Before applying for a credit card - especially if it’s your first one - you should know that credit cards are the best way to build credit and save money on everyday purchases. But it’s also good to know that credit cards can lead to bad outcomes, such as overspending and racking up expensive debt, if used irresponsibly.
The potential for bad outcomes is why you should learn the basics of how to use a credit card responsibly before you apply for one. It’s also good to know what you’re going to use the card for and what your credit standing is before you apply. That will make it easier to get approved for the best deal.
We’ve outlined some tips below to help you maximize the pros of credit cards, while minimizing bad outcomes.
What to Know Before Applying for a Credit Card:
Credit cards are the best way to build credit. For that reason, everyone should have at least one credit card for credit-building purposes. You don’t even need to make any purchases to benefit from a credit card, if you are concerned about overspending.
Shop around before you decide on a credit card. There are more than 1,000 credit card offers available, from rewards cards to travel cards, store cards to charge cards. So it pays to comparison shop.
Approval can take some time. It may take up to 10 business days to receive a decision after applying for a credit card. It depends on how well you qualify for a credit card, how you apply, and how fast the card issuer can verify your information. Some applicants may get instantly approved or rejected, though.
Use credit cards responsibly. All major credit cards report account information to at least one of the three major credit bureaus each month. On-time payments and low credit utilization will help you build a good credit score.
Once you turn 18 years old, you are eligible to apply for a credit card. But you can only use independent income as your annual income on the application. You’ll be able to use shared income, such as from a parent or spouse, when you turn 21.
Be careful to avoid spending more than you can afford to repay. Overspending on a credit card is a recipe for debt. Credit cards have high interest rates, and we already owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt overall in the U.S.
If you’re a first-timer, you may have a harder time getting the credit card you want. If it’s your first time applying for a credit card, you may be starting out with limited credit history, so the best of the best credit card offers won’t be within reach yet. Students with no credit history will have easier approval odds with student credit cards, and many credit card companies offer them. Secured credit cards are also available to people with limited or damaged credit, and can help you build up your credit score.
The world of credit cards can be exciting and maybe a little overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out as a credit card user. If you’re having trouble digesting all the options, WalletHub’s CardAdvisor can be a great tool to help you decide which credit card is right for you. Or, sign up for a free WalletHub account for more personalized credit card recommendations.
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.… read full answer
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.
WalletHub’s best tips for first-time credit card users are: 1) Get a credit card because it’s the easiest way to build credit; 2) set up automatic monthly payments from a bank account because on-time payments fuel credit score improvement; and 3) try to pay your bill in full every month because it will save you money and keep your spending under control.… read full answer
In other words, it is important to get your first credit card as early as possible and then use it responsibly, by spending within your means and not missing due dates. If you do that, you’ll be able to graduate to a great second credit card sooner.
It all starts with picking the right first credit card, though. Most people looking for their first card have limited or no credit history, unless they’ve been an authorized user on a credit card or have a loan. As a result, cards that accept applicants with “limited credit” or “bad credit” are the most popular starter credit cards.
Below, you can find advice on which card to make your first as well as the steps to take for success with everything after that.
Here are some helpful first credit card tips:
Compare credit card offers thoroughly: Your main options include secured cards, which are the easiest to get and require a security deposit, and cards for limited credit, which tend to give slightly better terms and cater to people who have little/no credit experience. It’s important to find the right card right away so you only have to apply once.
Put your needs first: Start with a no annual fee credit card, if you can, and use other terms as a tiebreaker. Rewards are best if you plan to pay your bill in full every month. First credit cards usually have high interest rates, so it’s best to pay in full.
Never max out your spending limit: You don’t have to use your card to build credit. But if you do, it’s important to not overspend. Try to use less than 30% of your available credit. If you’re tempted to overspend, keep the account open but lock the card away.
Never miss a due date: Payment history is one of the most important portions of your credit score. Late payments will cause a lot of damage. But you can avoid ever paying late by setting up automatic monthly payments with your issuer.
Pay in full to avoid interest. Most first credit cards have very high interest rates. But you will only owe interest if you carry a balance from month to month. So, paying your first card’s bill in full each month is not only great for your credit, but it will also save you money.
Watch your utilization: While it is best to use 30% or less of your credit limit, the reality is that a lot of first credit cards have very low limits. Paying your bill multiple times per month can help keep your end-of-month utilization figure low.
Review your monthly statements: Getting into this routine will help you better understand your spending habits. And it will help you avoid getting overcharged if any of the merchants you bought from made a mistake (or if someone used your card fraudulently).
Stick to a budget: Figure out how much you can afford to spend each month and try keep your charges from exceeding that amount. If you do have to carry a balance between months at some point, make a plan for paying off what you owe as quickly as possible.
When you’re in the market for your first credit card, you probably don’t have a credit score yet. But it’s possible you’ve built a bit of credit history through other means. If that’s the case, you could have far more credit card options available to you. You can check your latest credit score for free on WalletHub. It’s also good to check your credit reports, just to make sure there’s nothing inaccurate or suspicious on them.
Once you get a card and begin using it on a regular basis, it’s even more important to monitor your credit to make sure everything is correct. Knowing your credit score will also help you decide when the time is right to graduate to your second credit card.
You only need one credit card for good credit because simply having an open credit card account is the most efficient way to build and maintain a good (or even excellent) credit score. But the actual number of credit cards you have doesn’t make up a huge part of your credit score – roughly 5%-10%. The … read full answermore important factors are your payment history, the total amount of your debts, and the total of your credit limits.
As a result, having fewer credit cards that you use responsibly is better than having more cards yet worse performance. But if you have multiple credit cards and use them all responsibly, by paying your bills in full by the due date every month and not maxing out your credit limits, then having multiple credit cards will absolutely help promote good credit.
Here’s how that works: Multiple credit cards means more total credit. More total credit gives you a bit more leeway with your credit utilization (the amount of credit you’re using vs. the amount extended to you). Utilization – overall and of each credit account separately – makes up about 20% of your credit score, so it’s best to keep that number low. And simply paying your bill on-time makes up about 35%-40% of a good credit score. The more on-time payments you have on your credit report, the better it is for your credit score.
If you’re planning on getting multiple credit cards to boost your credit score, it’s worth considering that the age of your credit accounts makes up roughly 15% of your score. Credit age matters because a longer credit history means you have more experience with credit in general, and lenders have more information to assess when determining your creditworthiness. If you add a few new cards to your history, your score may take a hit because your average credit age will get younger.
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