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Getting Your First Credit Card

Last Updated: January 30, 2024
5 min read

Key Points about: first-time credit cards

  1. You’ll need to be 18 or older to apply for your first credit card

  2. First-time credit card users should look at secured credit cards or student credit cards as their best options.

  3. Using your first credit card responsibly helps you build a credit history

Getting your first credit card is a big deal. In fact, it’s often one of the first major financial decisions young people make on their own. If you’re a student or someone who’s never had a credit card before, it’s normal to have questions, such as:

  • When should you get your first credit card?
  • How do you know if you’re ready for your first credit card?
  • How do you get a credit card for the first time?
  • What is the best first credit card for beginners?

There’s no universal “right” time to apply for your first credit card. It all depends on the individual, but having the information you need before you apply can help make this important decision easier. This guide for first-time credit card users will walk you through some simple ways to determine if you’re ready for this big financial step.

Before you apply for your first credit card

Review these basic questions before you apply for your first credit card.

Are you the minimum age?

If not, then you’re not quite ready to apply for your first credit card on your own. You have to be at least 18 years old to open a starter credit card.

Good news, though: Although you can’t open your own credit card, your parents, a friend, or a family member may be able to add you as an authorized user on theirs so you can use the card and start to build a credit history of your own if the credit card issuer reports authorized users to credit bureaus.

But keep in mind, if the primary account holder doesn’t manage their card responsibly, the negative information may appear on your credit report, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A primary account holder's poor credit decisions could make it more difficult for you to build good credit later on.

Are you financially responsible?

It’s important to consider your overall financial picture as you start using a credit card. As a first-time credit card user, you’ll be learning good credit habits, like keeping your spending well below your credit limit, paying your bill on time each month, and repaying your balance in full whenever possible. If you’re already strategic about how you handle your money and carefully make decisions about purchases—especially big, expensive ones—then that responsibility will likely carry over into how you manage your credit cards, keeping you on track when it comes to responsible spending and building credit.

They're also helpful if you ever choose to apply for a different financial tool, like a personal loan. Plus, knowing how to use credit responsibly will give you an edge if you choose to use your starter credit card as a cushion for unexpected purchases, or in case of a financial emergency.

Do you understand the basics of credit cards?

When it comes to deciding if now is the right time to get your first credit card, it’s important to know the basics so you can avoid poor credit card decisions. Without understanding the basics, you may end up with credit card debt that's difficult to manage.

One of the most important things to understand is how your credit score works and how it can impact your financial future. Your credit card issuer reports your credit card activity to credit bureaus, who use it to build your credit report. The information in your credit report contributes to your credit score. A strong credit score not only helps you qualify for the best credit card rates, but also personal loan rates, mortgages, and more. 

It’s also a good idea to have some basic knowledge of how an interest rate works. Carrying a balance could leave you owing more in interest charges, especially if you have a high interest rate. Late payments can cause your balance to grow as late fees and interest charges add up. Understanding simple concepts like these can help you avoid unnecessary fees and charges and let you build a credit history you can be proud of.

If you aren’t clear on how credit cards work, then it might be a good idea to give yourself a quick refresher before you apply for your first one.

First-time credit cards to consider

If the questions listed above check out for you, then you might be ready for your first credit card. Here are some of the best credit cards for beginners:

Secured credit card

A secured credit card, like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, may be a good choice for your first credit card. Build your credit history with the Discover it Secured Credit Card

Student credit card

If you’re a college student, then a student credit card could be a smart choice for your first credit card. Student credit cards are among the best credit cards for beginners because each credit card issuer designs them specifically for college students and can be a good fit for this unique stage of life. Some student credit cards, like the Discover it® Student Cash Back Card, even offer rewards for things you’d be buying anyway, like gas or groceries.

Choosing the best credit card to start with

Deciding if you’re ready for your first credit card takes some careful thought and reflection and isn’t something to rush into. Think about your current financial habits to consider if you’re truly ready for your first credit card. If you feel you’re ready, the next step is researching some of the best first credit cards for your lifestyle and current stage of life. After you’ve been approved and you have your starter credit card in hand, you can enjoy using the card and any perks it offers—responsibly, of course.

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  1. Build credit with responsible use: Discover reports your credit history to the three major credit bureaus so it can help build/rebuild your credit if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact your ability to build/rebuild 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.