Key takeaways

  • While the minimum age to get a credit card is 18, requirements are more stringent for those under age 21
  • If you are 18, you could try getting a secured credit card or a student credit card, or become an authorized user on somebody else's account
  • After you get one card, use it to build up your credit before you go for additional cards

Building solid credit history is one of the most important tasks in a young person’s life, and the sooner you begin, the better. While the minimum age to be a primary cardholder for most card issuers is 18, 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 getting your own credit card.

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

The general rule of thumb is that cardholders must be at least 18 years old, when they are typically allowed to enter into contracts. 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 try for a secured credit card, which requires you to put down a security deposit that acts as the card’s credit limit. Secured credit cards cater to individuals with no credit history or poor credit scores because lenders limit their risk by requiring a deposit paid upfront. Here are our picks for the best secured credit cards.

Another option worth considering is a student credit card. While you may need to show proof of independent income if you are under 21, student cards typically have lower credit requirements, higher credit approval rates for thin credit files and limited incomes and rewards geared specifically toward students.

Student cards make building credit at a young age quite accessible, but keep in mind that restrictions may be strict if you aren’t yet 21. If you’re considering taking this approach to your credit journey, here are our picks for the best student credit cards.

Is there any way to access a credit card before you’re 18?

If you’re under 18, being an authorized user is your only option. An authorized user has access to someone else’s credit card account, but the primary cardholder is responsible for the balance. An authorized user gets their own credit card with their name on it.

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, such as a history of late or missed payments or high credit utilization, their choices may negatively impact your credit score.

How to start building credit

Once you have a credit card, you must use it responsibly. Starting 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 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.

To set yourself up for success, 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 the top credit cards — with better rewards, better rates and better welcome bonuses.

The bottom line

Turning 18 opens the door to several new financial opportunities with credit. Whether you apply for one of the top starter credit cards, put up the cash for a secured card 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.