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How to Get a Credit Card

Curious how to get a credit card? Here’s everything you need to know about annual fees, APRs, and all the other terms involved in getting a credit card.

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Applying for a credit card can be a quick and easy process if you know what you’re doing. Before applying it’s important to understand the terminology used by financial institutions. Understanding the jargon gives you the knowledge to make informed decisions and better understand the terms of your credit card. Below are some of the most widely used terms on credit card applications.

Annual Fee

The yearly cost of owning a credit card. Some credit card providers offer cards with no annual fees and the fee is part of the total cost of the card.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

The yearly interest rate charged on outstanding credit card balances. Oftentimes your APR will be lower for a period of time and then will increase. Make sure you know when an introductory APR rate will expire after you open your card (see “introductory rate” below). 

Cash Advance

If you use your credit card to take cash out of an ATM, get cash from your credit line or for other reasons described in your Cardmember Agreement, it will be classified as a cash advance. Usually there are fees associated with cash advances that are assessed as a percentage of the amount you withdraw.

Credit Line

The maximum dollar amount that can be charged on a specific credit card account. If you leave a balance on your card, it’s good credit practice to keep the revolving balance below half the amount of your credit line.

Credit Score

Your credit score is used to express individual creditworthiness and is based only on information contained in your credit report at each of the three credit bureaus. Credit scores greatly affect your ability to get a credit card and other types of loans. Discover uses FICO® Credit Scores, as well as other information to determine your credit worthiness. 

Introductory Rate

Credit card issuers may offer a low introductory APR as a special promotion. Be fully aware of how long the introductory period runs and what the standard APR purchase rate is, because your intro APR will eventually rise to the standard rate.

Minimum Payment

The lowest amount of money that you are required to pay toward your balance as stated on your credit card statement each month in order to keep your account in good standing.

Overdraft Protection

A banking service that allows you to link your checking account to your credit card, thereby protecting you from overdraft penalties or bounced checks in case of insufficient funds.

Comparison Shopping

Once you understand the language associated with finance and credit, you can begin to compare different credit cards. The most important factors here are your spending habits as well as how you plan to pay your card each month. Many credit card companies have a section on their website that allows potential applicants to compare different cards—even those from different institutions. Not all cards are created equal, so make sure to choose the card that best suits your needs.

Cash Back/Rewards

Are you someone who wants cash back on all purchases? If you can ensure that you will keep your balance low, you should aim for higher cash back on purchases. Maybe you frequent the same retail store, gas station or other establishment. If so, you might want to look into rewards cards specific to those places. Many rewards cards offer 1-5% cash back on everyday purchases—meaning your rewards could add up fast just by using your primary credit card.

Business Credit Cards

If you will primarily be using the card for a small business, some credit cards come with special features that may appeal to you as a small business owner.

Low Interest

If you don’t think you can pay your credit card balance in full each month, you should look for cards with lower APR rates. Card companies can penalize you for late payments by raising your APR so always be sure to read the terms of your account.

Travel Credit Cards

Do you spend a large portion of time traveling for business or pleasure? Consider a credit card that grants points or miles on purchases for spending on hotels and/or airline tickets.

Promotional Offers

Look for promotional offers without gimmicks. If all of the other card specs are identical, promotions might just be your deciding factor. Additional cash back, 0% balance transfers or cashback on purchases are all common offerings.

Added Features

As an incentive, many credit card companies offer benefits like price protection, extended product warranties, overdraft protection and more, just for using your card.


After mastering the jargon, comparing different cards and deciding whichever best suits you, it’s time for the easy part—applying! With most cards you can apply online in as little as 15 minutes. Many companies can tell you if you’re approved right away, while others will inform you via email or a letter within a few days.

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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.

FICO is a registered trademark of the Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

Discover Financial Services and Fair Isaac are not credit repair organizations as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. Discover Financial Services and Fair Isaac do not provide “credit repair” services or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history or credit rating. 

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