What is the Minimum Age for a Credit Card? 9 Best Beginner Cards

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Posted: May 30, 2017
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

I got my first credit card when I was 18 years old. I can’t quite recall the terms associated with it — 18 was nearly half my life ago — but I do know that it wasn’t the best card I could have gotten at the time. That’s because a) I excitedly applied for the first offer I received and b) this was pre-Credit CARD Act of 2009.

First of all, NEVER apply for the first card offer you receive/see/hear about. Research is of the utmost importance when choosing a card, as we’ll dive deeper into later. Secondly, the Credit CARD Act of ’09 greatly affected the rates and terms of cards, and it also upped the age in which one could apply for a credit card.

21 is the Legal Age to Apply for Your Own Credit Card

Before the CARD Act, you could be 18 years old to get a credit card, and there weren’t very many restrictions to getting one. You didn’t even have to have a job to be approved. Today, you must be 21 years of age to get a credit card in your own name, unless you have a cosigner or can show proof of steady income.

You Can Apply at 18 with a Cosigner or Proof of Income

You can still apply for a credit card at 18, but your parents will need to cosign for you. This can be tricky, because the responsibility becomes much heavier when someone else’s credit is at stake. If you miss a payment, the bank can – and will if they can’t get in touch with you – call your parents for payment (not exactly the best way to display your newfound independence).

FICO Credit Score Chart

Your payments account for 35% of your FICO credit score. Always pay your bill on time, especially if your parents have cosigned for you.

Late payments are the worst thing you can do for your credit, and will be reflected in your parents’ credit too because their names are on the account right alongside yours. You’ll also need their permission if you decide to apply for a credit limit increase down the road.

If you have a steady job and income, you can apply for a card without a cosigner by supplying the issuer proof that you can afford the monthly payments on your own. The issuer will likely call your job to verify employment and how long you’ve been with the company, and will want to see your paycheck stubs and/or W2s.

Long story short, you can still get a credit card if you’re 18, but the requirements are much more stringent than they were in years past. If your parents are footing the bill anyway, you may best benefit from becoming an authorized user on one of their cards instead of opening an account in your own name. This is also a great option for anyone under the age of 18 looking to establish credit.

Guardians Can Make You an Authorized User if You’re a Minor

If you’re a minor, you can become an authorized user on your parent’s account. This means you’ll receive a card with your name on it to use as your parents permit. Below is a chart provided by CreditCards.com showing the minimum ages some of the most popular issuing banks allow authorized users to be added.

CreditCards.com chart showing minimum age to become an authorized user

This helps instill healthy credit habits at an early age, and, so long as the account is properly maintained (low credit-utilization ratio, on-time payments), will establish positive credit history for everyone listed on the account.

The Best Card Options for Beginners

You want your first credit card to be one that offers fair terms and flexibility, such as no penalties on your first late payment and the ability to choose your payment due date, and is why it’s so important to do your homework when shopping for your first credit card.

Student Cards

Some of the best cards for those new to credit are, without a doubt, student credit card offers. These cards typically offer the ability to earn rewards, cash back bonuses for good grades (usually defined as a GPA above 3.0 – proof will be required), no annual fees, and sometimes even 0% intro APRs. This means you don’t have to worry about interest charges for however long the promotional period is good for.

Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

  • Our Take: "The lack of fees, combined with great perks like cash back and free credit score tracking, make this credit card a solid deal for college students.
  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate quarterly, up to $1,500 per quarter when you sign up for the quarterly bonus
  • 1% cash back on all your other purchases with no limits
  • No annual fee
  • $20 cash back each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher (maximum 5 years)"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.74% - 22.74% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.74% - 22.74% Variable
$0
Fair
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
20.74% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+ See More Student Offers

Cards for No/Limited Credit History

You don’t need to be a student to get a good card, you just need to be sure you’re applying for the right types of offers. Be sure to look for cards that don’t charge annual fees and offer perks like free FICO credit scores, so you can watch your score rise as you establish your credit history.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.5
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Use your QuicksilverOne card and get 50% back as a statement credit on your monthly Spotify Premium subscription, now through April 2018
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★
4.4
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

+ See More Offers for No/Limited Credit

The last offer, the Capital One Secured MasterCard, is what’s known as a secured credit card. These types of cards sort of act like prepaid cards in that a deposit is required to secure your line of credit. The amount of your deposit is typically equal to the amount of credit limit you receive. This particular secured card reports to all three credit bureaus, so though you’re using your own money to fund purchases, you’re still building positive credit history.

Prepaid Cards

Prepaid cards are available to anyone 18 years of age or older, and do not require a cosigner or credit check. This is because you’re not borrowing money from an issuing bank, but rather funding the card with your own money – if you deposit $200 onto the card, you’ll have $200 to spend. This is a viable option if you just need a card to make purchases online or anywhere credit cards are accepted.

AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card Review

at AccountNow'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
2.5/5.0
  • $0 Monthly Fee Pay As You Go Plan (See Cardholder Agreement on site)
  • No Credit Check. No Overdraft Fees, ever.
  • Free† direct deposit and online bill payment
  • Use it Everywhere Visa Debit Card Accepted in the U.S.
  • Easy Online/Mobile Account Access
  • Perfect for Occasional Usage
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Check
Pink NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★★
4.6
OVERALL RATING
2.5/5.0
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Sign up for NetSpend Payback Rewards and earn cash back.
  • No late fees or credit card debt because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get real time text message alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply.
  • *Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
No Credit Check
READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card Review

at READYdebit'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★
4.3
OVERALL RATING
2.0/5.0
  • Instant Account Number - A Great Card for your Money.
  • Free† Direct Deposit — Paycheck, Benefit Checks, Tax Refund Checks
  • Easy Online Bill Payment & Mobile Account Access
  • No Purchase Transaction Fees
  • No Risk of Overdraft Fees or Balance Minimums
  • Withdraw Cash at ATMs or Get Cash Back with Purchases
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$9.95 monthly fee
No Credit Check

+ See More Prepaid Offers

Prepaid cards do not report usage to the credit bureaus, however, meaning you won’t build credit using one. If establishing credit is your goal, prepaid cards are not your solution.

Benefits of Building Credit Early

By becoming an authorized user on your parents’ account or opening an account of your own, you can begin to establish credit history — a super important component of adulthood. Your credit history and credit score will be the deciding factor when it’s time to get your first apartment, a new car, and in some cases, a job.

Do your due diligence and find a card that will support your (healthy) spending habits with perks that are attractive to you. The card I got when I was 18 did not offer me most of the things I suggest you find in your first credit card. Needless to say, that card is no longer in my wallet.