A credit card is a potentially powerful tool to help manage your spending, earn rewards, and may help you start building good credit history. However, you can’t just sign up for a credit card without first proving who you are. For most Americans, that involves a taxpayer identification number, also known as a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration. But if you don’t have a SSN, you may not be completely out of luck. So how can you get credit cards without SSN identification?
You can apply for a free SSN alternative called an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN. This taxpayer identification number is also critical for tax purposes in the U.S. If you want to get a credit card and don’t have a Social Security number or ITIN, follow along to learn more.
Your credit report is a list of your credit account details from the time you first established credit that was reported to one of the three main credit bureaus (Expeiran, Equifax and TransUnion). Learn how to read a credit report. The credit bureaus, banks, and other lenders need a unique identifier that can be used to track your personal information across all systems. The Social Security number emerged as a logical solution.
Whenever you’re applying for a credit card with a financial institution, the lender will ask for your Social Security number to look up your credit report. Lenders also use your Social Security number to report payments, balances, and other credit details. Businesses use an EIN, or Employer Identification Number, for this purpose. But what if you don’t have a Social Security number? In that case, you need an alternate tax ID, such as an ITIN.
The ITIN is a social security number alternative used by the IRS to account for tax returns and tax payments of resident and non-resident aliens, regardless of immigration status.
A short list of credit card issuers will allow you to apply for a credit card without this personal information, but it isn’t common for a bank or financial institution. That’s due to a combination of government regulations and risk management concerns for the credit card issuer.
The Federal government has a long list of requirements that all financial companies have to follow. Among those regulations are a set of rules that require financial institutions and other industries that enable customers to move money to “know your customer.” In the industry, this is commonly referred to as KYC.
KYC laws started with the Patriot Act in 2001. These laws are designed to prevent terrorists, fraudsters, and other criminals from using the US financial system. The Act means a few extra steps when opening a new bank account.
If a credit card company doesn’t know who you are and can’t find a credit history for you, they may be more cautious about bringing you on as a customer.
If you don’t have a Social Security number, you may be able to input an ITIN in its place. If you don’t have an ITIN, follow along with the next section to learn how to get one.
If you are a new immigrant to the United States, an international student studying abroad in the US, or plan to immigrate to the United States in the near future, you should probably apply for a taxpayer identification number. You can complete your ITIN application through the Internal Revenue Service by filling out form W-7.
This form is also available in Spanish. Please be sure to review the instructions for IRS form W-7 to determine the necessary documents that you need to provide in order to apply.
This number does not authorize you to work in the US, change your immigration status or give you eligibility for Social Security benefits. It is just a number used for banking, credit applications, and filing a US tax return.
Download Form W-7 and get all the details you need to apply for a new ITIN at the IRS website. If you get stuck or need additional help along the way, contact your local IRS office for assistance. If you are currently outside of the United States, you can submit an ITIN W-7 form through an acceptance agent program.
Some banks won’t issue any credit cards to individuals without a Social Security number or ITIN. If you don’t have either, you may have to call the card issuer to apply through a paper application or in-person application process. Be aware you still may not have luck without one of these documents.
American Express does have options for individuals depending on your country of origin that may not require a social security or ITIN number. American Express has a partnership with Novacredit which will help you use your international established credit to apply in the U.S.
Also, check out Deserve, a card issuer designed for students and people new to credit, as another alternative for those without a Social Security number.
A secured credit card is also a great method for building credit. Like all other credit cards, any activity on a secured card is reported to credit reporting agencies and can affect your personal credit score. A secured card is different compared to your regular credit card in that it requires you to make a minimum security deposit to receive a credit limit. If you do not have a Social Security number or ITIN, your options may be limited here as well.
In any case, expect to still provide proof of income, identification, and other documents to prove who you are if you want to get a new credit card without an SSN or ITIN.
In the long-run, it is well worth the effort to build up a strong, positive credit profile under your own tax ID. For US citizens, that is your Social Security number. Others should look to the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. If you don’t have either, your options for credit cards may be very limited when trying to open a credit account.
If you don’t know your current credit situation, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you can get a free copy of your credit report annually from AnnualCreditReport.com from each of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). You will need a social security number or ITIN to access this report.
It is important to make sure all of the positive activity you do with any borrowing account in the US gets recorded in your credit report. This may help you build a good credit score and open up a wide range of financial options. From the best credit cards to the best rates on a mortgage loan, a good credit score can be a very valuable asset. Keep in mind in any financial product a good credit score is only one factor and other terms and conditions for approval and lending requirements will vary.
Most legal US residents should have a Social Security number or ITIN. If you don’t, go and apply for yours today! It will get you on track for a future with a credit score.
Bankrate. Can I get a credit card without a Social Security number? https://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/credit-card-without-social-security-number/
American Express. https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/features-benefits/us-newcomers/
Eric Rosenberg is the creator of the Personal Profitability blog and podcast. He has both an undergraduate degree and a MBA in finance and his work has appeared in various media outlets. See Eric on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Lauren Bringle is an Accredited Financial Counselor® with Self Financial– a financial technology company with a mission to help people build credit and savings. See Lauren on Linkedin and Twitter.