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10 Credit Card Options for International Students Without an SSN
Being an international student in the United States can be tough. First, you need to understand the foreign system you have just gotten yourself into (including the foreign system of credit history) and then proceed to learn how to navigate it without the perks of being a resident or U.S. Citizen.
Getting simple things like a credit card, a loan, or an apartment can become complicated without a Social Security Number (SSN) – a nine-digit number that is only assigned to U.S. residents and citizens by the Social Security Administration (a branch of the U.S. government).
The government uses this number to keep track of each person’s earnings and years of work. As an international student, you aren’t given an SSN, which can be a problem when you want to get a credit card. We are going to go over how you can overcome this barrier and get the credit card you need in the United States.
Can International Students Get an SSN?
Generally, only those who are U.S. citizens or authorized to work in the U.S. can get an SSN. If you are neither of the above mentioned, you can still get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). International students can get this number, which follows the same nine-digit format as that of SSN. So how do you get one?
How to Get a Credit Card Without an SSN
One of the main reasons banks ask for your SSN is so they can check up on your credit history. They need to know that they can trust you before they authorize any type of credit. Unfortunately, if you have good credit back home, this foreign credit history can’t be transferred to the U.S., so that is not a viable option.
Luckily, your SSN isn’t the only way they can check up on your credit history. Your credit history is attached to your name, birthday, and address meaning international students can still apply for credit cards.
Credit Cards using ITIN
If you don’t have an SSN, you can apply for an ITIN.
Acquiring an ITIN requires the completion and submission of Form W-7 to the IRS. This process involves providing additional documentation, which includes a certification letter, a photocopy of your identification, evidence of your foreign status, and a copy of Form I-20. All necessary forms and detailed instructions are accessible on the official IRS website.
There are multiple credit card providers who will offer you a credit card with just an ITIN.
Secured Credit Cards
If you are not able to get an ITIN, you can also get a secured credit card. This will a low limit credit card, generally $300-$1,000. You will need to deposit the same amount for security. As you make credit card payments, you will build credit history. Once you have built enough credit history, you can get the deposit back.
Though it may seem like more of a challenge, it’s a challenge that is important for any student to overcome. Getting a credit card may seem like something simple, but it can be the key to many future problems.
By getting a credit card, you begin to build a relationship with the bank where you show them how responsible you are. This way, if you end up applying for citizenship or residency, having a credit card will help with something like a future loan for a house.
10 Credit Cards for International Students
The information mentioned above is important to know when considering a credit card. And although not having a social security number seems like the source of all your problems, there are still ways for you to get a credit card without one.
Many major banks offer a credit card for international students, and, depending on the bank, you can apply with your passport or your I-20 form.
Check out the options below!
Bank of America Cash Rewards and Travel Rewards Cards (Best for Versatile Rewards)
The Cash Rewards card offers cash back on various categories, potentially including those that might appeal to students like online shopping or dining. The Travel Rewards card, on the other hand, is good for students who plan to travel, providing points for every dollar spent that can be redeemed for travel expenses.
Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard (Best for Average Credit)
This card is tailored towards individuals with average credit, making it accessible to international students who have begun to build credit. It offers points on every purchase, with extra points for certain categories like gas, utilities, and groceries, which can be redeemed for statement credits.
Capital One Journey Student Credit Card (Best for Building Credit)
Designed specifically for students, this card encourages responsible use by increasing the cash back rate when you pay on time. It’s a solid choice for students who are new to credit and want to build their credit history while earning rewards.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card (Best for Fair Credit)
This card is a good match for international students with fair credit scores. It doesn’t offer rewards but comes with no annual fee and has a higher chance of approval for those with limited credit history.
Capital One Quicksilver Card (Best for Good Credit and Cash Back)
For students with good credit, the Quicksilver card offers a simple cash back program with a flat rate on all purchases. This is ideal for those who want rewards without having to track spending categories.
Citi Rewards+ (Best for Good Credit)
The Citi Rewards+ card rounds up points on every purchase to the nearest ten points, which can be a neat bonus for smaller purchases, making it beneficial for students. Plus, it offers bonus points after spending a certain amount in the first few months, which could be useful for initial expenses.
Deserve Edu Credit Card (Best for Limited Credit History)
Aimed at students, especially those who might not have a Social Security number, this card offers cash back on all purchases and comes with a feature that may cover Amazon Prime Student. It’s a good starter card for international students who haven’t built up credit in the U.S.
OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card (Best for Rebuilding Credit)
This is a secured card, meaning you’ll provide a deposit that serves as your credit line. It’s particularly good for those with no credit history or those who need to rebuild credit. International students can apply without a Social Security number, which is a significant advantage.
Wells Fargo Active Cash Credit Card (Best for High Cash Back)
This card offers a flat cash back rate on purchases, which is one of the highest available. If an international student has a strong credit history and can manage the card responsibly, it’s an excellent way to earn rewards on every purchase.
Discover it® Student Chrome (Best for Average Credit)
Specifically designed for students, this card offers cash back on gas and dining, which can be useful for students who commute or prefer eating out. It also matches all cash back earned at the end of the first year, which can be a great bonus for new users.
How Do I Build My Credit?
If you manage to get a credit card, you can start building your credit by:
- Making payments on time
- Paying your balance in full at the end of each month
- Keeping balance lower than 30% of your credit card limit
- Using your card!
Banks can use your personal information to see your credit history, but this doesn’t guarantee your chance of getting a credit card. So in some cases, you might not be able to get the credit card you want.
If you are an international student, this might be harder to prove since you can’t transfer your foreign credit history. But this doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are still ways you can build your credit before getting a card.
- You can start building your credit by opening a debit or savings account here in the U.S. If you already have an account that you trust back home, then look to see if they have a branch here where you can open an account. This could end up being very useful to you anyways; making it simpler to pay things while you are in the U.S.
- When you open a checkings and savings account together, you can show that you have healthy spending habits by transferring a monthly amount to your savings and paying everything, such as your utility bills on time.
- If your credit history isn’t enough to get you a credit card, you can get something called a secured credit card to help you build the credit while learning how a credit card would work. Secured credit cards require a deposit, usually starting at $200.
How Secured Credit Cards Work:
The money you deposit in a secured credit card doubles as the credit you owe on the secured card. Secured credit cards protect the issuer in the event you can not make a payment. This is a great option and can also help international students start out building their credit. The secured credit card serves as a practice credit card and since the balance is much lower, it is safer.
You can apply for a loan. Student loans are easier to get as a student, especially if you don’t have a credit history to back you up. When you get the loan, make sure to pay everything on time. This way, you can start showing how responsible you are with debts.
Getting a Loan Without a Cosigner
If you need to take out a loan but don’t have a credit history, many banks offer you the opportunity of getting a loan with a cosigner. This can seem great, but it’s a very large responsibility to leave your co-signer with since they are affected by any mistakes you make.
Try to get a loan without a cosigner. Though many banks would rather you sign with a cosigner, getting a loan without a cosigner is possible. There are some tricks you can follow such as borrowing less money and showing you have a good enough income to pay it back.
Although you might be an international student, there are still plenty of opportunities to get a loan when you don’t have a credit history.
Build Your Credit First to Get Your Credit Card
Building credit takes time and unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury.
Finding someone to loan you money is only a temporary solution which should encourage you to apply for credit cards in the future. Building your credit history is very important so don’t let a challenge like not having an SSN stop you from growing your credit history.
Lastly, building credit history is necessary, especially if you are planning on creating a life after college in the United States. Let us know what your concerns are and what has worked for you in the past so we can continue to help international students build a better life.