How to Apply for a First Time Credit Card

by Nancy Wagner ; Updated July 27, 2017
A portrait of a young woman holding a credit card.

Applying for your first credit card represents an opportunity to start building your credit history. While it’s easy enough to fill out and submit an application to your bank or credit card company, taking care to find the right card and using your current credit score to get the best rates and deals are the financially savvy way to go.

Know Minimum Requirements

To apply to your bank or a credit card issuer for a card, you must be at least 18 years old and have proof of income that's sufficient to cover your bill. If you’re younger than 21, you also need a parent to co-sign for the card. Income includes salary, bonuses and commissions you receive from full- and part-time jobs as well as self-employment. Your total annual income can also include interest you earn on any bank accounts or investments. Most banks accept paycheck stubs or a copy of your most recent income tax documents as proof.

Find the Best Card

Every credit card comes with its own interest rates, fees and features, so look for one that meets your needs. For instance, if you plan to make a big purchase and know you won’t be able to pay off the charges in full, look for a card with a low or zero percent introductory annual percentage rate. Some banks offer higher credit lines than others, so ask the issuer what range to expect as a first time credit card applicant. Ask about reward programs that give you cash back or points. Make sure the card issuer reports all credit card accounts to the three major credit card bureaus –– Experian, TransUnion and Equifax –– so you start to build your credit history.

Consider Secured Cards

Consider applying for a secured credit card if you don’t have good credit history or do not have someone to act as a co-signer. Secured card issuers require you to make a deposit into a savings account. The deposit is equivalent to the amount of credit the issuer extends. You’re not allowed to touch this money, because it acts as collateral to pay back your bill if you do not make the monthly minimum payments. But pay the bill on time, and you can use a secured card to improve your credit history.

Increase the Odds

If you’re under 18, ask your parents to add you as an authorized user to their credit card so you start to build your credit history in preparation for obtaining your own card. Become familiar with your credit report by requesting a free copy annually from each of the three major credit agencies. Make sure your report accurately reflects your account information, loan paying history and personal information, as this information is crucial for getting your first card. To get the best credit card deal, your credit score needs to be above 700; the odds of being denied increase when you drop below 650, according to Money Under 30, a site that provides financial advice for young professionals.

About the Author

Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.

Photo Credits

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