Guide to Building Credit at 18: Starting Early Is Key

By Jennifer Calonia · January 31, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Guide to Building Credit at 18: Starting Early Is Key

Establishing a robust credit profile takes time, so teaching your children how to start building credit at 18 or younger can help them get ahead. Building a positive credit history is essential to accessing competitive borrowing opportunities in the future.

If you have a teen or early-adult child, there are a few ways to help them establish credit at age 18. This can include getting a secured credit card, becoming an authorized user, or another one of the strategies we’ll cover below.

What Is Credit and How Does It Work?

When your child purchases an item on credit, they aren’t using money they already have. Instead, they’re borrowing the funds to make that purchase and promising to repay the amount, plus interest, in the future.

A credit history is a complete record of a consumer’s installment loans and revolving credit accounts. It logs data about the type of credit that’s borrowed, their amounts, the lender that issued the credit, whether payments were made on time, and each account’s status.

Creditors report this data to the Big Three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Activity is submitted at regular intervals as soon as a consumer submits an application, and as long as the account is active. Data is also reported when an account is closed.

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Why Is It Important to Start Building Credit Early?

The earlier your child builds their credit, the more time they have to mature their credit history and establish their scores. Credit scoring models, like the commonly used FICO score, will use your child’s credit history to calculate their credit score.

This score is like a snapshot of your child’s creditworthiness. Businesses and lenders may refer to that score when evaluating your child for future jobs, apartment rental applications, and new loans and credit cards.

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Tips to Start Building Credit at 18 Years of Age

As a parent of a teenager or early-adult child, there are a handful of ways to assist them in building credit under their name.

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1. Add Your Teen as an Authorized Card User

One of the easiest and best ways to start building credit at 18 for your child — and sometimes younger, depending on your card issuer — is by adding them as an authorized user. As an authorized user, your child will be able to make purchases using the card, with the primary account holder remaining liable for monthly payments.

If you have a credit card in good standing, making your child an authorized user on your account lets them reap the benefits of your positive borrowing habits. See if your card issuer allows authorized users, and ask if it reports the account’s data to the credit bureaus for all users under the account.

Your credit card company might have a minimum age requirement for card users (and it often differs from the age to get a credit card independently). If your child meets the issuer’s requirement, your continued good borrowing activity on the card will get reported to credit bureaus to develop their credit file.

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2. Work a Student Loan Into Their Education Financing Strategy

Talk to your college-bound high school graduate about strategically using a student loan to pay for some of their higher education costs. Student loans are installment loans in which your child is the primary borrower. They’re designed to cover school-related expenses and are paid back over time.

Some students might be eligible for a federal student loan, which offers fixed interest rates and borrower protections, like student loan forgiveness as well as flexible repayment and forbearance options. Although payments can be deferred on federal student loans while your child is in school, making payments during school can help them establish credit early on through student loan payment data.

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3. Help Them Research for a Starter Credit Card

Getting a credit card for the first time can be an overwhelming process for your 18 year old. There are many types of credit cards on the market with varying benefits. A credit card for individuals who are new to credit, like a secured card, might be an effective way for your child to initiate their credit history.

With a secured card, your child will need to provide the card issuer with a deposit that sets the card’s borrowing limit. Since the issuer uses the deposit as collateral for the account, it can be easier for individuals without credit to qualify. As your child uses the card and makes on-time monthly payments on the account, that data is reported to the credit bureaus.

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4. Find Ways To Report Their Payment History

If your child is moving into their own apartment or has done so already, look into whether their landlord is willing to report their rental payment history to the credit bureaus. Additionally, other types of non-traditional payment data can be reported to the credit bureaus by utility service providers.

Your child also might look into a service like Experian Boost, which is offered by the credit bureau Experian. This service helps individuals who are new to credit start their credit history by accounting for payments toward services, like cell phone and streaming plans.

The Takeaway

Helping your child understand how to build credit at 18 can help them access favorable borrowing opportunities later on. That is, assuming they maintain positive borrowing habits once they have credit accounts of their own, like making payments on time and not taking on too much debt.


Can you build your credit before 18?

Yes, parents can help their child’s credit during their high school years by adding them on their credit card account as an authorized user. Depending on the credit card, there might not be an additional fee for adding an authorized user, though some card issuers do charge an annual fee per card user.

What credit score do you start with at 18?

If at 18 years old, a consumer hasn’t had a credit account, they simply won’t have a credit score at all since a credit score of “zero” does not exist. The lowest FICO score possible is actually 300, but a person’s starting score is typically higher than this, unless they’ve already demonstrated poor borrowing behavior early in their credit-building history.

When should I get my first credit card?

There’s no one “right age to get a credit card”; however, card issuers set a minimum age requirement for their card users. Parents can help their child access their first credit card as an authorized user, sometimes before the age of 18 years old. As an authorized user, your child can make purchases on your card, and start building their credit without being liable for monthly payments.

What is the fastest way to build credit at 18?

The fastest way for parents to help their 18-year-old child build credit is by adding them to the parent’s existing credit card account. As parents make on-time monthly payments for at least the minimum amount due, some card issuers report this positive payment data to the credit bureaus for all users listed on the account.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

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 .

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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