- 1 How to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number
- 2 Accounts Reported without Social Security Number
- 3 How to Apply for a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number
- 4 Rewards Credit Card Without Social Security Number?
- 5 Truly Free Credit Report — Social Security Number follow-up
How to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number
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As an international student, new immigrant or other noncitizen, you may have given up trying to apply for a credit card when you got to the application box asking for your Social Security number.
Called a SSN for short, this unique nine-digit number is assigned to individual U.S. citizens (along with some temporary and permanent residents) to track their earnings and benefits. Generally, you need a Social Security number to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and gain access to some other government services. Banks and credit card companies may also ask for your SSN when you apply for a new credit card, as it helps them verify that you are who you say you are.
But what about noncitizens? Are they simply out of luck when it comes to applying for a credit card?
“It can be tough to get a credit card as a person who doesn’t live here,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities with the consumer education and advocacy organization Consumer Action. “Other countries don’t have the same system as we do here when it comes to establishing credit, and it’s hard for anybody to trust you when they don’t know your credit history.”
Will my foreign credit history transfer to the U.S.?
As the Social Security Administration notes, generally only noncitizens authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the U.S. can get a SSN.
Fortunately, there’s more than one way to get a credit card without a Social Security number. Some credit card companies accept an alternate form of identification in lieu of a SSN. Read on to learn how you can start building a credit history in the U.S.
How to get a credit card without a Social Security number
1. Apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
If you’re unable to get a Social Security number, you may still be able to apply for a credit card by using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), a tax-processing ID number assigned to individuals by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Depending on the bank or credit card company, you can sometimes use an ITIN instead of a Social Security number when applying for a credit card. There are a few easy ways to apply for an ITIN:
After applying, sit tight. You should hear back from the IRS within seven weeks if you qualify and your application is complete.
2. Choose banks that accept an ITIN or alternative identification.
Credit card issuers aren’t required to ask for a Social Security number on the card application, but many do anyway. The good news is that some issuers will accept an ITIN instead. Here’s a quick rundown of issuers and where their policy currently stands on this:
Accounts Reported without Social Security Number
Can a credit agency post something on my credit report without my Social Security number?
Yes, they can. Experian doesn’t match information to a person’s credit history using only the Social Security number. Experian matches information using all of the identification information provided by the lender, so the account will be accurately shown in your report, even if no Social Security number is provided.
In some cases, variations from the consumer’s correct Social Security number may be reported to Experian. Experian lists every variation reported to it. Any variations listed under “Social Security number variations” in your credit report are not errors. Instead, they are an accurate representation of all of the numbers being reported to Experian as belonging to you.
It is important to list the variations because they could indicate you are a victim of fraud or identity theft. In most cases they are simply the result of a transposed digit or typographical error. Some people may provide an incorrect Social Security number in the misbelief that doing so helps protect them from fraud. However, in some cases they are the result of identity theft. By listing the variations, we enable you to recognize fraud and take immediate action.
How to Apply for a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number
Not having a Social Security number is a serious stumbling block when you want to apply for a credit card, since most financial institutions specifically ask for one on your application. However, there are ways to get a credit card without a Social Security number.
An alternative identification number
Although credit card issuers almost always ask for your Social Security number on the application, you’re “generally not required” to provide one if you don’t have one, according to the Social Security Administration.
In general, only U.S. citizens and noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. are eligible for a Social Security number. Others can obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, which follows the same nine-digit format as a Social Security number (XXX-XX-XXXX) and can be used in place of one on credit card applications. You can obtain an ITIN regardless of your immigration status.
You’ll need more than a number for approval
Simply having a taxpayer ID number to put on a credit card application isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll be approved. Credit card issuers will also look at your credit history, and that creates an entirely different challenge.
In addition to an ID number, you’ll need a credit history and income to qualify for most cards.
If you don’t have a Social Security number, it’s most likely because you’re not an American citizen. Even if you had a positive credit history in your country of origin, foreign credit history can’t be transferred to the United States. As far as American credit card issuers are concerned, you have no credit history at all.
You may need to start building your U.S. credit history by applying for a secured credit card. With these cards, you provide a deposit, usually $200 or more, that the issuer holds in case you don’t pay your bill. In most cases, your deposit becomes your credit limit — put down a $500 deposit, for example, and your credit limit is $500. There are also a few companies that offer credit cards specifically for recent immigrants and international students.
You’ll also need income to qualify for a credit card. Card issuers want to see that you’ll be able to pay for things you charge. If you’re 21 or older, you can list any income to which you have access, including that of a spouse or partner. If you’re under 21, you can list only your own income on a credit card application.
Good behavior means good credit
Can you even begin to build credit without a Social Security number? The answer is yes. The credit bureaus will use other information about you, such as your name, address and birth date, to gather information about your credit activity all in one place.
To build good credit, you’ll need to show positive payment history over time. This means making regular purchases and paying off your balance on time every month.
It takes about six months of credit activity for a FICO credit score to be created. Once you have a FICO score — the score most commonly used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness — you may find a wider variety of credit cards available to you. You could move up to an unsecured credit card (one that doesn’t require a deposit) and eventually cards that offer juicy rewards.
Rewards Credit Card Without Social Security Number?
Can you get a rewards credit card without a social security number? A TravelSort reader writes “Hi, I am Australian and was wondering if there is any way to apply for a U.S. credit card? I do not have a U.S. security number but I have a U.S. address.”
While the reader didn't specify, I assume s/he is hoping to be approved for U.S. issued credit cads to earn frequent flyer miles and points from the sign up bonuses and spend. Unfortunately, for non-U.S. residents without a social security number, this is challenging if not impossible unless you have a more direct connection to the U.S. such as paying U.S. taxes or are already an authorized user on a U.S. resident's credit card. Here's why:
Most U.S. Credit Card Issuers Require a Social Security Number for Credit Card Applications
Some folks assume that U.S. banks such as Chase and AMEX require a social security number when applying for a new credit card due to the Patriot Act, which requires banks to accurately identify foreign nationals applying for accounts and credit. Actually, the relevant part of the act reads (bolding is mine):
“…requiring foreign nationals to apply for and obtain, before opening an account with a domestic financial institution, an identification number which would function similarly to a Social Security number or tax identification number”
So an actual social security number is not required, but an identification number that functions similarly is required. An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) would seem to fit, but see below–it's no longer so easy to get one.
The real reason most banks require you to provide a social security number is to do a credit check–it's used by the credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and Transunion, to identify your credit history, since many people have the same or similar names and the SSN functions as a unique identifier.
Can You Get Approved for a U.S. Credit Card By Providing an ITIN Instead of a Social Security Number?
You can in fact apply for and potentially get approved for a Bank of America credit card using an ITIN instead of a social security number. It may even be possible to apply in a branch using a passport number or foreign driver's license number, in place of the ITIN, so that could be worth a try when next in the U.S..
At least one person on Flyertalk, mintcilantro, has reported that his wife, after getting approved for a Bank of America credit card using her ITIN and household income, subsequently received a pre-approved offer for an AMEX Gold card, and she was approved using her ITIN:
“ My wife doesn't have SSN and she recently got a BoA card with ITIN using household income. Last week, she got a pre-approved offer in the mail for Amex Gold 25k points. I thought I'd try and I was surprised to see an approval using ITIN. We don't even have Amex CCs, only prepaid cards (bluebird and target). I don't know how she got targeted.”
And Flyertalk user LongviewTX reports that his father, a non-resident but long-time authorized user of LongviewTX's Citi card, was targeted for a Citi card that the father was able to successfully apply for, using his ITIN.
It used to be relatively easy to get an ITIN, but it's gotten harder to get one unless/until you file a U.S. tax return. There are 5 main exceptions, which mainly have to do with the ability to apply for an ITIN immediately, rather than waiting until filing your tax return:
1. ITIN Exception 1: Passive Income
If you have annuity, dividend, interest, partnership, pension, royalty or other passive income you may qualify for this exemption. Banks, investment firms and insurance companies may require you to get an ITIN so that they can file the requisite information reports.
So, if for example you have an interest generating bank account that is subject to IRS information reporting can apply for an ITIN right away instead of waiting until the usual time to file a US federal tax return.
2. ITIN Exception 2: Other Income
If you receive any kind of compensation, scholarship or grant income, you may be able to claim this exemption. Note that in most cases when applying for an ITIN, you'll also need to submit a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying you from applying for a social security number.
3. ITIN Exception 3: Mortgage Interest
4. ITIN Exception 4: Foreign Investment in US Real Estate
5. ITIN Exception 5: Treasury Decision 9363
The upshot: if you already have an ITIN–great! If not, you're unlikely to get one unless you actually are subject to withholding tax or need to file a U.S. tax return.
Also note that normally you cannot build a credit history under an ITIN, as the credit bureaus only build credit reports around social security numbers.
Any Other Ways to Build U.S. Credit and Apply for U.S. Credit Cards?
For those who are in the U.S., have a job and ITIN but don't have a social security number, it's possible to work one's way up to rewards credit cards:
- Start with a secured credit card, such as the Bank of America Secured Credit Card, or even one of the U.S. Bank secured credit cards, which also offer Avianca LifeMiles (Star Alliance) or LAN miles (Oneworld)
- If married to a U.S. citizen with a good credit history, be added as an authorized user or even open a joint account so that you can build credit history. See
- After about a year, apply for other non-secured credit cards, such as student cards, Citi Dividend, AMEX Blue, etc.
- Eventually, having established a good credit history, apply for the more lucrative travel rewards credit cards
Truly Free Credit Report — Social Security Number follow-up
Well, despite its reputation for trickery, freecreditreport.com was useful for me today. As I mentioned last night, I’ve been having trouble with my SSN. So this afternoon I called them once I got home from work.
Very nice CSR took down my information, looked up my account, and explained to me that according to Experian (their parent company) I simply don’t have a credit report. None. Nothing good or bad. Nobody (including me) has used my SSN for a loan, credit card, anything like that.
I asked her about my cell phone contract and she said that unless I’d used the SSN for that (I don’t think I did), it wouldn’t have gone on my credit report. Other than that, neither of us could come up with anything that would lead to my having a credit report. I’ve only ever used it for a couple bank accounts and employment.
She said that if these sites were trying to get my credit profile, that’d be why they were coming up confused.
So that’s a relief and an annoyance. Dangit all being so responsible!
On Monday I’m going to call up Paypal and see if I can set up that money market fund over the phone.
The next question that pops into my head—should I apply for a credit card with no annual fees, use it once, pay it off and simply lock it away somewhere? Just so that I can get a credit report?
Of course, credit cards are potentially a slippery slope. On the other hand, I haven’t had any problems with wanting to use Micah’s in all these months we’ve been married—nothing, we paid it off and we left it alone.
Oh yes, and she made sure my account was canceled (she said it should have been automatic since there was no report, but she double checked) so it remains truly free. Heck, I’d have been willing to pay $14.95 to figure out what was going on.
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Interesting. Banks often use credit reports to verify you are the person you say you are. It’s not the same as a hit from a credit card company, but I assumed there would need to be an existing report somewhere for them to check. The bank I used to work at used Equifax. Maybe try calling the bureaus themselves?
Also, maybe you can open a credit card at a credit union or something, and put some automatic monthly bill on there (cell phone?) that you can then set up an auto payment for from your bank. If at some point down the line you want to buy a house, you’ll need some sort of credit standing (ideally, a good one).
Yes, you probably should open a credit card to build credit history. If you want a home loan someday (or anything) you will need it. And you are obviously responsible enough to handle a credit card.
Glad to hear nothing is wrong!
For people who follow Dave Ramsey’s advice: He says you don’t need credit ever. If you want to buy a house someday and have a sizeable down payment (or just pay for it in cash) and can prove your income and other bills, you won’t have to have credit to qualify for a loan.
And since your husband already has a credit history, so long as it’s good, you probably don’t need a credit card yourself.
Definitely something to look into, though.
You should definitely open up a credit card to start building credit. I too was hesitant initially, but hesitance is a good thing. Use it infrequently for things that are an absolute need.
I waited until I was about 20 years old and all my other friends already had one. Of course, there parents were footing the bill! I think I just used it for books twice a year and paid it off promptly before any finance charges accrued.
I’m glad that it looks like things are okay with your social security number, Mrs. M!
Ah, now it all made sense. Before I decided to start a credit history, I had to jump through all sorts of hoops (fax in a copy of SS card, call them, … ) to open mutual funds, bank accounts, etc. Now the procedure is quite transparent.
You and me both, Ryan! It was very comforting to hear that there wasn’t any record of any kind for it.
I sometimes think that people in the PF section of the blogosphere are a little too skittish about credit cards. While I have some trouble with them right now, that’s only due to a lack of income to pay them off. Previously, I would pay off the entire balance each month.
And while I’m no fan of credit card debt, having it easily available has kept things from being too desparate while I’m between jobs.
To summarize: I think that it would be a good idea for you to get a credit card.
Mrs.M, glad to know that nothing is wrong. I agree with In Debt, the credit card idea seems like a good one.
I was very hesitant to get a credit card because I was afraid I’d suddenly throw a lifetime of sensible money management out the window and end up deeply in debt. I finally gave into my mother’s demands that I get one and start building a credit history. At first I used it only to pay for prescription medications because I knew there would be no temptation to overspend on that. Over the past year and a half I’ve become more comfortable using it for other things but am always careful to only spend what I’ve already budgeted and pay it off every month.
You should probably go ahead and get a credit card. (If you qualify for USAA membership, I’d go with them since they have awesome customer service and are regarded as one of the most reputable financial services companies around.) I’d go further than using it once and putting it away, however. If you could use it to pay for one thing a month, say your internet service which you’ve already committed to paying for anyway, and then pay it off promptly every month, you’ll build a continuing record of sensible credit use.
I also vote you get the credit card. Dave Ramsey doesn’t think so, but he’s for people who cannot use credit responsibly–you are obv a pretty responsible type. And yeah, you prob can get a mortgage without it, but life is designed to reward those with credit histories. Not to get all morbid, but there are at least a few worst-case-scenarios where it matters that you have your own, not just Micah’s. Just how it is.
Here’s another idea. If you have yourself added as a JOINT ACCOUNT OWNER (not an authorized user) on Micah’s credit card, you should automatically get a credit card history that is as long as Micah’s had the credit card open! You don’t get the credit history of the credit card added to your credit report if you are only an authorized user, you have to be a joint account owner. This is what I did after my husband and I got married this summer.
They are changing the rules in FICO 08 to not give you any or as much benefit from being added to someone elses report. If you are going to buy a house someday you need a credit report…unless you are going to pay cash…Which would be pretty cool!
You need the 720 Fico when you are ready nd length of credit history is an important market.
You NEED to have a credit history. This is big. This is huge.
If you “don’t have a credit report” (say what. ), then you need to establish some credit IN YOUR NAME, not jointly in yours and your husband’s name.
Let the jaded old voice of experience explain why: If anything happens to your husband, you will need to have credit. In the chaos that will ensue, you will need to be able to charge things; at minimum this will simplify your life, but under the worst of circumstances it will save your dainty tuchus. You also will need a credit history to rent an apartment, buy a car, even rent a car. Joint credit doesn’t count! If you and he are no longer together, either because he has passed on or because you have split up, the credit trail you have established is not regarded as yours; the assumption is that you probably can’t pay your bills without a partner’s income.
Get this credit established now, because it can be very difficult to open credit accounts and to accomplish anything that requires a credit history once you’re on your own. It does not matter how good your past joint credit was. Trust me: I’ve been through this and it is a bi***!
Obtaining and using a credit card and then paying it off in full at the end of each month is one way to establish a good credit history. Another is to go to a credit union, take out a small loan (say, $2,000), put it in a savings account, and the pay it all back two or three months later. The cost of this maneuver is minimal, and it looks good on a credit report.
I can tell you from experience that you NEED credit history. This is not a “you ought to have” you need it. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong and I know from personal experience.
I paid cash for everything. I paid cash for my own car, I graduated high school with 10k in savings. I got a scholorship to college and worked to pay for housing. Out of college I worked for a company that makes debt collection software (both for 1st and 3rd person collections). I was so afraid I would run up debt like peope in our system that I refused to open a credit card.
Fast forward a few years and I had zero debt and a good job (different company…that place was awful…working for the devil, basically). My husband had a fair amount of debt, but great credit since he always paid it on time. You would think that a couple of 25 year olds very well paid in the software development industry would have an easy time getting a mortgage.
This was not the case.
We talked to ten banks/mortgage institutes and were turned down by nine of them. Since I had zero credit history and it was an automatic no, despite my 60k+ salary and bank savings. We only ended up qualifying for an interest-only loan because my husband’s salary could cover the payments–none of my salary could go towards how much we could qualify to get. Otherwise we could have gotten qualified for much more.
You *need* credit history. Fifteen years ago when you got a loan from the bank where you probably knew the manger from around town, you would be fine with being an upstanding citizen. Today, computers do all the calculation and don’t know how nice of a person you are. They only know risk averages and having no credit usually means alot of horrible things.
I was told by my mortgage guy that having bad credit would be better than none. The super messed up thing is that if I had missed a payment on any of my bills and they had gone to collections, it would have hit my credit history and if I had paid that “debt” back, I would have had credit history and a much easier time getting a job.
That being said, having none makes it a lot easier to build good credit and now, six months later, I have decent credit (but 30% of the calculation has to do with length of accounts being opened so I’m hurt on that point only).
I was so upset because I never got a credit card and always paid cash for everything because I had been taught that this was the best way for me to prepare for one day having a mortgage and a future. Unfortunately, anyone who tells you this, no matter how well published, is giving you outdated advice. The way this works is totally counter intuitive and I just don’t want anyone to make the same uninformed mistake as me.
Follow JH’s advice above. It’s very true and should help you alot.
Good luck getting credit and I hope you avoid the same problems as me!
Mrs M – that sucks. I am in the same position over here in the UK. I have a house, but no mortgage and apparently no mortgage goes against you on your credit report. I’m going to remortgage part of the house to pay school fees and get a decent rating!
I was speaking to a girl from Puerto Rico and she said she had to take out a car loan, get a credit card etc, as soon as she arrived just to get a decent rating! It’s so unfair – if you don’t borrow you’re basically screwed.
Have you considered moving some of the utlity bills in your name?
Mine post every month to my credit report as a debt I owe and pay. I wish they wouldn’t.
The whole credit thing is totally overrated in my opinion. I work for a company that does sub-prime lending for auto loans. A lot of our customers are called “ghosts” because they have zero credit history. We do manual underwriting for these people. You can get a loan from us. But you really will NOT like the rate…. its up to 29% on a car loan…
Of course if you buy a car and only finance $500 over the course of 24 months. You won’t pay that much in interest….. The trick is to make sure the company you’re working with actually posts data to the bureaus. A lot of subprime’s do not….
I’d be interested to see if you could get a manual underwriting loan from Churchill mortgage with a zero FICO score or if Dave is just full of crap…. I haven’t met anybody who has confirmed or denied that yet…
I know for a fact you can get a car loan from the company I work for – but it won’t be at normal interest rates….
Personally I wish that so many different aspects of life did not come back to your credit report. House and car insurance rates, health insurance rates, life insurance rates, cell phone rates, utility, renting an apartment, etc….