To get a credit card, start by checking your credit score and comparing credit offers online, then click “Apply Now” once you find the best option. From there, you’ll fill out a straightforward credit card application on the issuer’s secure site, and you’ll generally find out whether you’ve been approved right away. Your card will arrive in the mail soon thereafter.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the specific steps involved in getting a credit card.
1. Check your credit score.
Credit cards usually have minimum credit requirements, so you can’t pick a card if you don’t know your score. Even if you’re applying for your first credit card account, you could have some credit history from being an authorized user or taking out a loan in the past. You can check your credit score for free on WalletHub.
The best credit cards tend to require at least good credit (a score of 700+) or excellent credit (a score of 750+). There are still plenty of options for people with lower credit scores, though. In addition, the higher your credit score is, the more likely you are to receive a low APR and a high credit limit.
2. Choose the type of credit card you want.
There’s a big difference between getting a credit card and getting the right credit card. It all depends on diagnosing your biggest needs. With that in mind, figure out which group from the first column of the table below you fit into. Then, see what type of credit card is likely to be best for you in the second column.
|If You’re…||Get a…|
|New to Credit||Starter credit card|
|Rebuilding Bad Credit||Secured credit card|
|In College||Student credit card|
|Making Everyday Purchases||Rewards credit card|
|Already in Credit Card Debt||Balance transfer credit card|
|Going to Carry a Balance||0% intro rate credit card|
|A Business Owner||Business rewards card (for everyday spending)|
In general, if you plan to use your card primarily for credit-building, you’ll want a card with low fees to help keep costs down until you can qualify for more attractive terms. On the other hand, if you’re a big spender and want to get the most value possible out of your card, you’ll want to get a rewards card that gives a good overall earning rate or emphasizes your most common spending categories.
In addition, people who plan to carry a balance on their credit card will want to focus on getting a card with a low APR, while those who will pay in full each month don’t need to worry as much about interest rates. Some cards are also designed specifically for financing big purchases and balance transfers, offering 0% introductory APRs.
You can learn more about how to choose a credit card and the various types of credit cards on WalletHub.
3. Compare credit card offers.
Comparison shopping is the best way to find the best deal. After all, you’ll have no idea how a given credit card compares to other available offers if it’s the only one you consider.
Important Things to Compare on Credit Cards
Different cards require different credit scores. In addition, some cards are targeted to specific types of people, like students or business owners.
- Membership fees
The cost of the card should not outweigh the value you get out of it.
A card’s interest rate only matters if you plan to carry a balance from month to month. Some cards also have an introductory APR (often 0%) on purchases, balance transfers or both for a certain number of months. This is an attractive feature if you plan to finance big purchases or make a balance transfer.
Credit card rewards can save you a lot of money on purchases over time. There are three main types of rewards: cash back, points and miles. Cash back cards tend to be geared more toward everyday purchases, while cards with points and miles more often focus on travel. There are plenty of exceptions, though. There are also store cards and co-branded cards that offer rewards at partnered merchants and more.
Many cards offer supplemental benefits like rental car insurance, travel insurance, purchase protection and extended warranties on purchases. Higher-end cards may even give luxury perks like annual credits on certain types of purchases or airport lounge access.
It's a good idea to consider many factors when picking out a credit card, but it’s important to focus on the features that figure to save or cost you the most money, based on how you plan to use the card. For personalized credit card recommendations, sign up for a free WalletHub account. We’ll tell you what cards offer the highest approval odds based on your latest credit score and which cards are likely to provide the most savings.
4. Read the fine print.
It’s a good idea to double-check a credit card’s terms and conditions as well as its benefits guide prior to applying. This way, you won’t have any surprises later.
All credit cards will require you to be at least 18 years old, with enough income or assets to afford a card’s monthly minimum payments, a valid identity and a U.S. mailing address. Most cards require you to have a Social Security number, though some will accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or passport as a substitute. Other requirements, like those pertaining to your credit score, vary from card to card.
Aside from a card’s requirements, you’ll want to know all of its fees and interest rates. For example, it’s important to know if a card has an annual fee or charges extra for international transactions. And even if you don’t plan to ever carry a balance, you should know what you’ll be charged if you do.
If the card is a rewards card, you should also know when the rewards apply. For example, does the card offer different rates in different spending categories? Is there a yearly or quarterly spending cap for bonus rewards? And if there is an initial bonus, what is the spending requirement to earn it? You should also be familiar with whether your card’s rewards expire. In general, it’s best to redeem your rewards often to make sure you can take advantage of them and avoid devaluation.
5. Apply for one card at a time.
Casting a wide net by submitting numerous applications at once won’t ensure that you catch at least one credit card. Rather, it will hurt both your credit and your chances of approval. So if you don’t get approved the first time around, set your sights a bit lower. Even consider placing a deposit on a secured card.
How to Apply for a Credit Card
- Get pre-approved / pre-qualified first.
- Check your latest credit score.
- Fill out a credit card application. Applying online is the fastest.
- Submit your application and wait for a decision.
- Get your card in the mail.
Credit card applications require you to provide personal information, including your name, address, phone number and SSN. They also require financial info such as your income, employment status and housing status. You can learn more about how to apply for a credit card on WalletHub.
It generally takes 7-10 business days to get a new credit card after being approved for an account, and many people receive a decision almost immediately after applying. Once you open your credit card account, the real work begins. Making purchases with a credit card is easy. We all know that. But paying your bills on time and keeping your credit utilization low, for example, can be harder to pull off. Both are critical to credit improvement, though, so you’ll need to learn fast.
Now that you know how to go about getting a credit card in general, let’s take a closer look at how things work when you have no credit or bad credit. There are some unique factors to take into account in those situations.
How to Get a Credit Card with No Credit History
Getting your first credit card is a rite of passage. But aside from the fact that you’ve never done it before, there’s nothing special about the process. In other words, getting a credit card with no credit is no different than doing so with excellent credit. You still need to comparison shop, read reviews and figure out which features are at the top of your list. And there’s still no guarantee that you’ll be approved once you submit your application.
Sure, you won’t have as many credit card offers available to you as someone with good or excellent credit. And the cards that you can get won’t be as flashy. But you will be able to get a credit card, despite having no prior credit experience. And that’s all that matters as far as credit building is concerned.
Simply having an open credit card account will help you establish credit history. So the biggest things to look for in an offer are high odds of approval and a low annual fee.
For more tips on how to get your credit career started on the right foot, check out WalletHub’s new to credit guide and top credit-improvement tips.
How to Get a Credit Card with Bad Credit
Bad credit limits your options. But it is possible to get a credit card with bad credit. And that’s good news because credit cards are the best tools we have for rebuilding damaged credit. As long as you have an open credit card account that is in good standing, positive information will be added to your credit reports each month. And that positive information will gradually bury the negative info that damaged your credit in the first place.
See 2023's Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit
If credit improvement is your top priority, you definitely want a secured credit card. Secured cards report to the credit bureaus just like “normal” cards. And they charge much lower fees than unsecured credit cards for bad credit. The one thing that people often object to is the fact that you have to place a refundable security deposit to get a secured card. But you’ll get that back when you close your account, so it’s preferable to paying non-refundable fees.
If you need a small emergency loan, you’ll have to settle for an unsecured credit card for bad credit. This will give you $100 to $200 in spending power, above what you can afford in cash.
This content is not provided or commissioned by any issuer. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of an issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by an issuer.