How to Get a Credit Card at 18 Years Old

Teenagers shopping online with credit card
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Legally, you can get a credit card at age 18, but it’s not as easy for young adults to get a credit card for the first time as it used to be. That’s because Congress passed a law requiring credit card issuers to ensure that young adults under age 21 have the income to pay a credit card balance. Otherwise, the young applicant has to get a co-signer.

Get a Job

Credit card income requirements actually span beyond young adults. Everyone who applies for a credit card, young and old, must have sufficient income to qualify, even if they have impeccable credit. The rules don’t state a specific income you’d need in order to qualify, but credit card issuers have their own (non-disclosed) guidelines that vary by credit card.

If you’re turned down, and it’s because you don’t have sufficient income to qualify, you’ll get a letter in the mail explaining the reason you were declined.

Get a Co-signer

When you can’t qualify for a credit card on your own, one alternative is to get someone who’s over age 21 to co-sign your credit card application. The co-signer has to meet the qualifications for the two of you to be approved. After approval, you and the co-signer are jointly responsible for the credit card balance, even if only one of you uses the card. How you handle the joint credit card will also affect your cosigner's credit history and vise versa.

If either cardholder is irresponsible with the credit card, both of your credit histories will be affected. That is why people are warned not to cosign.

Ask Someone to Make You an Authorized User on Their Credit Card

Being an authorized user is similar to having a joint credit card with a co-signer. The difference is that, as an authorized user, you’re not legally responsible for the balance. The payment history does show up on your credit report and can later help you get your own credit card if the card issuer uses a credit-scoring model that considers authorized users. (The VantageScore ignores authorized user accounts.)

Try a Secured Credit Card

If you have the income to get a credit card, but your lack of credit history is keeping you from getting approved, consider getting a secured credit card. This type of card requires you to make a cash deposit as collateral against the credit limit. Even though you’ve made a deposit, you’re still responsible for making payments toward the balance you accumulate. The deposit is only used if you default on the credit card balance and never clear up the delinquency on your own.

Depending on the card issuer, your card can be converted to a regular credit card if you manage it well.

Go Prepaid

A prepaid card isn’t a credit card in the sense that you’re extended a credit line, so it won’t help you build a credit score, and you can’t make purchases unless you have a cash balance on the prepaid card. However, if you just need a piece of plastic that behaves like a credit card (for example, to book a hotel, rent a car, or make gas purchases at the pump), a prepaid card is a good option. There are no credit or income requirements. You must make a deposit to open the card, and you’ll have to reload more money once you’ve exhausted your cash balance.

Though you're old enough to get a credit card at 18, you may not be ready if you're bad about missing deadlines, you often run out of money before your next payday, or you continually overdraw your checking account. But, if you're responsible with money, know how to keep your spending in check, and can meet your obligations, you're on the right track.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "§ 1026.51 Ability to Pay."

  2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Credit Where None Is Due? Authorized User Account Status and Piggybacking Credit,” Page 9.

  3. Bank of America. "BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card."