Many foreign students and non-immigrant visitors never had credit cards before, and don't know whether they qualify for one, or if they should be using a credit card at all.
A credit card, in fact, has numerous benefits and advantages over cash, check or debit cards (see below). It also helps you establish credit history and raise your credit score. All of these can come at no cost to you, if managed responsibly.
Generally speaking, as long as you are in legal status, have obtained a social security number or a Tax ID, have a street address (not a P.O. Box for example), you will be qualified for at least some credit cards.
Certain credit cards may require citizenship or permanent residency (green-card), but many only ask for legal residence - meaning you are legally living in the U.S., even though temporarily.
There are four major credit card networks in the U.S.: MasterCard, VISA, American Express (Amex) and Discover.
There are numerous credit card issuers, including Citi, Chase, American Express, Discover, Bank of America (BofA), and many other banks and credit unions. Retail stores, such as Home Depot, Sears, Toys R Us, Macy's, etc., often have their own branded credit cards that offer discount on their merchandise, although the cards are still most likely managed by other banks.
There are two major categories: consumer cards and business cards. Among consumer cards you will see subcategories such as student cards and retail cards.
Many credit cards offer some types of rewards, such as cash back, airline miles, points for gift cards, points for hotel stays, discounts on merchandise or services, savings for college, and so on.
Sometimes, if you are not careful. The following charges are typical:
However, if you are well organized, you can easily avoid any fees and just enjoy all the benefits a credit card brings. The simplest way? Just pay your credit card bills in full every month before the due date.
A few tips: