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Having one parent stay at home to help with the household and the kids can be a huge blessing for families, but that doesn’t mean this choice doesn’t have its downsides. Living on one income can be a challenge in itself, for example. Plus, the spouse who stays at home has to be more intentional about socializing, getting out of the house, and of course saving for retirement.
And what about building credit? Historically, it has been difficult for non-working spouses to keep up with and maintain credit, mostly because they didn’t have any income to qualify for their own credit cards and loans.
How to get a credit card as a stay-at-home parent
Fortunately, laws have changed and updated to keep up with the times, and stay-at-home parents are no longer left out of the loop when it comes to good credit. Maintaining a good credit score became a much easier feat in 2013, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) updated regulations to ensure stay-at-home parents would have an easier time getting approved for credit cards. These new regulations let stay-at-home spouses list “household” income on their credit card and loan applications, which is a big help when you’re not earning an income on their own.
“Stay-at-home spouses or partners who have access to resources that allow them to make payments on a credit card can now get their own cards,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the time. “[This] final rule is an example of the Bureau’s commitment to working with consumers and financial institutions in order to ensure responsible access to credit for American families.”
Nowadays, stay-at-home fathers and mothers can apply for a credit card just like anyone else, except they’ll list their household income, including their spouse’s income and other income sources, on their application. This makes it a lot easier to get approved for a meaningful credit limit they can use to maintain good credit for the long haul.
Best credit cards for stay-at-home parents
While it’s hard to say which credit card is best for all stay-at-home parents, there are some that offer more benefits and rewards than others. The card suggestions below can help stay-at-home parents rack up rewards in common spending categories, like groceries and dining, and build credit at the same time.
The Chase Freedom® starts you off with $150 in bonus cash when you sign up and spend $500 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories (then 1 percent) and 1 percent back on everything else — and all with no annual fee. (See also: Chase Freedom Bonus Categories)
Cardholder perks you can benefit from include extended warranties and purchase protection that helps protect you against damage or theft.
Discover it® Cash Back
The Discover it® Cash Back also gives you 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories after activating (then 1 percent) along with 1 percent back on everything else you buy. While there’s no formal sign-up bonus, Discover will double all the rewards you earn in the first 12 months. (See also: Discover it® Cash Back Bonus Categories)
This card doesn’t charge an annual fee and you can get a free look at your FICO credit score on your credit card statement each month.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Also, consider the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which gives you 6 percent back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1 percent). You’ll also earn 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming services, 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including rideshares, parking, tolls and more), and 1 percent back on other purchases.
A $95 annual fee applies, but you can qualify for a $250 welcome bonus if you apply and spend $1,000 on your card within three months of account opening.
How to build credit as a stay-at-home parent
If your goal is building credit as a stay-at-home parent, a credit card can definitely help. Credit cards report your credit movements including history, payments and more to all three credit reporting agencies, which can help you boost your credit score over time. However, using a card to build credit works best when you use credit responsibly to begin with.
The best way to build credit as a stay-at-home parent involves:
- Using your credit card for purchases every month, and ideally ones you have the cash to pay off right away
- Paying your credit card bill early or on time each month, since your payment history is the most important factor that makes up your FICO score
- Keeping your utilization as low as possible — most experts recommend less than 30 percent
- Refraining from opening or closing too many cards at once, which can hurt your credit score over time
If you follow these steps and avoid getting into long-term debt, you’ll absolutely build credit as a stay-at-home parent. Just remember that it’s always wise to avoid paying credit card interest if you can, and that you should make sure you have access to household funds you can use to pay your bill before you apply.