Typically, you must be at least 18 to apply for a credit card. If you are under 21, you must either have a co-signer (if the issuer allows co-signers) or provide proof of your independent income or assets to show that you will be able to repay the amount you charge per the “Extensions of Credit to Underage Consumers” portion of the Credit CARD Act of 2009

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 Credit card, or become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Regardless which path you take, consider the information below when applying for your first credit card:

  1. Options for First Time Card Holders
  2. Learn About Building a Credit Card History
  3. Getting Approved for Your First 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
Student it Card benefits chart

Options for First Time Card Holders

If you are a student, even a part-time job may provide 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.

Alternatively, 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, below are three common options:

  • 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, may allow 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 may offer rewards.
  • Rewards Cards. Credit card rewards are a great way to make 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 rewards on a variety of purchases.

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. Knowing the essentials about your credit report and credit score before applying for credit can help put you on a road to successful credit health. 

Your FICO® Score (the most widely-used credit score) is a three-digit number that’s calculated based on multiple categories including:

  • Payment History. Your credit report tracks 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 includes factors such as the total amount of money you owe lenders compared 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. The age of your oldest account, as well as the average age of all your accounts, are considered.
  • 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 counts 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. Also, you’re legally entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the three credit bureaus are offering free, weekly, credit reports. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your report.

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)

The details above are examples of information typically requested on credit applications, but creditors may request a variety of data points in order to review your application. For example, lenders may ask for employment information, financial/asset information, etc. 

How Long Does It Take to Get a Credit Card?

Getting a decision on your credit card application can be 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. 

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. 

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. Fortunately, you are entitled to what is called adverse action information (including reasons for denial). You can also review some of the factors that are considered in the credit card application process to decide on the next steps you want to take before you submit your next credit card application.

For example, you might want to take another look at your application 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, you can sign up for email or text reminders and enroll in automatic bill payment to ensure you pay on time. These are simple ways to  establish a history of good credit practices such as 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 May 5, 2021

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 are defined as the three-month periods beginning 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. Purchases made at Gas Stations include only merchants in the category that sell automotive gasoline that can be paid for either at the pump or inside the station. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets and supercenters may not be eligible. Restaurant purchases include only those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias and fast food locations. Certain digital wallet transactions qualify for 2% Cashback Bonus, for more information see Discover.com/digitalwallets. Purchases made through third-party payment accounts, mobile or wireless card readers, virtual wallets or similar technology will not be eligible if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details for rewards qualification. 2% Cashback Categories: In accordance with standard industry practices, merchants are assigned a merchant category code (MCC) typically based on their line of business, or the type of products and/or services they primarily sell or provide. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Even if you make purchases at a merchant of items that appear to fit in a rewards category, the merchant may not have an assigned MCC in that rewards category. Only purchases made from merchants located in the United States are eligible for 2% Cashback Bonus. In order for a purchase to qualify for the 2% Cashback Bonus Program, the transaction date must be before or on the last day of the offer or promotion. Rewards are added to your Cashback Bonus account within two billing periods. See Cashback Bonus  Program Terms and Conditions for more information about your rewards.

Cashback Match: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods. You’ve earned cash back rewards only when they’re processed, which may be after the transaction date. We will not match: rewards that are processed after your match period ends; statement credits; rewards transfers from Discover checking or other deposit accounts; or rewards for accounts that are closed. This promotional offer may not be available in the future and is exclusively for new cardmembers. No purchase minimums.

Good Grade Reward only available to new cardmembers on or after 7/23/2015 who indicate on their application that they are currently enrolled in college, and whose accounts are current and remain open when the Good Grade Reward is requested. Students with a Discover it® or Discover it® Chrome card who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher (or equivalent) during a School Year (September - August) may apply at Discover.com for a $20 statement credit ("Good Grade Reward"). One Good Grade Reward per School Year, per account, up to a maximum of five (5) consecutive years from the date your account is opened. Terms of Good Grade Reward Offer are subject to change.

FICO® Credit Score Terms: Your FICO® Credit Score, key factors and other credit information are based on data from TransUnion® and may be different from other credit scores and other credit information provided by different bureaus. This information is intended for and only provided to Primary account holders who have an available score. See Discover.com/FICO about the availability of your score. Your score, key factors and other credit information are available on Discover.com and cardmembers are also provided a score on statements. Customers will see up to a year of recent scores online. Discover and other lenders may use different inputs, such as FICO® Credit Scores, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. This benefit may change or end in the future. FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

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