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How To Get Your First Credit Card

Four Ways to Get Your First Credit Card

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Eighteen is a liberating age. You're legally an adult. You can vote. You may be going to college soon, if you're not already there. And, you can get a credit card.

As eager as you may be to get your first credit card, many credit card companies aren't so eager to give you one. Rather than putting in several credit card applications to see who's going to approve you, target just a few companies that are known for giving credit cards to first-timers.

Make sure you're ready for your first credit card

Young woman using credit card to pay online bills
Cavan Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Being old enough to qualify for a credit card doesn't mean you’re actually ready for one. You need to be responsible enough to charge only what you can afford and to pay your bill every month without being reminded. Getting a credit card before you’re fully prepared can be disastrous for your credit. Don’t set yourself up for failure – learn all you can about credit cards before you get one. If you're not ready, you can get there: How to Prepare for a Credit Card

Understand the credit card landscape for young adults

Getting approved for the first credit card can be tough, especially if you're under age 21. First, Federal law requires that young adults under age 21 have verifiable income (not an allowance) before they can be approved for a credit card without a cosigner. If you don’t have income, then you’ll have to find someone who’s willing to open up a joint credit card with you.

The second thing that makes it tough to get the first credit card is that you don’t have a credit history. And, well, credit history is one of the primary factors that credit card issuers consider when they’re approving an applicant.

 

Get a job

Having a steady income, ideally from a part-time or full-time job, will put you in a good position to get your first credit card. Credit card issuers have to make sure you have the means to repay a credit card balance before they approve you. WIthout your own income, you'll have to have a joint applicant (who does have income) to get approved for your first credit card.

Look in the right places

  • Major credit card issuers: student credit cards

    If you're enrolled in college, you have a very good chance of getting approved for a student credit card as your first credit card. Most major credit card issuers have a student credit card. But don’t think it’s a good deal just because it has student in the title. Some student credit cards have high interest rates and annual fees, both make a card a bad option for a first credit card.

  • Your bank

    If you've been responsible with a checking or savings account, try applying for your first credit card at your bank. Having an existing banking relationship can improve your chances at getting a credit card application approved, especially if you’ve handled your account responsibly, e.g. no overdrafts. You can apply online, but visiting a bank branch would put you face-to-face with a representative who may have more authority to get your application approved.

  • A retail or department

    Retail and department stores typically have easy credit card approval. On the downside, they have high interest rates that make it expensive to carry a balance from one month to the next. Another downside of these cards is they aren't versatile - you can only use them in that store. That limits what you can purchase, but encourages you to go on a spending spree by offering discounts.

    Having a retail store credit card as your first credit card can help you build up a good enough credit history to apply for a major credit card within a few months.

  • A secured credit card

    When your (lack of) credit history keeps you from getting a standard credit card, you can apply for a secured credit card. With a secured credit card, you make a deposit against the credit limit of the account. The bank holds the deposit just in case you don't make your payments as agreed. Many credit card issuers will convert your secured credit card to an unsecured one as long as you make your monthly payments on time for about a year. Don’t worry that a secured credit card will hurt your chances at getting other credit cards – there’s nothing on your credit report to indicate you have a secured credit card.

Look for cards that target "moderate" or "limited" credit

Certain credit card websites list the type of credit history needed to get approved for the credit cards listed. For a first credit card, look for credit cards that accept applicants with moderate or no credit. Applying for cards that are geared toward your credit history improves your chances at getting approved. Avoid applications for credit cards requiring "excellent" credit as you'll probably get denied.

Ask someone for help

You may have a relative - a parent, for example - who’s willing to help you get your first credit card by cosigning with you. Cosigning is risky – any mistakes you make will affect the cosigner's credit as well – but it can be a good way to jumpstart your credit. Agree upfront that you’ll be responsible for making the payments on time each month and that you'll abide by all the credit card terms. Then, consider closing the joint account once you can qualify for a credit card on your own.

Don't be discouraged by denials

Don't be surprised if you're denied for the first credit card you apply for - or the first few credit cards you apply for. Even people with established credit histories are sometimes denied. It may be helpful to know that you’ll get a letter in the mail - an adverse action notice - that includes the specific reason you were denied. The information in this letter will be useful in planning your next step. You may need to apply for a different type of credit card or jumpstart your credit by using a secured credit card.
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