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Getting a business card without a Social Security number

Summary

For foreign nationals setting up shop in the U.S., it’s not easy to get a business credit card. Most applications require a Social Security number, but there are a few exceptions.

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QuestionDear Your Business Credit,
I am a foreign national from Italy who just formed an LLC in New York City. Can I get a business credit card on my company’s bank account with a TIN if I do not have a SSN yet? — Enrico

AnswerDear Enrico,
The short answer is yes, but you may have to do some digging.

In case you missed my earlier column on this subject, you will need to submit a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) to get a business credit card. A Social Security number is the most common type of TIN, but there are others. Often card issuers require you to submit a Social Security number, but in some cases you can use an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Here’s where things get tricky: To apply for an Employer Identification Number, you usually need a Social Security number. However, there’s an exception. You can also use the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to apply for an EIN. It is available to immigrants and their spouses who can’t get a Social Security number in some cases.

The trick is finding a card that will let you use the EIN without a Social Security number.

I would suggest selecting a group of cards that fit your criteria and then narrowing down the list to those for which you can qualify with the EIN alone. CreditCards.com publishes a list of business credit cards where you can comparison shop.

To save time, select several cards that meet your business’s needs and, before you fill out any online applications, call the card issuers to ask if you can apply without a Social Security number. Completing the paperwork can be time consuming. Just because the initial form you fill out gives you the option of using an EIN, it doesn’t mean the card issuer won’t ask you for a Social Security number at a later point in the process, as one reader pointed out on the last post.

You may also want to check with your bank to see if it offers any business credit cards for which you would be eligible, using the same identification information you used to open your business bank account. If you work with a professional such as an accountant or attorney whose clients include other foreign nationals, he or she may also be able to give you leads on cards other clients have used.

Since you formed an LLC, I am assuming you are seeking a business credit card to separate your spending at the business from your personal spending, so you don’t weaken the legal protections of the LLC. If this is why you need a credit card, the debit card you got when you opened your business bank account can be a good substitute. Obviously, a debit card does not give you access to money outside of your own cash, so this won’t help you if you need the card for outside financing.

If you can’t find a credit card issuer that will let you apply without an Social Security Number, and you need financing, consider trying to get a loan from your friends and family. Many an entrepreneur started out getting a first loan this way — and you generally don’t have to fill out any paperwork.

See related:Do I need credit cards to build my business credit?, How to get cash for your business without credit, Options for accepting overseas payments expand for small business

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