Q: Is it possible to qualify for a credit card at my age? I’m only 18 have no credit history.
A: Can you get a card at 18? Yes, it’s possible and I will tell you how in a moment. But please make sure you read my tips below… they will tell you some things about credit cards you probably don’t know. It’s important to know for Q4 2014 given the state of the economy.
Are you a college student?
If you’re 18 and in college, then a student credit card would probably be the easiest to obtain.
In past years card issuers made it quite easy for college students as young as 18 to get a credit card, even without a credit history. Of course it’s quite obvious why they do this… they hope you start out with their credit card and keep it for the rest of your life. And, of course they realize young people are less likely to pay off their balances in full each month so college student accounts are often their most profitable cards since they charge higher interest rates to people with no credit history. It’s a bit more challenging to get a card now if you’re under 21 (thanks to the Credit Card Act of 2009) in that you have to have an adult cosigner or prove you have the income to pay off your credit line each month. That said, college students have a huge advantage for getting unsecured cards since issuers have targeted them specifically with their products and underwriting standards.
But you can beat the banks at their own game. Pay off the amount in full each and every month and on-time. That way you will avoid interest charges. But don’t go feeling guilty if you’re not paying interest – banks still make a pile of money off of the 2% interchange fees they charge merchants when customers use their cards for everyday purchases. Interest charges are just icing on the cake for the issuers, so don’t play in that sandbox. Contrary to popular belief, having debt on your card won’t help your credit score (the following link explains why). To compare student cards and learn more about them, check out this section.
Are you not in college?
If you’re 18 and won’t be going to college (or maybe you will be but you’re still in high school right now) then student cards won’t be available to you. Here’s how to get one at 18 in those circumstances…
Look into secured cards
The easiest credit cards to get with no credit history are secured. Here’s how they work:
Security deposit – As the name implies these cards are “secured” which means you need to put up a security deposit to get one. The amount of your security deposit becomes your credit line. Later on when you close or upgrade your secured card, the security deposit will be refunded.
Using the card – Other than the security deposit, a secured card basically works like a “normal” unsecured credit card does. You get a bill each month that can be paid in full, or pay the minimum and carry the rest forward (but that’s not recommended!).
Building Credit – All the legitimate secured cards will report your account history to the credit bureau. That means if you manage your card properly and responsibly, you can build up your history and score. Once you do that, it should be easier to be approved for one that’s unsecured.
So if you want to know how to get a credit card at 18 with no credit history, then secured accounts offer the best odds.
Getting an unsecured card isn’t impossible but it’s certainly a challenge if you’re not a student, and frankly, I can’t think of any right now for 18 year olds with no credit history. (Update for 2015: Quite a few 18 year old members on the forum have reported getting approved for some of these cards but I can’t say for sure whether they accept absolutely no credit history for them).
Now the downside of secured is that they almost always charge annual or monthly fees. Typically, these might average around $10 per month or so for the first year. So, after the first year or so you may want to consider applying for an entry level starter credit card that’s unsecured (and then cancelling the secured card).
Alternately, try the tool below. Who knows, maybe you will be pre-qualified for something better than expected?
Written or last updated April 28, 2015