How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

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The teenage years come with a lot of new privileges and responsibilities like getting your driver's license and gaining the right to vote. There are some financial privileges, too, like being able to get a bank account without your parents and getting your first credit card.

How old should you be to get a credit card?

You must be at least 21 years old to get a credit card in your own name without a co-signer. If you're under age 21, you must able to demonstrate the ability to independently make the payments to get your own credit card. If you're unable to do that and are under 21, you'll have to apply for a credit card with an adult over 21 who has the income and credit history to qualify.

The federal government made the rules for people under 21 more stringent in 2009 to help young adults avoid getting trapped with credit card debt they couldn’t afford to repay.

The law requires that you have your own steady source of income to qualify for a credit card. You need to have steady, dependable monthly income so you can pay back any charges you make on your credit card and avoid getting into credit card debt.

For your first credit card, look for a credit card targeted for students or a retail credit card. These cards are more likely to approve you even though you've never had a credit card and may not have a credit history. You may be able to qualify for a student credit card with income from a job, money from parents, or some types of financial aid.

Another good option is a secured credit card, which requires you to make a deposit against the credit limit for the account. Your credit limit is typically equal to your security deposit, which you'll receive back when you close your account or it's converted to an unsecured card after several months of responsible use.

The Discover it Secured and Capital One Secured MasterCard are two great secured credit cards for starting out. Both are issued by reputable banks and have low minimum security deposit requirements.

Getting a Credit Card Under Age 18

It may be possible to have a credit card under age 18 if an adult makes you as an authorized user on their credit card. As an authorized user, you'll have a card with your name on it that you can use to make purchases. The primary account holder is responsible for making the payments, however, that person may, in turn, expect you to cover the payments for the purchases you make on the account.

Being an authorized user on a credit card can help jumpstart your credit history and make it easier to get approved for a credit card on your own once you're old enough.

You may also be able to get a prepaid card under age 18. A prepaid card isn't a credit card, but it looks like one and swipes like one. It's similar to the way a debit card is connected to a checking account, but the application process for a prepaid card is much simpler. With a prepaid card, you have to prepay any purchases you make on the card, versus paying for the purchases after you make them. A prepaid card doesn't help you build a credit history.

Of course, you don't have to get a credit card at age 18. Credit cards carry a high risk of debt and getting one before you're ready puts you at risk of hurting your credit history before you ever really get a chance to get started. It's better to wait a few years until you have a steady job and can consistently afford to make your credit card payments on time. The Credit Card Act of 2009 places restrictions on the issuance of credit cards to individuals under the age of 21.