Credit cards can be a convenient way to pay for your daily transactions, cover larger expenses, or manage monthly subscription payments. However, if you’ve never applied for a credit card before, the process can seem a little daunting. You might not know what perks or requirements to look out for or whether a particular card is actually a good deal.
We’re here to help. This is your one-stop guide to knowing how to get approved for a credit card: from choosing a card that’s right for your personal finances to making sure that you meet the requirements to apply, we’ll walk you through what you need to know.
Use these links to navigate the article below if there’s a specific question you want a quick answer to. Or, if you’re new to how to apply for a credit card, start reading from top to bottom for your full guide.
Let’s start by explaining the basics: how credit cards actually work.
How credit cards work
Credit cards allow you to essentially borrow money for a short amount of time before you have to start paying interest. They are a form of revolving credit, a type of loan that allows you to borrow up to a certain limit. That limit is your credit limit, which is the total amount that you’re permitted to put on your card each month.
Because credit cards are like a loan, credit card companies follow many of the same rules of thumb that lenders do when deciding whether an applicant will be approved for a mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan. They assess your history as a borrower (usually represented by your credit score), as well as other personal financial details like your monthly income and the assets you own.
Paying for things with a credit card can, at first, feel almost like it’s free money; you just swipe your card, and suddenly your new shoes or groceries are yours. However, it’s important to remember that credit cards build up a bill—one that you are responsible for paying each month.
Risks to keep in mind
Knowing how to get a credit card also means being aware of the risks they post to consumers. That’s because, as mentioned above, it can be easy to feel like it’s infinite free money at your fingertips. But it’s important to remember that that is not the case. At the end of each month, you’ll be required to pay off your balance—or at least a minimum balance, which is a smaller portion of your bill.
Many credit cards have fairly high interest rates—often higher than 15%. That means if you owe $500 on your card, for example, you could owe as much as $75 more if you do not pay in full, even if you do make the minimum payment. What’s worse is that this interest is usually compounding, which means that, if you don’t pay multiple months in a row, the new months’ interest is based on the total balance that includes previous months’ interest. Compound interest can add up fast.
Credit card debt is a chronic issue for millions of Americans. Some of it can’t be helped; people are often forced to put costly medical bills on credit cards, for instance. However, some of it can be prevented or managed by being careful about when and how often you use your card, how promptly you pay off your balance, and generally being mindful of the risks.
- Looking for more info? Check out our post on how credit card interest works for an in-depth explanation. It can also help to choose the right credit card.
Choosing the right credit card
There are hundreds of credit card options out there, with many major brands offering dozens of options, each with its own perks and costs. It can easily feel overwhelming. Here are a few of the features to look out for when picking the right card for your wallet:
- APR: Annual percentage rate is essentially the cost that you pay for the ability to borrow money from your credit card company. This is the amount that you will be charged if you do not pay your full balance.
- Annual fees: Some cards, though not all, have fees that must be paid to keep the account open.
- Penalties: Your credit card company may charge you an additional fee or higher rate of interest if you miss a payment, make a late payment, or pay less than your minimum payment.
- Rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards points for money spent on the card. For instance, you might get rewards cash that you can put toward your monthly bill or airline miles that can be used to purchase flights at discounted rates. Many stores also offer credit cards that provide rewards and discounts to users. If you frequently shop at a particular store, it may be worth signing up for a store-based credit card.
- Introductory rates: When hunting for the right card, you will likely notice that several offer introductory rates—lower interest rates than you’ll pay after the introductory period has passed. This can be enticing, but it’s important to remember that these rates are only temporary.
- Security features: Identity theft is, unfortunately, a fact of modern life. Be sure to check what features a credit card may offer to protect you.
- International fees: Some cards charge extra fees for use in another country; others allow you to do this for free. It’s smart to check if you plan on using the card abroad.
Not sure where to start? Check out Mint’s list of the best credit cards. Once you’ve found a card that has the desired rates and features, it’s time to focus on the card’s requirements.
Requirements to get a credit card
Different credit cards have different requirements. Some are only available to those with very high incomes and impeccable credit; others are more accessible to people with any income level and an average credit score.
In general, though, you can expect a few baseline requirements for most credit cards:
- Age: Most credit cards require that applicants be 18 or even 21 to apply. If you’re younger than this, you may be able to become an approved user on a parent or guardian’s credit card until you are old enough to apply for your own.
- Income source: Credit card companies want to know that you will be able to pay off your balance each month. During the application process, you will likely be asked about your employment status or source of regular income.
- Low outstanding debt: It’s normal to have student loans or a car payment, but if you have a considerable amount of outstanding debt—or you’re behind on your payments—credit card companies might get nervous about lending you money.
- Credit history: Your credit history, often measured with your credit score, is what lenders use to determine whether you are a trustworthy borrower. The more money you’ve borrowed and consistently paid back, the better your history looks.
Often, one of the biggest parts of knowing how to apply for a credit card is knowing whether you meet the card’s requirements.
How do I get a credit card without credit history?
It’s the classic conundrum: you can’t build credit history because you don’t have a credit card, but you also can’t get a credit card because you don’t have credit history. What are you supposed to do if you don’t know how to get a credit card for the first time?
You have a few options.
- You might consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, usually a parent or guardian. This is a safe and simple way to start building credit from a young age.
- You can sign up for a secured credit card. These allow you to put down a security deposit in the same amount as your line of credit. Think of it as a credit card with training wheels—if you can’t make a payment, you technically already have through your deposit.
- Student credit cards are designed for young people who have just begun building credit. They may have lower requirements and lower credit limits but can be a great first step.
If you’re just getting started in the world of personal credit, you can also check out our post on how to build credit at 18.
Applying for a credit card
You’ve found the card that works for your lifestyle, and you’ve sized up the requirements and think you’ve got a good shot, now it’s time to learn how to apply for a credit card.
Applying for a credit card can be fairly straightforward when you do it online. Most companies have a series of online forms you’ll need to fill out. They require information like:
- Date of birth
- Home address
- Contact information
- Social security number
- Income sources and amounts
It’s important to note that applying for a credit card could trigger a credit inquiry—which may or may not have a temporary effect on your score. This is especially important if you’re planning to apply for other loans in the near future.
Managing your credit with Mint
If you need help keeping track of your credit card payments and the amount you owe, as well as knowing your net worth and managing your credit, the Mint app can be a game-changer. The app sends notifications and emails when a credit card bill is near-due, will update your balances and display them in one convenient place, and can help you keep tabs on your credit score to make sure you’re where you want to be.
Applying for and using a credit card can seem challenging, but by managing your personal finances well—and with a little help from Mint—it can be a great way to build credit, make daily expenses, and fund your lifestyle.
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