Credit cards come in handy when you want to build credit, pay for a large expense or earn rewards on the money you spend. As part of the application process, credit card companies ask for your Social Security number so they can perform a hard pull of your credit profile. This nine-digit number also allows the card issuer to verify your identity.
The Social Security Administration doesn’t require you to provide a credit card company with this information if you don’t have one. So how can you get a credit card without a Social Security number? Read on to find out what your options are for getting credit without one.
Who can get a credit card without a Social Security number?
Social Security numbers are used to keep track of your earnings when you work (for tax purposes) and for most people, the Social Security number is what your credit history is tied to. When a lender uses your Social Security number to pull your credit report, it allows them to see how much debt you have and how good you are at paying your bills on time. The information in your credit report is what’s used to generate your credit score.
Generally, Social Security numbers are assigned to U.S. citizens shortly after they’re born. These numbers aren’t granted automatically, however. Your parents have to apply for one on your behalf with the Social Security Administration. Most parents do, because insurance and government benefits (for the medical bills related to the birth, for example) depend on it. If, for some reason, they failed to apply on your behalf, you’ll have to do so yourself if you want to get a job, open a bank account, apply for credit, or apply for financial aid for college.
With the exception of refugees and those seeking political asylum, Social Security numbers aren’t automatically given to foreigners who live in the U.S. For example, a foreign person who’s working or attending school in the U.S. under an immigrant, worker or student visa wouldn’t necessarily have one. The same goes for someone who’s obtained a green card and is still in the process of establishing permanent residency.
While not having a Social Security number can be inconvenient, it doesn’t automatically bar you from getting a credit card. Someone who doesn’t have a Social Security number—whether an international student, a foreign national who’s living in the U.S. while on business or the spouse of a non-resident alien—can still apply for a credit card but there are some specific rules to keep in mind.
How to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number
The easiest way to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number is to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in its place. Also a nine-digit number, an ITIN is used for federal tax reporting purposes and it’s available to:
- Foreign nationals who don’t qualify for a Social Security number but file a federal tax return
- Non-resident and resident aliens who file U.S. tax returns
- Spouses and dependents of resident aliens or non-resident alien visa holders
Applying for an ITIN doesn’t cost anything and it’s a fairly straightforward process. You have to complete IRS Form W-7, verify your identity and provide a copy of your federal tax return. Bear in mind that an ITIN doesn’t make you eligible to work in the U.S. or entitle you to retirement Social Security benefits in the future.
If you’re a U.S. citizen who doesn’t have a Social Security number, an ITIN is not an option. Your best bet is to fill out the necessary forms to obtain a Social Security number. As we mentioned earlier, you’re not obligated to enter this number on a credit card application if you don’t have one but the odds of getting approved for a card if you leave that part blank are virtually zero.
One credit trap to avoid falling into involves credit privacy numbers. This is a nine-digit number that you can supposedly use in place of a Social Security number to obtain credit. Let’s be clear. You cannot establish a new credit identity with a credit privacy number. Furthermore, you may be committing identity theft if you use one. In some cases, the companies that sell credit privacy numbers are actually selling stolen Social Security information. If you use one of these numbers to obtain credit, you’re committing a federal crime.
Building credit without a Social Security number
If you apply for a credit card without a Social Security number, you may have to settle for a secured credit card to start. With this kind of card, you give the bank a cash deposit to be used as collateral against default. The credit limit is usually equal to your deposit, and you still have to pay the bill every month just as you would on a traditional credit card. In most cases, you should be able to work your way up to an unsecured card in six to twelve months as long as you pay on time and keep the balance low.
Opening a credit card account with an ITIN will allow you to establish a credit profile with the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Any foreign credit history you have won’t be transferred to your U.S. credit profile, but if you maintain a positive payment history, you’ll eventually establish a credit score. You’ll then be in a position to apply for other loans or lines of credit. Signing up for Credit Sesame’s free credit monitoring service can help you can keep an eye on your report and score as it grows.