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How to Get a Credit Card at 18

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Legally, you can get a credit card at age 18, but it’s not as easy for young adults to get a credit card as it used to be. That’s because the Feds passed a law requiring credit card issuers to ensure young adults under 21 have the income to pay a credit card balance. Otherwise, the young applicant has to get a co-signer.

Get a job. Credit card income requirements actually span beyond young adults. Everyone who applies for a credit card, young and old, must have sufficient income to qualify for the credit card, even if they have impeccable credit. The rules don’t state a specific income you’d need to qualify, but credit card issuers have their own (non-disclosed) guidelines that vary by credit card. If you’re turned down and it’s because you don’t have sufficient income to qualify, you’ll get a letter in the mail explaining.

Get a co-signer. When you can’t qualify for a credit card on your own, an alternative is to get someone who’s over 21 to co-sign your credit card application. The co-signer has to meet the qualifications for the two of you to be approved. After approval, you and the co-signer are jointly responsible for the credit card balance, even if only one of you uses the card. How you handle the joint credit card will also affect your co-signer’s credit history and vise versa. If either cardholder is irresponsible with the credit card, both of your credit histories will be affected. This is why people are warned not to cosign.

Ask someone to make you an authorized user on their credit card. Being an authorized user is similar to having a joint credit card with a co-signer. The difference is that, as an authorized user, you’re not legally responsible for the balance. The payment history does show up on your credit report and can later help you get your own credit card if the card issuer uses a credit scoring model that considers authorized users (the VantageScore ignores authorized user accounts).

Try a secured credit card. If you have the income to get a credit card, but your lack of credit history is keeping you from getting approved, consider getting a secured credit card. This type of card requires you to make a cash deposit as collateral against the credit limit. Even though you’ve made a deposit, you’re still responsible for making payments toward the balance you accumulate. The deposit is only used if you default on the credit card balance and never clear up the delinquency on your own. Depending on the card issuer, your card can be converted to a regular credit card if manage your card well for 12 to 18 months.

Go prepaid. A prepaid card isn’t a credit card in the sense that you’re extended a credit line, so it won’t help you build a credit score and you can’t make purchases unless you have cash balance on the prepaid card. But, if you just need a piece of plastic that behaves like a credit card, for example to book a hotel, rent a car, or make gas purchases at the pump, a prepaid card is a good option. There are no credit or income requirements. You must make a deposit to open the card and you’ll have to reload more money once you’ve exhausted your cash balance.

Though you're old enough to get a credit card at 18, you may not be ready if you're bad about missing deadlines, you often run out of money before your next payday, or you continually overdraft your checking account. But, if you're responsible with money, know how to keep your spending in check, and can meet your obligations, you're on the right track. Follow these dos and don'ts for using your first credit card.

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