At first, this question may seem ridiculous. It’s not as if a newborn can head to the mall for a onesie-and-bib shopping spree.
Technically though, you can add a baby to (some) credit cards. However, it won’t give your kid the credit-score boost you may have been hoping for.
Some cards will let you add babies as authorized users
When you add someone as an authorized user to your card, you (as the main accountholder) are still solely responsible for making all the payments. So, card issuers are less stringent about authorized users than they are about main accountholders, who must be over 18 and fulfill the bank’s credit requirements. In fact, some have no problem with you adding a baby to your card.
The chart below shows the minimum ages for authorized users (info compiled from conversations with banks’ media relations departments, calls to customer service reps and published information). Notice how the majority of banks don’t have a minimum age.
|Bank of America||None|
|USAA||None, but authorized user must be USAA member|
No real score benefits to adding a young child
You’d probably love to give your child a credit head start. However, there’s no real credit-scoring advantage to your child if you add her at age 2 as opposed to age 18. Here’s why:
- Young kids shouldn’t have credit reports and scores: Credit bureaus have policies of not generating credit reports for those under a certain age, even if they are authorized users on a card. For example, if a child is under 17 and the credit issuer reports the age, TransUnion won’t create a report based on that data. Experian has a similar policy, only the minimum age is 14. Because credit-scoring algorithms use credit reports as their basis, young children would be invisible to them. For example, while FICO has no minimum age for generating a FICO score, it can’t generate a score for a minor if that minor has no credit report, according to Can Arkali, principle data scientist at FICO.
“In the absence of a credit report, such an individual would not be able to receive a FICO score,” says Arkali.
If the issuer doesn’t report the authorized user’s age to the bureaus accurately, or the minor child is above a bureau’s minimum reporting age, she might indeed have credit reports and therefore a FICO score. Keep in mind, though, that FICO has other minimum requirements for generating a score, including at least one account open for six months or more and one account that’s been reported to the credit bureau within the past six months.
- They can’t apply for credit on their own anyway: As described above, it’s possible for your minor child to have a credit report or score. But that won’t help him much, as he can’t apply for credit on his own anyway.
- It’s the age of the card, not the credit report, that matters: Parents might envision the following (incorrect) scenario: If they open an account and add their baby to it, that account will incubate over the course of 18 years and hatch a stronger credit score when the child reaches 18 and can apply for credit on his own. In reality, those same parents could open that same account and wait to add their child on her 18th birthday for the same credit effect. That’s because it’s the age of the account itself that scoring algorithms care about – not how long it’s been parked on someone’s credit report, says credit expert John Ulzheimer (formerly of FICO and Equifax).
“A 10-year-old authorized user account is still a 10-year-old authorized user account whether you add it to a 1-year-old’s credit report, an 18-year-old’s credit report or a 50-year-old’s credit report,” Ulzheimer says. “The fact that it has been on the report for one year or 17 years is irrelevant.”
Why you still may want to add a young child to your card
While there’s no viable scoring-related argument for adding your young child to a credit card, there may be some benefits for doing so.
Identity-theft prevention: By adding your child to your card before his 18th birthday, you ensure that you (not a thief applying for cards using his Social Security number) are the one to create your child’s credit file. And once a credit report exists, you have access to a powerful protection:
“You could then freeze that credit file so it can’t ever be initially created and then abused by a fraudster using the youngster’s identification fraudulently to apply for credit,” Ulzheimer says.
We’ve already covered in depth how to freeze a minor child’s credit. But suffice it to say, it’s easier to freeze a credit report that exists than to preemptively create a file for the sake of freezing (which is only guaranteed by law in some states).
Card benefits: Authorized users get to share some of the benefits the card offers. While a baby probably won’t get to enjoy things like lounge access and airline fee credits, an older child might be able to. That’s why Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta Real Estate broker, added his 16-year-old son to his Delta American Express card.
“Even though I purchased the ticket, when traveling alone, he had to have a Delta AmEx to avoid the bag fee,” Ailion says.