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Credit and debt

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Building credit without a social security number

Sarah Butler, Extension Educator — Financial Empowerment

June 2016

English | español

Building credit without a Social Security number can be quite difficult, but it isn't impossible. Credit card issuers can't legally require you to provide a Social Security number if you don't have one, according to the Social Security Administration.

However, many credit card issuers do ask for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), which is a nine-digit identifier that acts similarly to a Social Security number. For information on how to apply for an ITIN, visit General ITIN Information on the IRS website.

The tricky thing is that not all credit card companies allow the use of an ITIN to apply for a credit card. This means you will need to do some research to learn which companies allow you to use your ITIN.

But wait — even if you find credit card issuers that accept ITIN numbers, many will deny your application if you don't have a credit history. So, go ahead and apply for a regular credit card with your ITIN even if you lack a credit history. But if you are denied, you should next apply for a secured credit card to establish that history.

Qualifying for a secured credit card is easier than for a regular card because you are required to put down a deposit as collateral. This reduces risk for the card issuing company because it can collect money from your initial deposit if you don't pay your balance on time in the future. The credit limit on secured cards usually equals the amount of your deposit.

In order to keep your secured card (and credit!) in good standing, always pay your balance off on time and in full. Once you have established a good payment record on your secured credit card, you may qualify to apply for a regular, unsecured credit card.


Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (2016). General ITIN Information.

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Managing Payday Loans and Other Tips for Avoiding the Debt Trap — Gain control over your “fringe” creditors to start taking steps to save money and create wealth for your family’s future. English | español

Setting spending priorities — You'll need to develop a spending plan to help you pay your bills if your income is reduced. Part of the Getting through tough times series. English | español

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