Typically, you must be at least 18 to apply for a credit card. If you are under 21, you must provide proof of your independent income or assets to show that you will be able to repay the amount you charge. Otherwise you will need to become an authorized user on your parent’s, guardian’s or another adult’s account who is over the age of 21. Age requirements may help you narrow down your options.

If you’re a student, there are student credit cards, like the Discover it Student Cash Back card. If you’re just new to credit, you might consider the Discover it Secured card, or become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Regardless which path you take, the process of getting your first credit card is straight-forward and requires just a little bit of research. Consider these tips when applying for your first credit card:

  1. Best options for new card holders
  2. Learn About Building a Credit Card History
  3. Getting Approved for a Credit Card
  4. How Long Does It Take to Get a Credit Card?
  5. Why Was My Credit Card Application Denied?
  6. After Your Credit Card Application is Accepted

Best Options for First Time Card Holders

If you have a job, even if it’s part-time, you may have enough independent income for a student credit card on your own. However, it’s important to remember that it will be your full financial responsibility to pay the credit card bill every month.

If you are added as an authorized user on another person’s account, you can enjoy the benefits of using the card without the official financial responsibility of paying the credit card’s balance. In some cases, if you have an insufficient credit history or bad credit, becoming an authorized user can help you build credit because the account history may be reported on your credit report. But ensure that the person liable on the account keeps up with payments because negative reporting to the bureaus will appear on your credit report if you are an authorized user.

If you are getting a card on your own, the three most common options are:

  • Secured Cards.secured credit card can help those with no credit or poor credit build their credit. A secured credit card requires that you put down a deposit. After that, the card works similarly to a traditional credit card and unlike prepaid or debit cards, allows you to build credit because your activity is reported to the credit bureaus.
  • Student Cards.Getting a student credit card will require submitting proof that you’re a student, but doesn’t require any security deposit. These cards typically offer rewards in a variety of categories.
  • Rewards Cards. Credit card rewards are a great way to turn your everyday spending go further. Choose a rewards card that matches your habits and goals—whether it’s a travel credit card that earns you airline miles, or a cash back credit card that earns extra rewards on purchases at gas stations and restaurants.

Learn About Building a Credit Card History

Before you apply for a credit card, it’s important to educate yourself and practice good credit habits from the beginning. Know the essentials about your credit report and credit score before applying for credit. Your credit score is a three-digit number that’s calculated based on multiple factors including:

  • Payment History.Credit reports track whether you’ve paid your credit accounts on time. This includes records from credit cards, retail accounts, mortgages, medical bills, and more.
  • Amounts Owed.This is the total amount of money you owe lenders as well as how that compares to the total amount of credit you’ve been extended, called your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your credit utilization, the better.
  • Length of Credit History.Those with a longer record of repaying loans are seen as being more creditworthy. A credit agency looks at the age of your oldest account, as well as the average age of all your accounts.
  • Credit Mix.This reflects the different types of credit accounts you have open, including credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, vehicle loans, and a home mortgage.
  • New Credit.The number of new credit accounts you’ve applied for or opened count toward your credit score.

Many financial institutions offer tools to check your credit score and identify which, if any, of these areas are weaknesses in your credit profile. You’re legally entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your report.

Since the amounts you owe make up a sizable portion of your credit score, it can be helpful to pay down your debts before trying to get a credit card. Put together a plan to pay off debt, or at least reduce them to lower your credit utilization ratio, potentially improve your credit score, and improve your chances of a successful credit card application.

Getting Approved for Your First Credit Card

Applying for a credit card can usually be done online, over the phone or in person, depending on the issuer. Applying online is usually the fastest route to a decision.

Applying for a credit card is actually quite simple, so long as you know what sort of details you may get asked. Prepare to provide information such as:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Birth date
  • Current address (and how long you’ve lived there)
  • Email address (usually optional)
  • Annual income
  • Current employer (and how long you’ve worked there)

These details are typically requested on credit applications, but some creditors may request a variety of information.

Some lenders will ask for employment information, financial/asset information or numerous other bits of information depending on what you’re applying for. For example, a mortgage application will ask about the property you’re purchasing, while a car loan application will require details on the vehicle.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Credit Card?

Getting a decision on your credit card application is often a relatively quick process, especially when you apply online. After you’ve submitted your application, the credit card issuer checks your credit with at least one of the three major national credit bureaus. This process can take a few seconds to a minute or more depending on your internet speed and network conditions. After the credit check is complete, you get a decision on the screen.

At this point, there are three possible outcomes: You can be instantly approved, instantly denied or you can receive a message that your application needs further review. With an instant approval, the issuer will typically deliver the card in 7-10 business days.

The credit card issuer may need a human, rather than a computer, to review your application and make a decision. In these instances, it will take longer to hear back on an approval decision.

The credit card approval time can be extended by something as trivial as verifying your personal information due to some discrepancies between your application info and your credit file, but it may also mean that the issuer is concerned about its exposure (especially if you already have another credit line with them). If you are in no rush to receive a new card, just let the review run its course.

When you finally receive your application decision, there’s only two possible outcomes: acceptance or denial. If your application is denied, don’t despair. Instead, find out the reason for your denial and work to put yourself in a better position for future applications.

Why Was My Credit Card Application Denied?

Having a credit card application denied can be frustrating, and can also be a sign of some issues with your finances. If you understand some of the key factors that are considered in the credit card application process, you can work to improve your financial situation so you can reapply in the future.

All hope is not lost if your application for a secured credit card is rejected. If you didn’t before, make sure your credit report is error-free, and explore your options to boost your credit score.

Review your application again to ensure you included all of your income and information. Consider applying to other institutions, or simply regroup and make a plan to improve your chances of a credit application approval in the future. With time and concerted effort, you can put yourself in a better position to re-apply for a credit card.

After Your Credit Card Application is Accepted

A credit card is an important and potentially powerful tool that can help you reach your financial goals. Once you have one, use your credit card responsibly in order to enjoy its many benefits.

Avoid over-spending by only making small purchases you are able to pay for, and make sure to pay off the balance each month. To avoid missing a payment, make sure to sign up for email or text reminders and enroll in automatic bill payment to ensure you pay on time. This is a simple way to improve your credit by establishing a history of paying on time.

You may make mistakes along the way, but with some research, preparation and the help of the right credit card resources, you can make the most of your new credit card.

Published February 17, 2015.

Updated April 27, 2020.

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.