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How to Get a Credit Card for the First Time

Last Updated: February 2, 2023
8 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 card for a first-time credit card application

When you apply for your first credit card, you may want to check whether the credit card issuer is likely to approve you, and you’ll 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 are approved. The difference between a secured card and a debit card is that your on-time payments help build credit with responsible use.1

Also 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 books, school supplies, and other necessities.

Learn about credit card rewards

Student credit cards with rewards are just one type of the hundreds of rewards cards 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, Discover it® Chrome gives you 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.2

Be sure to pay attention to annual fees when evaluating rewards card offers. If you find yourself carrying a balance consistently, you may want to switch to a non-rewards card with a lower APR.

Choose a credit card you won’t want to cancel

Starting your first credit card account is an important step toward building credit. One factor in your credit score is the average age of your accounts, and your first credit card may be your oldest account for as long as you keep it open. That means you’ll want your first credit card account to be a card you can keep even after graduation. With a card that waives the annual fee for only a year, you might be tempted to close the account when the annual fee kicks in. It might be better to choose a no-annual-fee card for your first credit card.

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 are utilizing all the benefits the card has to offer.

Building credit takes time and patience, but it’s well worth it. Follow these first credit cards tips and you’ll be on your way to establishing a credit history and a solid financial future.

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. It may appear that you are either having a hard time being accepted or are about to take on more debt. These are known as “hard” inquiries that are placed on your credit report. “Soft” inquiries such as requesting your own credit report, employers checking your background, and lenders looking 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

Did you know?

To get approved for a credit card, you’ll need to report income to show your ability to make payments. Credit card companies may also ask for the amount you pay for housing each month as part of the application.

If you are a student, you may also need to provide information such as your college or university’s name, state and city and proof that you are currently enrolled.

If you’re under 21 and can show you have enough independent income, you may be able to get a student credit card on your own.

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 for authorized users.

Being an authorized user can also help you build credit history with responsible use,3 however, keep in mind the account’s credit history may appear on your credit report. If the primary account holder misses a lot of payments, for instance, it could hurt your credit score.

Discover reports the account credit history to the three major credit bureaus. This can help build the authorized user’s credit history if the card is used responsibly.

How to Apply for a Credit Card for the First Time

  1. 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.

  2. Choosing the best card for a first-time credit card application

    When you apply for your first credit card, you may want to check whether the credit card issuer is likely to approve you, and you’ll 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 are approved. The difference between a secured card and a debit card is that your on-time payments help build credit with responsible use.1
    Also 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 books, school supplies, and other necessities.
    Learn about credit card rewards
    Student credit cards with rewards are just one type of the hundreds of rewards cards 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, Discover it® Chrome gives you 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.2
    Be sure to pay attention to annual fees when evaluating rewards card offers. If you find yourself carrying a balance consistently, you may want to switch to a non-rewards card with a lower APR.
    Choose a credit card you won’t want to cancel
    Starting your first credit card account is an important step toward building credit. One factor in your credit score is the average age of your accounts, and your first credit card may be your oldest account for as long as you keep it open. That means you’ll want your first credit card account to be a card you can keep even after graduation. With a card that waives the annual fee for only a year, you might be tempted to close the account when the annual fee kicks in. It might be better to choose a no-annual-fee card for your first credit card.
    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 are utilizing all the benefits the card has to offer.
    Building credit takes time and patience, but it’s well worth it. Follow these first credit cards tips and you’ll be on your way to establishing a credit history and a solid financial future.

  3. 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. It may appear that you are either having a hard time being accepted or are about to take on more debt. These are known as “hard” inquiries that are placed on your credit report. “Soft” inquiries such as requesting your own credit report, employers checking your background, and lenders looking 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

  4. 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 for authorized users.
    Being an authorized user can also help you build credit history with responsible use,3 however, keep in mind the account’s credit history may appear on your credit report. If the primary account holder misses a lot of payments, for instance, it could hurt your credit score.
    Discover reports the account credit history to the three major credit bureaus. This can help build the authorized user’s credit history if the card is used responsibly.

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