Social security numbers are a standard field on credit card applications, which can give the impression that they’re required for approval. Fortunately, not all cards require a social security number for approval, although not having one can make applying more difficult. If you don’t have a social security number (SSN), you’ll need to be more strategic with which cards you apply for and how you do it.
Despite the extra steps involved to get a card without a SSN, it can be worth it. Not only do credit cards allow you to pay for purchases over time, but they also offer numerous benefits. You’ll be protected against unauthorized purchases and may have the chance to earn rewards and take advantage of other credit card perks. Credit cards are also a great way to build credit history and establish a credit score.
Why Do Most Card Issuers Require Social Security Numbers?
The main reason banks rely on social security numbers is to verify your identity and comply with the USA Patriot Act. The law holds banks accountable for opening accounts or lending funds to terrorists and makes it easier to track potential money laundering. Since the easiest way to verify your personal information—including full name, address and date of birth—is by running it against the social security database, most card issuers require a social security number to process an application.
There are other methods of identity verification, however. Some banks are willing to accept alternative ID numbers to verify your personal information. Others may have different criteria for each of their cards, since they also rely on social security numbers to run credit checks and determine creditworthiness. Because of this, someone without a social security number may not be able to apply for the most lucrative credit card offers.
The Easiest Alternative is Applying With an ITIN
The most common alternative to a social security number is applying with an ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. These are available to foreigners who are required to file taxes in the United States. Both residents and nonresidents can apply for ITINs through the Internal Revenue Service, though not everyone will qualify.
Even if a card issuer will process your application with an ITIN, they may require further information. Be prepared to provide a copy of your passport and U.S. visa, if you have one. Some banks will also require you to have an established relationship with them, such as a checking account.
Approvals for someone with neither an SSN or ITIN are rare, though not impossible.
Start With a Secured Credit Card
Even with an ITIN, card issuers may deny your application if you don’t have any U.S. credit history. American banks won’t have access to your credit history from abroad, which means you’re effectively starting from zero.
Secured credit cards are backed by a cash security deposit which the bank treats as collateral. Often your initial credit limit is equal to the deposit you provide (e.g. a $1,000 deposit will give you a $1,000 credit limit), though you may be eligible for a credit line increase after several months of responsible use.
Although secured cards require you to supply cash upfront, they provide several advantages over prepaid cards. Most importantly, you’ll start building a credit history, which can help you apply for unsecured cards in the future (or ready for other loans, such as a car loan or mortgage). You’ll also get better fraud protection compared to prepaid cards and even debit cards.
The Secured Mastercard from Capital One* is available to applicants with an ITIN and limited credit history. It has $0 annual fee and None foreign transaction fees. Capital One also offers a few unsecured credit cards to ITIN applicants, making the secured card a great stepping stone.
Read More: The Best Secured Credit Cards
Card Issuers That Will Consider Your Application Without a Social Security Number
The two most popular card issuers for applicants without an SSN are American Express and Citibank. Both of these also offer cards in other countries and will consider your foreign credit activity if you have an open account with them outside of the U.S.
American Express Global Card Relationship
The American Express Global Card Relationship program allows you to shop for new, U.S.-based credit cards after logging into your international account. This program does require opening a new account rather than converting your existing card, but it is a great option if you are already an Amex customer.
When you apply for your new card, you’ll need to include your existing American Express account number as part of your application. The account must be open, in good standing and at least three months old at the time of your application.
Citibank Global Banking
Citibank doesn’t offer the same, seamless online application for existing customers, but you can call and request that your previous history with them be considered as part of your application. If you hold a card and/or a bank account with them in another country, it makes more sense to call or apply in person. Your level of assets and credit history with Citibank will likely have to be substantial and well-established to qualify for their Global Banking program.
No matter how you apply, Citibank will only accept ITIN IDs for certain cards.
Other Banks and Card Issuers
Bank of America offers credit cards without a social security number if you apply in person. Two cards available with an ITIN are the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card* and the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card*. Both cards require a good or excellent credit history, but in some cases, they may accept a history as a checking account customer. If you qualify, you’ll earn rewards on every purchase.
Capital One will accept online card applications with an ITIN as well and has a few starter card options. The Platinum Mastercard from Capital One* considers applicants with poor or limited credit history. Most new applicants only receive a small credit line to start, but you can request a credit increase after several months of on-time payments. The QuicksilverOne from Capital One* also offers cash rewards if you have average or better credit, but it comes with a $39 annual fee.
Chase will accept card applications online with an ITIN. However, most of their cards require a good credit score, so you may not be approved with limited history.
Unfortunately, Discover and Barclaycard do not accept applications without a social security number. U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo will accept an ITIN on secured cards only.
For other card issuers, you should call and ask what their policy is before applying online.
An Option for Students: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
International students studying in the U.S. can apply for a Deserve EDU Mastercard without a social security number or ITIN. Instead, you’ll verify your identity by providing U.S. and permanent addresses and sharing information about what and where you’re studying.
This is an excellent card for students, including U.S. citizens, because the card offers strong benefits even if you don’t have a credit history. For no annual fee, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases. The card also comes with cell phone insurance, one free year of Amazon Prime and no foreign transaction fees.
Prepaid Cards Are a Convenient Last Resort
If you can’t qualify for a credit card without a social security number, prepaid cards still offer many of the same conveniences with no credit check necessary. Prepaid cards make online shopping a breeze and are widely accepted for in-person purchases. Some also provide limited protection against loss compared to carrying cash. However, they won’t help you build your credit history.
Getting a credit card without a social security number is possible, especially if you have an ITIN. It’ll be easier to qualify for credit cards if you have an American-based credit history or an established relationship with the bank. Secured cards can be a great place to start until you’re eligible for a wider selection of cards.