People who are just starting out with credit often have the most difficult time getting approved for a credit card. That's because most credit card issuers require applicants to have some form of credit history, including a credit score, to approve a new credit card application.
The following are several ways you can improve your odds of getting your own credit card and building your credit history.
However, you won't have a credit score until you have at least one active account on your credit report for six months. Some credit card issuers realize that people have trouble getting a credit card for the first time, and they've made credit cards specifically for people with no credit.
Prepare For Your First Credit Card
You must have sufficient income to repay your credit card balance, especially if you’re under age 21. The income you put on your credit card application must be your own: you can’t use the income of your parents, spouse, or other household members to qualify for a credit card unless you have reasonable access to that money.
Income limits vary depending on the credit card, but you'll need to make at least enough money to repay your credit card balance each month. The higher your income, the better chance you have at getting approved for a credit card.
A few major credit card issuers have online pre-qualification tool that allows you to see if there's a credit card available for your credit profile. These pre-qualifications won’t hurt your credit score. If you eventually follow through with a credit card application, that hard inquiry will show up on your credit report and has the potential to lower your credit score.
Here are a few credit card issuers that offer online pre-qualification:
Prequalifying for a credit card doesn’t guarantee approval. Other factors such as your income could cause you to be denied for a credit card for which you’ve been prequalified.
If your credit card application denied, you’ll get a letter in the mail that tells you the specific reason why. Use this information in the letter to decide what you want to do next.
Establishing Credit On Your Own
Get a Student Credit Card
If you’re a student, you may qualify for a student credit card. These cards are designed for college students who may not have enough income or credit history. To qualify, you may have to provide proof that you're enrolled in a qualified college or university.
There are several great student credit cards that you can choose from. Narrow down your options by comparing student credit cards based on the fees, interest rate, and other perks.
Some credit card issuers allow you to use use scholarships, grants, or work study as income to qualify for a credit card.
Apply for a Store Credit Card
Retail store credit card issuers have a reputation for approving credit card applications for people with no credit. You’re more likely to get approval from the "closed-loop cards" that do not have a Visa or MasterCard brand.
You won't be able to use the credit card outside that particular store, but it will give you a chance to jump-start your credit history. Beware, though, as retail store credit cards have drawbacks such as low credit limits and high-interest rates. Keep your balance low and pay it off quickly to avoid racking up a lot of interest.
Get a Secured Credit Card
Secured credit cards are the go-to cards for people who can’t get approved for a traditional credit card. What distinguishes a secured credit card from other credit cards is that you make a security deposit to get a credit limit. Nothing is wrong with having a secured credit card as long as you pick one that reports to the major credit bureaus and has few fees.
If you don’t have enough money for a security deposit right away, you can spend a few months saving up for the security deposit. The Capital One Secured MasterCard has a minimum security deposit of $49, $99, or $200 for a $200 credit limit.
Get a Credit-Builder Loan
This type of loan is similar to a secured credit card. You take out a small loan from a bank, and you use the loan funds to open a locked savings account. The loan is repaid with small, manageable payments over six to 24 months, helping to build your credit over time.
The downsides are that you may have to pay the interest out of your own pocket for the loan, and you may not have any funds to use for anything else until you pay it off the loan.
Get Help Building Your Credit
You may have trouble jumpstarting your credit on your own. A relative, spouse, or close friend may be willing to help establish your credit so you can have an easier time getting a credit card in your own name.
Get a Co-Signer
Someone with a job and good credit may be willing to apply with you, but be aware that getting a credit card with a co-signer has drawbacks. For one, you have another person involved with your finances, watching your purchases, and making sure you pay the credit card. If you’re not responsible with the credit card—if you miss payments or max out the card—the co-signer's credit is also affected.
Become an Authorized User
Many credit cards allow an authorized user to be added to an existing account. As an authorized user, the entire account history is added to your credit report, giving you the benefit of an established credit account. Once you have an active account on your credit report, it's much easier to qualify for a credit card on your own.
A relative, spouse, or close friend may be willing to add you as an authorized user on an account. There's no credit check and it's not as risky as co-signing since you can be removed from the account at any time.
More Useful Tips If You Have No Credit History
Once you're approved for a credit card, use it responsibly so that you can qualify for better credit cards and loans in the future. Maintain a low balance and try to pay it in full every month to build a good credit history. Also, keep these other pointers in mind:
- Don't give up if you don't have any previous credit history. Talk to lenders and ask if they have other ways to qualify you for a credit card. Some lenders will consider payment history from rental or utility records, and you won't know until you ask.
- Avoid submitting a lot of credit card applications. If you’re turned down for a major credit card, even if it’s a student credit card, don’t keep applying. Instead, look for a store credit card or a secured credit card. Choose these credit cards ahead of time so that you’re not desperately searching for a credit card that will approve you.
- Watch out for any credit card that guarantees approval without first checking your credit score. There’s probably a catch in the form of high fees or a high-interest rate or both.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often can you apply for credit cards before it starts hurting your credit score?
While the hard inquiries from credit card applications can hurt your credit score, there's a grace period that allows you to make multiple inquiries without incurring negative marks for each check. Depending on the scoring method, you have between 14 and 45 days to combine hard inquiries into a single credit score impact. This grace period only applies to checks of an identical type, so a car loan or mortgage application will always count as a separate hard inquiry from a credit card application.
What do I need to apply for a credit card?
All you need to apply for a credit card is personal information about yourself. You'll need to provide your name, birthday, Social Security number, annual income, and other information along these lines. You may also need to provide bank account information to link to the credit card account, especially if you're getting a secured card that requires an upfront security deposit.