Unless you’re emancipated -- that is, someone who isn’t an adult by age but is legally recognized as living independently -- you can’t get a standard credit card in your own name until you’re 18 years old. Even then, it can be difficult to get a standard credit card. The Credit CARD Act of 2009, which went into effect in 2010 to protect consumers, put restrictions on the ability of anyone under 21 to get a card. Despite the law, if you’re a 17-year-old who wants to use plastic, you still have options.
Get a Co-Signer
To obtain a card, you can find an adult, probably a parent, to officially share the card with you. To the card issuer, you and your co-signer are both responsible for whatever charges you incur. The history of how you use the card -- for better or worse -- will show up on your credit report and that of your co-signer. When users handle cards responsibly, banks normally raise the limit on the amount they can charge. The CARD Act prevents that for co-signed accounts, requiring co-signers to agree to any credit limit increases.
Become an Authorized User
If your parents won’t go for co-signing, you might be able to be listed on one of their existing credit card accounts as an authorized user. Authorized users receive their own cards for use. Becoming an authorized user means the card’s history will start showing up on your credit report. If it turns out your parents have problems with the card, your report will be negatively affected. Authorized users, as far as the bank is concerned, usually are not financially responsible for the card’s charges.
Turn to Prepaid Cards
If your parents won’t list you as an authorized user or become co-signers, you may have to fall back on prepaid cards. A prepaid card looks like a standard credit card. The big difference between prepaid cards and credit cards is that you are borrowing money when you use a credit card, while prepaid cards access funds you’ve loaded into them. Prepaid cards charge fees, including in some cases fees for adding more money and for every purchase. Your activity usually isn’t reported to credit agencies, so prepaid cards won’t help you build a credit history.
Opt to Use a Debit Card
If the cost of using prepaid cards discourages you, a debit card may be a better choice. You’ll receive the debit card when you open a checking account. Using the card spends your checking account’s money. Debit cards may also incur fees, depending on the bank’s policies, and the card’s activity doesn’t count toward building credit.
Wait Until You’re 18
Once you turn 18, you can apply for a credit card on your own. The CARD Act requires applicants who are under 21 years old to have proof of an independent income or other assets that can be used to pay off charges. A part-time job might be enough to convince a credit card issuer to approve your application.
- Jack Hollingsworth/Digital Vision/Getty Images