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Getting a Credit Card at 16: What You Should Know First

By Jacqueline DeMarco · May 24, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Getting a Credit Card at 16: What You Should Know First

A credit card is a key tool for achieving financial independence, so it’s understandable why a teen might wonder, ‘can you get a credit card at 16?’ While you have to be at least 18 years old to get your own credit card, you can become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card as a 16 year old. This allows you to have a copy of a credit card with your name on it — though the adult will still be the account holder and be responsible for paying the bills.

Keep reading to learn more about how to get a credit card at 16, which will involve becoming an authorized user.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

Generally, you must be 18 years old to get a credit card on your own. Even after turning 18, you must prove that you have independent income or get a cosigner that is over the age of 21 in order to get a credit card, due to regulations that govern how credit cards work.

While getting a cosigner (usually a parent) can be doable, many teens may struggle to find a credit card issuer that is willing to accept a cosigner. More often than not, if a teen wants to gain access to a credit card, their best path forward is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.

What Is an Authorized User?

An authorized user is someone who is added to a credit card account by the primary account holder. Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card can make it possible for a 16-year old to have a credit card, as all major credit card issuers accept authorized users who are 16.

If an adult — such as a parent — wants to, they can add a teenager as an authorized user to their credit card. The account holder can then request that the authorized user receive a copy of the credit card with their name on it. This credit card will share the same number as the card of the main account holder.

The teen can then make purchases with the credit card anywhere that accepts credit card payments, but they won’t be legally responsible for paying the bills. Because of this, it’s important that everyone works together to communicate and is aware of what’s being spent and who will pay it off. If the parent is going to put a big purchase on their credit card — such as paying taxes with a credit card — an authorized user’s added spending can drive up the credit utilization ratio.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Becoming an Authorized User

Becoming an authorized user on a credit card can impact a teen’s credit score and build their credit history. That’s because when a teenager becomes an authorized user on a credit card, the credit card issuer will begin to report the account activity to the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).

When the primary account holder makes on time payments and keeps their balance low in comparison to their credit card limit, the teen’s score should benefit. On the other hand, if the account holder is late on their payments, the teen’s credit score could suffer.

This is another reason why it’s so important for both the account holder and authorized user to know how much they can afford to spend and how much they can manage to pay off each month. Ideally, you’ll be able to pay more than the credit card minimum payment to minimize the interest that accrues.

It’s also important to double check that the credit card issuer is reporting the behavior of the authorized user to the three main credit bureaus. Some credit card issuers, like American Express and Wells Fargo, accept authorized users who are under the age of 18 but don’t report their behavior to the credit bureaus until they come of legal age — which won’t help the teen build their credit history or improve their credit score.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Credit Card Options for 16-Year-Olds

If becoming an authorized user isn’t a good fit, 16 year olds have other options. Teens may find that a debit card or prepaid card can give them the convenience of using a credit card without actually having a credit card or borrowing any money.

Because debit cards are connected to bank accounts, a teen can use a debit card to make payments without physical cash on hand. However, they can’t spend more than they have in their bank account. They also won’t have to worry about any potential impacts to their credit score when using a debit card.

Meanwhile, prepaid cards can be purchased at grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies, and they can be loaded with a set amount of money. The user can then spend as much as the prepaid card is worth.

Neither a debit card nor a prepaid card will help teens build their credit score, nor do they offer the protections a credit card does, like requesting a credit card chargeback if there’s an incorrect charge. However, these options can get teens used to the concept of not overspending when shopping with a card instead of cash.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Are There Advantages to Getting a Credit Card at 16?

There are some unique advantages that come with getting a credit card at the age of 16 by becoming an authorized user. In addition to the teen gaining a firm grasp on what a credit card is, these are the main benefits worth keeping in mind.

Building Credit Score

As we briefly mentioned earlier, using a credit card responsibly can help teens build their credit history and credit score. Building credit when you’re young can make it easier to qualify for better credit products as well as rates and terms down the road.

Learning Good Financial Habits Early

Another headstart that teens can get by using a credit card at age 16 is learning good financial habits. Using a credit card can help teenagers learn how to budget, pay bills on time, and spend less than they earn. They can also begin to learn about annual percentage rate, or APR, and understand why it’s so important to find a good APR for a credit card.

Access to Emergency Funds

As teenagers gain more and more independence, their parents won’t always be with them when they’re out and about. If an emergency were to arise, like running out of gas, a credit card can give a teen the ability to spend more than just the cash they have on hand.

Rewards for Card Holders

The fun part about credit cards is that it’s possible to earn rewards when you use them. Because the teen will be an authorized user on a credit card, the account holder will be the one to redeem any credit card rewards. Still, this serves as a good opportunity to teach a teenager the benefits of using credit responsibly when it comes time for them to apply for a credit card of their own.

If they want, the primary account holder can even share some of their cash back or other perks with the authorized user.

Convenience for Both Parents and Children

Parents may find that their teen having a credit card saves them a lot of fuss. Do they need money for a yearbook or to buy prom tickets? No worries, they can use their credit card. With their own credit card (and the help of a responsible adult when it comes time to pay the bill), teens can use a credit card to manage their college applications, pay for SAT prep classes, or pick up school supplies.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Common Pitfalls for 16-Year-Olds With a Credit Card

Of course, credit cards aren’t all fun and games. Here are some pitfalls that 16 year olds should look out for when using a credit card.

Overspending

The biggest mistake any of us can make when it comes to credit cards is overspending and not being able to afford our bill. It’s important that parents or legal guardians have serious conversations with their teens about how credit works and what the stakes of overspending are. This can include credit card interest, fees, and a bruised credit score.

Proneness to Credit Card Fraud

Credit cards come with fraud risks that teens who are used to paying in cash may not know what to look out for, such as credit card skimmers. While credit cards can be more secure than debit cards, it’s important to teach teens about how to use credit cards safely so their card isn’t lost or stolen and they don’t fall prey to identity theft.

The Takeaway

It is possible to get a credit card at 16 by becoming an authorized user on an adult’s credit card account. To get your own credit card, you’ll need to wait until you’re at least 18, and even then, you’ll need to prove you have independent income or get a cosigner. When it is time to get a credit card of your own, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready to manage it responsibly and that you take the time to select a credit card that fits your needs.

Those looking for a new credit card may find the SoFi credit card can meet their financial needs. Cardholders must be 18 years old to qualify. The card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and it offers SoFi cardholders 2% unlimited cash back when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1

Learn more about the SoFi Credit Card today!

FAQ

What is the minimum age to get a credit card?

You must be 18 years old to get your one credit card. Even then, you must prove that you have a steady source of income. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a cosigner who is over the age of 21.

Can a 16 year old get a credit card with a cosigner?

No, you must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card — even if you have a cosigner. Those under the age of 18 can become an authorized user on an adult’s credit card account, but they can’t get a credit card of their own.

Can you use a credit card to build a good credit score?

When used responsibly, a credit card can help build a credit score. If a teen becomes an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, for instance, and that parent makes on-time payments and keeps their credit utilization low, they can improve their credit score as well as the teen’s.

What payment card can you get at 16?

Before the age of 18, teens can get a debit card or a prepaid card on their own. Neither type of payment card will help improve their credit score, but they are easier to obtain than a credit card. A teen can also become an authorized user and get a credit card of their own if approved by the main account holder, though this will not be their own credit card account.


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