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Guide to Getting a Credit Card for the First Time

Guide to Getting a Credit Card for the First Time
Jason Steele
Jason SteeleUpdated February 3, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Getting your first credit card can be a milestone. Your first credit card helps build your credit history, and it’s an important step in your financial life.Read on to learn how to get a credit card for the first time, the requirements you’ll need to meet, tips that could help you get approved, and strategies for using your first credit card responsibility.  

Requirements to Get Your First Credit Card Account

To get your first credit card, you’ll have to meet certain criteria. First, make sure you’re old enough to qualify: The minimum age to get a credit card is generally 18. Second, credit card issuers typically require you to have an established credit history and to meet a minimum credit score. However, if you have no credit history or your credit score is bad, there are other alternatives you can try, such as applying for a secured credit card or a student credit card, or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card (you can read more on these options below). Finally, most credit card companies want to see that you will be able to make the payments on your card. You may need to provide proof of income and employment.Recommended: Credit Scores: What’s Involved in Calculating and Improving Your Credit

Tips for Applying for a Credit Card With No Credit History

If you’re ready to start applying for a credit card for the first time, but you don’t have a credit history, it could be difficult to get approval for a card. But there are typically ways to do it. Here are several methods for how to get your first credit card that you might be able to use:

Become an Authorized User

Becoming an authorized user on a parent’s or spouse’s credit card could help you with getting a credit card for the first time and establishing your credit history. As an authorized user, you can use the card to make purchases, but you are not responsible for payments. The primary cardholder is responsible for making payments on the card. And if the primary cardholder has a good or excellent credit score, this can positively impact you so that that can start building a credit history.Becoming an authorized user could be your best option if you are working on getting a credit card at 16. Many parents make their children authorized users on their accounts. 

Apply for a Student Card

Student cards may be available to applicants without a credit history. However, you have to meet certain requirements like being a college student who is currently enrolled and is age 18 or older. Student credit cards work the same way other credit cards do.

Apply for a Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards require a refundable cash security deposit. The security deposit typically becomes your credit limit. Secured cards may be an option for people without a credit history. When you close or upgrade the account, you will get your security deposit back. 

Tips for Choosing Your First Credit Card

Choosing a credit card for the first time is a big decision, and there are many different types of cards available. These strategies could be helpful as you’re picking a card.

Choose a Credit Card You Can Keep Long-Term

An important factor in your credit score is the average age of your accounts. By keeping your first credit card for as long as possible, you make the age of your account older, which is a good thing. 

Look for a card with no annual fee

Because you’re just starting out, you don’t want to have to pay to use your credit card. That’s why a credit card without an annual fee may be a good choice for a first card. Fortunately, some of the best credit cards have no annual fee.

Understand the Terms

You’ll want to compare credit cards and look for one with the best interest rates and terms for you. Make sure you understand all the conditions of the card, including any fees that might apply, when payments are due, and reward program details if applicable. 

Tips for Using Your First Credit Card

To help build your credit and keep it strong, you’ll need to be responsible about your credit card use. This includes:

Making Your Payments on Time

You’ll be billed for payments monthly, which is part of how credit cards work, and it’s very important to make your credit card payments on time. Payment history can impact your credit score. Late or missed payments may also result in late fees or penalties. Make at least your card’s minimum payment amount on time each month. And if you can pay off the balance, even better. That way you could avoid paying interest.

Keeping Your Account Balance Low

Keeping the balance on your card as low as possible could also help your credit utilization ratio. Credit utilization is a measure of how much of your available credit you are using. A low credit utilization ratio may help your credit score. Plus, the lower your balance, the less debt you have to pay off.

Staying on Budget

Come up with a realistic budget for using your credit card, and stick to it. That could help keep you from getting into debt. 

Reviewing Your Monthly Statement

Review your credit card statement each month to monitor your spending, make payments on time, and to check for any unauthorized purchases. If you see an unauthorized charge on your account, contact your credit card issuer immediately.

Understanding the Card Fees

It’s essential to know about any fees your credit card has. There are several types of credit card fees, including late fees, foreign transaction fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, and annual fees. Different cards have different fees. Check your cardholder agreement for the specific fees that apply to your card. 

Using Your Credit Card Often

Using your credit card on a regular basis and paying your bills on time and in full can positively impact your credit. It also helps keep your account active. Some card issuers may close an account if a credit card isn’t used for a certain period of time. 

What to Do if Your Application Is Denied

If your credit card application is denied because your credit history is considered too thin, you likely will need to work on establishing your credit history. Consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account in order to do that.

Things to Know as a First-Time Credit Card User

If you are a first-time credit card user, be sure to learn about all aspects of your credit card, including the terms and conditions, the fees, and any credit card rewards you might be eligible for. Read all the fine print so that you thoroughly understand your card and can use it responsibly. Pay your bills on time, and pay the balance in full if you can. 

Compare Credit-Building Credit Cards With Lantern

As you’re choosing a card to help build your credit, Lantern can help make the process easier. Whether you're looking for your first ever credit card or getting a business credit card for your small business, Lantern lets you compare the details of all the cards you may be eligible for in just minutes. Check to see what rates and terms you qualify for with Lantern.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if you’re not ready to apply for your first credit card?
What is a good credit limit for your first credit card?
Is getting a credit card at 18 a good idea?
How am I supposed to get a credit card with no credit?
Photo credit: iStock/Delmaine Donson

About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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