Key takeaways

  • Age 18 is the minimum age to get a credit card
  • however, those under age 21 might see more stringent requirements on their applications.
  • If you're 18, you can apply for 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 18 is the minimum age to be a primary cardholder with most card issuers, getting a credit card before age 21 isn’t always simple.

If you’re new to credit, here’s what to know before applying for a credit card, including the minimum age for getting your own 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, the age when you are typically allowed to enter into legal contracts. If you’re under 21 and don’t have a credit history — or don’t have a good to excellent credit score — most credit card issuers will require you to show proof of income to verify that you can independently repay your card debt.

Credit cards for those under 21

If you’re 18 and 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 people with no credit history or poor credit scores by requiring an upfront deposit that limits the risk lenders take on by approving your card. The best secured credit cards allow you to build or rebuild your credit with low fees — and even perks on your spending.

If you’re still in school, consider a student credit card. These cards may require you to show proof of independent income if you’re under 21. The best student cards, however, offer lower credit requirements and higher credit approval rates for those with a thin credit history or limited income. They even offer rewards designed specifically for students.

How to access a credit card before you’re 18

If you’re under 18, becoming an authorized user on somebody else’s credit card account is your only option. When you’re an authorized user, you’re provided with your own credit card that is linked to the account of, say, a parent or a trusted mentor. Though your name is on the card, the primary cardholder is ultimately responsible for any debts you can’t pay off.

Many credit issuers report to the credit bureaus the payment activity of not only the primary cardholder but also authorized users, meaning your credit score will likely benefit from being an authorized user. That said, if the primary cardholder has a history of late or missed payments or high credit utilization themselves, their choices could negatively affect your credit score, not just their own.

Credit card options for those under 18 and up to 21

Age of cardholder Options available to access credit
Under 18 You can become an authorized user on the credit card account of a family member or trusted friend.
18 to 20 You can qualify for a traditional credit card with documentation that proves your income meets issuer requirements. Options can include secured cards that require an upfront deposit, student cards that are OK with limited incomes or asking a family member or trusted friend to add you as an authorized user on their account.
21 and up You can typically qualify for a traditional credit card by meeting the issuer’s requirements.

How to start building credit

After you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll have to start the work of using it responsibly. Good credit habits that include on-time payments can help you build or rebuild your credit score in six months or more. Understanding the factors that credit bureaus consider when determining your credit score is also an important aspect of using your card responsibly. Those factors include:

  • Payment history
  • Credit utilization ratio
  • Age of credit
  • Credit mix
  • Any new credit received

When starting out with credit, it can be tempting to splurge with your newly available funds, but that can lead to trouble quite quickly. To use your card in a way that’s helpful, you’ll have to spend within your means and pay off what you owe — ideally in full each month. Use your credit card only for purchases you know you can pay off at the end of the month, keeping your credit utilization — or how much of your available credit you’re using — under 30 percent. This will help you to avoid falling into credit card debt and damaging your credit.

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 others. Taking the time to develop a good credit score will open up a whole new tier of top credit cards offering strong rewards, lower rates and lucrative welcome bonuses.

The bottom line

In order to apply for a credit card of your own, you have to be at least 18. However, most card applicants under 21 could find themselves facing additional requirements in order to successfully get a card.

But even with the additional requirements you might face, turning 18 opens the door to new financial opportunities that can help you get on a clear path to a strong credit score. Whether you plan on applying for a top starter credit card designed for those who are new to credit, putting up the cash for a secured card or asking to become an authorized user on someone else’s account, you’ll be able to take advantage of the perks and benefits that credit cards can provide.

Just make sure you use your credit responsibly and pay what you owe on time. If you can pay in full each month, you’ll avoid paying high interest rates on the amounts you would’ve carried over. By aiming for an excellent credit score now, you can unlock better credit products in the future.