Applying for a credit card as a new immigrant in the US

Find out more about applying for a credit card if you’re new to the US.

Getting a credit card for the first time can be a bit tricky for anyone. But as a recent immigrant, you may face additional challenges. Whether you’ve recently moved to the U.S. or have been a permanent resident for years, there are options available. 

To start, it can help to understand what general types of credit cards you may be able to get. From there, you can look for more specific options based on your lifestyle and how you plan to use the card. 

Potential challenges when applying for a credit card

You may face some initial hurdles when applying for a credit card. But the good news is these can be managed.

First, it can sometimes be difficult to get approved for certain cards if you don’t have a credit history or credit scores in the U.S. And some card issuers might require you to submit a Social Security number (SSN) when you apply for a credit card. 

No Social Security number

Depending on your immigration status, you might not be eligible for an SSN. However, you may qualify for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). 

ITINs are available to both documented and undocumented immigrants who don’t qualify for SSNs. Some credit card issuers may let you use an ITIN in place of an SSN when applying for a credit card. 

If you don’t qualify for an ITIN or SSN, you could check to see whether card issuers accept alternative forms of identification, such as a copy of your passport.

No credit history in the United States

Even if you had credit in another country, you generally won’t be able to use that credit history when applying for a credit card in the U.S. 

Starting from scratch can be frustrating. Even recent immigrants who have a high and steady income may find it hard to get a credit card in the U.S. without a credit history or scores in the States. But there are several types of credit cards that may be options to help you establish credit.

Credit card options for recent immigrants

Credit cards generally come in two types: secured and unsecured. Secured cards are typically easier to qualify for, but both may be options. There’s also another option that could work if you know someone in the U.S. who already has a credit card. 

Secured credit cards

People, including those born in the U.S., often use secured credit cards to build credit over time with responsible use. They’re called secured cards because a cash deposit is required to open an account. Think of it like the deposit you might have paid to rent a house or apartment.

The deposit is what makes the card easier to qualify for. And generally, the security deposit amount will determine your account’s credit limit. But depending on an issuer’s approval process, some cards might provide a credit limit that’s higher than the amount of the security deposit. That’s the case with the Capital One Platinum Secured card.

Once you’re approved for a secured card, you can use it responsibly to build credit over time. That means doing things like making payments on time every month. 

As you explore secured credit card options, remember all issuers have their own policies. So it might be helpful to confirm a few things before you apply:

  1. Whether the issuer reports activity to credit bureaus.
  2. How to fund a deposit—and whether it requires a U.S. bank account.
  3. How deposit refunds work.

Unsecured credit cards 

Unsecured credit cards are considered the standard type of credit card. It can be tougher to qualify for an unsecured credit card because the card issuer won’t have a security deposit, but there may still be options that don’t require a strong credit history. They may include cards for people with a limited credit history, student credit cards and store credit cards.

When it comes to building credit, what matters most is how you use your card. What’s best for your situation may depend on whether you can afford a security deposit, which cards you qualify for and the cards’ specific benefits and any applicable fees. 

Become an authorized user

Instead of getting a credit card of your own, another option is to become an authorized user on someone else’s card. 

Being an authorized user means the primary cardholder gives you access to their account. You may receive a card of your own, but the primary cardholder remains legally responsible for paying the full balance.

The specifics can vary depending on the card issuer and situation. But if the card is reported to the credit bureaus under your name as an authorized user, it could create or be added to your credit file. And once you have a credit history, qualifying for a card on your own could become easier. 

While positive account information like consistent on-time payments could help build positive credit history, negative account information like late or missed payments might have a negative impact on your credit. So if you want to be an authorized user, it’s important to ask someone you trust.

Tips for improving credit card eligibility

You may have to overcome a few extra hurdles to qualify for a credit card as a recent immigrant, but there are options available. If you want to increase your chances of qualifying for a card, you could try doing the following:

  • Call the card issuer. Some credit card issuers may have policies that aren’t clearly laid out online for accepting applications using an ITIN.
  • Understand the income requirement. Your income may impact your ability to qualify for a card, but it isn’t necessarily limited to income from a job. You might be able to add other types of income to your application, including certain types of investments, grants and public assistance. Even a household member’s income that you can reasonably access—such as a spouse’s income—may qualify. 
  • Build your credit first. A credit card might be one way to start building credit, but you can also start with other types of accounts. For example, you may be able to get a credit-builder loan or a lending circle loan.

Whichever route you choose, your credit scores or history won’t have the chance to grow unless you start building credit in some way.

While getting your first card as a new immigrant can be tough, a credit card can offer benefits and open new doors when used responsibly. And as you build credit, you may set yourself up for lower-cost loans or the chance to upgrade your card in the future. 

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