How to get a credit card for the first time: 5 tips

Getting a credit card can make buying things more convenient and may even reward you with perks like cash back rewards. And when it’s used responsibly, a credit card can be a tool for building your credit for the future.

But if you’ve never had one before, how do you get a credit card?

Key takeaways

  • Reviewing your credit scores and history before choosing your first credit card can give you a better understanding of your financial status and what credit cards you may be eligible for. 
  • Card issuers may use information like employment status, income, credit scores and credit histories to make approval or denial decisions.
  • Becoming an authorized user is one alternative to consider if you’re not ready for your own card.
  • Applying for a starter card, like a secured credit card or student credit card, might be a good way to start your credit journey.

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1. Check credit scores and credit reports

Before applying for a starter credit card, it can be helpful to understand your credit scores and credit reports

Credit scores reflect your creditworthiness and are used to predict how likely you are to pay your debts on time. They’re based, in part, on information found in credit reports. You can use credit scores to understand which cards you might qualify for. For instance, some credit cards are designed for people with fair credit scores—or even no credit scores. Others may require applicants to have a good credit score or even an excellent score.

You can check your TransUnion® credit report and VantageScore® 3.0 credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. CreditWise lets you monitor your credit without hurting your credit scores. And CreditWise is free and available to everyone—even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder. also offers free copies of credit reports from all three major credit bureaus. Credit reports don’t typically include credit scores, but they can help you understand how your credit history impacts your scores.

2. Consider starter credit cards

Once you know your credit scores, consider exploring cards geared toward your credit level. If you’re establishing credit, for example, you might consider credit cards for first-timers—like a student credit card or a card for fair or building credit.

Student credit cards

Student credit cards work similarly to regular credit cards. They just usually have some features that are tailored to a student’s lifestyle, like specialized rewards that benefit students—rewards on entertainment, streaming services, meal delivery services or travel purchases, for example.

Credit cards for fair or building credit

Like student credit cards, cards for fair or building credit may be geared toward people with a thin credit file or those working to build a healthy credit score. Some starter cards may come with rewards like cash back on purchases. For example, QuicksilverOne from Capital One is designed for users with fair credit and offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.

One thing to keep in mind: Like any credit card, starter credit cards must be used responsibly to be a credit-building tool.

Secured credit cards

Secured credit cards are another option for people with little or no credit history. Secured credit cards, like Platinum Secured from Capital One, typically require you to make a deposit before opening an account. 

Learn more about how secured credit card deposits work.

3. Explore credit card rewards options

You may also want to compare credit cards for benefits and rewards that fit your lifestyle. That way, you can feel confident that you’ve found the best credit card for your needs—and are getting the most out of your new credit account.

For instance, you may prefer a credit card that offers cash back on everyday purchases. Or you may want a card with a $0 annual fee or some type of introductory cash bonus.

4. Consider pre-approval

Getting pre-approved or pre-qualifying for a card is another way to improve your approval chances. It can also help avoid unnecessary hard inquiries, which can show up on your credit report. 

Pre-approvals and pre-qualifications have some differences. But receiving one typically means you’ve met the initial criteria required to become a cardholder.

You can find out whether you’re pre-approved for some Capital One credit cards before you submit an application. It’s quick and only requires some basic info. And checking it won’t affect your credit scores, since it only requires a soft inquiry.

5. Apply for your first credit card

Credit card application steps may vary depending on the issuer and your circumstances. Whether you’re applying online, through the mail or in person, be prepared to share personally identifiable information and financial information during the application process.

Credit card companies may ask for details like:

What to expect after applying for your first credit card

If you’re a first-time credit card user, you may not have much in the way of credit history. That means a bank may be careful about how much of a credit line it offers you or which perks you qualify for.

In some cases, this may mean that you aren’t able to get every cardholder benefit you want with your very first card. Even so, you may still find cards with low or no annual fees. And with responsible use, you might eventually have a better chance of getting more credit or accessing additional card benefits.

One thing to keep in mind: It might be wise to choose a credit card issuer that offers a range of credit cards. After making regular, on-time payments and building credit, you may be able to switch to a card under the same issuer that offers more benefits, a higher credit limit or lower interest rates.

First credit card FAQs

Still curious about credit cards for first-timers? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions to help make it easier to find and apply for the best beginner credit card:

Does getting denied for a credit card hurt your credit score?

Getting denied for a credit card doesn’t necessarily impact your credit scores. But applying for a credit card—whether it results in denial or approval—involves a hard inquiry, which can negatively impact your credit score.

How long does it take to build credit?

The time it takes to build credit can vary from person to person. According to Experian®, it can take about 3 to 6 months of credit activity for a score to be calculated when you’re starting out.

How do you choose a good first credit card?

What makes for a “good” credit card as a first-timer can depend on your specific needs and goals in opening the card. 

Where you are in your credit journey, other debts you have and your income can play a role in the type of credit card that best suits your needs. 

Some credit card rewards may align with specific goals you have for yourself, like traveling. It may be helpful to apply for cards that offer rewards that support those goals.

Can I get a credit card with no credit history?

Credit card issuers base eligibility on factors like credit history. So you may have to start building your credit before you have a variety of credit cards, benefits and rewards to choose from. Applying for a secured card might be a good place to start. Or you may have other options, like applying for a credit builder loan or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card.

What does it mean to be an authorized user?

Becoming an authorized user on the credit card account of a responsible friend or family member may allow you to build credit history without being the primary account holder. And if the primary account holder handles their credit responsibly by doing things like making on-time payments, your own credit may be positively impacted, too. But be aware, negative impacts could affect both of you.

First-time credit cards in a nutshell

For many, getting a first credit card can make it easier to shop and build credit. But to get the most out of your card, it’s important to use it responsibly. One way to do that is by making payments on time every month. It might also be helpful to create a budget before you start using your card.

Ready to get your first credit card? See if you’re pre-approved with Capital One.

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