How to Qualify for a Credit Card

Getting a credit card isn’t as simple as filling out the application and getting approved. Credit card issuers have criteria they consider for each credit card applicant. Before you apply for a credit card, it helps to know how to qualify for a credit card. That way, you can estimate your chances of getting approved and save yourself a credit inquiry if it's more likely that you'll be denied.

Make Sure You're Old Enough for a Credit Card

Person holding a credit card issued before they turned 21 years of age.
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The legal age to qualify for a credit card on your own is 18. However, if you want to get your credit card when you’re under 21, you need to have your steady source of income before you can be approved for a credit card. Otherwise, you’ll have to have someone apply for a joint credit card with you.

The law doesn’t specify that you have to earn a full-time wage to get a credit card. You can put your annual earnings from your part-time campus job on your credit card application. If it’s high enough to repay a credit card balance, the credit card issuer will consider you for a credit card.

Have Your Own Income

Person counting change in their hand that was taken from a wallet
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To qualify for a credit card, you need to have an income of your own. Beginning in October 2011, credit card issuers were no longer allowed to consider household income for credit card applicants.

The rule was later revised to allow applicants 21 and older to use the income of partners if they have "reasonable access" to that income, i.e., deposits into a shared account or regular transfers from the wage earners account to the card applicant's account.

The new restriction means you can’t put your or parent’s income on the credit card application unless you’re applying for a joint credit card or they're giving you money or paying your bills every month.

Having a reliable source of income gives you the ability to pay for the credit card purchases you make. Not only do you need to have your source of income, but your monthly income should also be high enough for the credit limit you’re asking for.

Have a Positive Credit History

A Credit Report showing account balances and credit history is needed when getting a credit card.
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Good credit history will help you get approved for a credit card. The better your credit score, the more likely it is that you’ll be approved.

Some credit card issuers only approve applicants who have spotless credit reports. Others will approve your application as long as your late payments aren’t in the past two years. 

Having a negative credit history with a specific credit card issuer could keep you from getting approved by that same issuer. For example, if you had a charge-off with a prior American Express credit card, you may not get approved for a new Amex credit card.

Don’t worry if you don’t have the best credit – there are credit cards that approve applicants if you have a bad credit history.

Don't Have a Lot of Debt

A cut up credit card on top of past due bills indicates a need to reduce debt.
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Credit card issuers will consider the amount of your other credit card balances and loans before they approve your application.

If your credit utilization is too high, you might be denied. How much debt is too much varies by the credit card issuer and by type of credit card you apply for. Aim to keep your credit card debt below 30% of your credit limit.

A credit card issuer may compare your debt to your income to decide whether you can afford another credit card balance based on your other debt payments. A high debt-to-income ratio would indicate that you don’t have enough income to pay back another credit card balance.

Get a Co-Signer

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If you can’t qualify for a credit card on your own – because you’re not old enough, you don’t have sufficient income, or you have bad credit – you can ask a friend or family to co-sign your application. The co-signer has to meet the credit card’s qualifications for both of you to be approved.

When you ask someone to help you get a credit card, realize that person is taking a risk by co-signing for you. If you don’t pay the balance back, the co-signer will be responsible for the balance and will receive any credit damage from payments you've missed on the account.

Save up a Security Deposit

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People with new credit or bad credit, who can’t get approved for a regular credit card, may have more luck with a secured credit card.

The secured credit card requires you to make a security deposit against your credit limit before you can be approved. After about a year of timely payments, you may qualify for an unsecured credit card, presuming no other negative information is added to your credit report

Many secured credit card issuers will accept a security deposit as low as $300. If you don’t have that much, start setting aside $50 to $100 each month until you have a good security deposit saved up.