[Disclosure: Our partners are mentioned below.]
Do you need a credit card, but just for a short time? When we need a car, we can rent one, and there are even services that allow you to borrow formal wear in person or by mail. Credit cards don’t really work like that. You can’t exactly rent one from an issuer and cardholder agreements generally prohibit someone from lending out their personal plastic.
Still, when you just have a temporary need for a credit card, you have some options. And, by exploring them, you may be able to find a form of payment that fits your needs.
1. Virtual Account Numbers
Bank of America and Citi offer a service involving virtual credit card numbers that can work kind of like a temporary credit card. Holders of select credit cards from these two issuers — meaning, yes, you would need to have a non-temporary credit card already — are able to generate one-time use credit card numbers that are touted as virtually impossible to steal when shopping online. This service can also be useful when you are trying to avoid fraudulent charges, but it can make it more difficult to make a return. (Full Disclosure: Citibank and Bank of America advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
With Citi’s virtual account numbers, all purchases made with your temporary number will appear on your monthly statement and will include the temporary number that was used for each transaction, making it easier to track purchases.
2. Adding & Removing Authorized Users
If you are looking for a way to temporarily add a cardholder to your account, you can consider creating an authorized cardholder. With the exception of some premium travel reward cards, nearly all credit cards allow the primary cardholder to add authorized users at no additional cost. And since you are free to add, and remove authorized cardholders at any time, this can be an ideal solution for parents of college students who just want to provide a credit card for studying abroad during a semester, or for other temporary time periods. Just remember that the primary cardholder is fully responsible for paying all charges made by authorized credit card users. And when you no longer wish to extend authorized user privileges, the primary cardholder can simply contact the card issuer and cancel the additional card.
3. Using Prepaid Debit Cards
If you are particularly credit card-adverse or credit-challenged, you can obtain temporary plastic, at least, by purchasing a prepaid debit card offered by the Visa, MasterCard and American Express payment networks. You can load cash onto these prepaid cards, often called general purpose gift cards at many grocery stores, office supply stores and even gas stations. And while they can carry more fees than a traditional debit card/checking account and don’t build credit like a credit card would, given no loan is being extended, these cards can be more secure than cash (there are generally some protections for lost or stolen ones). They can also provide people who can’t qualify for other plastic payment methods with a convenient way to pay.
Another type of prepaid card are the reloadable debit cards that have become more popular in recent years. Some offer sub-accounts to add authorized users and to track their spending. You can reload these cards by using direct deposit or by adding cash at participating retailers. Just read the terms and conditions carefully to know what fees may apply.
4. Keep Your Credit Card on Ice
If you are looking for a credit card for a limited purpose, you might want to apply for a new card and just keep it in a secure place when it isn’t needed. Just be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully so you know if the card is at least a good fit for you, then be sure to check your credit to get an idea of whether or not you can qualify. (You can view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)
Whether or not you actually use your credit card regularly, having the account open and in good standing will add to your credit history and increase the average length of accounts on your credit report. It can also help your credit utilization rate, which is the amount of debt you owe versus the amount of credit that’s been extended to you. And while you might not want to use the credit card everyday, you will find that building good credit via some plastic can help you to secure a lower interest rate should you ever apply for an auto loan, mortgage, or other types of financing.
At publishing time, Citi and Bank of America products are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.