How to get a credit card in 6 steps

Applying for a credit card—and using it responsibly—can be a good way to build credit and get some rewards. But where do you start? And what are the requirements to get a credit card? 

From choosing a credit card to submitting your credit card application and more, here are six steps to consider:

Key takeaways

  1. Check your credit reports and scores. Looking at your credit reports and credit scores can help you know where you stand to find a card that’s right for you.
  2. Explore credit cards. There are many types of credit cards available. Comparing things like interest rates, rewards and other perks can help you find a good fit.
  3. Understand the requirements needed to apply. In most situations, you must be at least 21 years old to be approved for a credit card. But the proof of identification and credit scores can vary among cards.
  4. Find out whether you’re pre-approved. Pre-approval can help you understand whether you qualify for a credit card without involving a hard inquiry.
  5. Submit your credit card application. You may be able to apply online, in person, over the phone or by mail.
  6. Use your card responsibly. Credit cards are a great tool for building credit. But the opposite is true too. Poor habits can lead to poor credit scores.

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1. Check your credit reports and scores

Why do your credit history and scores matter when you’re applying for a credit card? Credit card issuers  will likely use them—along with other factors—to evaluate your creditworthiness and decide whether to approve your application.

If you know your credit scores, it could help you figure out which cards you have a better chance of being approved for. And even if your credit score is a work in progress, there are still cards for people who have less-than-perfect credit.

Keep in mind that you have different scores from credit-scoring companies, such as FICO® and VantageScore®. These companies have multiple credit-scoring models—mathematical formulas used to calculate credit scores—and each formula is a little different. 

Want to see what’s in your credit reports? You can get free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—by visiting

You can also monitor your credit with tools like CreditWise from Capital One, even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder. With the CreditWise app, you can access your free TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0 credit score anytime—without hurting your score. And with the CreditWise Simulator, you can explore the potential impact of your financial decisions—like opening a new card—before you make them.

2. Explore credit cards

A credit card can be an important tool for building a better financial future. With responsible use, like paying your statement on time every month, credit cards can be a great way to build your credit. 

Before you pick a particular card, it can be helpful to understand the different types of credit cards available. For example, Capital One’s offerings include:

When comparing types of cards, it’s a good idea to assess why you want a credit card in the first place. Then you can see which one matches your needs and your credit scores. Just like all financial decisions, it depends on your circumstances. 

You might want to consider these factors:

  • If you’ll be using this card to build or rebuild credit: Whether you already have good credit or you’re working to improve your credit score, you can choose a card that will help you meet your goals.
  • If you’ll be using this card to transfer higher-interest debt: If you’re opening a new account for a balance transfer, you may want to think about interest rates and whether your new credit card has a balance transfer fee.
  • If you have any large purchases to make: If you plan to use your card for larger purchases, you should consider your new card’s credit limit.
  • If you plan to travel abroad: Using a credit card abroad can come with fees. But some cards have no foreign transaction fees.
  • If there are any fees associated with the card: Cards may come with an annual fee. You can also check the card’s annual percentage rate (APR), especially if you’ll use the card for cash advances.
  • If the card offers any rewards or bonuses: Many credit cards feature rewards programs where you earn miles, cash back or points when you use the card.

Not sure which specific card to apply for? Capital One’s credit card comparison tool can help you narrow your search by credit level, rewards type and other factors.

3. Understand the requirements needed to apply

Here’s an idea of the kind of information your lender might ask for when you’re applying for a credit card:


It’s possible to apply for a credit card once you’re 18. But according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), “in most cases, you’re required to be at least 21 to get a credit card.” If you’re under 21, you’ll have to prove that you can independently make payments on the account or have a co-signer who is over 21. But keep in mind that not all card issuers allow co-signers.

Proof of identification

Some credit card issuers require documentation to prove your income and that you have a U.S. address.

Some issuers require a Social Security number (SSN) as proof of identity. An individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) may also be accepted. Capital One asks for your full name, date of birth, SSN, physical address and estimated gross annual income.

Credit score

Depending on the type of card that you choose, you’ll need to meet the minimum credit score requirement for that card to be approved. There are cards designed for all types of credit situations, so you can choose to apply for the one that’s right for you.

4. Find out whether you’re pre-approved

Checking to see whether you’re pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card can be a great way to compare options and find the right fit before applying. 

When you see “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” on a credit card offer, it typically means your credit score and other financial information matched at least some of the initial eligibility criteria needed to become a cardholder. So when you get one of these offers, it likely means the information pulled by the credit card company indicates you’d be a good potential customer.

Pre-approval at Capital One is quick and only requires some basic information. And it won’t hurt your credit score. Pre-approval or pre-qualification can also help you apply more confidently for credit.

5. Submit your credit card application

There are several methods that you can use to apply for a credit card.


Applying for a credit card online is often the quickest option. You could get an instant answer to your application. And if you’re approved, some lenders may give you a virtual card number you can start using straight away.

In person

You can also apply for a credit card in person at a branch—or a café for Capital One credit cards. This can be a helpful way to have your questions answered and to receive assistance with the application process. With this method, however, you’re limited to applying during business hours.

Over the phone

Applying over the phone is another credit option. During business hours, you can usually speak to a representative who can assist you with the process.

By mail

Sending an application through the mail is typically the slowest way to apply for a card. It might take a few weeks because you’ll need to wait for the card issuer to receive your application and for its response back in the mail.

6. Use your card responsibly

If your application is approved, congratulations. If you use it responsibly, a credit card can help you meet your spending needs and build strong credit for the future.

One of the ways to use your credit card responsibly is to make on-time payments. You can create a repayment strategy by budgeting for at least your minimum payment each month and knowing your bill’s due date. However, paying more than the minimum every month can help you avoid interest charges.

Your payment history is a factor used to calculate your credit scores, and late payments can negatively affect your credit scores. One way to avoid forgetting to pay your bill each month is to set up automatic payments with your credit card issuer. 

FAQs about applying for a credit card

Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions you may have while applying for a credit card.

What if my credit card application is denied?

If your credit card application is denied, don’t be discouraged. You can still get approved for a card in the future. Here are a few steps you can take to help improve your chances of a successful application next time: 

  • Find out why. Knowing why your application was denied this time might help you work on strengthening your next application. Capital One applicants can review a secure letter online explaining the details or ask for a paper copy by calling 800-903-9177.
  • Check your credit reports. You might be able to see how previous actions have affected your credit scores.
  • Keep working on your credit history. A stronger credit history can give you a better chance of being approved when you apply next time. Check out these tips to improve your credit.

Can I apply for more than one credit card at once?

You can apply for more than one credit card, but the CFPB recommends only applying for the credit you need. Both FICO and VantageScore consider new credit applications—which result in hard inquiries—when calculating your credit score. Multiple applications could indicate that you’re planning on taking on a lot of debt in the future, and that could pose a greater credit risk. 

How do I get a credit card if I have no credit history?

It’s possible to get a credit card even if you don’t yet have a credit history. Here are some options you may want to consider:

How much money do I need to get a credit card?

While there is not a set income requirement for getting a credit card, card issuers may look at a range of information about your financial health before deciding whether your application will be approved or denied. For instance, lenders may consider your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio—your monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income—before issuing a credit card.

Does applying for a credit card affect my credit score?

When you apply for a credit card, the card issuer will conduct a hard credit inquiry, which can appear on your credit reports. This may cause a drop in your credit scores, but it typically doesn’t affect them for more than a year. And most hard credit inquiries remain on your credit reports for a maximum of two years.

How old do I have to be to get a credit card?

You need to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card. But if you’re under 21, you have to show that you can make payments on your own or have a co-signer who’s 21 or older.

How long does it take to get a credit card?

It generally takes 7-10 business days for a new credit card to arrive once you’ve been approved. Approval can be quick, with some card issuers approving applications within minutes of submission. If you apply for a Capital One credit card online or by phone, you could get a response in as little as 60 seconds.

Federal guidelines require credit card issuers to let you know if your application is approved or denied within 30 days of receiving it.

How to get a credit card in a nutshell

Applying for a credit card doesn’t have to be a complicated process. You can start by understanding what your credit scores are and what the application requirements are for the type of card that you’re considering. Once you’re ready, submit your application and find out whether you’re approved. 

If your credit score is a work in progress, consider exploring fair and building credit cards to help you on your credit journey.

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