In the U.S., you must be at least 18 years old to get 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 as required by the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

If you’re a student, you can apply for a student credit card such as the Discover it Student Cash Back card. If you’re 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. How to Get a Credit Card at 18
  2. What Do You Need to Open a Credit Card?
  3. Can a Student With No Income Get a Credit Card?
  4. How Your Parents Can Help You Get a Credit Card
  5. What to Look for in a Student Credit Card
  6. How Long Does it Take to Get a Credit Card?
  7. How Credit Card Companies Determine Credit Limit
  8. Using Your Credit Card Responsibly
Student it Card benefits chart

How to Get a Credit Card at 18

If you are a student, even a part-time job may provide enough independent income for a student credit card on your own. A student with no income may be able to get a credit card using a co-signer. But some companies, like Discover, do not allow co-signers on credit card accounts. 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 history with responsible use* 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 and could negatively impact your score.

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 with responsible use.* 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 with responsible use 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.

What Do You Need to Open a Credit Card?

When you apply for a credit card online, you’ll need to provide your full name, email address, physical address, phone number, citizenship information, housing payment, income, employment information, and other information. Some credit card issuers may ask for other types of information for certain cards.

A Good Credit Report Helps You Get a Credit Card

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, and more.
  • Amounts Owed. This includes categories 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.

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 through April 2022. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your report.

Can a Student With No Income Get a Credit Card?

No. If you’re a college student, you need to show a source of income to establish that you can pay back charges before you get your own credit card account. It may be worthwhile to consider a card with no annual fee because you won’t have to worry about that additional fee being included in your initial balance. Income can come from more than just a job. You may also consider money regularly deposited into your account by another person.  If you’re 21 or older, you can include income you would reasonably expect to have access to, such as income from a spouse.

If you don’t have income or access to income, you can still get a credit card by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account. Many students become an authorized user on a parent’s account. Authorized users have their own card that works just like a regular credit card and helps build credit history with responsible use* by reporting to a credit bureau, but the main account owner is responsible for the charges. If the primary account holder fails to make timely payments, that negative activity may appear on your credit report.

How Your Parents Can Help You Get a Credit Card

Most students don’t have much of a credit history. But building credit is a helpful step towards qualifying for that first card. Luckily, many credit card issuers give parents the option to add their child as an authorized user.

Having your parents add you as an authorized user on their credit card is a great opportunity to help your credit score when used responsibly* so eventually, you can apply for your own credit card. It’s also a smart way to learn how to manage your spending and avoid credit card debt, which is when you carry a balance on the card month to month rather than paying it off in full. When you do that, the downside is you have to pay interest. While that may not seem like a big deal, those charges can add up over time. With that in mind, there’s another caveat: You need to make sure you use your parents’ card wisely. Overspending and getting into credit card debt won’t do you, or your parents, any good when it comes to building and maintaining a solid credit history. That said, becoming an authorized user on your parents’ card is a great way to learn about credit limits and using credit cards responsibly. Sure, you may not think you need a great credit score when you’re in your late teens and early 20s. But the sooner you start building your credit history and learning good habits by using credit cards responsibly, the easier time you’ll have getting better credit offers for loans, mortgages, and car leases when you’re older.

What to Look for in a Student Credit Card

Student credit cards like the Discover it Student cards allow you to build your credit history while you’re still in school. Student credit cards may have a lower credit limit, so students can get started, practice responsible use and build their credit history. 

As the name suggests, most student credit card issuers require you to be enrolled in a college or university to be eligible for a student card. Generally, you can be either a full- or part-time student, and enrolled in a two- or four-year school.

Credit card issuers target college students hoping that they remain customers once they graduate and start earning more income. Since so many credit card companies want these new customers, undergrads are flush with student card options. But which ones are best? In many cases, you should look for offers with 0% introductory rates, low annual fees, and generous rewards packages in the form of cash back, points, or credits for having good grades. It should also be easy to get approved, even if you have no or limited credit history. You should also make sure you’re earning an income to make the monthly payments on time.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Credit Card?

Getting a decision on your credit card application may 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.

Your First Credit Card Application May Be 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.

How Credit Card Companies Determine Credit Limit

As a new cardholder, you’ll have a credit limit, which is the maximum amount of money a bank or lender will let you borrow. But the amounts vary. Most card issuers check your credit reports to calculate your credit limit. Credit card companies also pay close attention to your repayment record, the length of your credit history, and the number of accounts on your credit report. Also, the higher your annual income, the larger your credit limit is likely to be.

If you have more than one credit card, issuers will often check your other credit limits to determine how much credit they’re willing to extend to you. In fact, most credit card companies check your account histories with all your lenders to monitor your financial responsibility and payment history.

So what can you expect the credit limit to be on a new card?  The minimum credit line on a Discover it student account is $500. Credit card companies often consider information you provide on your application, details on your credit report, and other information related to your creditworthiness. To apply for a credit limit increase, your lender will want to know if there have been any changes to your annual income and monthly mortgage or rent payments. If you pay your balances on time every month, credit card companies are generally more likely to increase your credit limit. Usually, all you have to do is call and ask for an increase.

Using Your Credit Card Responsibly

Once you have your first credit card, it’s important to make sure to pay your bills on time and keep your balances low to stay on top of your credit history and credit score. That way, you’ll be able to get another credit card when you need one.

Published February 17, 2015.

Updated October 13, 2021

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 credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact your ability to build credit.

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