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How to Get a Credit Card for the First Time

Last Updated: January 10, 2024
5 min read

Key points about: applying for your first credit card

  1. You need to be 18 or older to open your first credit card account.

  2. Student or secured cards can be good options for your first credit card.

  3. First-time credit card users can build a good credit history by using their first card responsibly.

Requirements to get your first credit card account

You have to be at least 18 years old to apply for a credit card, and you have to show proof that you can make payments.

In most cases, you’ll need to have an established credit history, but some student cards and secured cards are designed for individuals who are new to credit. And if you’re interested in a secured credit card to build credit history, you’ll have to put down a security deposit.

Choosing the best credit card for beginners

When you apply for your first credit card, you may want to check whether the credit card issuer is likely to approve you. You might also want to compare the level of rewards you might earn on eligible purchases.

Consider applying for a secured credit card or a student credit card

When you’re beginning to build your credit, look into cards that require little or no credit history. The best first-time credit card for you may be a secured credit card or a student credit card.

With secured credit cards, your credit line will equal the amount of the required cash deposit after you're approved. The difference between a secured card and a many debit cards is that your on-time credit card payments may help build your credit history with responsible use.

If you’re a student, you may consider a student credit card with a low annual percentage rate (APR) and a rewards program that lets you earn cash back on purchases, so you can earn rewards on necessities and all your everyday purchases.

Learn about credit card rewards

Student credit cards with rewards are just one type of rewards card available. With so many different rewards cards to choose from, it can be challenging to find the right card. Since rewards are earned based on the amount of your purchases, apply for a credit card that makes the most sense for your lifestyle and spending habits. For example, with Discover it® Chrome, you earn 2% cash back at Gas stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically.1

Be sure to pay attention to annual fees and interest rates when evaluating rewards card offers. If you find yourself carrying a balance consistently, you may want to switch to a card with a lower APR and no annual fee.

Choose a credit card you won’t want to cancel

Starting your first credit card account is an important step toward building credit history. One factor in your credit score is the average age of your accounts. Your first credit card often ends up being your oldest open account. If you choose a card that waives the annual fee for only the first year, you might be tempted to close the account when the annual fee kicks in. Instead, it might be better to choose a no-annual-fee card for your first credit card so that you can keep it open and help improve the average age of your accounts.

Review the credit card terms

By gaining a solid understanding of the fees, interest rates, reward program details, and other specifics that apply to your credit card, you’ll be better prepared to understand what you’re agreeing to and learn the consequences of not using the card properly. You can also be sure you're utilizing all the benefits the card has to offer.

Improve the odds that your first credit card application will be approved

Limit the number of applications

Be wary of applying for too many credit cards at once. Too many credit providers checking your credit report in a short period of time can have a negative impact on your score.

If you apply for several credit cards in a row, it may appear that you’re either having a hard time being accepted or are about to take on more debt. When you complete an application, potential credit card issuers check your credit report. These “hard” inquiries may hurt your credit score. “Soft” inquiries, which can occur when you request your own credit report, employers check your background, and lenders look to pre-approve you for a loan, don’t have the same negative effect.

Avoid signing up for too many credit cards at once by only applying for the ones you’re most likely to qualify for based on your current credit score.

Prove you can make credit card payments

Before approving your application, a credit card issuer usually wants to determine how likely you are to pay your bills on time. To make that call, they typically ask for your credit history and income information.

Did you know?

When you apply for a credit card, you typically have to provide your income. Credit card applications may also ask for your monthly housing expenses. This information helps credit card companies estimate your overall financial stability before offering you a credit card. If you haven’t had a credit card before or taken out a loan, a secured credit card could help you build credit history.

To open a student credit card, you may also need to provide information such as your college or university’s name, state and city, and proof that you’re currently enrolled. If you’re over 21, you could include a spouse’s income to help you qualify for a student credit card. If you’re under 21, however, you can usually only report your independent income.

What if you’re not ready to apply for your first credit card?

If you’re not ready for the responsibility of having your own credit card, or if you’re under 18, you could become an authorized user on someone else’s card. For example, you might become an authorized user on your parent’s account if you meet the card’s age requirements.

Being an authorized user can also help you build credit history with responsible use. However, keep in mind that the account’s credit history may appear on your credit report. If the primary account holder misses a lot of payments, it could hurt your credit score.

Discover reports each account’s activity to the three major credit bureaus. Using this the Authorized User can build a credit history, with responsible use.2 Building credit history takes time and patience, but it’s well worth it. Follow these first credit card tips and you’ll be on your way to establishing a credit history and a solid financial future.

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  1. 2% Chrome Gas and Restaurants: You earn a full 2% Cashback Bonus® on your first $1000 in combined purchases at Gas Stations (stand-alone), and Restaurants each calendar quarter. Calendar quarters begin January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1. Purchases at Gas Stations and Restaurants over the quarterly cap, and all other purchases, earn 1% cash back. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station, and some public electric vehicle charging stations. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Purchases must be made with merchants in the U.S. To qualify for 2%, the purchase transaction date must be before or on the last day of the offer or promotion. For online purchases, the transaction date from the merchant may be the date when the item ships. Rewards are added to your account within two billing periods. Even if a purchase appears to fit in a 2% category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in that category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not earn 2% if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. Learn more at Discover.com/digitalwallets. See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for more information.
  2. Authorized User: Primary account holder is responsible for all charges made by the Authorized User(s). Discover reports the account credit history to the three major credit bureaus as to you and the Authorized User. This can help build the Authorized User’s credit history if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact yours and the Authorized User’s ability to build credit.

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.