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How old do you have to be to get a credit card?

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Building solid credit is one of the most important tasks in a young person’s life. In our increasingly cashless society, showing you can responsibly use a credit card is one step on the road to financial independence. The sooner you begin, the faster you can establish your creditworthiness. That said, the minimum age to be a primary cardholder for most card issuers is 18, and getting a credit card before age 21 is not always simple.

Here’s a quick guide to essential information for first-time credit applicants, including the minimum age for having your own card.

How old do you have to be to get a credit card?

The general rule of thumb for the credit card industry is that cardholders must be at least 18 years of age. However, if you are under 21 and lack a credit history or have a credit history that’s not great, most credit card issuers will require you to show proof of income to verify that you can independently pay your bills.

If you’re 18 but don’t have the income required for a traditional credit card, you can apply with a cosigner or try for a secured credit card, which requires you to put down a security deposit that acts as the card’s credit limit.

If you’re under 18, many issuers have a lower minimum age for authorized users than for new cardholders. An authorized user has access to someone else’s account and credit limit but the primary cardholder pays the balance. Many credit issuers report on authorized users to the credit bureaus, meaning your credit score will likely benefit from being an authorized user. That said, if the primary cardholder has poor credit habits themselves, like a history of late or missed payments or high credit utilization, it’s possible their choices will have a negative impact on your credit score.

How to start building credit

Once you have a card, you must use it responsibly. Starting out with good credit habits can help you build your credit score in no time. Keep in mind the factors that the credit bureaus will consider when determining your credit score: payment history, credit utilization, age of credit, credit mix and new credit.

When just starting out with credit, it can be tempting to splurge with your newly available funds. However, it’s important to only spend within your means to avoid getting into credit card debt. Using your credit card only for purchases you know you can pay off at the end of the month, keeping your credit utilization (how much of your available credit you’re using) under 30 percent and paying your credit card bill on time and in full are some of the most important things you can do to keep your credit score up.

Start with one card and work on building your credit for at least six months before you apply for another. Taking the time to develop a good credit score will open up a whole new tier of credit cards with better rewards, better rates and better welcome bonuses.

The bottom line

Turning 18 opens the door for a number of new financial opportunities with credit. Whether you apply for a starter credit card, a secured card with a deposit or ask to be an authorized user on someone else’s account, make sure you use your credit responsibly and are diligent about making payments on time. Learning good financial habits now will set you on the right track for excellent credit and even more opportunities in the future.