How to Apply for a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number

Quick Answer

Most credit card applications ask for a Social Security number. However, if you’re not eligible for one, you might be able to apply for a credit card using an individual taxpayer identification number.

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While most credit card applications ask for your Social Security number, there are a few that will allow you to apply for a credit card even if you don't have a Social Security number. However, you will need to be able to verify your identity in a way that complies with their requirements.

Get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

An individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) is issued by the U.S. government, and can be issued to people who are not eligible for a Social Security number (SSN)—including non-citizens and spouses. Not having a Social Security number can limit your choices of credit cards, but it does not mean you can't get a credit card or begin to build credit in the U.S. Similarly, you don't have to have an SSN number to have a credit report or credit score. An SSN is one of the ways credit bureaus try to verify your identity, but it's not the only one.

If you have a Social Security number, you can't typically just opt out of using it on a credit card application. Scammers may offer so-called credit privacy numbers (also called credit profile numbers or credit protection numbers) that are actually stolen SSNs. But if you are not yet eligible for a Social Security number, an ITIN is a legal, ethical choice.

Leverage Credit You Established Elsewhere

You might be pleasantly surprised to see some credit card issuers make an effort to bring in that history. Select American Express cards, for example, have an option to indicate whether you have had credit in Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria or the United Kingdom. The applications also ask for a Social Security number, if you have one. But not having one is not necessarily a barrier to approval.

Not every credit card will consider credit history from other countries, though. And credit decisions also rest on other factors, including income and debt.

Consider Other Credit-Building Options

If you're new to credit as well as new to the United States, you still have some options. You can consider looking for cards that cater to immigrants, such as the Deserve Student MasterCard.

Other options:

Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards can also be easier to qualify for than other credit cards because they require a deposit, often equal to the credit limit, from the cardholder. So, credit history is unlikely to hold you back from being approved for a secured credit card. Several credit card issuers offer secured cards, and some have more than one option. You'll need to have enough cash to secure one of these cards (usually at least $200), and it's smart to compare fees.

Authorized User

Authorized-user status can allow you to benefit from a friend's or relative's credit history and credit limits. An authorized user has the right to charge purchases on the primary user's credit card but is not responsible for paying the bill. A few credit cards allow the primary user to put a cap on the authorized user's spending. However, there is nothing requiring a primary user to give the authorized user a credit card or even the number. You can become an authorized user by asking the primary user to add you to the card. Many do not require a Social Security number. Having the additional credit line can help you get on the U.S. credit radar.

Alternative Cards

Some smaller banks or credit card issuers may offer cards that don't require a Social Security number. The Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card issued by WebBank, for example, uses its own "cash score" in addition to or instead of credit scores and accepts ITINs. It reports to the three major U.S. credit bureaus, so it can be used to help you build credit.

The Tomo card deducts payments automatically, and weekly, to pay off balances. It reports to all three major credit bureaus, and Social Security numbers are not required to apply.

The Bottom Line

Not having a Social Security number isn't an obstacle to applying for a credit card, but it may limit your choices. To apply for credit, you'll need a form of identification accepted by the bank that issues the credit card. In many cases, that can be an individual taxpayer identification number.

Using an ITIN instead of an SSN doesn't make it any harder to get an approval. Credit card issuers may be able to consider credit history from another country too. In any case, part of the credit decision will rest on factors outside of the verification of your identity. Creditors also consider income, debt obligations and other factors.

Cards that may be easier to get approval for without a Social Security number include secured credit cards, authorized user cards and alternative credit cards that do not rely on traditional credit data.