Credit report

How to qualify and apply for your first credit card

Getting your first credit card can seem daunting, but it’s often the most important step in building the credit you’ll need later in life. After all, having a credit card allows you to report your payments on time to all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These reports, combined with responsible credit card use, can increase your credit score and add depth to your credit reports over time.

Read on to find out how to qualify and apply for your first credit card and what steps to take first.

Check your credit score

The best credit cards on the market today are generally only available to those with good to excellent credit, or FICO scores of 670 or higher. Still, beginner’s credit cards often offer decent perks. Some of the best options to consider are store credit cards, student credit cards, and secured credit cards.

Either way, checking your credit score is a good first step. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay for it. There are several reputable services that allow you to check your credit score for free. Programs like Capital One’s CreditWise and Chase’s Credit Journey, for example, don’t even require you to pay or have an account.

See if you are prequalified

Generally, being prequalified means that an issuer has run a soft credit check, and from there they know that you are likely to be approved for a specific credit card. The credit card offers you receive in the mail are often prequalified.

You can also call any credit card issuer and request your prequalified offers, but this can be cumbersome. Bankrate’s CardMatch tool displays your prequalified offers from various credit card issuers, allowing you to focus on choosing the best card for yourself.

With basic information like your name, address, and the last four digits of your social security number, you can tell if you’ve been targeted for specific credit card offers.

The best part? Using the CardMatch tool does not involve an in-depth investigation of your credit report. You simply use the tool to find out if you meet the basic approval requirements set by credit card issuers, and you can decide if you want to apply afterwards.

Ask your bank

If you have a long history with a bank or credit union, consider exploring their credit card options. Your bank has a record of your financial transactions and has worked with you before, so they may be more likely to approve you for credit than other financial institutions.

Call your bank or talk to your banker to find out if you are prequalified for specific credit products. And remember, the worst they can say is “no”.

Be sure to list all of your income on your application

Once you’ve taken the steps to apply for your first credit card, you’ll need to do everything you can to increase your chances of approval. That means filling out your credit card application accurately with all of the information requested by the company, but it also means knowing the laws regarding the types of income you can include.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), there are different rules for people under 21. Specifically, card issuers are required to only consider your individual income if you are under 21, even if you have a spouse or partner who is 21 or older. However, this money can include:

  • Income you earn through your work or other means
  • Income or assets you have earned from a business that you own alone or jointly with someone else
  • Income or assets that someone else regularly deposits into an account you own

If you are at least 21 years old, however, the card issuer may consider money you earn yourself or the income of a spouse or partner. In other words, you can list your total household income as your own on your credit application if you’re 21 or older, even if you’re a stay-at-home spouse.

Consider the best credit cards for beginners

Once you’re ready to get your first credit card and start building credit, there are plenty of great starter cards to consider. Here are some of our favorites.

Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card

The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card requires a minimum security deposit of at least $200 to get started. However, there is no annual fee and cardholders can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase they make. The security deposit is also fully refundable when the account is closed or upgraded to good standing.

This card also reports to all three credit bureaus and cardholders get a free FICO credit score on their monthly statement.

Capital One Journey Student Rewards

College students can also check out Capital One’s Journey Student Rewards. This card comes with no annual fee and applicants can assess their chances of approval without extensive investigation of their credit reports.

Perks include a minimum of 1% cash back on all purchases, or 1.25% cash back when monthly bills are paid on time. Cardholders also receive $5 per month ($60 per year) in streaming subscription credit when they pay for eligible streaming services with their credit card.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Finally, those with “fair” credit, or a FICO score of at least 580 and up to 669, may consider the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. This card charges an annual fee of $39, but those who choose it get a flat 1.5% cash back for every dollar spent.

Rewards can be redeemed for cash back, statement credits, gift cards and more. Cardholders can also qualify for automatic line of credit reviews and the possibility of a higher limit in as little as six months.