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Credit Card Basics

Can I Get a Credit Card at 16?

You finally turned 16!

You can get a driver's license, donate blood (in some states, with parental consent) and maybe even get a later curfew.

But can you get a credit card at 16? Here's what you need to know.

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

You can't get your own credit card if you're under the age of 18. But you can become an authorized user (more on that below).

Even after you turn 18, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 states you'll need to have either proof of independent income or a cosigner over the age of 21. Since most card issuers don't allow cosigners, that means you'll generally need to A) be at least 18 and B) have income through a job or scholarship before you can get your own starter credit card.

Under 18? Your best bet is to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card.

What Credit Cards Can 16-Year-Olds Get?

As a 16-year-old, your only real entrance into the credit card kingdom is to become an authorized user on the card of a trusted adult. For simplicity's sake, let's just say that's one of your parents.

All of the major credit card issuers allow authorized users who are 16. Many of them have no minimum age requirements whatsoever, meaning you could become an authorized user as soon as your parents decide you're ready.

As an authorized user, you'll receive your own credit card—with your name on it and everything!—but it'll have the same number as your parent's credit card.

While you'll be able to make purchases on the credit card (with your parent's permission, of course), you won't be legally responsible for the bill. Just be sure you know whether your parents expect you to cover most or all of your spending, and know that they will get a detailed breakdown of everything you spend.

How Becoming an Authorized User Affects Your Credit

As a 16-year-old, you probably don't have a credit report because you haven't taken out credit yet. When your parent adds you as an authorized user, the credit card issuer will report the new account to the credit bureaus—which will, in turn, generate a credit report.

If your parent's credit card is in good standing—if they're carrying a low balance and paying their bill on time—getting added as an authorized user will likely help build your credit scores. That's why it's important to only become an authorized user on the card of an adult with good financial habits.

Another crucial thing to check is whether your parent's credit card issuer reports the behavior of underage authorized users to all three major credit bureaus. While American Express and Wells Fargo allow underage authorized users, for example, they won't report your behavior to the credit bureaus until you turn 18.

Alternatives to Credit Cards for 16-Year-Olds

Not quite ready to become an authorized user on a credit card?

If you want a card that will let you learn to budget or stop carrying cash, then consider getting a debit card or prepaid card instead.

Debit cards are connected to your bank account. They allow you to spend the balance in your checking account, either by withdrawing cash from the ATM or swiping the card at stores. While convenient, they don't help you build credit (since you are spending your own money every time you use the card).

Prepaid cards are the ones you see hanging on the rack at pharmacies, supermarkets and gas stations. You buy them for a set amount—say, $100—and can refill them as needed. Just be warned that they often come with a slew of fees.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Credit Card at 16

Even if you're set on getting a credit card at 16, you should make sure you're well-versed in the pros and cons of your decision.

Here are the pros:

  • Build credit. As long as the primary cardholder's account is in good standing, becoming an authorized user is one of the best ways to build credit before college. Then, once you turn 18, you might be able to get credit—such as auto loans or private student loans—without a cosigner.
  • Practice good financial habits. Using credit from a young age can teach you important skills such as budgeting, paying bills on time and spending less than you earn.
  • Have access to emergency backup. Out of gas? Forgot to pay for a field trip? A credit card can offer an easy way to cover last-minute needs.
  • Enjoy enhanced security. Most credit cards offer $0 fraud liability policies, making them superior to debit cards if your information is compromised.
  • Earn rewards. The primary cardholder (usually your parent) may be able to get credit card rewards from your spending. If you're lucky, maybe they'll share!

And, though there's just one con, it's a big one: Credit cards are a serious financial responsibility.

If you go on a spending spree, the primary cardholder is legally responsible for paying the bill. There's no get-out-of-jail-free card simply because you're a teen.

If your parent can't pay the bill, they could be hit with interest charges and late fees, and could incur serious damage to their credit scores. That's a big deal; it could make it more difficult for them to get a job or a house.

Understand How Credit Works Before Getting a Credit Card

Before begging your parents to add you as an authorized user on their card, take some time to learn the basics of credit cards and credit scores, and how the former can impact the latter.

Make sure you understand why you should pay your statement balance in full (hint: you'll avoid interest!), never pay late (because it's really bad for your scores) and always keep a low credit utilization ratio.

If you want some training wheels, see if your parent has a Barclays credit card (like the Upromise® Mastercard®, which helps you save for college). Barclays is one of the only credit card issuers that offers its cardholders the ability to set per-transaction spending limits for authorized users. As long as you're 16, it will also report your behavior to the credit bureaus, helping you build your credit.

(While American Express cards also allow spending limits, Amex doesn't report underage behavior to the credit bureaus—so having one of these cards won't help your credit.)

Should You Get an Underage Credit Card?

As a 16-year-old, one of your best ways to build credit is becoming an authorized user on the card of a trusted adult. Until you turn 18, in fact, it's your only real option for obtaining or using credit.

That said, it's a big responsibility. Make sure you fully understand how credit cards work before becoming an authorized user, so you can avoid mistakes that will haunt you—and your parents—for years to come.

All information about the Upromise® Mastercard® has been collected independently by Experian and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card.