For many young Americans, it’s not about if they will get a credit card, but how old they have to be to get a credit card.

You have to be 18 to get a card in your name. If you are under 21, according to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, you will need a cosigner (if your issuer permits cosigners) or proof of your ability to pay back the amount you charge, such as employment, other income, or assets.

The right age to get a credit card will vary from person to person, based on maturity, needs and financial support. Young people have a few options when starting their search for a credit card, including a student credit card (like the Discover it® Student Cash Back card), a secured credit card (like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card) or becoming an authorized user on a parent or guardian’s credit card. Consider these guidelines to help you determine the right time to get a credit card:

  1. Credit Card Use Before Age 18
  2. Applying for a Credit Card as a Young Adult (18-20)
  3. What a College Student Should Look for in a Credit Card
  4. How to Avoid Unnecessary Credit Card Rejections
  5. Another Option: A Secured Credit Card
  6. Obtaining Your First Credit Card as an Adult

1. Credit Card Use Before Age 18

Although minors cannot apply for a credit card account in their own name, many credit card issuers allow them to be added to an adult’s account as an authorized user. For example, Discover allows primary account holders to add authorized users at no charge so long as the user is at least 15 years old. This could be any family member, friend or person whom the primary cardholder trusts. Authorized users will receive their own card with their name on it, and can use it to make purchases. Yet the primary account holder is always responsible for making all payments towards the balance of the card.

As older children learn about money and how to make purchases, parents can consider adding them as authorized users to their accounts as a way to begin teaching them responsible credit card use and build their credit history. For example, parents could give their children a credit card to make specific purchases, or for emergency use only.

2. Applying for a Credit Card as a Young Adult (18-20)

Young adults are able to apply for a credit in their own name, but with some restrictions. Again, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires that credit card applicants under the age of 21 show proof that they have an independent ability to repay a loan, such as employment, other income or assets.

In many cases, parents can offer guidance to their adult children to ensure that they make a smooth transition from being authorized users to becoming a primary account holder. Applying for your first credit card can be an important step toward financial independence.

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3. What a College Student Should Look for in a Credit Card

Student credit cards often have low monthly credit lines. In other words, you may only be able to carry a small credit balance, say $500 or so. That’s because these cards are designed for people who are just getting started on their credit journey. Despite the limited amount you are allowed to spend, student cards are real credit cards. Your activity is reported to the credit agencies and you begin to build your credit history.

Luckily, there are no-annual-fee college credit cards, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one that fits this criteria. You’ll also want to consider a rewards or cash back program. If you already spend money, why not select a card that offers rewards on purchases? If you’re planning to travel abroad, a miles reward program might be a good option, as would a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Also look for some additional perks that not every credit card issuer offers. For example, Discover offers a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the five years after you get one of the student cards card.*

4. How to Avoid Unnecessary Credit Card Rejections

Different credit cards require different credit scores for approval. For example, the “premium rewards” credit cards often require a higher credit score and a longer credit history due to their underwriting criteria.

Applying for a premium card, or any card designed for high earners with excellent credit scores, if you have little or no credit history, may set you up for rejection and disappointment. Instead, you may want to consider applying for a specifically designated student credit card. And don’t worry — some credit cards for college students have great rewards programs, too.

In addition, incorrect personal information, or lack of some vital information for the application, can also trigger the credit card company to decline your application. When you do apply, make sure to have all of your information ready and make sure everything is correct. Some of the information you might need includes:

  • Social Security number
  • Legal name
  • Current address
  • Time at current address
  • Proof of income

5. Another Option: A Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card can help you begin building your credit history. A secured credit card is a card with a security deposit, meaning you put down a security deposit for the card that becomes your credit limit, up to the amount that the issuer approves. Some issuers may even review your account after a period of responsible use and eventually graduate it to an unsecured credit card, which doesn’t require the deposit. 

6. Obtaining Your First Credit Card as an Adult

Once you reach age 21, you can apply for a credit card as a primary account holder without age-based restrictions. But good credit practices, like paying every bill on time and not carrying large balances, still apply. You can ensure timely payment by configuring email and text alerts on your credit card for when your statement is available and when your payment is due. You can also enable automatic payments each month if your issuer allows.

The right age to get a credit card will be different for each person, as it’s a question of an individual’s level of responsibility, rather than their date of birth. By helping children and young adults take gradual steps toward credit card use, parents can help them to become responsible credit card users for life.

Published April 12, 2018.

Updated June 22, 2021.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

Good Grade Reward only available to new cardmembers on or after 7/23/2015 who indicate on their application that they are currently enrolled in college, and whose accounts are current and remain open when the Good Grade Reward is requested. Students with a Discover it® or Discover it® Chrome card who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher (or equivalent) during a School Year (September - August) may apply at Discover.com for a $20 statement credit ("Good Grade Reward"). One Good Grade Reward per School Year, per account, up to a maximum of five (5) consecutive years from the date your account is opened. Terms of Good Grade Reward Offer are subject to change.