Building (and viewing) teenage credit

FM author Nick and I are approaching near-opposite ends of the greatest journey on earth: parenthood.  Nick announced last weekend that his first child is expected to arrive in January.  I’m looking forward to his posts on how to earn miles while changing diapers.  Meanwhile, my son has just started college and I’m busy earning rewards while paying tuition (see: Double-dipping college rewards).

My son will turn 18 in November.  Once he does, he can start signing up for credit cards.  He’s been responsibly using his own debit card for a few years now (via a Chase high school checking account) and I think he’s ready for the next step.  He understands how important it is to pay his bill in full in order to avoid fees, and he’s interested in earning rewards.

In order to build his credit, over the last few years I’ve added my son to a number of my credit card accounts as an authorized user.  I haven’t actually given him the cards to use, I’ve simply ordered the cards and kept them filed away.  With some Amex cards, I’ve used them myself when I found good Amex Offers available to them.  And, occasionally when he has wanted to buy something online I’ve let him use one of these cards.

How to view under 18 credit info

Many of the tools available for viewing credit scores and reports for free are not available to those under 18.  I stepped through some of the options listed in my post “Complete Guide to FREE Credit Scores, Reports, and Monitoring… for credit card bonus hunting,” and the first few I tried did not work.  Neither AnnualCreditReport.com, Discover Credit Journey, nor CreditKarma allow under 18 year olds to sign up.

Fortunately, one option worked like a charm: Experian CreditWorks Basic via freecreditscore.com.

UPDATE: The freecreditscore.com site currently only works for kids with birthdays in the year 2000 or earlier.  In other words, at the time I write this, it will work for 17 year olds and some near-17 year olds, but not younger kids.

First note that Experian is not the company that failed to protect our data. That was Equifax (see: Is the Equifax cure worse than the hack? Here’s what I plan to do…).  Hopefully Experian will be more responsible.

Experian CreditWorks Basic is available for free via the website: freecreditscore.com. If you go to that site and aren’t offered a truly free option, try browsing to it via your browser’s private or incognito mode.

The downside to CreditWorks Basic is that they take every opportunity possible to up-sell you to CreditWorks Premium ($4.99 for the first month, then $24.99 per month thereafter).  If you can navigate their interface without accidentally upgrading, the basic version is quite useful on its own.

Current Status

After signing up for Experian CreditWorks Basic, we found that my son already has a nice credit score:

And he has a handful of open accounts (as an authorized user on my and my wife’s accounts):

And he has three closed accounts (due to our closing the primary accounts):

Where is Amex and Barclaycard?

The bizarre thing about my son’s Experian credit report is that his American Express cards and Barclays card are not listed.  Where did they go? We have added him as an authorized user to one Amex business card, 4 Amex personal cards, and at least one Barclaycard personal card.  It makes sense that the Amex business card didn’t get reported as an account.  Even primary Amex business card accounts aren’t reported, but the others are strange.

I believe that the Barclaycard account was added before Barclays started requiring social security numbers.  Usually the credit bureaus are able to match up names and addresses even without SSNs, but that didn’t seem to happen here.

The missing personal Amex cards are more of a mystery.  I’m sure that my son’s SSN was used to obtain them.  I simply don’t know why they’re not there.  Maybe the Amex cards are listed on his Equifax or TransUnion reports?  I don’t know.  But I do know that Amex always pulls from Experian when I open new accounts so it would be especially strange if they didn’t report new AU accounts to Experian.

Building credit before 18 with authorized user cards

Adding a child as an authorized user can help establish and build their credit score, but only if you are responsible with the primary account.  Also, it helps to have old credit, so it makes sense to add your child as an AU when they are young.  And, don’t close the primary accounts.  If you don’t want to pay the annual fee on an old account, you can product change to a no-fee card and stick the card in a drawer (note that you may have to put some spend on the no-fee card every 6 months or so in order to keep the account alive).

Different card issuers have different rules about how old an authorized user must be.  Doctor of Credit lists the minimum age required for each major card issuer. I’ve also updated this list with information from readers:

  • American Express: 15+ years of age 13+ (source: Qfcc via comments)
  • Bank of America: 18+ years of age?; or maybe no restriction (source: BizzyB via comments)
  • Barclaycard: No age minimum
  • Capital One: Not aware of minimum (somebody that was 15 got added)
  • Chase: No age minimum (doesn’t require SSN)
  • Citibank: No age minimum (doesn’t require SSN)
  • Discover: No age minimum 15+ (source: Justin and Peter via comments)
  • US Bank: No age minimum

As you can see, most do not have an age minimum, so Nick can add his son as soon as he gets a social security number.  Come to think of it, since a few banks do not require SSNs, he may be able to add his son as soon as he and his wife decide upon a name.

Also, note that the Bank of America 18+ requirement must be new since my son had been added to several Bank of America cards in the past.

With most banks, there’s no point in adding your kid as an authorized user (or employee) to your business cards.  This is because most business cards aren’t reported as accounts to the personal credit bureaus.

Authorized user backdating

For older kids, you could identify your oldest credit card accounts and add them as authorized users to those accounts.  Usually banks report the account open date as the date that you requested the authorized user card, but a few report your original account opening date.

The following card issuers are known to back-date authorized user accounts:

The following issuers do not back date authorized user accounts:

I’ll update the above lists as I get more information.  Readers: if you have proof of backdating (or proof against it) for these issuers or others, please let me know!

Next up: Credit card planning

In future posts I’ll discuss my thought process regarding which cards my son should sign up for, how he should prepare for Chase 5/24 rules, how he can meet minimum spend requirements, etc.  Stay tuned!

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. […] Building (and viewing) teenage credit. Well, my son is now 19 and I have gotten him some cards. But he shows no interest in travel hacking at all but keeps asking for a free ticket to South Korea! I have offered to show him how to use his AA miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points….still waiting. Most people are not cut out for this hobby. Well, with this attitude you know I am not suited to selling credit cards here like the plastic pumping boys and girls… […]

Comments

  1. I only applied for AMEX authorized user cards for my son, so that I could get a few extra AMEX offers. I noticed the benefit to his credit score when it showed up in creditkarma at age 18 years and 2 months. I had no idea authorized users for Chase cards would show up, because Chase doesn’t ask for SS#’s. Looks like I am going to get an AU Discover and AU BBR for my 15 year old daughter. I’ll probably skip them for my son due to 5/24 though.

  2. Greg,

    Experian CreditWorks doesn’t have a mobile app, does it? The free Experian app available to everyone doesn’t show the FICO score, just the report.

  3. One warning (FWIW): having a healthy credit score through AU accounts does not seem to translate in successful credit cards applications. I’ve been helping my brother-in-law building a credit score, and after a couple years, 3 cards as AU, and a score in the 775 range he was instant-denied for the Freedom Unlimited and Citi Double Cash. Possibly because no activity was ever recorded on the cards…
    If anyone has suggestions, happy to hear them!

    • True. This is something I plan to discuss in the next post. From input I’ve received so far, Amex and Discover seem most willing (of the major rewards card issuers) to offer credit cards to 18 year olds. The nice thing about Discover is that if the applicant is not approved for the Student Discover It card, they are offered a no-fee secured card instead. That card has the same bonus earnings but you have to deposit a set amount of money with Discover. That becomes the credit limit for the card. My niece did this and was later moved up to the regular Discover card.

  4. Thanks for this info! I have twins about to turn 13 and I have already told them we will be going to Chase to get them a debit card (although I really hate using debit cards). Interested to read your next post on this since I also didn’t think that AU really helps with building credit, but if it does I will definitely add them onto a couple of our older cards – maybe the Slate (I believe) turned Freedom I’ve had since 1992, which interestingly is a true joint credit card account with my husband – it shows in both of our Chase accounts and we can easily transfer UR points back and forth across it :).

    • When I was building credit, I had a family member add me as an AU to an old Capital One account just to build an older Average Age of Account. That account still brings up the AAoA component of my credit score to this day. The credit limit also counts towards my total credit limits for the utilization part of the score. As those two things are a major piece of the score, I certainly think it would help from a standpoint of maximizing score. As noted above, a high score alone won’t necessarily mean approvals with all banks — but I think it’ll help get the foot in the door with the ones who will approve an 18 year old. As Greg suggested, I certainly plan to add my son as an AU from the get-go. I have no idea whether or not that will matter in 2036 when he starts applying for credit cards — but I don’t think there will be any harm is trying to give him a leg up.

  5. Greg – one thing that does bother me about the Chase High School checking account is that there does not seem to be a way to Opt out of Chase Debit Coverage – meaning they will process transactions and charge the kids a $34 insufficient fund fee. The language in the High School Checking Account terms is clearly different from the language in the College Checking Account terms – where college students have a choice to get transactions declined at the point of sale. Is Chase wanting parents to set up their checking/savings account as overdraft protection for the kids – I’m not doing that! Maybe it is a good lesson for money management – because $34 is going to be very painful to a teenager if they don’t pay attention to their spending.

      • 93.2% – LOL. I will definitely ask about opting out because I would much rather the charges just get declined at the point of sale. I just had pulled the terms up for both account types side by side and noticed they were different on overdrafts. Honestly though, I figure paying for one overdraft charge will cure the kids of ever doing it again.

  6. Thanks for this post. I will say that it is definitely true that having a high score based on authorized user accounts is not enough for successful applications. My 18 year old was able to get a Discover Student card a year ago, but she was declined for the Chase Freedom a couple of months ago due to insufficient history. This is despite a good score and despite regularly paying off her Discover balance each month.

  7. Awesome idea/way of giving something so important to our kids – good credit ! Thanks, Greg.

    Question – If a bank (like Citi) does not require SSN for an AU, how does the AU’s credit history be improved? I was under the impression one’s (like an AU) credit history is tied to his SSN.

    • Credit bureaus sometimes just figure it out based on name and address. Essentially, since your name is Brian Jones and you have a son named Cliff Jones and the credit bureau already knows Cliff Jones’s SSN (because they get information from Lexis Nexus and other public records databases or perhaps you have also added Cliff as an AU on an Amex card where you had to supply his SSN), they will assume that anyone you add to your account named Cliff Jones is probably the same Cliff Jones who lives at your home address (your son) and they add the account to his profile. It doesn’t always happen that way — but as you see, Greg’s son has the Citi account on his profile and I’m guessing this is how it happened.

      Of course, assumptions like that can be good and bad — I’ve heard stories of people having accounts on their credit reports that were not theirs (another reminder to keep an eye on your reports).

  8. When I tried to add an authorized user to my AMEX Everyday card, it says
    “Additional Card Members must be at least 13 years of age and never had a defaulted account with American Express.” So, I guess minimum age for AMEX is 13.

  9. Was recently approved for boa Amtrak with 4 yo AU. Assuming cards come on, I think it’s safe to say boa still allows. However, Amex was a hard no that had JS to prevent young ones on the front end. To bad Amex no longer backdates…

  10. When my daughter had a summer job before college we took her to our local Chase and opened a standard new checking account and she happiily received the signup bonus after her first paycheck hit. At sign up we asked if she was pre-approved for any credit cards. She was not. But the banker advised us to check back and after she had the checking account for about a month we checked with the bank and she was pre-approved for a freedom. She got that card and we charged $500 on it for her so she could get another signup cash bonus. She was hooked. Free money! She left for college and used the Freedom for things we intended to pay for anyhow (books mainly) at college and we paid the bill which arrived in paper form to our address. This also allowed us to make sure she was being responsible with the card because of course she allowed us to open the bill in order to pay it. After about six months she applied for a Southwest card and got 60,000 miles. She started telling her friends and got a couple of referral bonuses on Southwest cards. A year later, after a trip on United, she got a United explorer card offer for 70,000 miles and received that. Those cards have gone into a drawer at home after the minimum spend was achieved. I’m amazed at how much credit is extended to kids with a few thousand stated income in summer jobs. In fact in her Junior year she was pre-approved for a CSP with a credit line of $20,000!!! (cough, we reduced that credit line while she was applying) It’s been great to have another mileage stash in addition to my own and we’ve used them to get her back and forth to college several times. At this point she has a lovely credit score after 3 years of managing her credit responsibly. I’ve also timed her applications so that she will be under 5/24 when she graduates and can start from scratch if she wants to take up this obsession.
    look forward to more posts to see what you and others have done with these situations.

      • Note: we did not go with a “high school” or “college” account, just a regular account that has the $300 bonus post after a single direct deposit. I am CPC so we opened a joint account which meant she gains CPC status and has no minimum deposit requirement to keep the account fee free. But even if that was not the case, and a person had to pay the monthly fee it would take 2-3 years before the fees negated that $300 bonus. Surely it could be downgraded to a different type of account or closed before then.

  11. My son started college last month and just turned 18. My wife and I added him as AU to several
    Amex and Chase cards. Win-win, we got small AU add bonuses for each and when he turned 18 and signed up for credit Karma his score was already 768 with almost a 2 year history. Looking forward to advice on which cards of his own to start. He is well aware of points and miles since ALL of his international vacations have been in J. Bali on CX, Japan on JL, Europe on VS!

  12. I successfully activated AMEX personal cards for my 14 year olds this morning, but no luck with the AMEX business cards (SPG) – ‘must be 18 years or older’

  13. Thanks to Greg and everyone for the info. Per your suggestion, after failing with Citi and Chase (see comment above), we tried Discover. It was not instant approval, but the approval eventually came after some verification.
    Possibly helpful that he was AU with Discover…

  14. Thanks, this is a very interesting article. Question – If I have a cc that is older than my child. If I add him as an AU how do you think the credit reporting companies would treat this?

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