How to Get a Credit Card For The First Time

Getting a new credit card, or getting one for the very first time, is a genuine sign of financial independence.

It's also a financial obligation that newbie cardholders need to take seriously if they want to stay out of debt and build a good credit score.

The process of getting a new credit card isn't all that difficult, especially if you're prepared and know what the card provider wants to see on your credit card application before approval.

Getting a credit card involves these four steps:

1. Check your credit score

Don't apply for a credit card until you check your credit score. Credit card providers will check your credit score to see if you're a good credit risk before issuing any application approvals. In general, any FICO credit score over 660 will get you a good credit card. The fact is, the higher your credit score, the lower your card interest rate will be, as card providers penalize weaker credit score consumers with higher interest rates. That's the price consumers with low credit scores pay for gaining approval from credit card companies.

2. Shop for the right credit card

Choosing the right credit card can seem an insurmountable task, as there is no shortage of credit cards to choose from. Basically, you want to find a card with decent interest rates, ample reward and cash back options, low fees, and a healthy credit limit (although your first credit card will likely come with a lower credit limit to keep your debt burden low.) There are plenty of card comparison sites to choose from, such as CreditCards.com, WalletHub, and ConsumerReports.com. All offer a wide variety of credit cards to choose from.

3. Apply for card 

You can apply for your credit card in three ways: by phone, by mail or online. You'll need proof that you're at least 18 years-old and prove that you have enough income to generate minimum monthly card payments.

Also, don't assume you'll get approved. Even those credit card offers in the mail or online are no guarantee of credit.

When you return the card offer, many financial institutions will conduct a "post-screening" process, which typically involves reviewing your credit bureau report in full as well as verifying information provided on your application. If your financial situation has changed, or if the card-issuing institution determines through post-screening that you don't qualify for the credit line initially, you may still be offered a card, but with different terms, higher interest rates or a smaller credit line.

4. Start with a single credit card

While there many credit cards to choose from, it's best for new card applicants to target a single credit card. Credit-wise, it's not a good idea to apply for multiple forms of credit at the same time (credit card companies consider multiple credit card applications a bad look, as it can mean you've been turned down too many times for bad credit.) If you get rejected for a credit card once or twice, consider a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit. Secure cards are much easier to obtain and can help you build a good credit background.

Once you receive your new credit card, start by making small purchases and have a manageable bill to pay every month. You'll want to keep your credit utilization low (that's your current credit balance relative to your credit limit) -- that's a sign to creditors and lenders that you're not overspending on your card, and will bolster your credit score.

Seven Things to Know About Your New Credit Card

Before you make the financial commitment to getting a new credit card, it's important to keep a few things things in mind. Here are eight tips to factor in:

1. Take baby steps

Once you open your credit card account, the real work begins. Making purchases with a credit card is easy. But paying your bills on time and keeping your credit utilization low, for example, are harder to pull off. Both are critical to credit improvement, though.

2. Know your interest rate

Make sure you understand interest rate you will be paying and for how long. Usually, fixed-rate annual percentage rates (APRs) are the best deal, as card companies have to notify you before raising rates (variable rate cards rise and fall with prime interest rates).

3. Understand that rates can vary

Most credit cards carry more than one interest rate, with balance transfers and cash advances usually carrying a higher rate. Consequently, you may have a 12.9% APR on purchases, and a 19.6% APR on cash advances. Not surprisingly, card companies apply any monthly payments to the part of the balance that is subject to the lowest interest rate, before the higher-rate part is paid.

4. Check the fine print

Thoroughly review your credit card contract to understand what your obligations are as a cardholder. Also check the language on fees, interest rates and what happens when you pay your bill late.

5. Don't pay credit card fees late

Tardy credit card bill payers can expect the card provider to respond with higher interest rates. Some cards will immediately raise your interest rate from the introductory teaser rate to the regular rate if you're late just one time.

6. Watch the fees

If there are too many fees involved with your new credit card offer, walk away. Why pay a fee for a credit card when, with good credit, you don't have to?

7. Get protection if you shop online

If you like to shop on the Internet or via mobile, find a credit card with a safe online shopping guarantee. Look for a card with specific guarantees, like 100% coverage for any losses due to fraud when shopping on the Internet.

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