Here’s what to put for income on a credit card application as a student: income from full or part-time jobs (including work-study), investment dividends, and most other funds that are regularly deposited into your bank account. Excess scholarship money that ends up in your bank account after tuition expenses generally counts as income, too. Some credit card companies may even consider the entire amount as income if it lands in your bank account first. Social Security payments and pensions from deceased relatives, and public assistance payments also count as income. Money from grants may or may not count, depending on the credit card company.
In general, if the money is available to pay a debt you owe, and is not earmarked exclusively for education expenses, it usually counts as income on a credit card application. The exception is borrowed money, including student loans.
Student loans don’t count as income
There’s no law against including student loan disbursements in your total annual income. But student loan money shouldn’t be counted as income on a credit card application because it’s not income—it’s debt. Any money that must be repaid should not be counted as income. Many students use loan money for personal expenses while in school, but that doesn’t mean it’s income.
What portion of scholarship or grant money counts as income?
Customer service representatives from different credit card companies have different opinions on this. For example, Chase reps say it depends on where the awarded money lands first. If the money goes directly to your school to pay for tuition and fees, you can only include whatever amount ultimately lands in your bank account. If the money comes to you first, you can include the entire amount—even if you pay tuition with it.
A Capital One rep said that no matter where scholarship money lands first, it’s up to the student to decide what gets counted in the application. That said, the rep did distinguish that grants do not count as income: “Neither student loans nor grants count as income because they are not considered a stable, continuous source of income."
If you’re in doubt, it’s best to call your credit card company’s customer service line and ask directly.
A student’s age impacts income on credit card applications
It’s worth noting that shared income can only be included on a credit card application if you’re over 21 years old. Those under 21 must have independent proof of income or a cosigner to get a credit card. That rule dates back to the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Credit card companies now have a more formal obligation to assess an applicant’s ability to pay their debt before extending a credit line.
How credit card companies interpret the law
There is a bit of a grey area between the CARD Act’s rules and credit card company guidelines for annual income. The law requires credit card companies to consider independent income for applicants under the age of 21. But based on the way major card issuers seem to interpret it, independent income doesn’t necessarily mean money earned directly by a student for doing a job.
For example, a Chase customer service representative suggested including any type of allowance you might receive from someone else to help pay your bills, if it’s deposited in your own bank account. Similarly, a Capital One representative noted that money must be “reasonably available” to you for it to count as independent income. That means the money must be regularly deposited into your personal account, or an account you share with the person depositing the funds.
So if your parents regularly deposit money into your bank account, you can use that amount in your annual income figure, according to Chase and Capital One reps. And if you’re 21 or older, you're allowed to report shared household income as your own on a credit application, as long as you have a reasonable expectation of access to the money. Sharing a bank account is not required in that case.
Does my annual income have to be 100% accurate?
Theoretically, credit card companies can take steps to verify what you put for income on your application. If they have a reason to doubt the number you give them, they can request information from your tax returns or use data from your credit report to create an estimate of your income. Keep that in mind because it’s against federal law to put false information on a credit card application. The law isn’t commonly prosecuted, but technically, breaking it is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison per offense.
Having income from at least a part-time job will help a student get a credit card. But many students are unemployed while they’re in school. A 60% majority of full-time college students don’t have jobs, according to a 2019 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. That puts many college students at a disadvantage when it comes to getting a credit card. If your income is too low, try to find a cosigner or become an authorized user on a friend or family member’s account.
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