What is Accessible Income? What to Count and What to Leave Out

accessible income

Accessible income includes all the income you have a “reasonable expectation of access” to. For most people, it’s more than just paychecks from your regular job. It also includes income sources like an allowance, a scholarship, or Social Security payments.

What Counts as Accessible Income?

Since accessible income is only associated with credit card applications, your age determines what you can count.

Accessible income for those over 21 years of age could potentially include any or all of the following:

  • Paychecks
  • Tips
  • Earnings from rental properties or side jobs
  • Your spouse’s income
  • Social Security or SSI Disability payments
  • An allowance from your parents or grandparents
  • Financial gifts
  • Scholarships, grants, or other forms of financial aid
  • Trust funds
  • Retirement funds
  • Savings accounts
  • Alimony checks or child support
  • Investments

Individuals ages 18 to 20 have to report their accessible income differently on a credit card application. They can only include:

  • Personal income
  • Regular allowances
  • Scholarships and grants

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What Doesn’t Count as Accessible Income?

The above lists might not include all the money you have access to. In particular, loans or other forms of borrowed money. Whether you borrowed money from your mom or from Uncle Sam to pay tuition, don’t count it when calculating your accessible income.

While there is no law against listing it, it doesn’t make sense to list it. After all, it’s debt and not income.

How Do I Calculate My Accessible Income?

Simply add up all yearly accessible income that you could verify if need be. If you earn irregular income—like from occasional ride-share driving, reselling on eBay, or home renting, use your best judgement. In general, you want tax returns, pay stubs, invoices, or other documents to back up your accessible income claims.

The credit card application may want the number broken down into monthly income, in which case, just divide by 12.

How is My Accessible Income Verified?

Companies can run a hard pull on your credit, analyze your other accounts and credit history, use a financial algorithm, or request verifying documents to verify your income. Most companies just take your word for it though. So, yes, someone could lie about their accessible income on a credit card application. But, lying about your income isn’t worth the risk.

If you get caught, you could face fraud charges. If you’re convicted of fraud, it likely means that your debt from that card cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. There’s a rare potential for fines and jail time too.

Even if you don’t get caught, you’ll still end up with a credit limit you can’t handle. This could ruin your credit score and finances if you’re unable to pay the bills.

Accessible Income & Credit Card Applications

Accessible income comes into play when you’re applying for credit cards. Here’s how it works…

In 2009, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act become law and extended several protections to credit card users. Amongst other things, the CARD Act stops credit card companies from taking advantage of customers who have insufficient income. It contains a “proof of income” clause, which requires borrowers to prove that they have enough money to handle minimum monthly payments.

Credit card companies need to consider all income and assets plus current obligations before issuing cards. “All income” is referred to as accessible income. This provision is intended to stop credit card companies from issuing cards to customers with little to no income or assets. If that’s you, the law makes it harder to get a credit card, which protects you from falling into credit card debt.

For others, getting a credit card became easier. Not only can you count personal income from your job, but those age 21+ can also report all reasonably accessible income. Your on-paper income will appear much higher than before. This means that you’re more likely to get approved for a card and for a higher credit limit.

The Bottom Line about Accessible Income & Credit Cards

In the past, your credit card prospects were limited by how much personal income you earned from your job. Now, you can list several more income sources—even those that have set purposes. So, for most people, the “proof of income” clause makes it easier to get approved for a card and a higher credit line.

Unfortunately, this might lead you to think that you can afford spending more than you actually can. For example, an academic scholarship counts as accessible income. If 100% of that goes directly toward tuition, you can’t actually “access” it should you fall behind on your credit card payments. A credit card company doesn’t necessarily care, but you should.

When applying for and using credit cards, stay smart. Avoid carrying a balance, adjust your spending if your income changes, and make a budget to ensure you don’t get carried away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you include parents’ income on a credit card application?

Still living at home? Although you might have access to your parents’ income, you can’t count it as accessible income on a credit card application.

Borrowers ages 18 to 20 can only count personal income from a job, a regular allowance, scholarships, or grants. Your parents’ income only counts if they cosign for the credit card. Borrowers ages 21+ have a longer list of income sources they can count, but it doesn’t include parental income.

Can my spouse get a credit card with my income?

Yes. Thanks to the CARD Act, it’s now easier for stay-at-home/non-working wives or husbands to apply for credit cards. These individuals can list their spouse’s income on the application along with other income sources. Another alternative is for your spouse to become an authorized user on your card.

Can I get a credit card without a job?

In some cases, yes. Since personal income isn’t the only factor at play anymore for those ages 21 and up, it’s possible to get a credit card without having a job. This is especially true if you have a large trust fund, receive Social Security or SSI Disability payments, or have sufficient income.

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