How To Apply For Your First Credit Card: A Step-by-Step Guide

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by on October 3, 2013

One gaping hole in most peoples’ high school and college educations is financial literacy. We learn all about history, math, and literature but very rarely learn about practical topics, like how to manage our money and go about carrying out basic duties related to our finances.

This is why when many people are ready to go about simple money tasks they’re not sure where to start. One such task that can be particularly daunting to the financially uninitiated is applying for a first credit card; there’s research to do, online forms to fill out, credit reports to be checked…all of which can seem really overwhelming, especially if you don’t have anyone to hold your hand through the process.

But it’s important to remember that obtaining a credit card as soon as you’re ready for the responsibility is a big financial step that shouldn’t be avoided or forgotten about. Using a credit card properly is one of the easiest ways to build a positive credit history, which is really important to the rest of your financial life.

So if you’re looking to apply for your first credit card but aren’t quite sure where to start, never fear: below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to applying for your first credit card. Read over it carefully to get on the path to responsible credit card ownership as soon as possible.

Step One: Do Some Research

Before you start filling out online applications for cards, it’s important to think about what type of card you might like to have. There are hundreds of cards on the market these days with all different types of rewards programs to choose from, so it’s important to start narrowing down which card would be right for you. If you’re not sure where to start, consider these questions:

  • Do you drive a lot? If so, a gas rewards card might be a good choice
  • Are you an avid traveler? If this sounds like you, you’ll want a card that offers frequent flier miles
  • Are you planning to charge a lot each month? If this is the case, a cash-back rewards card might be for you

Rewards programs are important, but you’ll also need to consider other factors, like the interest rates the cards you’re interested in carry and what types of fees they might charge. If you’re unfamiliar with credit card terminology (APR, grace period, etc.) check out the FTC’s website for guidance.

Step Two: Consider Whether Or Not You’ll Need A Cosigner

If you have a limited credit history, a poor credit score, or an income less than $10,000, you’ll probably need a credit-worthy cosigner to obtain your first credit card. A cosigner basically functions as a layer of protection for the bank issuing the card – if for some reason you can’t pay your bills, they know there’s someone else they can turn to to cough up the cash. If you fall into one of the three categories discussed above, start asking your friends and family if they’d be willing to cosign a credit card application for you, and don’t start applying for cards until you’ve found a taker.

Step Three: Gather Your Information

When you know which card(s) you’d like to apply for and have secured a cosigner (if you need one), it’s time to get your information in order. Most credit card applications are fairly simple, but at the very least you’ll need:

  • A permanent address and phone number
  • Your social security number
  • Your employer’s address and phone number
  • A pay stub (so that you can report your exact income on the application)
  • All of the above information from your cosigner (if you have one)

As you sit down to get started with your credit card applications, be sure to have all this information handy!

Step Four: Fill Out An Online Application 

Now that you’ve culled the cards on the market, found a cosigner, and gathered all the necessary information, it’s time to start applying! Use our student credit card finder or limited credit card finder to find what’s right for you.

If you’re approved, congratulations! You’re on your way to building credit. If not, contact the issuer and ask exactly why you were denied. Then, ask if you can apply again with a co-signer, or get a secured card. Be careful not to apply for too many cards in a short timeframe, as a large number of applications is a red flag for issuers.

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