Editorial Policy

After 21, age not a factor when applying for cards

Erica Sandberg

May 1, 2015

QHi Erica,

I remember reading that a minor cannot get a credit card, but does that apply to retired citizens, too? I do not have a card and would like to have one for an upcoming cruise to the Bahamas. The last time I had a card was in 2009. It was with my ex-husband, and we closed it when we divorced. We never paid interest. I have only been using my debit card as that is all I have needed. I paid for my cruise already, but my friend and cabin partner says I will need a credit card. Can you help? –Bev

ADear Bev,

When compared to younger applicants, you're in a favorable position. Not only does wisdom come with age, but so does credit access! Only those who have yet to celebrate their 21st birthday need to jump through extra hoops to obtain an individually held account. All you need is a decent credit history and enough income to support a particular card's credit line. What you receive in retirement distributions and Social Security is considered income, so presuming you do have money coming in from these sources, you should be fine.

As you may be aware, credit issuers offer a variety of products to suit the wide span of potential customers. It's important to pursue the card that you like and that also suits your credit rating. If you were to apply for cards you do not qualify for, you'd waste time and drive your credit scores down a bit. On the other hand, if you accepted a card beneath your true capability, you would miss out on the benefits the right card would deliver.Ask Erica

My first suggestion, then, is to understand your current credit rating. That means accessing your consumer credit reports to see what is being reported about you. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to pull your files from the major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. You can also request them by phone at (877) 322-8228.

Because you had a credit card with your ex-husband in the recent past, it should still be listed. Positively held accounts can remain on a credit report indefinitely but usually stay for 10 years. The card you shared should appear for another four years. Additionally, if you bought a house or car together and paid for them responsibly within that time frame, they too will work in your favor. Scan the reports carefully and if you spot any mistakes, such as accounts that don't belong to you, dispute them right away.

After that, purchase your FICO scores. You'll have one score for each of the credit reports. Credit issuers rarely read the reports line by line, looking to see what you might you owe and how you've managed accounts. It's much easier and faster to check scores, since mathematical models aggregate the data listed on the reports and turn it into risk assessment numbers. FICOs are the most commonly used scores, and they range from a low of 300 to a high of 850. To get them — for about $20 per score — visit MyFICO.com.

In general, bad credit would be under 500; poor is 500 to 600; fair is 600 to 660; good is 660 to 780; and anything above is considered excellent.

Once you know your scores and are certain they reflect accurate reporting data, research the cards that are in your scoring range. Since you will be out of the country, you may want to focus on travel and airline credit cards, as they might offer perks such as no foreign transaction fees. Most of these products demand good to excellent credit ratings, though, so if your digits aren't quite up there, focus on those that are a better match. Apply for the one that you like — by following these instructions, you should be accepted.

And that's it! As soon as you receive your card in the mail, you're free to set sail with a card ready for all those things and services you want to buy, both here and abroad. Just make sure you'll have the cash to pay the bill when you return, and pay on time and in full each month.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.