SSN, the abbreviation for Social Security Number, was originally used for tracking personal tax situations. However, it has increasingly become the actual “identity card” of a person. An SSN is always asked when applying for a new credit card. Because of this, we often feel there can be no credit history without an SSN, which is a common misunderstanding. In fact, our credit history is related to our name, birthday and address, and that’s why people who don’t have an SSN may also have a credit history.
If you are able to obtain an SSN shortly after moving to the United States, it’s better to wait and apply for a good credit card (such as Discover it) after you get the SSN. If you are an undergraduate or master student who cannot obtain your SSN in the near future, you can apply for any of the credit cards listed below.
1. Words before this Article
I need to emphasize that you can’t make up an SSN to apply for credit cards. Forging or stealing an SSN is a federal felony and you will go to jail for this!
It is necessary to emphasize that no SSN does not mean no credit history. Just because a credit card doesn’t require an SSN doesn’t mean there is no requirement for credit history. Please refer to the article Credit Cards for No Credit History if you truly have no credit history.
You will receive a hard pull (HP) on your credit report(s) even if your credit card application is declined, and even if you don’t have an SSN. Because of this, you shouldn’t just randomly apply for credit.
2. Application Materials for a Credit Card
Your foreign passport is usually required if you have no SSN, and also your I-20 form if you apply for a student card. Depositing a lot of money in a bank may increase the chance that the bank approve a credit card for you. Generally speaking, $10,000 is a good amount. Therefore, before paying your tuition fee, you should apply for your credit card through a banker while the cash is in your account.
3. Major banks
Deserve Edu is specially designed for international students. You can apply for it even without an SSN or any credit history! For those students who can not obtain SSN in a short time, this card is a great choice as your first credit card.
Bank of America (BoA)
Credit cards can be approved without an SSN with Bank of America, but you must go to a local branch to apply. Your credit card options will be the:
Both cards can be applied with zero credit history. Theoretically speaking, the BoA Cash Rewards is the most elementary card and is the easiest to get approved. You can deposit $10,000 and then apply for a credit card through a banker.
American Express (AmEx)
First, don’t apply for an AmEx credit card if you have no credit history. You will not get approved.
Second, all AmEx credit cards can be applied for without an SSN. What you need to do is to fill in 000-00-0001 as your SSN. AmEx will send you an email with a phone number, call it and tell them you don’t have an SSN and then provide your passport number.
Recently, AmEx may have started blocking the most commonly used non-existing SSN 000-00-0001 for some application links. If you find you can not proceed with the application online, you can try to apply over the phone by calling +1 (800) 223-2670.
Most AmEx credit cards can be applied for with a credit history of just a few month. Please look through the post How to Get the Best AmEx Sign-up Bonuses before applying for your first AmEx credit card. You an only get an AmEx signup bonus once per card, so make sure you signup under the all-time best offer for the card you apply for. Click AmEx Credit Cards to see the list of AmEx credit cards worth applying for.
Citibank has traditionally been kind to international students. Many students who arrived in the USA a few years ago got a Citi Forward (now discontinued). Another beginner’s card, the Citi ThankYou Preferred For College Students will prohibit you from signing up for other Citi Thank-You point earning credit cards, so we don’t recommend it.
There are cases where people with no SSN get approved for a Barclaycard product. But Barclaycard credit cards are usually hard to get approved for, even for people who have an SSN. For new students, credit cards from BoA or Citi are easier to get approved for.
You used to be able to apply for a Chase credit card without an SSN in the past, but that is no longer possible.
You used to be able to apply for a Discover credit card without an SSN in the past, but that is no longer possible.
There are many additional smaller banks in the US that may approve your application for certain credit cards without an SSN. At the same time, credit cards with high returns normally come from the major banks. Therefore, it is better for you to apply for the credit cards recommended above instead of cards from smaller banks. Even if you apply for a secured credit card, you should also choose a big bank.
4. Which Card Should I Apply for Without a SSN AND Without Credit History?
It is tricky to start/create a credit history if you do not SSN. Here are the major options for a first credit card for those who do not have an SSN and do not have any credit history:
- Go to a BoA branch and apply for either the BoA Cash Rewards or BoA Travel Rewards. You need to have sufficient amount of money deposited with BoA. Generally we think >$10,000 is OK. Data points are conflicting, as some people have success but others do not.
- Find a friend and ask him/her to add you as an authorized user, and after you build credit history with it, you can apply for other credit cards that can be acquired without an SSN (mainly AmEx). Note that not all banks let you add an authorized user without providing his/her SSN. The drawback is that you need someone you can really trust to be added as an authorized user.
- Deserve Edu. The Deserve Edu card is the only credit card specially designed for internationals students, and has an easy online application process.
- Go to a Citi branch and apply for the Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students. We DO NOT recommend you apply for this card, because it will affect your ability go get sign-up bonuses of other Citi ThankYou Point (TYP) cards!
- Secured credit cards from major banks. These secured credit cards require a security deposit, and they usually have an annual fee. Because of this, a secured credit card should be your last choice. If you can get one of the cards listed above, you shouldn’t apply for a secured credit card.
You can compare these options yourself and find the best option for you to start your journey using credit cards!
5. An Alternative: ITIN
With the ITIN, you can apply for credit cards with most banks. You will need to fill in your ITIN as your SSN. You can get information about how to apply for a ITIN with the Department of International Students. It is a relatively complicated process, and I personally have no experience for you to consult. Generally speaking, ITIN is a suitable choice for people who have the visas of B1, B2 or F2 and do not allow working. It is not difficult for F1 students to obtain the SSN. You should find an official part-time job inside your university, even if only one hour, and then apply for your SSN with the offer letter.
Although you can apply for credit cards without an SSN, approval is still more difficult than when applying for a card with an SSN. Applying without an SSN will likely require you to make more phone calls or go to the bank several more times prior to approval, particularly if you deal with a difficult banker. You should pay attention to job opportunities inside your university and obtain your SSN as soon as you can. Then you can get in touch with banks that issue credit cards and have them attach your SSN to your card. We wish newcomers to America all the best in your studies and work, and that you can obtain the great rewards credit cards offer!