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If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you may have a hard time getting a credit card without a Social Security number.
Typically, only U.S. citizens or non-citizens authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the U.S. can get a Social Security card. If you don’t work in the U.S., you may need another form of identification to qualify for an unsecured credit card in your own name.
There are many reasons you may want a credit card if you’re a U.S. resident without a Social Security number. You may be an international business owner or the non-working spouse of a U.S. citizen, who wants a credit card for local expenses and to take advantage of credit card rewards.
Perhaps you’re an immigrant who wants to build up your credit to rent a better apartment or get lower rates on car insurance. Maybe you want to have a credit card on hand for emergencies. Or you might be a student who wants to build up your credit and start racking up the rewards.
Having a credit card and a good credit score has many advantages in the U.S. Fortunately, there are some banks that grant credit cards even without a Social Security number. You can build your credit history in the U.S. without an SSN if you know what steps to take.
Find a credit card that doesn’t require a Social Security number
Some major credit cards require a Social Security number to apply. If you’re interested in getting a card from Chase, Discover, Synchrony Bank (which offers many retail store cards) or Barclay, you’ll need an SSN.
Credit cards designed for students often accept alternate forms of identification, such as a passport and a government-issued driver’s license or state I.D. card.
Most commonly, credit card providers that don’t require an SSN request the applicant to have an Individual Tax Identification Number.
An ITIN enables you to file taxes in the U.S. even if you don’t work in the U.S., don’t have an SSN and aren’t a U.S. citizen.
An ITIN also provides the credit bureaus with a way to identify you and track your credit history, so you can build your credit here in the U.S. without an SSN.
Obtain an ITIN
You can apply for an ITIN by filling out IRS form W-7 and mailing it in. It can take up to seven weeks for your ITIN to arrive, but there is another step you can take while you wait.
Check your credit history
Unfortunately, your credit history from a foreign country won’t follow you to the U.S., so you may not have a credit history with the three major U.S. credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
The good news is that TransUnion and Experian will track your credit history with just your name and current address. So, if you have no credit history, you can start building one at any time, even without an SSN.
Build your credit as an authorized user on someone else’s card
Even before you receive your ITIN in the mail, you can begin building your credit history as an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.
If you have a spouse legally living and working in the U.S., this is the easiest way to build your credit without an SSN. You may also ask a parent, business partner, or close friend to make you an authorized user on their card.
Best of all, if the person adding you as an authorized user has a rewards credit card, they can accrue even more points or cash rewards every time you use the card.
Meanwhile, you’ll start to build your credit history through their on-time payments. (You can decide privately to pay off what you owe.)
Get a credit card with a co-signer
Once you receive your ITIN in the mail, you may be able to get a credit card using that number, even if you have no credit history. You just need a working spouse, a parent, business partner or even a close friend with good credit willing to act as your co-signer.
A cosigner takes on the liability for your credit card debt if you can’t pay. If their credit is good, the credit card company will view you as less of a risk than if you tried to apply for a card on your own.
Build your credit with a secured credit card
What if you have no one willing to vouch for your creditworthiness? Consider a secured credit card, like the top-rated Capital One Secured Mastercard. With a secured credit card, you deposit a certain amount into an account and then charge up to your credit limit.
With the Capital One Secured Mastercard, you’ll receive a credit limit of $200 once you make a deposit of $49, $99, or $200, depending on your creditworthiness.
Discover it® Secured requires a security deposit of $200 for a $200 credit limit, but you can also earn rewards on your purchases with the card.
With a secured card, the money you deposited stays in the secured account. You use your card just like a regular credit card, making regular, on-time payments to pay off your balance. After six months to a year, if you continue using your card and making on-time payments, you may qualify for an unsecured card. Discover automatically reviews your account after eight months to determine if you qualify for an unsecured Discover card.
It’s important to know that pre-paid debit cards, on the other hand, do not help you build credit in the U.S.
Be patient and diligent
Can you get a credit card without a Social Security number in the U.S.?
The answer is yes, but it requires knowledge and patience.
Whether you opt to be an authorized user on someone else’s card, get a co-signer for a card in your own name, or obtain your own secured credit card, on-time payments will help build a solid credit history and a high credit score. After time, you may qualify for your own top-tier rewards credit cards.