Lately, I’ve been very involved in the US credit card market. Why? Simply put, US credit cards offer better sign-up bonuses, and generally greater returns. However, as a Canadian, it’s substantially harder to get US credit cards, as I don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN). Although an SSN is outside the reach of most people, an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is not. With an ITIN, you can build a US credit report, and easily apply to many, but not all, US credit cards. This article will explore my experience so far.
Note: Nothing in this article should be taken as legal, tax, or other advice. It simply reflects my experience.
Earlier this year, I was in Austin, Texas. At this point, I did not have an ITIN. However, I wanted to start building my US credit history as quickly as possible. I walked into a Bank of America branch and asked to apply for a secured credit card as a non-resident alien. As someone without an SSN/ITIN, I had to apply for this card in a branch.
The process was pretty simple. I had to give them $300USD, and without an SSN/ITIN, they opened a secured credit card using my Canadian passport information. After one year, this card will be converted into a non-secured card, and I will get my security deposit back.
Once I received my ITIN number, I called Bank of America and they placed the number onto my account, and the history attached to the card is transmitted to my US credit history.
Getting the ITIN
An ITIN is a number similar to an SSN, used by the IRS to identify and track individuals who file taxes in the US but are otherwise ineligible for an SSN. The IRS states:
IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. A non-resident alien individual not eligible for a SSN who is required to file a U.S. tax return only to claim a refund of tax under the provisions of a U.S. tax treaty needs an ITIN.
The key word here is “requirements”. In order to get an ITIN, you must have a reason to file taxes in the US.
Typically, you can only apply for an ITIN when you submit your first mandatory US tax filing. However, there are specific exceptions to this rule, where an individual can apply for an ITIN before their first tax filing. The IRS publishes a guide on applying, and how one can be eligible for an exception. The exception I used, and that with a little creativity, anyone can use, is exception 1(d),
Individuals who are receiving distributions during the current tax year of income such as pensions, annuities, rental income, royalties, dividends, etc., and are required to provide an ITIN to the withholding agent (for example, an investment company, insurance company, or financial institution, etc.) for the purposes of tax withholding and/or reporting requirement.
I’m not going to tell you how to make yourself eligible under this exception, but a thorough Google search will tell you.
The ITIN application can take a while. Just be patient, make sure you fit the requirements perfectly, and you’ll eventually get the number in the mail.
Once you have the ITIN number, a whole new world of cards opens up to you. If you already have a Canadian AMEX card, you can look at doing a Global Transfer. You’ll also be able to open a TD Bank (USA) credit card attached to your ITIN number, but issued based on your Canadian credit history. This card has a 25,000 Aeroplan bonus, and a waived first year fee. Further, I opened a TD Bank (USA) bank account, which can be opened online in Canada. If you’re already a Canadian TD account holder, it’s easy to transfer funds cheaply to your US account. Another option is with RBC Bank (USA). You’ll need this account to pay your US credit cards off.
After a year or so, as I’ve built up my US credit history, I’ll be able to apply for Chase and Citi credit cards, two of the most lucrative creditors in the US. Further, many smaller banks accept ITIN numbers for applications. Other creditors, like Discover, US Bank, and Barclay’s do not accept an ITIN number for credit applications.
It’s a slow process, as I’m building an entirely new credit history, and can certainly be frustrating at times. However, once you’re eligible for some of the best cards in both Canada and the United States, it’ll all be worth the huge bonuses that you’ll be eligible for.