Whether you're a new college graduate or the victim of a recent layoff, you may be struggling to find a job. It happens to the best of us. But if you also happen to need a credit card, your lack of employment could pose a challenge.

Of course, technically speaking, you don't necessarily need a job in order to get approval for a credit card. There are other factors, such as your credit report and score, that go into the decision, and if you're strong in other areas, you may be able to overcome the fact that you're unemployed. On the other hand, having a job makes it easier to qualify for a credit card because it shows potential issuers that you have an actual income. In the absence of a job, you'll need to prove that you have the ability to make your credit card payments in other ways, and that could prove difficult.

Person filling out a job application form online


Applying for a credit card without a job

Why might your credit card issuers want you to have a job before approving you? It's simple: Those companies want to be reasonably assured that if you charge up a storm, you'll have the means to pay off your balance eventually. Now if you have a job, it's pretty clear that you have money coming in on a regular basis. But if you're unemployed, the question of where your income will come from could become an issue.

Thankfully, your employment status isn't the only thing credit card companies look at when deciding whether you're approved. They also consider other potential sources of income, such as:

  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Retirement plans
  • Social Security benefits
  • Pensions
  • Alimony payments

In other words, if you don't have an actual job, but you have other clear ways of gaining access to money, then you stand a decent chance of getting approved for a credit card in your own name. Furthermore, if you're 21 or older, you're allowed to list income from your spouse or partner on your application, provided you have access to it, so even if you're not employed, that counts in your favor.

Another thing to keep in mind is that having a job does not in any way guarantee that you'll be approved for a credit card. Even if you bring home a healthy paycheck, if your credit score is poor, you may be denied a credit card.

How to get a credit card if you're unemployed

If you're currently without a job and in need of a credit card, there are several avenues you might explore. For one thing, you can ask a family member to cosign your application. If that person has excellent credit, it could be enough to get you approved. Just keep in mind that by cosigning your application, that person is also taking responsibility for paying your bills should you lack the ability to do so yourself, and that's not the sort of burden you want to place on a loved one.

Another option for gaining access to a credit card is to become an authorized user on somebody else's card. Under this type of arrangement, the original cardholder is still responsible for payments on the card, but it's a good way to build some credit for yourself and get a card in your name.

Finally, if you don't have a job but have some money in savings, you might look into getting a secured credit card. With a secured credit card, you'll need to come up with a certain sum of money in order to get approved. That sum will then serve as your credit limit so that your lender is guaranteed repayment on whatever you charge. For example, if you get a secured credit card with a $500 limit, you'll need to fork over $500 up front. That way, if you charge $500 but can't pay it off with incoming cash, your lender can simply tap your deposit to be made whole. While secured credit cards don't give you the same purchasing power as regular cards, they do offer a chance to build credit, which can also help you get approved for cards in the future.

Though having a job isn't necessarily a prerequisite to getting a credit card, it certainly helps. Unless you have another income source, you may find that it's best to wait until you're gainfully employed to start filling out credit card applications. This way, you'll be in a good position to not only get approved, but use your card responsibly.