How to get a credit card if you have no credit history
February 21, 2023 7 min read
So you’ve decided to get a credit card. You’re responsible with your money, and you’re confident you can make the monthly payments. But there’s a problem. You don’t have a credit history, which can make it tough to get a credit card.
But how are you supposed to establish a credit history without having a card? Don’t panic, though. It’s possible to get a credit card when you have no credit history.
- Having no credit history—or being credit invisible—means you haven’t had information about how you’ve managed debt reported to at least one of the three major credit bureaus.
- Credit invisibility can make things like getting approved for a credit card or loan more difficult or costly.
- People with no credit history might consider applying for a secured credit card, student credit card or retail store credit card to help establish and build their credit.
What does ‘no credit history’ mean?
If you’ve never had a credit card or loan, you might not have a credit history. That means you haven’t had a credit product or a lender hasn’t reported how you’ve managed debt to at least one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®. People with no credit history might also be referred to as credit invisible.
Why does credit history matter?
Not having credit history doesn’t mean that someone is financially irresponsible. But without established credit history, lenders might not have the information they need to determine someone’s credit risk.
Being credit invisible can lead to some challenges, including:
Credit and loan approvals
Lenders might look at credit reports and credit scores to get a picture of things like a person’s payment history, debt, credit age and more. Without that information, lenders may not be able to assess a potential borrower’s credit and approve them for things like credit cards, auto loans and mortgages.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it’s possible that a lender may use alternate data—like rent and utility payments—to make a lending decision on people with no credit history.
A lender may view a credit invisible borrower as having higher credit risk. So if a lender does approve a credit invisible borrower for a line of credit, its interest rates and credit limits might not be the same as those offered to a person with a longer credit history.
Car insurance rates
In some states, car insurance companies will look at a driver’s credit scores as part of determining their premium. So having established credit history—and a good credit score—may be part of helping you get a lower car insurance rate.
When you apply to rent an apartment or a house, the landlord may check your credit history—along with your criminal and rental histories.
You may still qualify to rent even without any credit history. But if a landlord has received multiple applications, they could decide to rent to another person instead. Or you may be asked to pay a larger security deposit or pay a few months’ rent upfront.
If you apply for a job, some employers may ask to run a background screening. And that can include a credit check, especially for jobs that involve finances or sensitive information.
The rules about how information from background screenings can be used vary. And companies are required to get your written permission before doing a background check. But if you decline, you might not be considered for the job at all.
What to look for in a first-time credit card
As you consider credit cards for the first time, it’s a good idea to first check for any eligibility requirements. For example, you generally need to be at least 18 years old to apply for your own credit card account.
Next you’ll want to think about what type of credit card you want. It may be helpful to check the interest rates and whether there are any annual fees or other potential fees. Capital One has a useful credit card comparison tool that helps you search by credit requirements, rewards types and other factors to find the right credit card for you.
You can also check to see whether you’re pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card before applying. Pre-qualification and pre-approval are considered soft inquiries, so they don’t affect your credit scores. For example, Capital One offers pre-approval that’s quick and won’t hurt your credit scores. Keep in mind, pre-approval isn’t the same as applying for a credit card, which could result in a hard inquiry.
Credit cards for people with no credit
Getting a credit card without a credit history can be difficult, but there are some types of credit-building credit cards that may be a good fit for people who are credit invisible.
Secured credit cards
Many banks and credit unions offer secured credit cards. This can be a great option to build or rebuild credit.
Here’s how they work: You deposit an amount of money, sometimes known as a security deposit, and the issuer holds it as collateral. For example, the Capital One Platinum Secured card has refundable security deposits of $49, $99 or $200 for an initial credit line of $200. If approved, you will get a credit card account with an initial credit limit. And you might be able to increase the credit limit by adding additional funds.
You can then use the card to make purchases—just like you would with other credit cards. And by using your credit card responsibly, you may be able to start building a credit history and earn your security deposit back.
Student credit card
Depending on the issuer and the card, you might not need a long credit history or high credit scores to qualify for a student credit card. Sometimes you don’t even have to be a student.
You may be able to help build credit by using a student credit card responsibly. Your credit can be important when it comes to things like buying a car or leasing an apartment. Some student cards can have lower or no annual fees and offer benefits that appeal to students. For example, the SavorOne Rewards for Students card from Capital One allows you to earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment and popular streaming services as well as at grocery stores, plus 1% cash back on all other purchases.
A student credit card works just like other credit cards. So if you carry a balance on your card, you might have to pay interest.
Retail store credit card
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a retail store card is another option you might consider if a secured card or a student card isn’t the right option for you.
Just like any other credit card, a retail store card could show up on your credit report if it’s reported to the credit bureaus. And using the card responsibly—by making consistent, on-time payments on the card—could help build credit history.
Keep in mind that you might only be able to use retail store cards in the store or group of stores associated with them. You can learn more by reading the card’s terms and conditions.
How to apply for a credit card with no credit history
Once you decide on what kind of first-time credit card you want to apply for, here are some steps you may want to follow:
Step 1: Decide where to apply
Depending on the issuer, applying for a credit card online may be the quickest and easiest option. But you can also apply in person, over the phone or by mail.
Applying for a credit card generally results in a hard inquiry, which can affect your credit scores. So it’s helpful to only apply for credit you need.
Step 2: Gather your information
When you apply for a credit card, issuers will ask for information that could include your:
- Full name.
- Social Security number.
- Date of birth.
You may also need to provide some additional information, depending on the issuer and your circumstances.
Step 3: Monitor your credit
If you’re approved for a credit card, it’s important to monitor your credit. As you’re building credit through responsible use, like making payments on time each month, it’s also a good idea to check your credit reports often.
One way to monitor your credit is with CreditWise from Capital One. CreditWise is a free tool that may let you monitor your VantageScore 3.0 credit score if you have sufficient credit history. Using CreditWise to keep an eye on your credit won’t hurt your scores. CreditWise is free and available to everyone—even if you don’t have a Capital One account.
You can also get free copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to learn more.
Other ways to access credit
In addition to applying for specific types of credit cards on your own, there are other options that could help you get access to credit. And you may be able to use them to build credit too. You could consider becoming an authorized user on another account or asking someone to co-sign a credit card with you, if that’s an option.
Becoming an authorized user means you get a card linked to an existing account that you’re authorized to use. The account could belong to a friend or family member—whoever is willing to add you to their credit card account.
As an authorized user, you’ll get your own card so you can make purchases with the account’s line of credit. But the primary cardholder is ultimately the one who is responsible for the account.
Many issuers report authorized users to the credit bureaus, although it’s important to check. If the issuer does report authorized users—and the card is used responsibly—being an authorized user could help you build your own credit history.
Being an authorized user can be a great way to learn how to manage a credit card. And some issuers, like Capital One, allow eligible authorized users to create their own digital profiles, making it even easier to view details related to their card and spending.
There are also benefits for the primary cardholder too. It can be easier to monitor spending when it’s all on the same account. And, depending on the card, the primary cardholder could earn rewards for your spending.
If you can’t qualify for a credit card on your own, you may have heard that it can help to apply with a co-signer. However, many credit card issuers today don’t allow co-signers.
If you find a credit card issuer that allows co-signers, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The co-signer will be responsible for paying back your debt if you don’t or can’t.
- The co-signer may be responsible for any late fees or collection costs.
- Negative information, like late payments, could become part of the co-signer’s credit history as well as yours.
If you don’t have credit history or if you’re trying to rebuild your credit, a credit-builder loan may be an option.
A credit-builder loan is different from a traditional loan. With a traditional loan, you might receive the money you’re borrowing upfront and pay it back over time. But with a credit-builder loan, you make fixed payments to a lender and then get access to the loan amount at the end of the loan’s term.
A credit-builder loan gives you an opportunity to show that you can handle consistently making on-time payments. And since your payment history may be an important factor in calculating your credit scores, it could help you build credit.
People with no credit history may look for loans that don’t require a credit check, like a payday loan.
Payday loans, sometimes called cash advance loans, generally describe short-term, high-cost small personal loans that are designed to be repaid on your next pay day, usually around a two-to-four-week loan term.
Credit cards for people with no credit history in a nutshell
Getting approved for a card is just the beginning. Whichever one you end up with, it’s a good idea to use credit responsibly by doing things like consistently paying at least the minimum payment on time every month. If you can, paying off the balance each month can help you avoid interest charges.
Using credit responsibly may help you build your credit history. And once you establish a credit history, you might find you have more options the next time you decide to apply for a credit card.