Do You Need to Be a US Citizen to Apply for Credit Cards?

Nov 22, 2018

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

With Capital One’s recent announcement that, beginning in December, miles will be transferable to several airline partners, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card became even more appealing. TPG reader George was filling out an application when he noticed something a little odd …

Why is the Venture Rewards card application asking for US citizenship status? They claim it is a federal requirement. If so, why don’t other card issuers ask this question?

TPG READER GEORGE

While every card issuer will ask you for your Social Security number and/or taxpayer identification number to verify your credit history, Capital One is one of the only major issuers to explicitly ask you about your citizenship status on the application:

If you select “no” for US citizen, the application form will ask whether you are a resident alien or nonresident alien. Either way, you’re allowed to continue filling out the application. In fact, the terms and conditions of the Venture Rewards card offer list the following exclusions, but don’t specify citizenship status:

If you’re a non-US citizen with a Social Security number (such as a green card holder or an international student studying in the US), you would still be eligible to apply for the Venture card. Of course, you’d likely need to demonstrate some credit history in the US to get approved for this valuable travel rewards card, and you might want to consider a different starter card if you’re just beginning to build your credit history.

So why does Capital One say that federal regulations require it to collect this information? The most likely answer is that it’s working to comply with the convoluted set of laws and regulations known as KYC/AML (know your customer, anti money laundering).

This provision of the 2001 Patriot Act, passed in the wake of September 11, requires financial institutions to be able to verify the identity of their customers to crack down on shadow banking and money laundering. The problem is, the law doesn’t define a clear and universal set of standards for what information a bank needs to collect in order to verify customer accounts. Capital One might think it needs to record your citizenship status under KYC laws, while other banks might be content with your Social Security number and address. You do need to have an address within the US (or a military base) to apply, but ultimately this is a bookkeeping question, and not something that is likely to factor into the evaluation of your application.

Bottom Line

It can certainly be surprising to come across a question like this while filling out a credit card application, but at the end of the day, whether or not you are a US citizen won’t change your eligibility. As long as you have a Social Security number (or taxpayer identification number) and a credit history within the US, you’ll be able to apply for most credit card offers.

It’s important to remember that you should never lie on a card application even if you think it might boost your chances of approval. Citizenship status is very easy to track down and cross-reference, and lying about it could get you in far more trouble than just a denied application.

Thanks for the question, George, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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