Owning a credit card—and using it responsibly—can open a lot of doors in your financial life.
Most importantly, paying your bills on time (and in full) creates a solid credit history, which increases your credit score. That can lead to lower interest rates on mortgages and auto loans, and even lower insurance costs. What’s more, a lot of cards come with valuable perks like purchase protection, travel insurance and, typically, better fraud protection than debit cards offer.
Not sure how to get a credit card for the first time? Here’s how to up your chances of being approved.
Even without a credit card account, you still likely have a credit report—which may contain information about any auto or student loans, your bill payment history and other personal stats. So pull yours—for free via AnnualCreditReport.com (once every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies)—and scan for errors.
That’s so you can make sure you’re not among the 25 percent of consumers who identify potentially score-damaging mistakes. Some of the most common? Incorrect name spellings, accounts you didn’t open and erroneous late payment reports, says credit coach Jeanne Kelly, author of “The 90-Day Credit Challenge.”
If you spot one, file a dispute with the credit bureau and the company that provided the misinformation—and follow up until it’s resolved.
If your credit history is very limited, or you’d prefer some practice before opening your own account, consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s, suggests Nancy E. Bistritz, director of communications at Equifax. But choose that person carefully, and “understand that the behavior the primary account holder exhibits can reflect on you and your credit history, as well,” she adds. (The same goes for you, so make sure you’re also maintaining good habits, like paying your bills on time.)
Another way to ease into credit cards is through secured cards, which are designed for those with poor or limited credit. They work like regular cards, but require a refundable security deposit—usually equal to the credit limit—to open the account. “Within a year of perfect credit habits, you are likely to see dramatic improvements in your credit score,” Kelly says, which can then help you snag an unsecured card.
With a clean credit report and good habits in place, you can confidently apply for your first card. Start by researching offers from the bank or credit union where you already do business. Not only does that allow you to build off an existing relationship, but you can use the same login credentials and easily set up bill-payment transfers.
You can also compare cards on sites like Bankrate and Creditcards.com. Just make sure to prioritize options with low interest rates, no annual fee and only modest rewards. (More valuable rewards cards usually come with high rates and fees.)
The Discover it® Chrome Card, for example, has no annual fee and also offers 2-percent cashback at gas stations and restaurants. Another free option is the Capital One Platinum card. With Capital One’s Credit Steps program, you can access a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly payments on time. Chase’s Slate card also has no annual fee, and offers a personalized credit dashboard with free access to your credit score.