Signing up for your first credit card is easy, right? Chances are, you’ve already been offered the opportunity to sign up for a credit card at a variety of places, from a store checkout counter to your local bank.

But responsible credit usage starts with a good foundation of making wise and informed decisions. So, even if it seems easy to get started, check out some of these important tips before you sign up for a credit card.

How credit card companies view first-time cardholders

If you’ve never had a credit card before, the first thing to realize is that, with each credit application, a credit card company assesses your complete financial picture — including your credit report, income, and expenses — and extends you an offer based on that picture.

This offer includes its terms, such as applicable APRs and fees. If your credit score becomes over time, you’re likely to receive better credit offers.

But if you’re starting out with no credit history, you have a blank slate. The bad news? A blank slate makes you a risk in the eyes of the credit card issuer, which has little evidence to support that you will make your payments on time. The good news is that you have time to build your credit responsibly, and you might be surprised at how fast you can do so.

How to sign up for a credit card when you have no credit

You have a couple of options if you don’t have any previous credit but wold like to apply for a credit card.

Your first option is to applying for a student credit card to help build your credit history with responsible use.

A second option is to apply for a secured credit card. If you’re approved, a secured credit card requires a security deposit equal to your line of credit. You can use this kind of card as a tool to build your credit by making payments every month by the due date.

Unlike most prepaid cards, your payment history on a secured card is reported to the credit bureaus just like a regular unsecured credit card. “Responsible use of a secured credit card will allow you to build a positive credit history and will increase your creditworthiness and your credit score,” said Stephen Lesavich, attorney and author of The Plastic Effect. You should keep in mind that late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your other credit card accounts and loans may impact your ability to build credit.

Finally, you can become an authorized user on someone’s account, such as a parent or spouse. Authorized users have the ability to make purchases and pay down a balance on the account.

The importance of building credit responsibly

Look at building your credit like building a house. Each time you make a payment on time is another sturdy brick added to the house. Late or missed payments can cause it to come crashing down.

Once you have built a strong house of creditworthiness, it’s time to take the next step and either graduate to an unsecured credit card or applying for an unsecured credit card.

This time, you can afford to be more selective based on the kinds of rewards you might be looking for and better interest rates. Again, the stronger your credit “house,” the better your options will become over time.

It pays to be choosy. “Instead of filling out new card agreements every time a sales associate inquires about your interest in a discount for opening a new store card, find a reward card that works for you and maximize the benefits by sticking with just one or two,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.

Building your credit doesn’t have to be a stressful chore — you can automate your payments so that funds are debited from your checking account each month on time. Make sure you monitor your statements, as well as your credit report periodically, to ensure that there are no errors or surprises.

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