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How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Credit card companies won’t issue accounts to just anyone. Here’s what you need to know. Image source: Getty Images

Young woman holding phone and credit card

There are plenty of benefits to having a credit card -- think rewards points , purchase protection, and the ease at which you’re able to shop without having to worry whether you’ve brought enough cash. But having a credit card in your name is a huge responsibility, and as such, you need to be a certain age to get one.

The minimum age to have your own credit card

You must be at least 18 to get a credit card in your own name. But that doesn't mean you have to wait that long to use a credit card. If someone (like a parent) is willing to add you as an authorized user to his or her account, you can get a credit card sooner.

That said, don’t expect to have your own credit card the moment your 18th birthday rolls around.

Getting approved for a card at that age will likely be tough if you don't have much of a credit history, which is probably the case if you're barely out of high school and haven’t yet had any bills in your name.

How to get your first credit card

Now, you're probably thinking -- how can I build a credit history if no one will let me have a credit card? But worry not, because there are options for getting a card when you're on the young side.

First, you can go the authorized-user route and get added to someone else’s card. Another option is to apply for a credit card with a cosigner. Ideally, that person should be someone with stellar credit, because if that’s the case, you'll likely get approved based on his or her record. Of course, finding a cosigner is easier said than done, because that person effectively takes responsibility for making sure your charges are paid in full. Some typical candidates for a cosigner might include a parent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling.

If your attempts to get a credit card at a young age aren't fruitful, another option you might look into is getting a secured credit card . With a secured credit card, you put up a cash deposit as collateral, and then you're allowed to charge purchases up to the amount you’ve put down. Secured credit cards don't give you a line of credit the same way regular credit cards do, but they do allow you to build a credit history so that you're eligible for a traditional credit card in the future.

Now, if you're in college, you might get approved for a student credit card. Student credit cards are simply cards marketed to students. They work just like traditional credit cards, only they typically come with lower credit limits. You might snag one if you have some type of income, even with a limited to nonexistent credit history.

Building your credit history

Establishing a credit history is a key part of getting approved for a credit card at any age. The best way to do so is to get a bill or two in your name and pay it on time and in full every month on a consistent basis. For example, if you’re on your parents’ cell phone plan, you might get your own plan and then make steady payments when your bills come due. Furthermore, if you take out student loans for college, making your monthly payments on time is another good way to build credit. And as mentioned earlier, charging against a secured credit card and paying off your balance will help you establish a credit history, too.

Though you’re technically eligible for a credit card once you turn 18, many people that age have trouble getting approved. If you end up being one of them, don’t despair. With a little effort, you can build a credit history and snag a card of your own once issuers trust that you’re reliable enough to pay your bills.

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