How to Apply for a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number (SSN)
Not All Credit Card Applications Require One
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—it’s not a total roadblock. You don’t necessarily need an SSN to get a credit card.
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.
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.
When you’re not eligible for an SSN, an ITIN may be the solution. Nonresident and resident aliens—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 seven weeks or so, so apply as soon as you realize you need an ITIN.
You may also be able to apply for a credit card with a passport and other documents that verify your identity. In some cases, you don’t even need an ITIN. That approach may be appealing for students in the U.S. temporarily or anybody who doesn't plan to apply for an ITIN.
Credit Cards for Customers With No 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.
No matter where you decide to apply, 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.
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 loans, 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.
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 anybody 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
A cosigner applies for a credit card with you. By doing so, they promise to repay your debt if you don’t pay (for any reason). Cosigning is risky, so only ask somebody who can take 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 approve your chances of getting 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.
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.
Internal Revenue Service. "Individual Taxpayer Identification Number." Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.
Internal Revenue Service. "How Do I Apply for an ITIN?" Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.
Experian. "Can Non-U.S. Citizens Get a Credit Card?" Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.
Chase Bank. "Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card." Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.
American Express. "Blue Cash Everyday® Credit Card." Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.
Social Security Administration. "Learn What Documents You Will Need To Get a Social Security Card." Accessed Dec. 21, 2020.