How to Get Credit For the First Time

Teenage girl presenting credit card

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Getting credit for the first time isn't always easy. Since you don't have credit established yet, it can be difficult to get approved for your very first account. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to build a solid credit history from scratch.

Apply at the Right Places

The best way for a beginner to get credit is to apply for a credit card targeted for people who are new to credit.

Your Current Bank

Having an established bank relationship gives you a foot in the door, so to speak. If you already have a checking or savings account, check to see if your bank has a credit product meant for someone with limited credit history. The bank may offer a student or secured credit card or a credit builder loan.

Retail Credit Cards

Getting a retail credit card is often easier for getting credit for the first time. Once you've established a few months of credit history with a retail credit card, it will be easier to qualify for a major credit card, like Visa or Mastercard.

While retail cards are easier to get, they also have higher costs. For example, the interest rate—the cost of carrying a credit card balance—is generally higher on retail credit cards. On the bright side, having a positive history with one of these cards may help you qualify for a major credit card later on.

If you pay your balance in full each month, which is ideal, you won't pay any finance charges.

Secured Credit Card

You can also apply for a secured credit card. This is a type of credit card that requires you to make a deposit to receive a credit limit on your credit card. Some secured credit cards will convert to non-secured cards after several months of responsible use. Keep your account in good standing, and your security deposit will be returned to you when your account is closed or converted to a traditional credit card.

Most major credit card issuers offer a secured credit card, making it easy to compare offers. As you compare offerings, look for a secured credit card that has a low security deposit, low interest rate, and low or no annual fee.

Student Credit Card

If you're enrolled in college, a student credit card is another option for establishing your credit history. The application will ask for information about your college enrollment, including year and expected graduation date, and may verify your enrollment status. You may only be approved for a low credit limit to start, but with responsible use, you can often qualify for higher credit limits.

Age Requirement

You'll need to be at least 18 to qualify for a credit card or a loan on your own. If you're under age 21, you'll have to provide proof of your income to show that you can afford to make payments on your credit card balance.

Teenagers under 18 may be added as authorized users of a credit card without a separate credit application or income verification.

What to Watch For

Don't be so eager to get started with credit that you make a mistake that hurts your chances of getting approved. Here are some things to keep in mind when you're applying for credit for the first time.

Avoid Multiple Applications

Each time you apply for credit, a record of the application is added as an inquiry to your credit report—a compilation of your credit history that plays a role in your ability to get approved. Too many inquiries in a short period of time can make it appear as if you are desperate for credit. Credit card issuers will be less willing to give you a credit card.

Watch for Scams

Be wary of credit card offers that guarantee approval regardless of your credit history. Offers like this are usually credit card scams that end up costing much more than you spend.

Use Credit Wisely

Avoid taking on more credit than you can afford to repay. Making your payments on time each month is also key to building your credit so you can qualify for better credit cards and loans in the future.

Start Small

Taking on too many credit cards at once puts you at risk of creating more debt than you can afford to repay. Starting out with just one credit card is typically best. Then, apply for new credit only as needed.

Key Takeaways

  • Look for your first credit card in places that cater to consumers who are just started out with credit.
  • Be prepared to show proof of income to qualify for a credit card if you're under age 21.
  • Using credit responsibly will allow you to build your credit so you can qualify for better credit cards in the future.