If you have tried to apply for a credit card, you’ve probably noticed that most applications require a Social Security (SSN) number. But if you don’t have an SSN, you may feel almost impossible to acquire a pass. But don’t give up: There are cards you can apply for that don’t require SSNs.
There are a number of articles appearing on the Internet reporting that you can get a credit card without a Social Security number. The best advice is to take those articles with a very large grain of salt.
A closer investigation of the facts indicates that getting a credit card without SSN (a Social Security number) is very close to impossible. This guide takes a look at the credit card options available to customers who don’t have an SSN.
What is a Social Security Number Needed for?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is issued by the US government to US citizens and eligible residents. It’s a 9 digit number – and usually, you’ll keep the same SSN for your entire working life.
Your SSN is used as a unique identifier, allowing the government to keep track of how long you’ve worked and what you earn over your lifetime. This information is then used to calculate any retirement or disability benefits you may be entitled to.
Your SSN is used in a broad range of situations, from confirming your identity to paying your taxes. You’ll often ask for your SSN when opening a bank account, asking for a loan, or applying for a credit card.
This is because financial companies use your SSN to check your credit history.
Why it’s so Hard to Get a Credit Card Without SSN
Part of the reason why it’s so hard to get a credit card without a Social Security number is that it’s almost impossible to get a credit history, much less a credit score, for a person who doesn’t have the number.
Banks heavily rely on your credit score in order to determine your eligibility, particularly when it comes to credit cards.
But the biggest reason in recent years is the USA Patriot Act. Banks are now required by law to thoroughly investigate and verify the identity of anyone they do business with.
In order to fully comply, that requires a Social Security number or an acceptable alternative number.
Part of the confusion perhaps is that the Social Security Administration maintains that you are not required to provide your Social Security number for any commercial purposes.
However, the banks will be unable to fully comply with the requirements of the Patriot Act in the absence of a Social Security number.
How to Apply for a Credit Card Without an SSN
There are three main options if you want a credit card but don’t have a Social Security number: Apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), look for a card that doesn’t require an SSN or — if you’re from an eligible country — apply for an American Express personal credit card.
Get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number that’s issued by the IRS. It’s available to someone who can’t get a Social Security number.
To get an ITIN, fill out IRS Form W-7. Submit this form by mail, along with relevant immigration forms and proof of identity. Or, present these materials at an IRS walk-in office or authorized Acceptance Agent. Visit the IRS website for more information.
Once you have an ITIN, you can use the nine-digit number where providers usually ask for your SSN.
Get a credit card that doesn’t require an SSN
Some providers target certain cards specifically at foreign students and new arrivals in the country. If you’d like one of these cards, be prepared to produce supporting information, such as proof of employment in the US, your student visa, etc.
Apply for an American Express personal credit card
In late 2019, Amex announced an intriguing new partnership with Nova Credit. The big news: If you’re from an eligible country, Amex can now pull your credit history from your home country to evaluate your application for a personal credit card.
This means you don’t need a Social Security number to apply, though you’ll still need a US-based address.
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Can a Non-U.S. Citizen Apply for a Credit Card?
If you move to the U.S. for school, work, or indefinitely, you may wonder if you can apply for a credit card. Since you probably don’t have an SSN, your choices will be limited, but several credit cards may be available to you.
The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card, Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business, and the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® are a few examples.
Keep in mind that while you may not need an SSN, you will have to provide another form of ID, such as an ITIN or passport number. Each credit card issuer has its own rules for non-U.S. applicants, so do your research before you apply.
Going to a bank branch and speaking with a representative directly to help answer your questions may be a good option if there’s a local branch to you. Otherwise, you can call customer service for assistance.
These Two Things are Typically Require for a Credit Card
After overcoming the hurdle of a Social Security number, you should consider two additional factors in particular: your credit score and income.
The credit score is typically a major factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a card.
Unfortunately, your credit history from your home country doesn’t carry over to the United States. This means you’re building your credit from zero.
It also means most credit card providers won’t offer you the best credit cards.
One of your best options then is to get a secured credit card. This requires an initial security deposit your provider can take if you fail to pay your bill. A provider is often more willing to offer this type of card without seeing established credit.
Credit card providers want to see that you have enough income to pay your credit card bill. They’ll look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which is your monthly debt repayments divided by your monthly income.
Generally, a DTI of 35% or below is considered good.
On your application, be honest about your annual income. The provider may require proof to support the figure you provide.
It may seem like you’re out of luck for a credit card if you don’t have a Social Security number. But you have other options. Most people opt for an ITIN, which some providers will accept on their applications.
Other providers may let you apply with the right supporting documentation.
After you get your credit card, pay your bill on time, and keep your debt low. As your credit score increases, you may qualify for some of the best credit cards.
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