June 1, 2022

Applying for Credit Cards 101

Valerie Mellema
Fortune 500 Editorial Contributor

Getting a credit card for the first time can seem intimidating. However, it’s a simple process and many creditors have special provisions and programs designed for first-time credit card users. You can sign up for credit cards the day that you turn 18, and some people might even already be authorized users on their parents’ credit card accounts, helping them build credit before they can even get their own. In any case, it’s important to know the basics of getting a credit card so that you can do it right and start in a good place with your credit usage. 

When Do People Usually Get Their First Credit Card?

In the United States, the average age of a first credit card issue is 20 years old. However, 54% of Americans reported getting their first card between the ages of 18 and 20. 30% were between the ages of 21 and 24, and just 4% reported getting a credit card before they turned 18. Starting credit use at a younger age can be helpful because it will give you more time to build up good credit. However, you have to make sure that you’re ready for the responsibility that comes with having a credit card in the first place. 

When Is Someone Ready for Their First Credit Card?

Choosing when you’re ready for a credit card is a personal decision. No one can tell you when the “right time” is to apply. It’s best to wait until you are confident in your ability to responsibly manage money and pay off your debts without just racking up a bunch of bills. Too often, people start taking credit cards with limited financial savvy when they’re young and then they end up in debt, or worse, filing for bankruptcy. 

Someone is ready for their first credit card when they:

  • Understand how credit cards work, including interest rates, fees, and so forth. 
  • Are capable of paying their bill on time and keeping their balance low. 
  • Aren’t at risk of spending outside of their means and maxing out cards. 
  • Can get an unsecured card that doesn’t include annual fees or other requirements. 

Although secured cards and cards with annual fees might be a good way for some people to rebuild credit, they’re not necessary for those who are just starting. There are plenty of cards that won’t require a deposit or fee and will be more willing to give newbies a try when it comes to credit usage. 

Credit Card Applications: Tips and Advice for First-Timers

To ensure that you make the most of your first credit card, here are some tips and suggestions to keep in mind. 

  • Shop around for cards and find one that suits your needs and has reasonable interest rates
  • Don’t spend more on credit than you can afford to repay, ever
  • Pay your balance in full as often as you can 
  • Pay attention to your bill and review all your statement charges
  • Ask for special promotions and offers that can help you get a better start in the credit world
  • Set up automatic payments so you never miss a bill
  • Leave credit cards at home unless you’re intending to use them for a purchase (this curbs impulse spending)
  • Include your credit card(s) in your budget and money management
  • Avoid cash advances from your credit card whenever possible—they can be costly 

Understanding Rejection

Some people may find that they are continuously getting rejected by creditors and merchants when they apply for credit cards or lines of credit. There are several different reasons that this can happen, and the creditor will usually provide you with an explanation of their decision within a few weeks of your application. Rejection often happens due to:

  • Not enough credit history 
  • Not enough income
  • Too much existing debt
  • Collection accounts, judgments, etc.

For first-timers, it’s generally related to them not having a credit history to support their creditworthiness. The solution here is to apply for a credit card that’s specifically designed for those who are new to the world of credit. These cards are willing to take a chance on new credit consumers and will offer much easier acceptance for those who are just starting. 

Proper Credit Use Can Open a World of Opportunities

First-time credit card applicants and users should always read up on credit card best practices and financial tips for using them responsibly. These aren’t cards that are giving you “free money” to spend as you’d like. They’re debts that you will have to repay, so make sure that you choose them wisely. 

The good news is that when you are new to the world of credit, there are plenty of companies out there willing to help you get started on your journey to a good credit score through responsible credit use. 

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