4 Mistakes You Might Make When Opening Up Your First Credit Card Account

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  • Getting a credit card for the first time can be an exciting milestone.
  • But it's important to understand the terms of your card thoroughly.
  • Make sure to read the fine print and learn your card's interest rate and spending limit.

It's best to steer clear of these credit card errors.

The first credit card you get in your name may not be the first one you ever use. A lot of people become authorized users on a parent's account for a period of time, such as during college or when they're looking for full-time work after college. But even if you've used a credit card before, there's something to be said for that account being one you're solely responsible for.

However, you don't want to get into financial trouble in the course of opening a credit card. And you also don't want to pass up the opportunity to snag terrific perks. With that in mind, here are some common blunders you'll want to avoid when you open your first credit card account.

1. Not timing your application properly to snag a sign-up bonus

Many credit cards offer a sign-up bonus that puts cash in your pocket for meeting a certain spending threshold within a few months after opening an account. But if you don't time your application strategically, you may not be able to snag that bonus.

Let's say a given card will reward you with a $250 sign-up bonus if you spend $2,500 within three months of opening your account. If $2,500 is a stretch for you in that short a time frame, but you plan to renew a professional license by credit card in March at a cost of $600, then it pays to make sure that charge falls into your three-month period.

2. Not looking at your credit card's interest rate

Ideally, you'll pay off your credit card in full every month and never carry a balance to avoid interest. But let's be real -- sometimes emergencies happen or we lose track of our spending. And so if you do end up having to carry a balance, you'll want to make sure you're not paying too much interest on it. If you don't check that detail before signing up for a card, you might end up spending a fortune any time you can't pay your balance in full.

3. Not chasing a better rewards program

Some credit cards offer extra cash back for certain spending categories. For example, you might find a card that gives you 3% cash back for gas or 2% back at the supermarket. If you apply for the first rewards credit card you come across, you might miss out on a better program. So instead, take some time to look at different cards and familiarize yourself with what their respective rewards programs look like.

4. Not paying attention to your spending limit

Hitting your credit card's spending limit won't just increase the likelihood of having your card declined. It could also have a negative impact on your credit score.

If you're getting a credit card, make sure you commit your spending limit to memory. Better yet, if you have a month when your bills are higher than usual, check your balance against your spending limit every few days to ensure that you don't end up going overboard.

Opening your first credit card is a big deal. And if you avoid these mistakes, you'll be able to really make the most of it.

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