To get a credit card for the first time, you must be at least 18 years old and have enough income to afford monthly credit card payments, in addition to your other expenses. The minimum payments on a starter credit card usually are around $15 per month.
The two basic steps involved in getting a credit card for the first time are to: 1) compare credit card offers designed specifically for people with limited or no credit history; and 2) apply for one with no annual fee, if available – rewards and APRs can be the tiebreaker.
There are plenty of other things about the process of picking, applying for and getting your first credit that are important to learn, too. We’ll walk you through them below, step by step.
How to Get a Credit Card for the First Time
1. See if you have a credit report and score.
You could have more credit history than you think, perhaps from being an authorized user on a family member’s credit card. This will help you determine how good of a credit card you should shoot for. Check your latest credit score and credit report for free on WalletHub.
2. Determine whether student credit cards are an option.
College students can usually get better first credit cards than other people with no credit. Their youth and above-average expected income make them attractive to banks and credit unions. If you’re enrolled in school, check out the best student credit cards.
3. Compare secured and unsecured starter cards.
Secured credit cards have the highest approval odds, but they require you to place a refundable security deposit. The amount of that deposit becomes your spending limit. Unsecured cards are harder to get but have no deposit.
4. Limit your search to cards with the lowest fees.
Focus on weeding out cards with expensive non-refundable fees. A no annual fee credit card with no security deposit is best. But a low-fee secured card isn’t bad, either. You can get back your deposit when you close your account.
5. Choose the best remaining offer for your needs.
If several credit cards are tied for the lowest fees and highest approval odds, consider the terms that are next most important to you. If you plan to pay your bill in full every month, that will probably be rewards. If not, you may want to focus on interest rates.
6. Confirm you have enough income
If you’re at least 21 years old, you can list household income and assets that you have reasonable access to on your credit card application. Applicants who are 18-20 years old can only list independent income and assets, but even having a part-time job should provide enough income to get a credit card for the first time.
7. Submit your credit card application.
Apply online for the fastest decision. You may even be approved instantly if you clearly meet the issuer’s criteria. You should receive your card within 7-10 business days of being approved.
Learning how to get a credit card for the first time is a rite of passage for young adults after turning 18 years old. And it’s a lot easier than you might think. The key is to choose wisely, by focusing on offers for people with limited credit and secured credit cards, which provide nearly guaranteed approval.
Key Things to Know About Choosing Your First Credit Card
High approval odds are among the most important things to look for in your first credit card. The sooner you get approved, the sooner you can begin building your credit standing. Getting rejected for a credit card sets you back, both in terms of time and possible damage to your limited credit.
Low fees are another key feature to seek out when getting a credit card for the first time. Starter credit cards generally don’t offer rewards or interest rates worth paying high annual or monthly fees for. So it’s best to make your first credit card one with a $0 annual fee and always pay your monthly bill in full to avoid interest charges.
Tips for Using Your First Credit Card
It’s really important to remember that learning how to get a credit card for the first time and getting approved are only the beginning. You also need to use that card responsibly, which means spending within your means, paying your bill on time every month, and keeping your credit utilization below 30%.
If you can avoid racking up costly credit card debt and hurting your credit score with missed payments, your first credit card will be a huge asset. It will add positive information to your major credit reports each month. That will gradually improve your credit standing. And better credit will make it easier to rent an apartment, buy or lease a car, find a job, get approved for good loans and lines of credit and save on car insurance premiums, among other things.
You can track your progress for free on WalletHub, the only site with free credit scores and reports that are updated daily. We’ll even tell you exactly what you need to do to improve your credit score at a given time, plus provide personalized credit card recommendations. You can use them to find your first credit card and then graduate from it when the time is right.