What Is a Credit Card Balance?

What Is a Credit Card Balance? All You Need to Know

Broadly speaking, the amount of money you owe to a credit card company from month to month is called a credit card balance. This is an important number to keep track of because if you don’t pay off your balance by the end of the billing cycle, you’ll owe interest.

However, when you go to pay, you might get tripped up on the difference between your statement balance and your current balance. Read on to learn more about what each type of credit card balance is, how you can check yours, and whether carrying a balance affects your credit score.

What Is a Credit Card Balance?

A credit card balance is the amount of money you owe to your credit card company, as well as interest and any fees.

When you look at your credit card bill, you may see two balances posted: your current balance and your statement balance. Your statement balance is the amount of money you owe from the previous billing cycle. Your current balance, on the other hand, is how much you owe at this moment in time. This amount could be higher or lower than your statement balance, depending on whether you’ve paid your credit card bill, charged more items to your credit card, or requested a credit card chargeback.

But when your billing cycle closes with a balance, what does that mean? It depends on your card issuer. Many card issuers have a grace period between when the credit card billing cycle closes and when payment is due. That means, if you pay your statement balance in full when payment is due, you will not accrue interest on any of the charges billed from the previous cycle.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

How Is a Credit Card Balance Calculated?

What does your credit card balance mean? It’s more than just whatever you’ve purchased during the previous month. A credit balance also consists of:

•   Any accrued interest

•   Late payment fees

•   Foreign transaction fees

•   Annual fees

•   Cash advances

•   Transfer fees

•   Any statement credits

•   Any payments made to the account

If you carry a balance, you’ll have to pay interest on the balance owed. The only exception is if you have a card with a 0% annual percentage rate, or APR, which is the interest rate charged when you carry a balance on your card. But generally, your card will have a grace period, during which interest will not accrue on the balance.

Differences Between My Credit Card Balance and Statement Balance

Your credit card balance meaning can vary depending on whether you’re discussing your statement balance or current balance. Your statement balance is how much you owe at the end of the billing cycle, whereas your current balance is a continuous tally of any credit card activity.

You will have a due date by which you’ll need to pay your statement balance. When your statement balance is paid, there may be activity on your balance as you continue to use your credit card throughout the month. The charges made after your statement balance is available will show up on your next statement balance. These charges, as well as any remaining amount from your statement balance, constitute your current balance.

Statement Balance

Current Balance

The amount of money you owe at the end of the billing cycle The amount of money you owe on the card right now
Remains the same until the end of the next billing cycle Updates every time you use your credit card
The amount you need to pay off to avoid interest charges The total amount currently owed on your credit card

Your Credit Card Balance and How It Affects Your Credit Score

Some people believe that carrying a balance may benefit their credit score, but that’s not true. Credit card companies do like to see credit card usage, but paying your balance in full is what can help your credit score.

One of the largest determinants of your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of money you’ve borrowed across credit cards compared to the amount of credit you have available. If you had a card with a credit card limit of $10,000 and you charged $3,000 on the card, for instance, your credit utilization ratio would be 30%.

In general, the lower your credit utilization ratio, the more helpful it is in building your score. It’s recommended to keep your credit utilization below 30%. By paying off as much of your credit card balance as you can in a statement period, you’ll lower the amount of money you owe, thus decreasing your credit utilization ratio.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

How to Check Your Credit Card Balance

There are many ways to check your credit card balance. You can do so online, over the phone, through an app, or simply keep an eye out for monthly statements, which may be mailed to you or securely delivered through email.

Online

An easy way to check your credit card account balance is to go online to your card issuer’s website, where you can set up your online account. You can then log onto this account to check your balance, pay any bills, and otherwise perform any account maintenance.

As with any sensitive information, make sure you keep your user information secure.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Over the Phone

Your credit card company likely has a number that you can call to learn your balance, often from an automated voice that reads it off to you. It can also be helpful to know the number to your credit card company in case you want to dispute a credit card charge you don’t recognize or have questions about fees or anything else that appears on your statement.

Through an App

Your credit card company may have an app in which you can check your credit card balance. The app also may offer additional features, such as a breakdown of spending and your most recent credit score.

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

Through Regular User Notifications

Depending on how you’ve set up your account, you may receive user notifications and statement balance updates through text message, email, or the mail, or a combination of all three.

Should You Carry a Credit Card Balance?

In general, carrying a credit card balance has the potential to hurt your finances and your credit score.

Sometimes, however, carrying a credit card balance can happen. Here are some ways to potentially minimize the negative effects of carrying a balance if you end up in a situation where you need to do so:

•   Look for a card with low APR. The lower the APR, the less interest you’ll pay on purchases. A good APR is one that’s below the current average, though what’s considered competitive can also vary depending on the type of the card and the individual’s credit score and history.

•   Pay more than the minimum balance due. Even if you can’t pay the full balance, paying as much as you can above the credit card minimum payment will help keep your credit utilization ratio low. It will also minimize the amount of interest you’ll pay over time.

•   Make a budget. Look through your expenses and find ways to pay down the card over a set amount of time. Some cards may offer the option to pay off certain purchases in installments, at a different interest rate than the overall card.

•   Treat your credit card as you would cash. If you don’t have the money right now, don’t spend on the card.

The Takeaway

A credit card can be a powerful tool — but carrying a balance can make it harder to achieve financial goals. Keeping track of your current balance and making a plan to pay off your statement balance in full each month can be helpful in allowing you to make the most of your credit card.

The SoFi credit card is designed to help you achieve your financial goals. You can redeem rewards to help pay down debt, save, or invest through SoFi. Plus, after 12 months of on-time payments, your APR will decrease by 1%. Apply for a credit card with SoFi today.

Learn more today about the SoFi credit card.

FAQ

What does a negative balance mean on a credit card?

A negative balance means the card company owes you money. This might occur due to a statement credit, a return, or you overpaying your bill. A negative balance won’t affect your credit score. When you make a charge on your credit card, the negative balance will be used to cover the payment.

Is it good to carry a balance on a credit card?

No. While it is good to use a credit card regularly and pay it off on time as a means of building your credit history, carrying a balance won’t help your credit score. In fact, if you rack up too much of a balance that it increases your credit utilization ratio, it could hurt your credit score.

What happens if you cancel a credit card with a balance?

If you cancel a credit card with a balance, you’ll still be responsible for payments, interest, and card fees. There may be downsides to canceling the card, too. That’s because part of your credit score rests on how long you’ve had open accounts.

Can I transfer my credit card balance to another card?

Yes. This is called a balance transfer. In a balance transfer, you’ll put your current balance on a new credit card. This can save you money on interest if you’re moving your balance to a lower-interest card. However, be aware that there are balance transfer fees involved. Also, a balance transfer may affect your credit utilization ratio.

Can I make partial monthly payments instead of settling the entire balance?

You can. Paying more than the minimum each month can minimize the effect of interest and lower your credit utilization ratio. To avoid interest entirely, however, you’ll want to pay off your statement balance in full each month.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/Roman Novitskii
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Is It a Good Idea or Not to Get a Credit Card?

Should I Get a Credit Card? When to Consider Applying for a Credit Card

To be or not to be: Hamlet’s existential question may well be applied to the question of should I get a credit card. While stories of snowballing debt can scare people away, credit cards can be valuable financial tools when used responsibly.

Before you apply, however, you should consider the reasons why to get a credit card and understand the ins and outs of using one. Read on for a rundown of when you should get a credit card, and when you might reconsider.

What Is a Credit Card?

A credit card is a payment mechanism that can substitute for cash or a check. The credit card itself — a thin piece of plastic or metal that may be presented in physical form or saved on your phone — is usually an unsecured line of credit.

Your credit card will have a credit limit, which represents the maximum amount of money you can borrow. The average credit limit is around $30,000, but limits vary depending on credit history and credit score.

Your card will also come with an interest rate, which is the amount of interest you’ll pay on any balance remaining at the end of each billing cycle. Interest rates can range from 0% and up; a good APR for a credit card will depend on your specifics, such as your credit card, but in general, the lower the better.

Credit cards also may have rewards programs, such as travel rewards, cash back, access to events or programs and more. There may also be benefits included with a card like purchase protection and insurance offerings.

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

When to Consider Getting a Credit Card

Should I apply for a credit card? The answer to this depends on a few factors. For one, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a credit card for the right reasons. Potentially valid reasons for why to get a credit card may include:

You want to build credit. A credit card can be a great way to build your credit history. By using a credit card and then paying off the balance on time and in full each month, you practice good credit habits and help improve your credit score. A strong credit score can potentially aid you in getting approved for car loans, mortgages, apartment rentals, and more.

You’re making a large purchase. Whether it’s a laptop for school or furniture for your apartment, putting a purchase on a credit card can provide purchase protection. This includes potentially being able to get your money back if the product isn’t as expected or services aren’t rendered. Additionally, some credit cards may offer promotional deals on APR, which could allow you to spread out your payments on your big purchase without paying interest.

You want more protection for your money. While fraudulent charges can still occur on a credit card, there are more protections in place to help protect your credit and identity with a credit card as opposed to cash or a debit card. Many major credit card companies even offer zero liability protection, which means you aren’t liable for any fraudulent charges made on your card in the event of theft or fraud.

You’re planning a trip. A credit card can be a good “just in case” tool to have in your wallet if you’re traveling. Some people like using a credit card for trip planning and expenses. Credit cards also may offer travel perks, such as checked baggage at no cost, or insurance protection, depending on the card.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Things to Know Before Getting Your First Credit Card

A credit card can make you feel like you have financial freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility. Here are some tips to keep in mind before you get your first credit card:

Pay your bills on time. Your payment history is a large part of your overall credit score. Setting up autopay as soon as you get your card can ensure that you never accidentally miss a payment.

Understand your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of money you owe on your cards compared to how much money is available for you to borrow. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better. Even if you can’t pay your balance in full, paying as much of the balance as you can is helpful in keeping your credit utilization ratio low.

Check your statement every month. Be aware of how much you’re spending on the card. Check your statements and flag any charge that seems unfamiliar. This could be a sign of fraudulent activity.

Create financial habits that stick. Some people like to use their card for automated payments each month on a standard bill, like a cell phone bill. Others like to use their card for specific purchases, like gas or groceries. There are many “right” ways to do credit cards, so it’s helpful to figure out what works for you before you start swiping.

Stay within your means. Some people are tempted to spend when they have a credit card. Make sure to stick within your means and only purchase what you would have been able to cover with cash. It isn’t easy to get credit card debt forgiveness if you take on more debt than you can handle, so you’ll want to avoid that road if possible.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

When Not To Consider Getting a Credit Card

You know yourself best, and you may have a sense opening a credit card may make it too tempting to go overboard. Here are some reasons to not open a credit card:

A partner or friend is pressuring you to do so. If a partner or friend needs access to money and suggests you open a credit card, this could lead to pressure to spend beyond what you can afford.

You’re still working on money management. If you’re still working on money management, sticking to debit cards or buy now, pay later arrangements may help you build up to being able to confidently use a credit card.

You want to buy something you can’t afford. It may be tempting to put a trip or a big purchase on a credit card, but this can potentially cause your finances to spiral out of control. Even if a credit card offers 0% interest, only putting what you can afford to pay off on a credit card is a good rule of thumb.

Pros and Cons of Opening a Credit Card

Weighing the pros and cons of a credit card can help you assess whether or not you should get one.

Pros of Getting a Credit Card

Cons of Getting a Credit Card

Protection against theft and fraud Temptation to spend beyond your means
Opportunity to build credit when used responsibly Interest will accrue if you don’t pay off your balance in full
Access to perks and rewards Potential to harm your credit score
Convenience Fees may apply

Avoiding Credit Card Traps

As evidenced in the history of credit cards, high interest rates and the ease of spending beyond your means with a credit card can land you in debt. However, you can have a credit card and avoid these traps with these tips in mind:

•   Only spend what you can afford. One way to avoid racking up debt on your credit card is to treat your credit card as you would cash. This means only spending as much as you already have in your pocket, with other budgetary concerns still in mind.

•   Always pay your balance in full. Whenever possible, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month. This can help you from incurring interest, which can easily tip you into a debt cycle and make it more difficult to pay off your credit card balance in subsequent months.

•   Set your bill payments to autopay. You can always set the autopay to the minimum, then manually log in and pay the balance in full. This will ensure you’re always on time with your payments — an important factor in determining your credit score.

•   Check your credit card statement each month. Make sure to look over your statements every month to check for any errors or unexpected charges. This can also help you to notice your spending habits and anywhere you can potentially cut back.

•   Don’t get stuck chasing rewards. Rewards can be a helpful part of how credit cards work, but as you’re learning to use credit, simpler is better. Consider sticking to just one card in the first few years of building credit, and be careful about spending just to snag rewards.

Alternatives to Using a Credit Card

There are alternatives to credit cards, which can still give you some of the benefits that a credit card might offer.

Use Buy Now, Pay Later Loans

Loans that offer fixed payment strategies to pay off a purchase are becoming more popular. Called installment loans, these loans offer funds that cover the amount of a purchase. Many do not charge interest, but late fees may apply for missed payments.

Like credit cards, it can be easy to overspend with a buy now, pay later loan. Additionally, your creditworthiness may get checked each time you use one of these loans to cover a purchase, which could negatively impact your credit score if it’s a hard inquiry.

Become an Authorized User

As an authorized user, your name is added to someone else’s credit card account, such as that of a parent. In some cases, you may get your own card and be able to make purchases. But in other cases, the person may add you to the card without giving you access. Either way, this can help build your credit history and credit score without the responsibility of having a credit card account under your own name.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Consider a Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card can be helpful for people who don’t have a credit history and may not be able to get approved for a traditional credit card. With a secured credit card, you may pay a deposit, such as $500. This then becomes your credit limit. Over time, and with good credit behavior, you may be able to switch your card to a traditional, unsecured card.

Apply for a Sofi Credit Card Online and Earn 2% Cash Back

Whether you should get a credit card depends on your reasons for doing so and if you’re confident you can maintain good financial habits to use your card responsibly. If your reason for why to get a credit card is to pay for something you otherwise couldn’t afford, then you may want to reconsider. On the other hand, getting a credit card to build your credit score is a savvy move.

If you’re ready to move forward, consider the SoFi credit card, which allows you to use your rewards to reach your financial goals.

FAQ

Should I get a credit card at age 18?

You can get a credit card at age 18, but you don’t have to do so. If your parents or a relative has a good credit history, consider asking to become an authorized user on their account, which can help build your credit. Keep in mind that if you do decide to apply for a credit card at 18, you must either provide proof of income or get a cosigner.

Are there risks of having a credit card?

Risks of having a credit card include spending beyond your means. This, coupled with high interest rates, could lead to debt that is hard to pay down. By learning to use a card responsibly, you can help mitigate these risks.

How do I choose the right credit card?

The right credit card for you depends on multiple factors, including how you plan to use the card, the interest rate offered, and the perks and rewards of the card. But it’s okay to keep things simple for your first credit card and not get too into the weeds comparing rewards and perks. As you build your credit, you can potentially explore additional cards.

How can I get a credit card with no credit history?

If you have no credit history, you can become an authorized user on a relative or trusted friend’s account. Another option is to apply for a secured credit card. With a secured credit card, you’ll put down a deposit that will become your credit limit. You can then use the card to build credit. Over time, you may be able to switch your credit card from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card as your credit grows.


SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/Georgii Boronin
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Can You Buy Gift Cards With a Credit Card? How to Do It

Can You Buy Gift Cards With a Credit Card? Everything You Need to Know

Whether you’re picking one up for that hard-to-shop-for family member or as a thank you gift for a friend, you may have wondered, ‘Can you buy gift cards with a credit card?’ In general, it is possible to buy a gift card with a credit card. There are some instances where you might not be able to though, namely at some specific stores that may limit or ban the purchase of gift cards with a credit card due to fraud concerns.

Read on to learn more about when you can buy a gift card with a credit card and how it works.

What Are Gift Cards?

A gift card looks and functions similarly to a credit card, but instead it is a prepaid debit card that someone can purchase and load with a certain amount of funds.

Some gift cards can be used at just a specific retailer, like an Amazon or Target gift card. Others can be used at a variety of retailers, such as a Visa gift card that’s designed to be spent almost anywhere.

You can buy gift cards in store or online. Gift cards are activated at purchase so they can be used right away without any further steps necessary. Just like there are credit card expiration dates, gift cards can expire if they’re not used within a certain timeframe.

Types of Gift Cards

There are two main types of gift cards that consumers will come across: Retail or store-specific gift cards and more generic gift cards. This is how these two types of gift cards work.

Retail or Store Specific Gift Cards

Retail or store-specific gift cards can only be used at select (if not just one) retailer. So, for instance, if you buy a gift card for a particular restaurant, the funds are only spendable at that restaurant, not anywhere else. This type of gift card is also known as a closed-loop gift card.

Generic Gift Cards

Generic, or open-loop, gift cards can be used at a variety of retailers as long as they accept credit card payments from that specific payment card network. This type of gift card is offered by most major credit card networks, such as American Express and MasterCard.

These cards are often reloadable, though there may be a fee to do so. Open-loop gift cards also often charge an activation fee when the card is purchased.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Can You Buy Gift Cards With a Credit Card?

Generally, it’s possible to buy a gift card with a credit card. Of course, whether you can do so will depend on whether the retailer allows credit card purchases and accepts payment from the consumer’s specific credit card network.

Some retailers may not allow you to buy a gift card with a credit card, or they may place limits on purchases. This is because of fraud concerns, as the purchase of gift cards with stolen or counterfeit credit cards is common. These limitations generally apply to store-specific gift cards.

Things to Watch Out for When Buying Gift Cards With a Credit Card

Plenty of people buy gift cards with a credit card, especially when buying gift cards online. Even though it’s possible to buy a gift card with a credit card, there are some things worth looking out for when making this kind of purchase.

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

Can You Get Rewards for Purchasing Gift Cards With a Credit Card?

While some credit card issuers make it possible to earn rewards like cash back and miles when purchasing a gift card, other issuers don’t reward these purchases at all. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express does not consider gift cards an eligible purchase for rewards. This may be something to keep in mind when applying for a credit card if you plan to purchase gift cards often.

To find out if you’ll earn rewards for buying a gift card with a credit card, check your credit card issuer’s terms for more details on how your credit card works.

Does Making a Gift Card Purchase Count as a Cash Advance?

Buying a gift card with a credit card can potentially cost consumers more than they realize. This is because some credit card issuers may view buying a gift card as taking a cash advance, particularly for open-loop cards.

Why is that a bad thing? Credit card issuers charge interest and fees on cash advances, which is when a credit card allows the cardholder to borrow a set amount of cash as an advance. Plus, interest starts accruing immediately on cash advances, with no grace period offered. Usually, interest only begins accruing if you make only the credit card minimum payment rather than paying off your balance in full.

Also note that the APR of a cash advance also can be higher than the purchase APR on a credit card (and it might not necessarily be a good APR for a credit card).

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

How to Avoid Cash Advances When Buying Gift Cards With Your Credit Card

Most people don’t realize that a gift card purchase with a credit card can count as a cash advance. Before buying a gift card with a credit card, it’s a good idea to double check what a credit card issuer’s policies are surrounding gift card purchases.

If the card issuer does count the purchase of gift cards as cash advances, then opt to buy a gift card with cash or another card whenever possible. And if you do end up needing to buy a gift card with that credit card in a bind, know that your credit card’s cash advance limit may be different than your usual credit card limit.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Consider the SoFi Credit Card

As for whether you can buy gift cards with a credit card, the answer is generally yes. There may be some specific stores that limit or ban the purchase of gift cards with a credit card due to fraud concerns. Additionally, note that some card issuers may count it as a cash advance if you buy a gift card with a credit card.

That’s why when it comes to choosing a credit card, it’s important to know what you want and what you plan to use your card for. If your priority is earning rewards, for instance, the SoFi credit card might be worth a look. SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1

Looking for a new credit card? Check out what the SoFi Credit Card has to offer.

FAQ

Do credit card providers issue rewards for gift card purchases?

It’s possible with some credit cards to earn rewards points when purchasing a gift card. However, some credit card issuers don’t consider gift card purchases eligible for earning rewards. Double check the cardholder agreement for a specific card to see if it’s possible to earn rewards when buying a gift card with that credit card.

How can you avoid gift card scams?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends only buying gift cards from trusted retailers to help protect against gift cards scams. Avoid purchasing gift cards from online auction sites that offer discounts, as the gift cards they sell may be stolen or fake. It’s also a good idea to check for protective stickers on a gift card before buying it and to confirm that the gift card’s pin number isn’t showing. If you do spot an issue, get a different gift card.

Can you put money on a gift card with a credit card?

Yes, it is possible to add money to a gift card by using a credit card. It’s up to consumers to choose how much they want to add to a gift card. Retailers can offer gift cards that come in pre-set amounts like $50 or $100, or they may allow customers to add a custom amount to their gift card.


1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/Tingting Ji
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Can You Get a Credit Card at 16?

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.


1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1

Photo credit: iStock/cyano66
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What Is a Credit Card Number? What Each Digit Means

All You Need to Know About Credit Card Numbers

A credit card number — that long string of digits on the front or back of every credit card — contains more information than you might think. Though credit card numbers may seem rambling and random, each digit actually has a specific purpose and place. The number you see on a credit card provides information about the individual account holder, the payment network, and the card issuer. It also uses a special formula to help prevent transaction errors and fraud.

Have you ever wondered, “What is my credit card number and what does it represent?” Read on as we break down the significance of each digit and guide you through what you need to know.

What Is a Credit Card Number?

A credit card number is a set of digits — usually 16 — that’s printed on the front or back of a credit card.

It’s important to note that your credit card number is not the same thing as your account number. Your credit card number includes your account number, but it has additional digits (an account number typically has 12), and it provides more information. When you make a credit purchase online or on the phone, you can expect to be asked for your full card number to authenticate the transaction.

Though the information provided by every credit card number is basically the same, the format may differ a bit from card to card: Sometimes the numbers are raised; sometimes they’re flat. And generally, although not always, the digits are divided into four sets of four (xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx).

The format for credit cards and debit cards is similar — which is why you might pull out the wrong card from time to time.

Who Decides What Your Credit Card Number Is?

Your credit account number is assigned by the financial institution that issues your credit card. But the structure and sequence of the digits in your credit card number must follow a rigid set of standards imposed by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and enforced by the American Network of Standards Institute (ANSI).

All card issuers follow these rules, so consumers can use their cards or card numbers no matter where they are in the world.

Credit Card Number Structure

Even if you know what a credit card is and how credit cards work, you may not be familiar with what the numbers on your card mean. Though most credit card numbers have 16 digits, the length may vary. Of the four major card networks, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover card numbers all have 16 digits, while American Express card numbers have only 15. Here’s what those digits actually mean.

The First Number: Industry Identifier

The first digit in a credit card number is known as the Major Industry Identifier (MII), and it can tell you both the industry associated with the card and the payment network.

Payment Network

Most credit cards start with a 3, 4, 5, or 6. These numbers represent the major payment networks, each of which has its own identifier:

•   American Express cards begin with a 3

•   Visa cards begin with a 4

•   Mastercard cards typically start with a 5, but may start with a 2

•   Discover cards start with a 6

Knowing your credit card’s payment network can be useful, because the network determines which merchants will accept the card. Your favorite local market or small boutique might accept credit card payments with a Mastercard, Visa, or Discover card, for example, but they may not let you pay with American Express.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Industry Association

There are many different types of credit cards. Some credit cards are meant for general use, while others may be geared to a more specific purpose. The MII can tell you which type of industry your card is most associated with. Here’s what some MIIs generally mean:

•   1: Airlines

•   2: Airlines and financial

•   3: Travel and entertainment

•   4: Banking and financial

•   5: Banking and financial

•   6: Merchandising and banking

•   7: Petroleum

•   8: Health care and communications

•   9: Government and other

The Next 5 Numbers: Identification Numbers

The next five digits complete the Bank Identification Number (BIN), or Issuer Identification Number (IIN). This can tell you who the card issuer is.

The credit card issuer is the financial institution that offers the card and manages your account. Some of the largest credit card issuers in the U.S. include American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Discover.

When you apply for a credit card, it’s the issuer who accepts or declines your application. When you make a purchase, you’re borrowing money from the credit card issuer, and when you pay your bill, you’re paying back that money. Any time you check your balance, request a higher credit limit or a lower interest rate, or obtain a replacement card, you’re doing it through your credit card issuer.

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

The Next 9-12 Numbers: Account Identifier

The remaining digits on the card — except for the very last one — identify the account and the cardholder.

Don’t worry, there isn’t a secret indicator in your card number that tells people how often you’re using your credit card or if you’re paying your bills on time. This part of your card number simply represents what account the card is connected to.

If your card is lost or stolen, or your card number is compromised in a credit card scam, you may notice that the number on your replacement card has changed, even if your account number hasn’t. So if you’re keeping a list of card numbers in a secure place, you may have to update that card number.

Fun fact: Each credit card issuer has approximately 1 trillion potential numerical configurations from which it can create account numbers.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

The Last Number: Checksum

The last digit of a credit card number is referred to as the “checksum” or “check digit.” Card issuers and payment networks use it to catch errors and help protect against unauthorized card use. (Let’s face it: Even if you follow all the “credit card rules,” things can happen.)

When a card is used for a purchase or payment, this digit is used as part of a mathematical formula called the Luhn algorithm to verify the card’s validity. If the checksum doesn’t work, the transaction is quickly rejected. (If you’ve ever mistyped your card number when shopping online, you’ve seen this algorithm in action.)

Most major networks use the final digit as the checksum. However, if you have a Visa credit card, it may be the 13th digit.

What About the Other Numbers on the Card?

Besides the card number, there are two other sets of digits that also can play a critical role when you use your credit card.

Card Verification Value (CVV)

The Card Verification Value (or CVV number on a credit card) or Card Verification Code (CVC) is also used to protect the card owner. If you do a lot of online shopping, you’re probably very familiar with this three- or four-digit number, which usually is found on the back of a credit card near or inside the signature strip.

On some cards, there may be seven digits in this spot. If this is the case, the first four digits you see are the last four digits of your credit card number. The last three digits in the grouping represent the CVV.

If you have an American Express card, the CVV is a four-digit number located on the front of the card, just above the logo.

The CVV is designed to help protect against identity theft. If you aren’t presenting your card in person during a transaction (because you’re using it online or over the phone), providing the CVV can help prove you’re in possession of the physical card.

Expiration Date

The expiration date offers yet another layer of protection for the card holder. Most businesses require that you provide the credit card number, the CVV, and the card’s expiration date when you make an online purchase.

The credit card expiration date typically appears on the front of the card with two digits for the month and two digits for the year (xx/xx). But if the account number is printed on the back of the card, you’ll likely find the expiration date there.

Even if you never need to use it to make a remote purchase or payment, it can be a good idea to glance at your card’s expiration date from time to time. That way, you can ensure you always have a current card in your wallet.

You’ll also know when it’s time to watch for the arrival of a replacement card. If a new card doesn’t arrive in the month the old card expires, you can call the issuer and immediately take steps to protect yourself if it appears the card has been lost or stolen. (The phone number for customer service is also on your card.)

The Takeaway

At first glance, the number on your credit card might look like a meaningless jumble. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find each digit has a purpose — to provide information, to keep your account secure, and to make the card more user-friendly.

When you’re considering getting a credit card, you also may want to look for additional protections and benefits. With a SoFi credit card, for example, you can receive Mastercard ID theft protection and cell phone protection, and there are no foreign transaction fees. And as a SoFi cardholder, you may be eligible to earn 2% cash back when you redeem it to save, invest, or pay down an eligible SoFi loan.1

Looking for rewards that can help get you to your goals? Look into a SoFi credit card.

FAQ

Where do I find my credit card number?

Your credit card number may appear on the front or back of your credit card.

Is the credit card number the same as the account number?

No, the two numbers are linked, but they are not the same. Your credit card number includes your account number, but it has more digits, and those extra digits are important to how each transaction is processed.

How long is a credit card number?

A credit card number typically has 16 digits, but the number can vary. American Express uses a 15-digit format for its credit cards.

Can a credit card number be stolen?

Yes. A credit card number can be stolen in multiple ways: through the theft of a physical card, during a data breach, with a card skimmer, or if the cardholder uses an unsecured website or public Wi-Fi when making a credit transaction.


1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/max-kegfire
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