How to qualify and apply for your first credit card

Getting your first credit card can seem intimidating, but it’s often the most important step in building the credit you’ll need later in life. Finally, a credit card allows your timely payments to be reported to the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. This reporting, combined with responsible credit card use, can improve your credit score and deepen your credit reports over time.

Read on to learn how to qualify and apply for your first credit card and what steps to take first.

Check your credit score

The best credit cards on the market today are typically only available to those with good to excellent credit or FICO scores of 670 or higher. Still, starter credit cards often come with decent perks. Some of the best options to consider are business credit cards, student credit cards, and secured credit cards.

In any case, checking your creditworthiness is a good first step. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay for it. There are several reputable services that you can use to check your credit score for free. With programs like Capital One’s CreditWise and Chase’s Credit Journey, you don’t even have to pay or be an account holder.

Check if you prequalify

Being prequalified usually means that an issuer has performed a gentle credit check and knows that you are likely to be approved for a particular credit card. Credit card offers that you receive in the mail are often pre-qualified.

You can also call any credit card issuer and ask about your prequalified offers, but it can be a hassle. Bankrate’s CardMatch tool displays your pre-qualified offers from a variety of credit card issuers so you can focus on choosing the best card for you.

With basic information like your name, address, and the last four digits of your social security number, you can find out if you’ve been approached about certain credit card offers.

The best part? Using the CardMatch tool does not involve a harsh check of your credit report. You simply use the tool to check whether you meet the basic admission requirements of the credit card issuer and can then decide whether you want to submit an application.

Check with your bank

If you have a long history with a bank or credit union, consider credit card options. Your bank has a record of your financial transactions and a history of working with you, so they are more likely to grant you a loan than other financial institutions.

Call your bank or speak to your bank advisor to find out if you are pre-qualified for certain loan products. And remember, the worst thing they can say is “no.”

Be sure to include all of your income on your application

Once you take steps to actually apply for a first credit card, you must do whatever it takes to increase your chances of approval. That means accurately filling out your credit card application with all the information the company asks for, but it also means knowing the laws regarding the types of income you can include.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), there are different rules for those under the age of 21. Specifically, card issuers are required to only check your individual income if you’re under the age of 21 — even if it’s a spouse or partner 21 or older. However, this money may include:

  • Income that you earn yourself through work or otherwise
  • Income or assets earned from a business that you own alone or jointly with someone else
  • Income or assets that someone else regularly deposits into an account where you are the account holder

However, if you are at least 21 years old, the card issuer may consider your own income or the income of a spouse or partner. In other words, you can list all of your household income as your own on your loan application if you’re 21 or older — even if you’re a stay-at-home spouse.

Consider the best starter credit cards

Once you’re ready to get your first credit card and start building credit, there are many excellent starter cards to consider. Here are some of our favourites.

Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card

The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card requires a minimum security deposit of at least $200 to get started. However, there is no annual fee, and cardholders can earn 1.5 percent cashback on every purchase made. The deposit is also fully refundable if the account is closed or upgraded in good standing.

This card also reports to the three credit bureaus, and cardholders receive a free FICO credit score on their monthly statement.

Journey Student Rewards by Capital One

College students can also check out Capital One’s Journey Student Rewards. There are no annual fees for this card, and applicants can assess their chances of admission without a rigorous check of their credit reports.

Perks include earning at least 1 percent cashback on all purchases, or 1.25 percent cashback if monthly bills are paid on time. Cardholders also receive $5 per month ($60 per year) in streaming subscription credit when they use their credit card to pay for eligible streaming services.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Finally, those with “fair” credit or a FICO score of at least 580 and up to 669 may consider the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards credit card. While this card charges an annual fee of $39, those who opt in receive a flat 1.5 percent cashback for every dollar spent.

Rewards can be redeemed for cashback, statements, gift cards and more. Cardholders can also qualify for automatic credit line checks and the potential for a higher limit in as little as six months.

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