If you want to build credit in the United States but don’t have a Social Security number, you have options. Many credit issuers accept Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, and some credit issuers allow you to open a line of credit based on your passport information.
The best way to build good credit is to use your credit cards wisely.
But if you’re an international student or a new immigrant, qualifying for a credit card can be a challenge. This is because many card issuers require a Social Security number (SSN) as part of the credit card application process. If you don’t have an SSN, you won’t qualify for those cards.
SSNs are issued by the Social Security Administration to people who are born in the United States. They are also issued to people who are authorized to work in the country — and new arrivals to the U.S. can apply for one once they are approved to work in the country.
So, what if you don’t have an SSN? You still have options. Keep reading to find out how you might be able to get a credit card without an SSN — and how to choose one that will help you build credit quickly.
Apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
Some credit card issuers allow applicants to provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number. The IRS issues ITINs to nonresident and resident aliens (as well as qualifying spouses and dependents) who can’t obtain an SSN but must pay U.S. taxes.
If you’re an international student studying stateside, you can also apply for an ITIN if you’re ineligible for an SSN. And if you’re in the country on an F-1 visa (students in traditional academic programs) or an M-1 visa (students in vocational programs), you might also be eligible for one.
To get an ITIN, you must first complete IRS Form W-7, also known as the IRS Application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. You’ll need to provide documents that prove your foreign or alien status and true identity. You can submit this information by mail or in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
Choose a credit card issuer that doesn’t require a Social Security number
Some credit card issuers don’t require applicants to provide Social Security numbers and some do. Here’s what you need to know:
- American Express will accept applications from people with ITINs or passports.
- Bank of America will accept applications from people with ITINs or passports, but only if you apply through a Bank of America branch.
- Capital One allows applicants who have ITINs instead of SSNs.
- Chase allows applicants to use ITINs in place of SSNs.
- Citi requires applicants to submit SSNs.
- Credit One Bank requires applicants to submit SSNs.
- Discover requires applicants to submit SSNs.
- Wells Fargo allows applicants to apply with ITINs instead of SSNs.
Of these major credit card issuers, it’s worth noting that American Express has a program in place designed to help newcomers to the United States build credit. The American Express Passport by Nova Credit allows them to use the credit history they’ve built in their home countries when applying for Amex personal credit cards — which could be a viable option for those who have already established good credit.
Select a card that helps you build credit quickly
If you’re hoping to apply for a credit card so that you can build credit in the United States, select one that can help you build it quickly. In many cases, that means applying for a secured credit card.
Secured cards allow you to open a modest line of credit in exchange for a small, refundable security deposit — and if you use your card responsibly, you’ll start building the kind of positive credit history that could allow you to graduate to a standard credit card with a higher credit line.
Want to build a credit history without applying for a secured credit card? No problem. Cards like the Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card are designed to help creditworthy applicants start building credit histories — with no security deposit required. Plus, you don’t need an SSN to qualify. Petal accepts applications from those with permanent residence in the U.S., and they can provide either an SSN or an ITIN.
“Petal was created to help people get access to a high-quality credit card even if they don’t have a credit score,” says Jason Gross, Petal’s CEO and cofounder. “This includes those who’ve yet to build credit in the United States but who are otherwise creditworthy.”
Like many of today’s best credit-building cards, the Petal 2 Card offers cash back rewards. All cardholders immediately qualify for 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases — and after making 12 on-time monthly payments, your cash back bonus can increase up to 1.5 percent on every eligible purchase. Since payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO credit score, establishing a record of on-time payments is one of the best things you can do to build credit fast.
Although some credit cards require an SSN, it’s still possible to get one if you don’t have one. Many credit issuers allow applicants to provide an ITIN instead of an SSN. If you’re new to the country and hoping to establish a positive credit history, knowing how to get a credit card without an SSN could be the first positive step of your journey.