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Key takeaways

  • Research and compare different credit cards to find one you qualify for that offers favorable terms like low fees, an introductory APR, or even rewards.
  • Look for cards that offer pre-approval so you will better understand your chances.
  • Manage your first card responsibly by making on time payments, keeping balances low, and monitoring your score.

Apply for a credit card for the first time with confidence. Credit cards are helpful tools. They are safer to use than debit cards and can help you improve your score when used responsibly.

Getting your first credit card is a big step, but it’s not difficult if you know what to expect. To qualify for most cards, you’ll have to have some credit history. If you don’t have any or you have a poor score, don’t worry. There are starter cards designed just for you.

In this article, we’ll go over how to apply for a credit card for the first time and the steps you can take to improve your odds of being approved.

Best credit cards for beginners

There are cards targeting people who haven’t achieved good scores yet. These cards have minimal score requirements making them easy to qualify for. Most are aimed at raising your rating so you can move on to even better cards.

Read more about credit cards!

First-time credit cards in a nutshell

When you’re ready to apply for your first credit card, it’s important to approach the process with a clear understanding of what to expect and how to prepare. The first thing you need to do is figure out what type of card you want. There are three main options for beginners. You can get a secured card, unsecured card for low scores, or become an authorized user on someone else’s card.

Secured credit cards

Secured cards are an excellent starting point. They are easy to be approved for and often cost less than unsecured cards for poor scores. You do have to put down a security deposit100% refundable – that sets your limit. The cash deposit acts as collateral, minimizing the issuer’s risk. These cards are ideal for building or rebuilding your score, as they often report to the three major credit bureaus.

Unsecured credit cards

Unsecured cards do not require a security deposit and provide a limit based on your score and income. For beginners with decent scores, these cards may offer better benefits and rewards than secured options. Look for cards with low fees and introductory APR offers to make the most out of your first unsecured card.

Become an authorized user

Becoming an authorized user on family member or friend’s card is another option. You get access to a card without having to qualify on your own. Be sure to choose someone with a good score since your score will be affected by their financial habits. It’s also important that both the primary account holder and the authorized user understand and agree on how the card will be used to avoid potential financial disputes.

Ready to apply for your first credit card?

Find 10 tips for getting your application approved!

How to get a credit card for the first time

If you’re wondering how to get a credit card for the first time, here are some key steps to ensure you’re well-prepared and likely to be approved.

  1. Understand the Basics: Before you apply, it’s important to understand the basics of how credit cards work. Familiarize yourself with common terms like APR (Annual Percentage Rate), credit limit, grace period, and fees. Know how interest works so that you can avoid paying it. Understanding these terms will help you compare different offers effectively.
  2. Your Credit Score Matters: Your score tells lenders how likely you are to repay what you owe. The higher your score, the better cards you’ll be eligible for. If you’re never had a card or loan before, you probably have a low score. Getting a card is one of the easiest ways to raise your rating.
  3. Research Your Options: Research is key in figuring out how to get a credit card for the first time. Start by researching different types of cards available to first-time applicants. Look for ones that are designed for beginners, such as secured cards and unsecured cards for low scores.
  4. Comparing Offers: Spend time comparing different offers. Look for features that match your financial situation, such as low annual fees, reasonable interest rates, and perks or rewards. Understanding the benefits and costs associated with different cards can help you choose the one that fits your financial situation and may save you money in the long run.
  5. Apply: When you’re ready to apply, you can typically do so online, over the phone, or in person. Online is usually preferred and is the fastest. A lot of companies offer instant decisions and/or instant access to a digital card if you apply online. Whichever way you apply, you’ll need to provide personal details, including your name, address, and basic financial information. Be honest and accurate in your application to avoid delays or denials.

How to choose a credit card for the first time

Understanding how to get your first credit card involves more than just filling out an application. You’ll want to find one that aligns with your financial needs and goals.

credit cards

Before applying, consider why you want one. Are you looking to improve your score, do you need it to cover emergency expenses, or perhaps it’s for everyday purchases? Your financial goals will dictate the type of card that best suits your needs.

Next look at how much it costs. All of them come with fees and APRs (annual percentage rates). Basic fees include annual fees, late payment fees, and foreign transaction fees. Decide if an annual fee is worth it for you. If you plan on using the card abroad, look for one without a foreign transaction fee. The APR is the amount of interest charged on your outstanding balance. If you plan on carrying a balance, a lower interest rate will be important.

A lot of cards offer rewards, perks, or welcome bonuses. The best rewards will align with your spending habits. Maybe you want cash back on everyday purchases or perhaps travel points appeal to you.

Lastly, read online reviews and ask friends or family for recommendations, particularly if they were also first-time applicants. Sometimes the best insights come from current cardholders.

Want to know what score you need to qualify for your first card?

Click here to learn more about credit score requirements.

Key points about applying for your first credit card

Applying for your first credit card is exciting. Before you go and submit a bunch of applications, you’ll want to consider these key points.

Get Pre-approved: Credit card pre-approval is a helpful step in the application process. This is when the issuer does a preliminary check of your to see if you qualify. It only involves a soft pull which does not affect your score. Being pre-approved is not a guarantee of approval, but it gives a good indication of your chances and can help you choose a card you’ll likely qualify for.

Read the Fine Print: Be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully before applying. Pay special attention to fees, penalty charges, and the interest rates. Knowing these details can prevent surprise fees and help you manage your new credit line effectively.

Choose the Right Card: As a first-time applicant, look for cards that are tailored to beginners. These cards often have more lenient approval criteria.

Eligibility Requirements: Most issuers require applicants to be at least 18 years old with a steady income and a social security number. Your income typically can include part time jobs, government benefits, or spousal income.

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How to check your credit score for the first time

Your score is a key factor in determining if you’ll be approved. A higher score generally means you’re seen as a lower risk to lenders. This makes it easier to qualify for a credit card with better terms. If it’s your first time, you likely have a low score and so will have to do a little more digging to find cards you qualify for.

Most cards have a minimum score requirement. It is important to only apply for cards that accept your rating, otherwise, you’re wasting an application (and each application temporarily lowers your score). Luckily it’s easy to check your credit report and score to find out what cards you qualify for.

You can get your report for free once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – or via the official website Check your credit reports and make sure that they are accurate. If you see any errors, dispute them with the issuing bureau.

Your report does not include your score, but it tells you the financial data that makes up your three-digit rating. Many financial services, banks, and credit card companies provide your score for free.

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. They are calculated based on factors like your payment history, the amounts you owe, the length of your credit history, new inquires, and types of accounts you have – namely cards and loans. If your score is low, use your new card to build it up.

Requirements to get your first credit card account

Applying for your first credit card is a significant financial step. To be eligible to apply, you generally need to be over 18 and have a Social Security Number. If you are under 21, you will need to provide proof of independent income or get a co-signer to qualify.

To make the application process go smoothly, gather what you’ll need before you apply. Routine information required includes:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Current address
  • Social Security Number
  • Gross annual income

You may also need to provide details like your employer’s address and phone number and your bank account information. The issuer may also want to know if you rent or own, how long you’ve lived at your current address, and how much you pay for housing per month. These details help them determine how much you can afford to spend each month.

Intro APR periods

An introductory APR period is when the issuer charges a low or often 0% APR on purchases, balance transfers, or both for a set time frame. The promotional period usually lasts from 6 to 18 months but can go up to 21 months. During this time you will not have to pay any interest. It’s a good way to save money if you plan on carrying a balance or need to make a large purchase.

Once the promotional period ends, the regular APR will apply to any remaining balances or new transactions. To make the most of an intro APR period, plan to pay off your balance before this phase ends to avoid incurring high interest on your remaining balance.

Bottom line

Getting your first credit card is exciting but the application process can be stressful. To alleviate some of the stress, do your research beforehand, know your score to better understand your approval odds, and try to get pre-approved. The goal is to find a starter card with good terms that work for your financial situation.

Once you have your card, practice good financial habits. Always pay on time and keep your balances low. These actions will improve your score so that you’ll qualify for even better cards in the future.

About the author

Rachel Alulis

Rachel Alulis has been the lead editor for Moneyfor’s credit cards team since 2015 and for the financial rewards team since 2023. Before joining Moneyfor, Rachel worked at USA Today and the Des Moines Register. She then established a successful freelance writing and editing business specializing in personal finance. Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA.