If you live in the U.S. and you don’t have a Social Security number (SSN), you’re probably familiar with the challenges that come up when you try to open accounts or complete administrative tasks. Not having an SSN can limit your ability to get a credit card—and your ability to spend easily and take advantage of consumer protection features—but it’s not a total roadblock. It is possible to open a credit card without an SSN.
Some lenders allow you to apply for a credit card using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or other documentation. But obtaining an ITIN does not necessarily mean you’ll get approved. Lenders also evaluate your creditworthiness. Here's how to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number.
Your borrowing history and income are also important factors.
Alternatives to a Social Security Number
Lenders need a way to verify your identity and track your credit history. To do so, they often use your SSN, but they can use other methods if you don't have one.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
When you’re not eligible for an SSN, an ITIN may be the solution. Depending on your residency status, those who aren't U.S. citizens—as well as their family members—may be able to use an ITIN for identification and reporting. To receive your ITIN, apply with the IRS. You can do so by mail, at walk-in IRS locations, or through IRS-authorized Acceptance Agents. The process can take approximately seven weeks, so apply as soon as you realize you need an ITIN.
In some cases, you don’t even need an ITIN. You may also be able to apply for a credit card with a passport and other documents that verify your identity. That approach may be appealing for students in the U.S. temporarily or anybody who doesn't plan to apply for an ITIN.
No matter where you decide to submit an application, ask about using an ITIN before you apply. Understanding the requirements can help you determine if it’s worth spending the time to fill out an application.
Credit Cards for Customers Without an SSN
Several of the largest issuers in the U.S. allow you to apply for a credit card without an SSN. You can also ask a loan officer at your local bank or credit union if you prefer to work with a smaller institution.
- Chase: Apply online with your ITIN.
- Bank of America: Online applications require an SSN, but you can use an ITIN when you apply by phone.
- American Express: Apply online with an ITIN or use your credit history from select foreign countries.
Other Things You Need to Qualify for a Credit Card
SSNs and ITINs help to verify your identity, but lenders also need to evaluate your creditworthiness. To do so, they usually review:
- Borrowing History: Lenders typically use credit scores when reviewing loan applications. Those scores provide a quick summary of the information in your credit reports, and lenders may approve or deny your application based on the information in your credit reports.
- Steady Income: You need income to repay what you borrow, so lenders like to see that you have sufficient earnings to pay off any debt you take on. Card applications often ask how much you earn.
- Other Factors: Lenders may ask you about other financial details and use that information to decide whether or not to approve your application. Lenders seek to acquire new clients and grow their customer base. As such, they approve applicants who do not have all the requirements but with the right price for the risk taken on them. This price is higher rates and fees.
Does an SSN Make Sense?
With an SSN, you have more borrowing options, and that number may come in handy in other situations. Even if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you can apply for a Social Security number if you’re authorized to work in the U.S. Check with the Social Security Administration to learn about your options.
How to Improve Your Chances of Approval
Credit card companies earn revenue whenever you use your card, so they’re eager to add new customers. That said, lenders may hesitate to offer cards to anyone they perceive to be risky. Whether or not you have a Social Security number, you may have difficulty qualifying for a credit card if you have bad credit or no credit history. The tips below can improve your approval chances.
Check Your Credit
Even if you’ve never borrowed before, it’s critical to check your credit and fix any errors in your credit reports. Viewing your reports is free, and you need to understand what lenders and credit scoring models see when you apply for a loan. There may be errors in your credit report that prevent you from getting approved.
Consider a Cosigner
If you recently moved to the U.S. from another country, you probably don't have a U.S. credit history. Unfortunately, credit scores from other countries are typically not recognized, so you'll need to start building your credit history as soon as possible.
A cosigner applies for a credit card with you. While you are the primary account holder, your cosigner promises to repay your debt if you don’t. Cosigning is risky, so only ask somebody who can afford that risk, and be sure they have strong credit and income to help you get approved.
Try Secured Cards
You can help lenders reduce risk and improve your chances of being approved by applying for a secured credit card. With that approach, you deposit money with a lender, who then issues a card with a limit that matches your deposit. Because the lender already has enough money to pay off the balance, there’s little risk of default.
Making a deposit for a credit card may be inconvenient, but secured cards can be a simple and efficient way to build positive credit.