If you don't have a Social Security Number (SSN), you might find that there are some credit cards you’re not eligible for. Many credit card providers require your SSN to process an application. However, the good news is that there are some cards which are available with alternative forms of identification, such as an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer’s Identification Number).
This guide takes a look at the credit card options available to customers who don’t have an SSN. We’ll also highlight a few couple of alternative card types, including the Wise multi-currency card - perfect if you want to spend while you travel. Let’s get started.
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A Social Security Number (SSN) is issued by the US government to US citizens and eligible residents. It’s a 9 digit number - and usually you’ll keep the same SSN for your entire working life. Your SSN is used as a unique identifier, allowing the government to keep track of how long you've worked and what you earned over your lifetime. This information is then used to calculate any retirement or disability benefits you may be entitled to.
Your SSN is used in a broad range of situations, from confirming your identity to paying your taxes. You’ll often be asked for your SSN when opening a bank account, asking for a loan, or applying for a credit card. This is because financial companies use your SSN to check your credit history.
Your SSN is one of the unique identifiers used by banks to check your identity and creditworthiness. Before we move on, let’s take a look at how your credit history, or credit score is used when applying for credit cards.
Credit card companies need to check your credit history before they will offer you a card. They want to make sure you’re likely to repay your debts, and they assess this based on your previous history. If you’ve been seen to manage debt wisely, more companies will be willing to offer you a card - and the terms you get will be better, too.
If you have a limited credit history because you’ve never used credit before, or have a poor credit score, you may struggle to get a credit card. Unfortunately, this can also be problematic if you’re a foreigner living in the US. Even if you have an impeccable credit score at home, because your credit history is not local, it may not be taken into account when banks decide whether or not to offer you a card.
The good news is that there are some alternatives to using an SSN when applying for a credit card or online account. Some companies will allow applicants to use an alternative form of identification such as a passport, visa or driving license. Others will take a Tax Identification Number, such as the ITIN which can be issued upon application to foreign legal residents in the US.
One option for people who aren’t eligible for an SSN, is to get an individual Taxpayer Identification Number - usually abbreviated to TIN or ITIN.¹ Banks and credit card companies may accept this in lieu of an SSN when you apply for an account or card.
ITINs are used for paying US taxes. This means they can be issued both to residents and non-residents of the US, because there are circumstances under which even non-residents may need to file a tax return in the US.²
To get an ITIN, you’ll need to complete From W-7, and then either hand it in or mail it to the IRS. You can check your eligibility for an ITIN, online, and get all the paperwork you need to get started with your application.³
So, if you don’t have an SSN, what are your options?
At first glance, it might seem like there are very few cards you can apply for without Social Security details. In the course of our research, we found that most providers require an SSN when applying online. However, this isn’t the whole story. If you don’t have an SSN, they may still be able to offer you a credit card - they’ll just need you to call and talk to the service team, or visit a branch to discuss your situation and talk through your alternative options.
One important thing to consider is using an alternative provider, such as Wise. With Wise you can get a multi-currency debit card, that is linked to a foreign currency account, which lets you have access to 40+ currencies. Since their card and account are designed for people who lead international lives, it will pack many great features if you need to move money or pay in more than one country. We’ll cover this card in more detail below.
|Wise's multi-currency Mastercard can be up to 4x cheaper when spending abroad, compared to banks and PayPal|
If you’ve found a card or provider you’d like to use, it’s well worth contacting the customer service team to ask if they can help you. Here are a few of the options we found, to get you started.
When we reached out to Capital One to ask about applying for a card without an SSN, we found out that an ITIN should be accepted for applications if you don’t have any Social Security details. An ITIN is formatted in the same way as an SSN, which should mean you can simply enter it into the online application from. However, if you run into any difficulties, contact Capital One directly to discuss.
There are many different Capital One credit cards to choose from depending on your preferences, and other personal factors such as your income. Our pick is the Capital One Platinum Card⁴, which is available for customers who might not have a full credit history. There’s no annual fee to pay and you could get access to a higher amount of credit after you make 5 payments on time.
If you’re unable to get the Platinum Card, an alternative is to go for the Capital One Secured Mastercard⁵ first, to help you build your credit score. With a secured card, you’ll need to pay a refundable deposit before you can activate your card, to get access to a credit facility. However, this is a good way to build credit history if you use it wisely - and you can then move to a regular credit card later.
You won’t need an SSN or any local credit history in the US, to apply for this card. There’s no annual fee to pay, and the card can help you build a credit history and improve your credit score⁶. At the time of research*, the APR on offer is 16.99% - reasonable compared to other credit cards available. However, there are a few other fees to consider, such as late payment charges. Read all the details before you apply.
*6th February 2020
Citi has a broad range of credit card options. When we asked about applying without an SSN, the Citi customer service team advised us it should be possible to apply with an ITIN instead - however, you’ll need to talk to a team member in person to confirm how to go about applying.
If you need to build a credit history, the Citi Secured Mastercard⁷ might be the right card for you. You’ll need to pay a deposit to get your card working, which will be returned when you close the account or upgrade to a regular credit card with Citi. However, there’s no annual fee to pay, and the APR at the time of research sits at 23.99%*.⁸
*6th February 2020
If you’ve arrived in the US for study, you’ll need to get your finances in order - but you probably won’t have an SSN or any local credit history. Luckily there are still a couple of strong options available if you want a credit card to make day to day spending easier, such as the Deserve EDU Mastercard.
Learn more about the best credit cards for international students, with this handy guide.
You don’t need an SSN to apply for a Deserve EDU card online⁹, and you’ll get student friendly perks like cell phone protection, no annual fee and 1% cashback on purchases. There’s no foreign transaction fee when you spend overseas, and you can also get free access to Amazon Prime Student for a year.
There are a couple of limitations to this card. For example, you can’t get a cash advance, or transfer an existing balance onto the card, and you’ll be charged a late payment fee if you miss a bill.
Using a card can be convenient for spending in store and making ATM withdrawals. But a traditional credit card isn’t your only option. Here are another couple of ideas to think about.
If you love to travel, a Wise multi-currency card might be a good option for you.
This is a debit card option, rather than a credit card, which means you can’t accidentally overspend. And because there’s no service charge or late payment penalty to worry about, you significantly can cut the fees you need to pay.
There’s also no foreign transaction fee, which is always an important feature when spending or sending money internationally.
The card is linked to a smart multi-currency account which lets you hold dozens of different currencies, and switch between them when you want to use the mid-market exchange rate. Receive payments into the account fee free, in US, Australian and New Zealand dollars, euros and British pounds, and spend easily using your linked debit card wherever you see the Mastercard logo.
Another option if you can’t find the right credit card for your needs, is to get a prepaid card instead.
Prepaid debit cards allow you to top up your balance and then spend up to that amount. You can’t access a credit line, which makes budgeting simple, and can cut fees - although there are often still charges involved with getting, topping up and using a prepaid card. Read all the terms carefully before you choose one.
Get all you need to know about prepaid cards and how to use them, in this helpful guide.
Getting a credit card without an SSN can be a little more complicated, as you’ll need to find the right provider and card for your needs. However, it can be done - especially if you have an ITIN to use instead of an SSN. Do some research to see which cards could work for you, and don’t forget to look at alternative options too, such as the Wise multi-currency card to see if you can save.
- IRS - SSN/ITIN definition
- IRS - Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN)
- IRS - Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
- Capital One Platinum Credit Card
- Capital One - Build Credit with a Secured Credit Card
- CreditStacks - The First Card in Your Wallet
- Citi - Credit Cards – Apply for a Credit Card Online – Citi.com
- Citi - Credit Cards - Terms
- Deserve Cards - Build Credit and Get Rewards
All sources last checked 6 February 2020
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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