In an age of fingerprint authentication and one-click purchases, you’d think that applying for a credit card would be as simple as swiping right. While we’re not there yet, opening your first credit card doesn’t have to be complicated as long as you know what you need — and what you don’t.

What You Do Need

If you’re going to apply for a credit card, you should know at least a little about why you need it and how it works.

Credit cards can provide lots of benefits — more immediate ones like cash back or travel points rewards, and longer-term ones like establishing credit to get you ready to buy a car or a home. Think about your financial goals; you don’t have to have it all planned out just yet; just take a minute and think about what you want this card to do for you.

Let’s talk requirements. You’ll want to have some basic identity and financial information nearby when you’re ready to fill out the application; it’ll make the process so much easier.

  • You’ll need proof of identity. You’ll need to give your legal name, social security number, birth date, phone number and address where you can and do receive mail. If you’re a student living in on- or off-campus housing, consider putting down your more permanent address, if only to lower the chances of mail getting lost in a move.
  • You’ll need to show “creditworthiness.” You will need to provide information about your income and your financial assets — bank account(s), open loans, anything about you and money, really. If you’re under 21, you may have to show proof of income (pay stubs, a W-2).
  • You’ll need to know your credit history to figure out the best card for you. Hey, have you checked your credit score yet? It’s free! Once you have that, you can work through your options. If you have little or no credit history, you might want to apply for a secured credit card. In that case, you’ll need to provide information about an existing bank account to connect to the card. Most secured credit cards, like the Discover it® Secured Card, require an initial deposit of at least $200, so make sure you’re OK parting with that much money on Day One. Here’s more information about how the Discover it secured credit card works.

Another option is to apply for a student credit card like the Discover it® Student Card, which allows you to build credit, learn financial responsibility, and earn rewards. For those who want to build credit history without a steady income, you might consider becoming an authorized user on your parents’ card to start building a credit history. As you can see, there are several options, so do your research and find the best fit for you.

What You Don’t Need

  • Don’t rush into getting credit. Take a breath, because you definitely don’t need to rush into getting credit. You want to make sure you’re making a good decision, so don’t hesitate to step back, chill for a second, and then start your research.
  • Don’t apply for too many credit cards at once. You also don’t need to apply for tons of cards. Keep it simple! Putting in multiple applications means seeing multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, which can hurt your credit score, especially if you are denied for any of them. And even if you do get approved for a bunch of cards at once, you can run the risk of accumulating an unmanageable balance.
  • Don’t exaggerate your creditworthiness. You definitely don’t need to exaggerate your creditworthiness. Not only is it illegal to lie on your application, according to federal law, it may create bigger problems if you get away with it and find yourself racking up giant bills. It’s just not worth it. Be honest and earn that credit like most people do, by starting with a low line of credit, spending within your means and paying your bills in full every month. After a year or two of responsible credit card use, you can further assess your financial situation and determine whether or not you should request a credit line increase.

Don’t forget to check out your options! Both the Discover it® Student Cash Back card and Discover it® chrome card for students give cash back bonuses on everyday purchases and a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.* Not too bad for a first card, right?

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 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.

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.