If you're a young adult, getting a credit card can be a smart financial move – it can help build your credit for the future, and can allow you to make purchases where debit cards and cash aren't accepted, like hotel rooms. However, with all of the credit card products out there, how should you choose your first credit card? Here's what you need to know about the credit cards you'll likely be able to get, and how to choose the best for you.
Good credit cards for first timers
There are a few things to consider when shopping for a credit card for the first time. For starters, if you have a limited credit history, you're probably not going to get approved for the most desirable rewards credit cards. So, it's important to narrow down your search to credit cards designed for people like you.
If you're a college student, you're in luck. There are several credit card products designed just for you, and some are rather attractive. Here are a couple of my favorite examples, both of which have no annual fee:
- The Capital One Journey Student Rewards card offers 1% cash back and a 25% bonus for paying your bill on time. You can also get a 0% introductory APR for the first seven months, and you'll be eligible for a credit limit increase after making five on-time payments.
- The Discover Student card offers a unique bonus of $20 cash back each year you achieve a GPA of 3.0 or greater. The card earns 2% cash back in select categories, and 1% back on all other purchases, and there is currently an introductory offer that doubles the cash back you earn during your first year of card membership. Discover cardholders also receive a free FICO credit score, which can be a valuable tool to have while trying to build credit.
This isn't an exhaustive list, and your local banks and credit unions could offer equally attractive credit cards for college students, so shop around. And, bear in mind that the Credit CARD Act of 2009 has made it a little more difficult than it used to be to qualify for a credit card while you're in college. To sum up the rules, one of the following needs to apply:
- You are over 21
- You have a documented source of income
- You have a cosigner who meets one of the above requirements
If you aren't a college student, your options may be somewhat limited, but there are some credit card products that don't require extensive credit histories for approval.
One good example is the Capital One QuicksilverOne cash back card, which is a version of Capital One's popular Quicksilver card (you know, the one with the Samuel L. Jackson commercials) intended for people with "average" credit, according to Capital One's website. The card comes with a $39 annual fee, but offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases as well as a 0% introductory APR for the first nine months.
A secured card can be a good option too
If you can't qualify for a traditional credit card for whatever reason, or simply don't trust yourself paying with plastic just yet, a secured credit card could be the answer.
Basically, a secured credit card combines the benefits of a credit card with the ease of approval and flexibility of a prepaid card. Like a prepaid card, a secured credit card requires a deposit in order to receive the card. However, instead of debiting purchases from the money you deposit, you receive a credit limit equal to your security deposit, which is placed in an escrow account for as long as your account is open.
Just like a regular credit card, you can use a secured card anywhere credit cards are accepted. Each month you'll receive a billing statement, and you have the option of paying it in full or making just a small minimum payment.
The biggest advantage over a prepaid card is that a secured credit card reports to the major credit bureaus and can help you build or rebuild credit over time. Many banks offer secure credit card products with similar terms, so shop around if you think this may be the right way to go.
How to choose
First, decide whether you would be better off with a traditional or secured credit card. Then, decide what's the most important thing to you (good rewards program, access to your credit score, low interest) and apply for the card that best meets your needs.