous about credit cards, it may be worth asking a family member or your partner to allow you to become an additional cardholder on their existing credit card. Most banks and providers usually require the person be 18 or over and live at the same UK address as the primary cardholder.
It’s simple to become an additional cardholder. Most banks or providers require you give details of the additional cardholder over the phone. They may also be able to add you online.
Be careful about becoming an additional cardholderAs an additional cardholder, 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 under 18 years old
If you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to get a credit card. Credit agencies only start building a person’s history from the age of 18, hence why you’re unable to get credit.
As an under 18 year old, your two options are:
- Prepaid cards. Reloadable cards that act like a debit card.
- Debit cards. Linked to your bank account.
Pros and cons of credit cards
- Build or rebuild your credit. A credit card isn’t the only way to build credit, but it’s an excellent choice. When you use your card and consistently pay your bills on time, your credit score will increase.
- Safe and convenient. Instead of carrying a lot of cash, you can simply use your card. Most cards have contactless technology to pay for purchases of £30 or under which don’t require a PIN.
- Payment protection. Credit cards give you more protection than debit cards when things go wrong, thanks to the section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. It states that on purchases of single items worth between £100 and £30,000, the provider is jointly liable with the retailer if you don’t get what you paid for.
- Spreads the cost of a large purchase. Credit cards can buy you more time if you need a large sum to pay for an expensive item, holiday or repair. You usually have up to 56 days interest free on items purchased on your credit card, which gives you time to pay it off.
- Encourages spending. If you’re prone to spending beyond your means, consider holding off on a credit card. You risk accruing huge amounts of debt that will be difficult to repay. Work on solving your spending problem, or stick to prepaid/debit cards.
- Extra fees. While debit cards take the money straight out of your account, credit cards are borrowing. As well as interest rates, you could also have to stump up for annual fees, penalty charges for late payments, among other fees. Do your research before opening a credit card and aim to pay off your bill in full every month if possible to avoid high interest charges.
- Don’t withdraw cash. Nearly every provider charges instant interest on any cash withdrawals or other cash advance transactions, along with hefty fees. It’s better to stick to your debit card and withdraw your actual money from your bank account. These charges rise even higher once you go abroad so if you travel often, it may be worth considering a no foreign transaction fees credit card.