Can You Get a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number?

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  • If you're working in the United States, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which can substitute for an SSN on a credit card application.
  • If you're lacking credit history here, however, you may need to start with a secured credit card or apply for one with an issuer that does business internationally.
  • Some student credit cards were created specifically with international students in mind.

It may just take a little more legwork.

If you're a U.S. citizen, chances are you were issued a Social Security number (SSN) shortly after birth, as your parents likely applied for one for you at the same time as your birth was registered and you received a birth certificate. That nine-digit number is an important piece of your vital data.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) created the Social Security number in 1936, and it was originally devised as a way for the federal government to track your income and issue retirement benefits. Today, however, it is the key to unlocking a lot of your personal and financial life, and as such, you'll be asked for it when you apply for a personal loan, a mortgage, or other financial products. But what if you don't have a Social Security number and you want a credit card? There are a few different strategies you can try.

You may be able to use an ITIN

Only citizens and permanent residents are eligible for Social Security numbers, but there is an alternative number issued to those living and working in the United States who aren't citizens. This is called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. This tax-processing number is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and anyone who needs one can apply to the IRS using form W-7. ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status and are only used for federal tax reporting. And U.S. citizens who are lacking a Social Security number for any reason aren't eligible for an ITIN.

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If you're applying for a credit card, an ITIN can replace a Social Security number on the application; it's even nine digits, the same as an SSN. However, just because you have a nine-digit number unique to you to plug into a credit card application, that doesn't mean you'll be approved. You'll need a credit history too, and the next option may work for you.

You can apply for a secured credit card

One pitfall of applying for a credit card without an SSN is that you may be lacking a credit history. The solution? You need to establish a credit history, and opening a secured credit card using your ITIN may be just the ticket. Secured credit cards work by requiring a security deposit when you open the account. Your odds of being approved will be higher, even if you have no established credit history, because of the collateral provided in the form of that security deposit.

Your credit limit is often equal to the security deposit, however, so secured cards usually have a fairly low limit. Say you open a secured card and your deposit is $500. That becomes your credit limit. If you keep your credit utilization ratio low and pay off your card every month, you'll build credit, and depending on the card, you may be able to graduate to an unsecured credit card after a certain amount of time.

You can look to an international credit card issuer

Another way to get approved for a credit card without an SSN is to apply with a card issuer that also offers credit cards outside the United States. Citibank is one such company. If you have credit history with either in your home country, this will be looked at when you apply for an American credit card with that card issuer. You may have to jump through a few more hoops than usual to apply to these companies, however. Try calling or applying in person at a bank branch, if possible, so you can explain your situation to a human representative. This should make for an overall easier application experience.

If you're a student without an SSN, you have a special option

Some student credit cards are designed specifically for international students, and you'll just need your passport, student visa, and immigration forms to apply for them. You will probably also need a U.S. bank account to maintain the credit card, however. Student credit cards have similar parameters to secured credit cards, such as low limits, although they don't generally require a security deposit. They're geared toward people with lower income who are new to using credit and want to establish a good credit history.

Credit cards are a useful financial tool, and it is possible to apply and be approved for one, even without a Social Security number. You'll just have to do a little bit more legwork in the course of applying.

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