If you live in the U.S., have a Social Security number (SSN), and have established a good credit history, chances are you’ve realized the advantages this situation presents. Having access to credit opens a lot of doors, including being able to secure a U.S. credit card.
Getting approved for a U.S. credit card can affect your life positively, including making it possible to rent a car, cover a household emergency, or build credit for larger purchases such as a home or a new vehicle. Having established good credit can also make it easier to rent an apartment, sign up for a cell phone plan, or in some states, pay less for insurance.
If you’re moving, or have moved, to the U.S. and don’t have an SSN, you will likely need to start your credit journey again from scratch — regardless of the credit history you’ve established outside of the U.S.
While not having a Social Security number definitely limits your options for securing credit, there are steps you can take to start building credit and also secure a credit card.
If you don’t have an SSN and you’d like to get a U.S. credit card, we have some tips to help you achieve that objective.
The Importance of a Social Security Number
Social Security numbers are issued (after applying) to each U.S. citizen and eligible U.S. resident by the Social Security Administration. The unique 9-digit number then follows the individual for life. Social Security numbers facilitate the tracking of paid taxes, qualification for government benefits, identity verification, and the tracking of lifetime earnings.
Typically, you’ll need an SSN to prove your identity when you apply for a U.S. credit card. The card issuer then uses your SSN to access your credit report to determine your creditworthiness and whether or not to approve you for a card.
But what if you aren’t eligible to apply for an SSN — does this mean you can’t secure a U.S. credit card?
Fortunately, it’s possible, but not without learning more about the process and being willing to engage in additional steps that will help you reach this goal.
Let’s look at some of your options.
Bottom Line: It’s possible to secure a U.S. credit card without an SSN, but additional research and actions will be required.
Tips for Securing a U.S. Credit Card Without an SSN
Getting approved for a U.S. credit card normally requires having an SSN and good credit history. In the absence of an SSN, you’ll need to rely on an alternative valid ID and focus on businesses that allow an alternative path.
Let’s look at some of the alternative ID options, how you can work on building credit without an SSN, and other possible steps you can take to work towards getting a U.S. credit card.
1. Secure a Federal ITIN
The best way to secure a credit card without an SSN is to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An ITIN is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service to non-U.S. citizens who cannot obtain a Social Security number. Both resident and non-resident aliens who have a federal tax filing requirement or are required to have a federal tax identification number can apply for an ITIN.
An ITIN is not valid for a lifetime like an SSN — you must file your federal income tax using the number at least once every 3 years for it to remain valid.
Several credit card issuers allow you to apply for a card using your ITIN, including American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Bank of America, and U.S. Bank. Not all credit card products with all issuers are available using the ITIN, however.
To apply for an ITIN, you must complete IRS form W-7.
2. Utilize Your International Credit History
While your international credit history cannot be transferred to the U.S., financial institutions that have a worldwide presence and do business in the U.S. may be able to access your history and approve you for a U.S. bank account or credit card.
American Express is one issuer that considers your international credit history if you have a current card with the company. The company’s global program allows you to apply for a U.S. credit card when you move to the U.S. Once you’ve built credit in the U.S., you can apply for additional cards.
HSBC is another financial institution that operates worldwide and provides services to those new to the U.S. If you have a current account with HSBC, are employed in the U.S., are a student or plan to be a student in the U.S., own property or plan to own property in the U.S., you can apply for a bank account, even before you arrive. It is also possible to subsequently secure a credit card.
If your financial institution also does business in the U.S., you may be able to leverage that relationship to secure a U.S. bank account or credit card.
Additionally, companies such as Nova Credit, a cross-border credit bureau, can facilitate the translation of your foreign credit history into a U.S.-recognized format. The company also partners with American financial institutions such as American Express.
3. Check for Current Credit History
You do not need an SSN to obtain a copy of your credit report from any of the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. But you will not be able to request a copy of your credit report online, even with an ITIN. You can submit your request in writing to each of the major credit bureaus, and enclose a copy of documentation that proves your identity.
Acceptable ID can include a driver’s license, a copy of a recent utility bill showing your name, a valid passport, or even a bank statement. Be sure to include your full name, addresses for the past 2 years, and your date of birth.
Even if you think you don’t have any credit history, there is value in requesting a copy to determine 1) if a credit report for you exists, 2) that there are no errors, and 3) what your starting point is for building credit.
4. Become an Authorized User
Not all credit card issuers require an SSN to be added for authorized users on an existing credit card account. If you have a close friend or family member who can add you to their credit card as an additional user, you can start to establish credit.
An upfront agreement with the cardholder for repaying any charges you make is recommended, but even minimal activity is sufficient.
Credit card issuers that do not require an SSN for authorized users include Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Barclays. The cardholder will be asked to provide a name, birthdate, address, relationship to the cardholder, and possibly citizenship status of the authorized user.
5. Apply for a Secured Credit Card
Secured credit cards generally require you to make a deposit that is held by the card issuer. Your credit limit is usually determined by the amount of the required deposit. Your deposit may be returned to you after you have managed the card well over a specified period of time.
When you make a charge and repay the amount, the payments are reported to major credit bureaus to build your credit history.
Even the best secured credit cards do not have the robust rewards structure of travel rewards cards, cash-back cards, and miles-earning credit cards, but a secured card can be a great starting point if you don’t have an SSN.
Bottom Line: You can apply for a U.S. credit card with some card issuers after you’ve secured an ITIN. Utilizing your current credit history with an issuer that recognizes it will also help you secure a card. Becoming an authorized user or applying for a secured credit card can help you build credit and bring you closer to getting a non-secured U.S. credit card.
6. Open a Bank Account
Establishing a relationship with a financial institution is an excellent way to parlay into an opportunity to secure a credit card issued by that bank. Banks, however, are legally obligated to verify your identity and usually do that via your SSN.
You can check local credit unions and banks for those that do not require an SSN to open an account. In some cases, you will be required to have an ITIN. Financial institutions that do not require a SSN to open a bank account include Bank of America, Fifth Third Bank, KeyBank, Santander Bank, Wells Fargo, and Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions. Applying in person may be necessary.
You may want to inquire about an account at the bank your employer uses to possibly leverage the already established relationship.
In lieu of an SSN or ITIN, you will be expected to present multiple valid ID documents which can include, but are not limited to, a valid passport, driver’s license, utility bill in your name, lease agreement, health insurance card, or membership card.
Managing your finances with a debit card associated with your bank account will also help solidify your relationship with the financial institution.
To learn more about which banks are broadly used by immigrants, this recently updated Stilt article shares some interesting data. Stilt specializes in loans to immigrants and we do not endorse or have any affiliation with the company.
7. Sign Up for a Cell Phone Plan
Prepaid plan purchases do not help establish credit and postpaid phone services normally require an SSN to access your credit and determine your ability to pay over time. Without an SSN, you may be required to pay a security deposit to obtain a cell phone with a monthly service plan.
If the deposit is used to make the monthly installment payments and those payments are reported to a credit bureau, it can help you establish credit.
8. Establish Credit History When Renting
Making timely rent payments can help establish credit. Unfortunately, landlords frequently ask for an SSN to run your credit before agreeing to rent to you. If you don’t have an SSN, be prepared for a conversation with a potential landlord by securing your credit report in advance (even if it shows no credit history), offering to pay a higher security deposit, having supporting documents that prove your identity, and presenting a list of references.
Ask the landlord if your monthly payments can be reported to the credit bureaus, thus helping you build credit. Rent reporting services charge a fee that you can offer to pay. Some rent reporting services will even report past rent and utility bill payments.
9. Utilize Student Resources
If you’re new to the U.S. and are a student, or plan to be a student, you may find a wealth of financial information and support right on campus. Student advisors, the financial aid department, the admissions office, and the student housing department are just a few places to start.
A few U.S. credit card issuers cater to students, realizing that they may not have a strong credit history. We’ll mention a few of the most popular options that don’t require an SSN at the end of this article.
Students in the U.S. on qualifying visas can apply for an SSN after a short period in the U.S. If you’re eligible to work in the U.S. and have even a part-time job, you can also apply for an ITIN.
10. Network With Other Immigrants
According to the New American Economy research and advocacy organization, over 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Additionally, in the most recent report, the organization found over 21% of businesses in the U.S. are owned by immigrants.
The group also points out that immigrants make up over 17% of the U.S. labor force. These numbers suggest that there are a lot of people who have faced the same financial challenges as those currently new to the U.S.
Seeking out other immigrants via social media groups, online networking groups, community social clubs, local business support groups, and religious organizations can help you make connections, find resources, and learn from others who have faced similar challenges.
Bottom Line: Opening a bank account to start building a relationship with a financial institution, having cell phone monthly payments and rent reported to the credit bureaus, utilizing student resources, and networking with other immigrants can help you get closer to securing a U.S. credit card.
Best Credit Cards With No Social Security Number Requirements
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
The CapOne Platinum card can be applied for without an SSN and limited or no credit history. The card does not charge an annual fee and comes with complimentary access to your credit score and helpful management tools.
The card does not earn rewards, but you can be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months.
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
You will need a security deposit of $49 to $200 to be approved for the Capital One Platinum Secured card with a $200 credit limit. The card does not earn rewards, but it does not charge an annual fee and your credit limit could increase after 6 months of managing the card well.
Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card
As a secured card, the CapOne Quicksilver Secured card requires an upfront $200 refundable minimum deposit but the card earns 1.5% cash-back on all purchases. It doesn’t have an annual fee and you’ll increase your credit line up to a maximum limit of $1,000 to $3,000, depending on creditworthiness, by depositing more before activation.
Best Credit Cards for Students With No Social Security Number
Deserve EDU® Card
With no SSN required to apply, you’ll start earning 1% cash-back on every purchase after approval. After meeting minimum spending requirements in the first 3 months, you can qualify for 1 year of complimentary Amazon Prime membership.
The card also comes with tools to help you manage your credit, a referral rewards program, and cell phone protection. It does not charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
The CapOne Journey Student card is perfect for the student who has an ITIN and limited or no credit history. You’ll also earn 1% cash-back on every purchase and an additional 0.25% when you make an on-time payment.
Best Credit Cards for Good Credit but No Social Security Number
It’s possible to have established credit without an SSN. For those who have accomplished this, here are some of the best cards to apply for that do not require an SSN number.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
With elevated bonus earnings on everyday purchases, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card makes a great first rewards-earning card.
Hot Tip: If you currently have an American Express-issued card, you can take advantage of its global card relationship program and leverage your current credit history.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Earning valuable flexible rewards on every purchase you make and not having to pay an annual fee are 2 good reasons to consider the Freedom Unlimited card. Rewards are first earned as Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed for cash-back or transferred to premium Chase cards for the potential of even greater value when redeemed for travel or transferred to travel partners.
Completing the Card Application
Meeting the Card Application Requirements
Even if the card issuer does not ask for an SSN, you will still need to meet other requirements to be approved for a credit card. These requirements typically include sufficient income, a specific credit score, sufficient credit history, employment, and more.
Most credit card applications, when completed online, ask for an SSN. To apply for a credit card without an SSN, you may be required to apply at a bank branch. Use this connection to your advantage and be prepared with supporting ID documents, a willingness to open a bank account, and a copy of your pre-requested credit report.
Bottom Line: If you apply for a credit card without an SSN, increase your chances of approval by making sure you meet the issuer’s stated card qualifications and apply in person at a local branch.
You can establish good credit and secure a U.S. credit card without having an SSN, but there are barriers and hoops to jump through.
Securing a U.S. credit card without an SSN is a journey that will require some research and further action on your part, but the resulting rewards can be worth it. Access to credit is an asset worth working for.
Finally, it’s worth noting that we are experts on credit cards, not on immigration, and cannot answer questions that relate to this topic.
The information regarding the Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card and Deserve EDU® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
For rates and fees of Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.