Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
At TPG, it may go without saying that we believe everyone should have a credit card.
But of course, not everyone is eligible to get a credit card. When you apply for one, you must meet certain requirements like age and income level to be approved.
But just how old do you have to be to start earning points and miles and building up your credit score with a credit card? Let’s break down the requirements.
How old do you have to be to get a credit card?
In short, 18 is the minimum age required to get a credit card. However, anyone under the age of 21 will face some additional restrictions when applying for most credit cards.
Related: The best credit cards for 18-year-olds
Law and policy
The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, also known as the CARD Act, reshaped the way card issuers are allowed to market to younger people. Before the CARD Act, it wasn’t uncommon to see card issuers posted up on college campuses offering free T-shirts, pizza or frisbees to get students to sign up for a card with complex terms and high-interest rates they probably didn’t understand.
Now with the CARD Act, however, issuers have to be at least 1,000 feet away from a college campus if they’re giving out free gifts in exchange for applications. The CARD Act also prohibits banks from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 unless they have a co-signer or enough income to pay off the card, allowing banks to ask for verification of your income.
This means that you can get a credit card if you’re over the age of 18, but you’ll need either a co-signer or to be able to prove that you have enough income to qualify for the card. If you’re a student, you cannot count financial aid as part of your income on a credit card application, but you can include money someone else regularly deposits into your account. So if someone transfers money regularly to help you pay your bills, you can count that as part of your income on your application.
Capital One’s policy on the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card application, for example, states:
You may include personal income, which is income you have earned, including full-time, part-time, or seasonal jobs, self-employment, interest or dividends, retirement, and public assistance. You may also include shared income, which is money from somebody else that is regularly deposited into your individual account or into a joint account that person shares with you. If you are 21 or over, you may also include somebody else’s income that is regularly used to pay your expenses.
Of course, make sure to carefully read the fine print on any application you fill out to ensure that you are claiming only the income that you are allowed.
But being able to get a credit card doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get any credit card. That’s because some banks add further restrictions beyond what the CARD Act imposes. Chase, for example, requires you to be 19 or above if you live in Alabama or Nebraska and 21 or older if you live in Puerto Rico. It’s unclear whether the banks would even allow you to proceed with an application if you don’t meet the age requirements, but a quick search through the terms and conditions of the offer page could potentially save you a huge headache and a wasted credit pull.
The information for the Capital One Savor Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: A college student debunks these 5 credit card myths
Become an authorized user
Even if age or income keeps you from getting a credit card in your own name, you can ask a parent or friend to add you as an authorized user on their credit card.
Being added as an authorized on an existing credit account is an excellent way to boost your credit score and improve your ability to be approved when you apply for credit cards in the future. About 15% of your credit score is based on your length of credit history, also known as the average age of accounts. Being an authorized user allows the primary account holder’s credit history to boost yours as well. Banks use this as a serious factor in determining how creditworthy you are, and they’re more likely to extend you a line of credit if you have a long history of paying it back on time.
Related: Adding your kids as authorized users to your credit cards
What card should you get?
Once you’re eligible, you need to do a few things before you apply for a credit card. First, make sure you’ve read our credit card beginner guide and are ready to follow the 10 commandments of credit card rewards. Understanding how credit works and a plan to use your card responsibly on the front end will keep you from making costly mistakes.
Once you have a plan, you can start looking at credit cards and choose the one you want to start with. If the options feel overwhelming, check out our favorite cards for college students and for building credit.
Related: How college students can use a credit card responsibly
You need to be at least 18 to apply for a credit card, but the CARD Act added some additional restrictions for applicants under the age of 21. When you’re ready to apply for a credit card, be sure to read its specific requirements before submitting your application.
If you cannot get your own credit card, you can work on building and improving your credit by being added as an authorized user on someone else’s account.
No matter how or when you get a credit card, ensure you are ready to use it responsibly and set yourself up for a lifetime of earning and traveling with points and miles.
For more on credit cards for college students, see the following:
- Best credit cards for college students
- Meeting credit card minimum spend requirements as a college student
- What you should know before applying for a credit card as a college student
- Graduating with a good credit score
- My journey from college student to points pro
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg and Benét J. Wilson.