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 cut-and-dried way to know exactly when you should apply for your first credit card. However, they say “forewarned is forearmed.” In other words, having the information you need, even before you need it, can help make this important decision easier when the time comes. This guide to getting your first credit card will walk you through some simple ways to determine if you’re ready for this big financial step:

Before You Apply for a Starter Credit Card:

1. Are you 18 or older?

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 family member can add you as an authorized user on theirs so you can use the card and start to build a credit history of your own. But make sure you trust the primary account holder because if they miss payments, the negative information may be reported and appear on your credit report.

2. Are You Responsible in Other Areas of Your Life?

This might not seem related, but actually, the ability to regularly save money, stay organized and think about purchases before you pull the trigger and buy are all traits that show you may already have a good understanding of how finances work. That’s great, because these key life skills can come in handy when you open your first credit card. You see, it’s important to consider your overall financial picture as you get used to using a starter credit card. As a new credit card user, you’ll be learning good habits, like keeping your spending in check and paying off your balances on time, and ideally, in full, every month. 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 reigning in overspending and building your credit. Plus, knowing how to use credit responsibly will give you an edge if you choose to use your starter credit card as a cushion, say for extra cash, or to access funds quickly in case of a financial emergency.

3. 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. One of the most important things to understand is how your credit score works and how it can impact your financial future. It’s also a good idea to have some basic knowledge of how interest works, and how not paying your bills on time can actually 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 credit card. Discover’s Credit Resource Center is a good place to start. And once you know the basics, it could be time to apply for a starter credit card.

First-time credit cards to consider

If the signs 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:

1. Secured credit card

A secured credit card, like the Discover It® Secured Credit Card, may be a best first credit card because it allows you to build credit a credit history. To open a secured credit card, you make a small cash deposit. This deposit then becomes your credit limit for the card. Given this, a secured credit card can help you build your credit history and develop good habits, like not overspending and paying off your balance in full every month. If you’re new to the world of credit, a secured credit card could be a great way to get started.

2. 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 they’re specifically designed 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.

3. Cash back credit card

Does the thought of getting rewards for buying salsa dancing lessons or your daily latte excite you? If so, a cash back credit card could be the best first credit card for you. But remember, many cash back cards are not specifically designed for those at the beginning of their credit journey. Some of these cards may require more extensive credit history than student or secured credit cards. However, if you have some credit history, these credit cards deliver cash back rewards when you use them to make everyday purchases. The Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card may be a great choice for a first credit card because it offers benefits like 5% cash back on purchases every quarter in rotating categories up to the quarterly maximum when you activate, 1% automatic cash back on other purchases, and an automatic dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year using the card*.

Bottom Line: The Best Time to Get a Beginner Credit Card is Personal 

Deciding if you’re ready for your first credit card takes some careful thought and reflection. Getting your first credit card is definitely not something to rush into. Take some time to consider if you’re truly ready for your first credit card, along with your current financial habits. Once you feel you’re ready for this key financial milestone, the next step is choosing the best first credit card 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.

Published August 6, 2021

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.

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.