When applying for a credit card (or any credit, for that matter), chances are very good that there will be a box for your Social Security number. But what if you don’t have one? Can you still apply? More importantly, will you be accepted? Read on to find out more.
Is an SSN necessary to get a credit card?
While it may be hard to believe, there was once a time in the not-so-distant past when Social Security numbers were necessary only when a person was ready to go to work for the first time at a place that would be taking taxes out of their paycheck.
It wasn’t until August 1987 that the Social Security Administration began a three-state pilot program that allowed parents to request a Social Security number for their newborns. The so-called “Enumeration at Birth Process” (EAB) was so popular that today about 90 percent of parents in the U.S. take advantage of it when they have a child.
But not everyone has a Social Security number. This is especially true for those new to the U.S. The good news is, there are other ways to successfully apply – and be accepted – for a credit card without having a Social Security number.
While you may not need an SSN to access credit, with only one or two exceptions, however, you will need a credit file at a credit bureau. Fortunately, though, the bureaus don’t require an SSN to set up, report or score your credit history.
Can you get a credit card with an ITIN?
According to the IRS, the individual tax identification number is a “tax processing number” for people who do not have and are not eligible for a Social Security number.
Unlike Social Security numbers, these numbers generally must be periodically renewed. The IRS says on its website that these numbers serve no purpose other than federal tax reporting.
However, you may be able to use an ITIN when applying for a credit card because it can serve as an identifier to the credit card issuer (along with your other information). You may also be able to use your passport number in some instances.
Which major issuers don’t require an SSN?
Each issuer has its own requirements but according to a 2020 article by Bankrate’s sister site CreditCards.com, both American Express and Bank of America will accept applications from those with either ITINs or passport information.
Capital One and Citi will accept those with ITINs and Chase allows applicants to use their ITIN in place of a Social Security number. Discover is the only major issuer that does require a Social Security number in order to apply for one of its cards.
What other cards can you apply for without an SSN?
International students may be able to take advantage of cards targeted specifically for them, which do not require Social Security numbers. These cards – and others that are not necessarily only for students – use alternative (or nontraditional) underwriting methods. Many of these types of cards don’t require an SSN or an ITIN, but can use passport information.
Most will, however, require you to have a bank account that you can link to your card. Depending on the issuer, these may or may not be considered secured cards.
Other ways to build credit if you have no SSN
It is important to note that Social Security numbers are not the only way you can be identified by the big three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. As I point out in my book, “Credit Repair Kit for Dummies, 5th Edition,” you will be identified by the credit bureaus in the following order: your name, birthdate, address and finally your Social Security number.
If there is no Social Security number, there are other matching points to draw from, like name variations and previous addresses, which can all be used to identify you for your credit report.
Secured credit cards are excellent vehicles for building credit for those with little to no credit history. Secured cards differ from unsecured cards in that you maintain a balance in a savings account, usually equal to your credit limit, to guarantee your payments.
Secured card activity is reported just as any other credit card and affects your credit score in the same way, so it’s a great way to build credit. But you need to be very sure that the card you choose will be reported to the credit reporting agencies or it won’t help you build your credit file or credit score.
Passbook loans work in much the same way. You “borrow” the money you deposit at a bank or credit union and then pay it back (to yourself) in installments.
An extra bonus to a passbook loan is that it counts as an installment loan on your credit report and gets you extra points on your FICO score under the credit mix category. Again, make sure the financial institution will report to the credit bureaus.
You can become an authorized user on a family member’s or friend’s existing credit card. The card’s credit history is reported in both the owner’s and authorized user’s credit files. The account owner doesn’t have to give you a credit card to use if they don’t want to—its history will still be reported on your credit file, giving you some extra points.
Products like Experian Boost and FICO XD or UltraFICO can help you build credit by drawing on information from your bank account, utility payments, cell phone payments and other obligations. While these programs may not benefit your score at all credit bureaus, they can still be worthwhile.
It is also important to remember that credit card issuers don’t approve or reject applications based on your Social Security number. They do so based on your credit file and you don’t need a Social Security number to start building your credit report.
It’s a myth that you need a Social Security number, driver’s license, voter registration card or even a library card to establish a credit file at the credit bureaus. But you do need to be sure to pay your bills—all of your them—on time, each and every time.
The bottom line
Credit reporting and, thereby, credit cards and other forms of lending can be available to you through other avenues besides a Social Security number. And it is through credit reporting, which shows how you handle your money and your obligations, that will ultimately determine your ability to score a credit card. Good luck!