A job isn't required, but credit card issuers will make sure you have enough income to pay your bills.
March 30, 2021 – By Erica Sandberg
IF YOU ARE UNEMPLOYED, you may be wondering, “Can I get a credit card with no job?” Yes, it is certainly possible.
Without a steady paycheck, though, creditors will expect that you have substantial assets or resources to repay the debt, according to credit bureau Experian. You may be declined if you do not meet income and other criteria.
Here’s what you need to know about getting – and using – a credit card when you’re out of work.
Acceptable Income Sources for Credit Card Issuers
If you are unemployed and want a new credit card, you can list other sources of income on your application. In addition to unemployment benefits you might be receiving, you can include:
- Your spouse’s earnings.
- Investment returns.
- Retirement distributions.
- Alimony or child support payments.
- Social Security payouts.
- Rental property proceeds.
- Trusts and inheritances.
- Allowances and gifts.
- Government benefits.
- Scholarships and grants.
One reason credit card issuers consider alternative income sources is to avoid discrimination, says Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of OneUnited Bank.
“Banks recognize that individuals who do not have wage-earning jobs can still have sufficient income to repay,” Williams says. “The practice is also consistent with consumer compliance regulations, including Fair Lending and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”
How to Get a Credit Card With No Job
You aren’t required to have a job to apply for credit, but your ability to pay will be considered before you are issued a card. Issuers look closely not only at income but also at credit history and debt.
Credit history: The way you’ve managed credit in the past can predict how you will do in the future. That is why the issuer will review your credit history summarized in your credit report, as well as your credit score, derived from information in the report.
Before you apply for a card, check your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus to make sure they are accurate. Free weekly access to reports is available through April 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.com, the only federally authorized source.
Errors must be disputed separately with each credit bureau and business that provided the incorrect information.
If you’ve had a long and positive history of paying credit cards and loans, it will show in your credit report and score. On the other hand, missing payments, taking on too much debt or having collection accounts can make qualifying for an unsecured credit card difficult, regardless of employment status.
Debt-to-income ratio: Along with your credit score, your DTI helps issuers determine your credit risk. DTI is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes toward debt payments.
A low DTI – 35% or less, according to Wells Fargo – tells a creditor that you don’t spend a lot of your income paying debts. With or without a job, you can be denied a credit card if your DTI is too high.
Best Credit Cards for Unemployed Applicants
You might want to give certain types of credit cards a first look when you’re jobless and hoping for approval. Keep in mind that these cards require at least good credit:
0% introductory APR credit cards. A 0% APR credit card can be helpful during a temporary period of unemployment. With it you can charge necessities and pay the balance incrementally without financing fees during the introductory period.
Rewards credit cards. A rewards credit card may be right if you have an excellent credit rating and will keep the balance at $0. You can earn points, miles or cash back rewards as you spend, and many cards offer generous sign-up bonuses.
If you don’t qualify for one of these credit cards, don’t worry. Here are some alternatives:
Get a secured credit card. This type of card is backed by a cash deposit you make when you open the account, which is typically equal to your credit line. The deposit is often refundable and acts as collateral in case you can’t make payments.
Apply with a creditworthy co-signer. Many major credit card issuers don’t allow co-signers, but if you can add one, enter the arrangement with great care. Although a co-signer’s good credit can boost your chances of approval, the co-signer must agree to pay if you default on your debt.
Ask someone trustworthy to add you to a credit card as an authorized user. The authorized user can access credit without applying for it and build or restore credit, as long as the account is managed well. But the account owner and not the authorized user is liable for the bill.
How to Use Your Card Wisely When You Are Unemployed
If you are unemployed and have lost income, you will need to modify how you use credit. Here’s how you can use a new card wisely while you’re out of work:
Retool your budget and set a charging limit. Understand the monthly amount you can spend with the card so you can pay the balance in full. That figure may be considerably less than you were accustomed to if you are relying on benefits such as unemployment insurance.
Enroll in autopay. If you are looking for a job and trying to make ends meet, you may be under stress. Alleviate some anxiety by having your credit card bill paid automatically, and never worry about missing the due date.
Prepare for the rate hike and pay at least the minimum due on a 0% APR card. Treat this card extra carefully because the clock starts ticking on the 0% APR as soon as you activate the account. Do not pay late or less than the minimum or you risk losing the 0% APR, and aim to pay off the balance before the interest rate rises.
Overall, make sure you can use a new card mindfully. “Many of us cannot have credit cards with available credit sitting around without using them, especially if we’re unemployed,” Williams says.
Even if you can get a credit card when you’re unemployed, it won’t be a good idea unless you are certain that you can manage it correctly, says Madison Block, spokesperson for the nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling. If cash is tight, charging what you can’t afford can be too tempting. That habit could lead to maxed-out cards, skipped payments and damaged credit scores.
“We would not recommend people become reliant on credit cards when they’re experiencing financial stress,” Block says. “It can result in a large debt problems. We see people who use cards as a Band-Aid when they’re unemployed. If they’re unable to pay on time or in full, it will make it difficult to get more credit in the future, and if it has a high APR, they’ll be paying it off for years.”