How to Get a Credit Card for the First Time: Everything You Need to Know

ByG. Dautovic
September 23, 2021

Although credit cards are a highly popular payment method, many Americans get a little overwhelmed when it comes to figuring out how to get a credit card for the first time. It goes without saying that finding the right one can be a daunting task, especially if you’re on your first credit card hunt.

While credit cards with the most generous rewards and sign-up bonuses are generally reserved for consumers with a good credit history, there are some offers tailored to those with limited or no credit history. Check out our guide to learn everything you need to know.

What Options Do You Have When Applying for Your First Credit Card?

The thought of applying for your first credit card may be intimidating, but this doesn’t have to be a terribly complicated process. There are a few basic things to keep in mind when trying to get approved for your first card. Most first-time credit card applicants are young adults who don’t have a credit score yet. That means that their best bet for approval is with secured starter cards, student cards, or becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card.

To apply for a credit card, you need to be at least 18 years old. However, applicants under 21 either need a co-signer or proof that they have the income to cover a credit card balance. Either way, the biggest challenge to getting a first credit card is the fact that applicants at this age haven’t started building their credit score and don’t have a credit history.

Keep reading to find out more about the different types of credit cards that first-timers can apply for.

Secured credit cards

When applying for the first credit card, a secured starter card is a popular choice among many young adults since these have the highest approval odds, even for applicants with no credit history.

However, these types of credit cards for first-time users require you to make a refundable security deposit. The deposit, which becomes your spending limit in most cases, serves as collateral for the card issuer. This is money that you’ll get back as long as you pay your credit card bills on time.

The secured cards come with lower fees than their unsecured counterparts, and some offer nearly guaranteed approval for applicants with no credit history. Other than the required deposit, they work exactly the same as any other credit card.

The minimum deposit requirements depend on the issuer. Typically, secured credit cards for first-timers require a deposit of anywhere between $200 and $500. Although some credit card issuers approve higher spending, you should be careful how you use the card. Secured card issuers report information to the major credit bureaus every month, and any late payments can jeopardize your credit score.

It’s also worth mentioning that your monthly payments are not deducted from the security deposit. Unlike prepaid debit cards that work as an online wallet from where your purchases are charged, secured cards require monthly payments. This is why you need to make sure to avoid high-interest rates or late payment fees.

If you’re among the many young Americans asking themselves how can I get my first credit card with a spending limit of at least a few hundred dollars, a secured credit card is an ideal option.

Student credit cards

Another option for first-time applicants is a credit card for college students. These are designed to help students cover everyday expenses while they build credit. Although they generally have low credit limits, the cards come with low fees and generous rewards. If these credit cards for first-time users are managed properly, they can help you qualify for better cards in the future and increase your credit score so you can apply for other financial services such as car loans.

Another useful piece of advice is to choose a credit card provider that guarantees periodic credit checks, enabling you to increase spending limits.

Authorized credit cards

Some credit card providers allow authorized credit card users. An authorized user is allowed to make charges to an account without having to pay bills, which are the responsibility of the primary cardholder. However, authorized users cannot make any changes, such as increasing the credit limit.

If you’re trying to figure out how to apply for your first credit card in order to build your credit score, this is a great option. Authorized cards grant you access to an unsecured credit line even though you don’t have a credit history. Moreover, as an authorized cardholder, you’re piggybacking the primary cardholder’s good credit score. Since most issuers report the activity of authorized users to the credit bureaus, your credit score will automatically improve.

Some credit card companies don’t have any minimum age requirements for authorized users, while other providers require applicants to be between 15 and 16 years old.

How to Apply for a Credit Card for the First Time: Credit Card Requirements

Requirements for credit card applications vary from one issuer to another, but most have a standard procedure.

Aside from checking your credit history, most credit card companies also require applicants to be US citizens or permanent residents. In some cases, banks accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is given to certain nonresident and resident aliens and proves that an individual pays taxes in the US.

Your name, address, email, date of birth, and Social Security number are also required to apply for a first-time credit card. Some of the younger applicants will also need to prove that they can make payments on their first-time credit card by providing details about their source of income or getting a co-signer. Even a part-time job may be sufficient in some instances to get approval.

Here’s a list of income sources that you should include when applying for a credit card:

  • Salary
  • Family income
  • Rental properties and dividends
  • Child support
  • Alimony
  • Government benefits
  • Student loan

Things to Keep an Eye Out for Before Applying for a Credit Card for the First Time

Once you choose the credit card type that fits your needs, there are a few other things to consider in order to pick the right issuer.

If you already have a savings account, our advice is to check your existing bank’s credit card offer. It’s always better to choose the provider that you trust. Your bank representatives already have your personal information, and they are familiar with your credit history. This way, you can get a credit card faster, and you might get a better offer. For example, the bank can offer you a higher credit limit, a more affordable APR, and other benefits.

Another important component to look at when opening a credit card for the first time is the annual percentage rate. The APR is the interest rate that you’re paying for borrowing money. As such, it’s crucial to find a bank with an industry-standard APR. Of course, the APR is completely avoidable if you pay your balance on time each month - a practice that also helps you boost your credit score and allows you to apply for cards that require a score of 600 to 650.

Some credit card issuers offer a 0% intro APR for one year or longer. Of course, if you’re a first-timer, these rates are almost impossible to get.

This leads us to another important question: how do I get a credit card for the first time with low fees? Although most card providers charge annual fees, it’s important to remember that starter cards don’t offer incredibly lucrative rewards that would justify high fees. Ideally, your first card should have a $0 annual fee, and you should avoid interest charges by paying all your bills on time. You should also check out the foreign transaction fees and late payment fees before submitting an application.

How to Get Your First Credit Card: The Application Procedure

Applying for a credit card is much simpler than applying for any other financial product, especially if you are already the bank’s client. Most issuers allow online applications, but an office service is also an option if you prefer face-to-face communication.

You’ll need to provide the aforementioned personal details, including your name and Social Security number, as well as the sources of income.

If you’re wondering how to get approved for your first credit card quickly, we recommend an online application. Most companies have modern and easy-to-navigate sites that facilitate a quick and simple process.

When applying for a credit card, each provider checks your credit history. For first-timers, the bank will automatically create a file with one of the major credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). If you already have a poor credit score, look for issuers with high approval odds and low requirements. If the bank rejects your request a couple of times, that can have a negative impact on your credit profile. Most banks have pre-qualification tools that can help you determine whether you should proceed with the application or not.

Getting a Credit Card for the First Time

After the bank approves your application, you can either get the credit card by mail or go down to the bank and pick it up yourself. A few providers, like American Express, send a credit card number to their clients online, allowing them to use the card instantly.

After getting your card, you’ll need to activate it and use an online account to check monthly statements and track your card activity. Don’t forget to check if the provider has a mobile app after getting your first credit card number. This gives you access to your credit card details at any time you want. Moreover, you can set notifications to remind you about all your payments, ensuring that you never miss a due date.

Generally, credit cards are a convenient payment method, but just like with cash, you need to use them in a responsible manner. You shouldn’t spend more than you can afford, and you should always avoid late payments. The latter will reduce your credit score and make it impossible to qualify for other financial products in the future.

That first time that you’re applying for a credit card can be challenging, but the best way to use a credit card is to make only necessary purchases and pay on time so that you avoid high APRs. If you have good spending habits, you’ll see an improvement on your credit profile in less than a year. 

Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get a credit card if you have no credit? +

If you don’t have a credit score, your best bet is a secured starter credit card. You’ll be required to make a refundable security deposit, which acts as collateral for the card issuer and becomes your spending limit in most cases.

What is the best credit card for a beginner? +

If it’s your first time applying for a credit card and you don’t have a credit history, your options are somewhat limited. But there are a number of offers suitable for these types of customers, including secured credit cards and student credit cards. Alternatively, you can be an authorized user on someone’s credit card.

How much do you get on your first credit card? +

It depends on the credit card type you choose, but you shouldn’t expect to see more than a $500 credit line since you don’t have an established credit profile. Read our guide on how to get a credit card for the first time and find out everything you need to know about the process.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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