Ask The Experts: No SSN FAQ
Ying Zhen Ph.D., Associate Professor & Economics Program Director , Department of Business and Economics, Wesleyan College
Why do most credit cards require applicants to provide a Social Security number? It is a very efficient way to verify your identity, your name, date of birth, and credit score. In the United States, most of your personal information is connected with your social security number. You need it to find employment, get benefits such as medical benefits and unemployment benefits, open bank accounts, etc.
What tips do you have for immigrants looking to establish credit in the U.S.? Applying for the U.S. credit card, using it regularly, and making payments on time and in full. It would be great if you could make full payments ahead of time and even make a greater than the full amount, as such activities will be tracked by the credit companies, and they will honor you. Once you have built some credit, apply for more credit cards, and do the same. Then your credit score will go up, which will bring you into a virtuous circle.
Should undocumented immigrants be able to get U.S. credit cards? It is controversial but it is not illegal for lenders to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for credit cards. I would say it depends. For example, for some areas with a large number of undocumented immigrants, it might be a win-win game for both those people, the financial institutions, and the economy. A lot of undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. in the hope of having a better life. Getting U.S. credit cards would help them to purchase homes, cars, and other expensive purchases, which would not only expand the business of the financial institutions and contribute to the U.S. GDP as well.
Should people be able to get any credit card with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)? Yes. For example, foreigners who live in the U.S. but not working (thus no social security number). Some of them are very rich people, they have made a fortune in their home country but choose to live in the U.S. as permanent residents and have no need to work. They need to get credit cards to establish their credit in the U.S. as credit history in foreign countries would not transfer. A great credit score would help them in many ways, such as buying homes and cars and making an investment. ITIN would serve as a great alternative to social security numbers.