What's the Minimum Age to Get a Credit Card?

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  • Authorized users can be added at any age with most issuers.
  • You need to be 18 to get your own card account, but you'll need to deal with rigorous income restrictions.
  • At 21, the income restrictions are lifted.

You're approved -- to learn about credit!

It's never too early to start learning about personal finance. And that includes topics like credit and credit cards. But what if you want that education to be both practical as well as theoretical?

The minimum age to get access to a credit card depends on whether you'll have your own account or be added to someone else's account. If you're under 18, being an authorized user is your only option.

Authorized users can be almost any age

If you're teaching a child about finance, then you could potentially get them a credit card at any age by adding them as an authorized user on your own accounts. Many of the major card issuers don't have any age restrictions for authorized users, though a few do:

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Basically, authorized users are people you authorize to make purchases with your credit line. They will get their own credit card with their name on it, but it will be attached to your credit card account. You'll still be responsible for any balance on the card, including whatever charges are made by the authorized user.

Young authorized users who are learning about credit should be supervised, at least at first. If your child runs up a big bill and you don't pay for it, your credit history will be in jeopardy. In some cases, it may make the most sense to hang onto the physical card in between lessons.

Even if you don't want to give the physical card to your child at all, you may still want to add them to your account if it's in good standing. Adding your child as an authorized user can help them establish their own credit history.

You can get your own card at 18*

Legally, yes, you can get your own credit card account and line of credit once you turn 18. But there some fine print attached to that * up there.

Everyone who applies for a credit card needs to show a minimum income level to prove they can pay their balances. But if you're between 18 and 21 years old, that income can't be from just anywhere. You're basically limited to income earned through a job or scholarships and grants. Third-party income -- such as gifts or allowances from a parent -- isn't eligible.

This extra rule was a part of the CARD Act of 2009 that sought to limit the number of young adults being given credit lines when they had no real way to repay them.

If you don't have an eligible source of income, you may still be able to get a card with a cosigner (someone with good credit who agrees to be responsible for your debt). However, few major credit issuers accept credit card cosigners; you may have better luck with a local credit union.

Restrictions lift at 21

After you turn 21, a lot of the restrictions on what income you can include on your credit card application are lifted. At this point, you can include essentially any income to which you have a reasonable claim. This includes gifts and allowances, government income, and retirement income.

The income hurdle isn't the only one facing new credit cardholders, however. Without a credit history, you'll need to stick to cards designed for first-time cardholders.

Whichever route you take, be sure to educate yourself on the basics of credit cards before you start swiping. An ounce of education is worth a pound of digging yourself out of credit card debt.

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