Getting a credit card opens up many possibilities, like building credit, immediate access to funds, lucrative rewards and much more.

The only thing standing between you and these opportunities is a credit card application, which typically asks for your contact information and annual income. If you’re a student, are unemployed, have no or low income or are a stay-at-home spouse, that income question may cause a lot of anxiety.

Don’t let your income deter you from applying for a credit card. What counts as income and how much you need to qualify for a credit card may surprise you. Here’s what you need to know about income requirements for a credit card.

Impact of income on a credit application

The annual income question was introduced with the CARD Act in 2009 as a way to protect consumers after the Great Recession. The Act states:

“A card issuer may not open any credit card account for any consumer under an open-end consumer credit plan, or increase any credit limit applicable to such account, unless the card issuer considers the ability of the consumer to make the required payments under the terms of such account.”

Under the CARD Act, card issuers must make sure that cardholders can afford to pay off their balances, or at least keep up with minimum payments, which are calculated each month based on your outstanding balance. Therefore, your income helps issuers determine whether or not you’ll be able to make payments and affects your credit line.

However, the CARD Act doesn’t dictate a minimum income requirement, which means that it’s up to the discretion of card issuers to decide.

Credit card income requirements

The tricky part for applicants is that card issuers don’t typically publish minimum income requirements, since income alone is an incomplete measure of an applicant’s financial wellbeing. It’s just one factor of a more holistic measure of a cardholder’s ability to make a minimum payment: debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.

Your debt-to-income ratio shows how much money you owe versus how much money you earn. If you earn a great living but you have too much debt, you could be rejected for a credit card. So, what’s considered too much debt?

While credit card issuers determine their own requirements for DTI, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests a DTI of 43 percent to qualify for a mortgage, so this is usually the figure taken into consideration when credit cards are in question. Calculate your DTI by dividing your monthly debt (car payments, child support, mortgage payments, alimony, student loans, etc.) by your monthly income.

Let’s say every month you owe $1,200 for car payments and $400 in student loans, making your total monthly debt $1,600. If your monthly income is $2,500, your DTI would be 64 percent, which would probably be too high to qualify for a credit card. With an income of roughly $3,700 and the same debt, however, you’d have a DTI of 43 percent and would probably be able to qualify for a credit card.

Some credit cards have minimum credit limit requirements (see “​​Issuer-specific policies” below), so if your income prohibits you from qualifying for a higher credit limit, then your card application may be rejected.

If you have no credit history, or a poor one, and are unsure if you’ll be able to meet minimum monthly payments, you could consider applying for a secured credit card, which requires you to pay a security deposit that serves as your credit limit.

Lying about income on a credit card application

You should not lie about your income on a credit card application.

If you get approved for a card you can’t afford to pay off, you’ll end up in debt and will hurt your credit, which can prevent you from renting a home, getting approved for a mortgage, opening another credit card, getting loans and more.

Furthermore, lying on a credit card application could result in up to 30 years of jail time and a fine of up to $1 million.

Acceptable sources of income for a credit card application

Income from a full-time job isn’t the only thing that counts as income for a credit card application. You can factor any of the following into your annual net income:

  • Income, wages and tips from a full-time or part-time job, or freelance work
  • Spouse’s income
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Child support, alimony or separate maintenance income
  • Grants and scholarships
  • Social Security income
  • Retirement fund and pension distributions
  • Savings account assets
  • Gifts
  • Allowances
  • Trust fund or inheritance distributions
  • Investment returns

It’s important to note that there are some income sources that are not accepted on credit card applications. The following will not count towards your annual net income:

  • Loans
  • Your parents’ income

Credit card income requirements for students

Student credit cards are great options for building credit with lower income after timely payments. Credit issuers have different requirements for showing income as a student that depend on your age.

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 20, you’ll need to show proof of independent income or have a guarantor (typically a parent or guardian) who can guarantee payment. You can count wages from a job and what’s leftover from grants and scholarships after tuition is paid for as income.

If you’re a student aged 21 or older, you don’t need a cosigner to get a credit card. Instead, you can show income from part-time or full-time employment (tips count), self-employment income, gifts or allowances, spousal income and residual funds from scholarships and grants.

You could need an income of as little as $100 per month to be approved for a credit card as a student.

Issuer-specific policies

The CARD Act doesn’t set income requirements, which means these requirements are up to the discretion of card issuers. Some issuers have concrete income minimums, debt-to-income ratio limits and minimum credit limits, which would affect your ability to get a card.

For example, according to card terms, Capital One requires income at least $425 per month higher than your mortgage or rent payment to qualify for a card.

And, Wells Fargo has a $1,000 minimum credit limit for its credit cards, according to card terms. So, if your income is too low for you to be approved for a $1,000 monthly credit limit, then you’ll likely be rejected for a card.

The bottom line

While the CARD Act states that cardholders must be able to afford credit card payments, issuers can set their own income requirements, which they generally don’t publicize. Credit card issuers factor your income holistically into your debt-to-income ratio to determine whether or not you’ll be able to make minimum monthly payments, and therefore whether or not they should approve your application. If you earn no or low income, receive government assistance or are a student, there are a number of income streams you can factor into your net annual income on your credit card application beyond traditional wages.