To pick your first credit card, first check your credit score, then compare all the different types of first-time credit card offers available to you, including secured cards, starter credit cards for people with limited credit and student credit cards if you’re in college. Focus on finding a card with low fees and high approval odds, and use other factors such as rewards as a tiebreaker.
If you have little or no credit history, you likely will not have a credit score. If you have established credit, whether through a previous loan or as an authorized user on a credit card, your credit score will be a number from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the more (and better) cards you will have to choose from.
How to pick your first credit card:
- Check your credit score. If you don’t have a credit score, focus on cards for limited to no credit. If you do have a credit score, narrow your search to cards that require that level of credit.
- Consider a secured card. Secured credit cards are the easiest credit cards to get because you have to put up a refundable security deposit that matches your credit limit.
- Look into student cards, if eligible. Student credit cards generally require limited or no credit and often have better terms than cards for non-student newcomers. But you need to be enrolled in a college or university to be eligible.
- Compare cards. The best first credit cards have $0 annual fees and modest rewards on purchases. Some may even offer low introductory APRs. Your job is to compare offers to find the best combination of terms for your needs. To compare credit cards simply select them by clicking the check box next to their names, followed by the “Compare” button at the bottom of the page. You can also use the filters on the left hand side of the credit card web page to sort credit cards as pr your needs.
- Ensure you qualify. Aside from each card’s credit score requirements, you have to be at least 18 years old to get your own credit card account. You also need some form of income to show you can afford monthly bill payments. Most credit cards require a Social Security number, too.
- Don’t apply for too many cards. Try to start out with just one application. Too many applications in a short timeframe could trigger hard inquiries that have a negative effect on your credit score.
Once you’ve found the best first credit card for your needs, you’ll be ready to apply. You can do so online, over the phone, by mail, or in person at a branch location, depending on the bank or credit union issuing the card. Make sure to apply for just one card to start with. Too many applications in a short period of time could hurt your credit score before your credit career even begins.
Finally, if and when you are approved, make sure to use your first credit card responsibly. In particular, make at least the minimum required payment by the due date every month and don’t max out your spending limit. Setting up automatic monthly bill payments from a bank account makes the first part easy, at least. If you want to improve your credit score, it’s best to also keep your overall credit utilization below 30%.
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