How to Apply for a Credit Card for the First Time

Let’s Learn About: Applying for Your First Credit Card

  • You need to be 18 to open your first credit card account
  • Student or secured cards can be good options for your first credit card
  • 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 will have to put down a security deposit.

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

Consider applying for a Secured Credit Card or a Student Credit Card

When you’re just 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 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 this and a debit card is that your on-time payments help build credit with responsible use.*

Also consider a student credit card with a low annual percentage rate (APR) and a rewards program. You could earn cash back on purchases, so you can earn rewards when it’s time to buy books and school supplies.

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, identify what you want out of your credit card and apply for cards that make 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.*

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 towards 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.

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 do not 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

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.

Review the terms before opening your first credit card account

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.

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,* 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.

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

Chrome Disclosure: 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. 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/digitalwalletsSee Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for further detail.

Authorized User: Discover reports the account credit history to the three major credit bureaus as to you and as to 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.