You have to be at least 18 years old to get a credit card account. But there is no minimum age requirement for authorized users to have a credit card from most major banks. So an adult could even add a baby as an authorized user on a credit card, giving the baby a card with his or her name on it and the ability to begin building credit before learning how to walk to the store to make a purchase. But while there’s no legal minimum age for authorized users, individual issuers may add their own restrictions.
Some people think you have to be 21 years old to get a credit card, the same age at which you’re legally allowed to drink alcohol. But that’s just a misinterpretation of the Credit CARD Act of 2009. The law just emphasizes the need for applicants under the age of 21 to show that they have enough independent income to afford a credit card.
Credit card applicants who are 18-20 years old need to demonstrate the “independent ability to make payments on the account or have a co-signer that is 21 or older with the ability to make payments.” Everyone is held to pretty much that same standard, though. The only difference for older applicants is that household income counts toward this ability-to-pay calculation. Household income is money earned by someone you live with that you have reasonable access to (like a spouse’s income). Plus, those payments the law mentions refer to the minimum amount due each month, which is usually around $10 - $15 for young people with limited credit.
That may be a lot to take in. So we’ll summarize the milestone ages for getting a credit card, for your convenience.
Credit Card Age Limits:
- How old do you have to be to have a credit card? Any age as an authorized user.
- How old do you have to be to get a credit card account? 18+ years old. Must have independent income if younger than 21.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the best credit card options available to young people by age group
Birth to 18 Years Old: Become an Authorized User
You have to be 18 years old to get a credit card – even with a co-signer. If you want a credit card before age 18, your only option is to use someone else’s credit card account as an authorized user. Becoming an authorized user gives you valuable experience before your own financial reputation is truly on the line. And it will help you lay a solid foundation for your credit history, as long as the owner of the account is responsible. You may even be able to get a better deal when you apply for your first credit card.
Regardless of whether you dabble with credit before legal adulthood, it’s important to ask yourself, “how can I get a credit card at 18,” as the big day approaches. Building a good credit score is that important.
18-21 Years Old: Credit Card & Co-Sign Options
Student credit cards tend to have the best terms because issuers prize the above-average earning potential of college-educated consumers. But as long as you can get a credit card with no annual fee, or a low annual fee, you’ll be able to build credit inexpensively. That should be your top priority at this stage in your financial life.
If you don’t have any independent income, you can ask a parent to co-sign your application. A co-signer basically serves as a secondary payment source, giving issuers a safety net in the event that you – the primary accountholder – cannot pay. So the cards you’ll be able to get will depend on your co-signer’s credit standing. However, not all credit card issuers allow co-signers.
Credit Cards & Old Age: Is There a Limit?
Senior citizens often wonder if there is an upper limit to how old you have to be to get a credit card. There is not. It would be considered discrimination for a credit card company to deny an adult applicant simply because they are “too old.” Age does not play any role in the issuer’s decision.
Credit Cards & The Financial Literacy Curriculum
Many parents have a game plan for teaching their children responsible money management. And adding a child as an authorized user on a credit card account is an important step. In fact, it should be one of the first, given that most credit card companies don’t have a minimum age requirement for authorized users. And as long as you manage the account responsibly, your child can build a solid credit history before they are even old enough for their own account.
But actually giving your child a credit card to use should be one of the last steps. Authorized users can easily run up charges if you’re not careful. That could cost you in terms of finance charges, increased credit utilization and credit score damage.
Instead, there’s a logical progression you can follow when it comes to the hands-on instruction required to raise a financially literate child:
- Start with a Prepaid Card – You can load your child’s budget onto a prepaid card. You can review their spending habits with online account management tools. And you can teach the importance of responsible budgeting as well as bank-fee avoidance. Prepaid cards do not build credit. But they will not allow the user to spend money they do not have, either.
- Transition to a Cash Allowance – Providing a cash allowance at longer intervals will truly test your child’s budgeting skills. It will also give them practice keeping track of cold hard currency.
- Progress to a Checking Account – This introduces new account management skills, such as writing checks and avoiding overdrafts. Plus, the stakes are higher at this point in the learning process. Overdrafts and bounced checks can prevent your child from getting another checking account in the future.
- Authorize Credit Card Use – Giving your child a credit card tied to your account will let them learn the do’s and don’ts of physical card use in a relatively low-risk environment. Many issuers let you put limits on the amount the user can spend.
- Open a Student Credit Card or Co-sign – Student credit cards typically offer better terms than other offers targeted to people with limited credit. But if you want more attractive rewards or a longer 0% rate for your child, you could co-sign for a card as well.
You have to be at least 18 years old to get a credit card, and there’s no upper age limit. If you are between the ages of 18 and 21, you should be able to get a student credit card, secured card or another starter credit card on your own. You simply need enough independent income to make monthly minimum payments. If you don’t have the income, you can apply with a co-signer to begin the credit building process as quickly as possible.
If you’re under the age of 18, you won’t be able to get your own credit card. But you can ask your parents to make you an authorized user on one of their accounts. You can begin building credit and potentially gain some valuable day-to-day experience (if they decide to give you spending privileges).