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. When applying for a credit card, we are always required to provide our SSN which is used to check our credit history. Thus, we feel like 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. So it is natural for us new students who don’t have an SSN to apply for credit cards.
If you are able to obtain your SSN in a short time, it’s better to start applying 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 get on your way to apply for a credit card under the guideline of this article.
1. Words before this Article
I need to emphasize that, you can’t make up an SSN to apply for credit cards, stealing an SSN is federal felony and you will go to jail for this, not joking!
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 your credit history is empty.
There will be “Hard Pulls (HP)” on your credit reports if you are rejected for applications for a credit card, even if you don’t have an SSN, so don’t just apply randomly.
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, you should, before paying your tuition fee, 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 credit history! For those students who can not obtain SSN in a short time, this card is a great choice as the 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. There are various kinds of cards as follows:
Both cards can be applied with zero credit history. Theoretically speaking, BoA Cash Rewards is the most elementary card and is the easiest to get approved. You can deposit 10,000 dollars and apply for a credit card through a banker.
American Express (AmEx)
First, please don’t apply for an AmEx credit card if you have no credit history.
Secondly, all the credit cards can be applied for without SSN. What you need to do is to fill in 000-00-0001 as your SSN, then AmEx will send you an email with a phone number, then call it and tell them you don’t have an SSN and then provide your passport number.
Recently, AmEx seems to block the most commonly used non-existing SSN 000-00-0001 for some application links. If you find you can not proceed the application online, you can try to apply over the phone alternatively. The phone number is: +1 (800) 223-2670.
Most credit cards can be applied for with a credit history of just a few month. Please look through this post How to Get the Best AmEx Sign-up Bonuses below before applying for your first AmEx credit card. 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 came a few years ago got their legacy Citi Forward. However, as the times are changing, the Citi Forward is no longer available. Another beginner’s card, the Citi ThankYou Preferred For College Students will have negative effects on other Citi cards, so we don’t recommend it.
There are cases where people who have no SSN get their credit cards. But Barclaycard credit cards are usually hard to get approved, even for people who have an SSN. For new students, credit cards from BoA or Citi are easier to get approved.
You were able to apply for a credit card without SSN in Chase in the past, but now it is not possible.
You were able to apply for a credit card without SSN in Discover in the past, but now it is not possible.
There are many banks in the US, more than one of which may approve your application for some certain credit card without SSN. At the same time, it is necessary for you to know credit cards with high returns normally come from the major banks. Thus, it is better for you to apply for those credit cards recommended above, other than cards in other small banks. Even if you apply for a secured credit card, you should also choose a big bank.
4. Which Card Should I Apply Without SSN AND Without Credit History?
It is difficult/tricky to start to create a credit history if you do not SSN. Here are the major options of the first credit card for those who do not have SSN and do not have any credit history:
- Go to a BoA branch and apply for BoA Cash Rewards or BoA Travel Rewards. You need to have sufficient amount of money depositing in BoA, we usually think >$10,000 is OK. Data points are conflicting, 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 continue to apply for other credit cards you can get without 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 to own a debt of gratitude.
- 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 Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students. We DO NOT recommend you apply for this card, because it will affect the sign-up bonuses of other Citi ThankYou Points (TYP) cards!
- Secured credit cards from major banks. These secured credit cards require security deposit, and they usually have annual fee. So basically secured credit card is the last choice, if you can get one of those in the above choices, you shouldn’t apply for a secured credit card.
You can compare these options by yourself and find the best suit for you! Let’s start the journey of credit cards!
5. An Alternative: ITIN
With the ITIN, you can apply for credit cards in the majority of banks and what you need to do is to fill in your ITIN as your SSN. You can get information about how to apply for an ITIN in the Department of International Students. As it’s relatively complicated, 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 which do not allow working to apply for credit cards. It is not difficult for F1 students to obtain the SSN. You should find an official part-time job inside your university, even only one hour, and then apply for your SSN with the offer letter.
Although you can apply for a credit card without SSN, it is still more difficult than applying for one card with an SSN. For example, you are likely to make more calls or go to the bank several more times, especially when you come across irresponsible bankers. You should pay more attention to job opportunities inside your university and obtain your SSN as soon as you can. Then you can get in touch with banks which issue credit cards and require them to attach your SSN to your card. Wish newcomers to America all the best in your studies and work. Wish you obtain credit cards happily!