Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

This device is too small

If you're on a Galaxy Fold, consider unfolding your phone or viewing it in full screen to best optimize your experience.

Skip to main content

How to Get Your First Credit Card

Updated Feb. 1, 2023
Brittney Myers
By: Brittney Myers

Our Credit Cards Expert

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that compensate us. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

Getting your first credit card is a financial rite of passage. That first card opens up a world of digital spending, convenience, and, yes, credit card rewards.

But opening up your first credit card account isn't all contactless payments and cash back; if you don't use that card responsibly, you could do long-term damage to your fledgling credit history.

Of course, you're not the only one taking on risk with your first credit card. As a brand-new credit user, you're an unknown element, so the credit card companies can't be sure you'll pay back what you owe. On the bright side, credit card issuers want you to build credit, so options for a first card abound.

Why get a credit card at all?

Although plenty of people are wary of credit cards because of the potential for abuse, avoiding credit entirely can also come with risks.

Establishing your credit report and building a credit history is much more difficult without a credit card. If you don't have a credit history and you want to borrow money in the future -- say, for an auto loan or mortgage -- you'll likely have a difficult time getting approved without a qualified cosigner.

Credit cards are also the safest way to make online purchases, and are less costly than cash or debit cards if lost or stolen. Legally, you're only liable for up to $50 in unauthorized credit card purchases, and most credit card companies offer their cardholders $0 fraud liability policies.

Then there are the rewards. When you use cash or a debit card, you remove the risk of incurring debt, but you also miss out on earning cash back, rewards points, and travel miles. As long as you pay your balance in full every month to avoid interest fees, credit card rewards can result in some big savings.

Qualifying for your first credit card

So now you understand why credit cards are useful. But how do you actually get your first credit card? You'll need to meet a few basic criteria to qualify for most credit cards:

  • Be at least 18 or older
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a resident with a Social Security Number
  • Have your own checking account
  • Have an independent source of income

The first and last points do require some extra attention. You can qualify for your own credit card at 18 if you have an independent source of income. However, allowances or gifts won't count as income. If you don't have your own verifiable income, you'll need to have a cosigner over the age of 21 with good credit or be over 21 yourself.

Provided you meet these basic requirements, you can apply for your first credit card.

Can I get a credit card with no credit?

There are two main types of credit cards available to those without a credit history: student credit cards and secured credit cards. We'll discuss each below.

Student credit cards

Student credit cards are marketed toward college students who don't yet have an established credit history, and they are some of the easiest cards to get. That doesn't mean student cards skimp on perks, though. Credit card issuers want you as a long-term customer, so they want your first credit card experience to be positive.

Most student credit cards don't charge annual fees, and many offer rewards. In fact, many student credit cards are student-centered versions of regular consumer cards, with rewards to match. For example, the Discover it® Student Cash Back offers the same rewards as the regular Discover it® Cash Back, including the sign-up bonus that matches the cash back you earn in the first year.

The main downside to student cards -- or any other type of first credit card, really -- is that you'll likely have a very low credit limit. This means you'll want to keep your balances low to avoid a high utilization rate -- the ratio of how much credit you use versus how much credit you have available -- as this could hurt your budding credit scores (more on utilization below).

if you've been a responsible payer, many banks will upgrade your student credit card to one of its regular rewards credit cards when you graduate from college. This typically unlocks a credit limit increase, and can mean larger rewards.

If your bank doesn't offer to upgrade you, you can request an upgrade or apply for a new rewards credit card on your own. So long as your first credit card doesn't have an annual fee, just leave it open -- that will continue building your credit history.

Here are a few of our top-rated student credit cards. If you'd like to check out more options, take a look at our full list for the Best Credit Cards for Students.

As of Feb. 06, 2023
Image for
Image for
Image for
Discover it® Student Cash Back Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card Chase Freedom® Student credit card
Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
5.00 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rating image, 4.00 out of 5 stars.
4.00 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rating image, 4.00 out of 5 stars.
4.00 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rates & Fees Rates & Fees

Credit Rating Requirement:

Fair/New to Credit Under(669) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

Fair/New to Credit Under(669) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

New to Credit Under(579) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Welcome Offer: Circle with letter I in it. Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Cashback Match

Welcome Offer:

Welcome Offer: Circle with letter I in it. $50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening

$50 Bonus

Rewards Program: Circle with letter I in it. 5% cash back at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

1% - 5% Cashback

Rewards Program: Circle with letter I in it. Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments. 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away

1% - 1.5% cash back

Rewards Program: Circle with letter I in it. Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years

1% cash back

Intro APR:

Purchases: 0%, 6 months

Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Intro APR:

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Intro APR: Circle with letter I in it. N/A

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Regular APR:

17.24% - 26.24% Variable APR

Regular APR:

17.24% - 31.24% Variable

Regular APR:

19.24% Variable

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee: Circle with letter I in it. $0,N/A

$0

Highlights:

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 17.24% - 26.24% applies.
  • Click "Apply Now" to see terms and conditions.

Highlights:

  • No fees whatsoever. No late fee, foreign transaction fee, annual fee, or any-other-kind-of-fee, fee.
  • Variable APRs range from 17.24% - 31.24%
  • Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away
  • 2% - 10% cash back at select merchants
  • $300 - $10,000 credit limits
  • No credit score? No problem. If eligible, we'll create your Cash Score instead.
  • See if you're pre-approved within minutes without impacting your credit score.
  • Build credit alongside hundreds of thousands of Petal card members.
  • Petal reports to all 3 major credit bureaus.
  • No deposits required
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Highlights:

  • $50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual Fee
  • $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years
  • Earn a credit limit increase after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score with Chase Credit Journey
Show More Arrow graphic to expand and collapse content Show Less Arrow graphic to expand and collapse content

Secured credit cards

If you're not a student and have no credit history, a secured credit card is the way to go for your first credit card. These cards are so named because they require a (fully refundable) security deposit to open and maintain the account.

Though deposit requirements vary, most secured cards require a minimum of $300 to $500. Since the credit limit of your secured credit card typically equals your deposit amount, it may be beneficial to put down a larger deposit to get a higher credit limit. If you default on your credit card balance, the card issuer can close your account and use your deposit to pay off your outstanding debt.

Many secured credit cards come without annual fees, and some secured cards even offer modest purchase rewards. Even if you don't find a card with rewards, however, don't despair. Secured cards are intended to build your credit history, not your points balance; once you're established, you can seek better rewards.

Or those rewards may come to you. Some credit card issuers automatically upgrade your secured card to an unsecured card once your credit qualifies for the unsecured option. Whether your first credit card is upgraded or you cancel it in search of greener pastures, your security deposit is refunded to you once your secured card account is closed and your balance paid in full.

If you're looking for a secured card, check out some of our favorite secured credit cards below.

As of Feb. 06, 2023
Image for
Image for
Image for
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
4.50 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
5.00 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
4.50 stars
Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rates & Fees

Credit Rating Requirement:

Fair/New to Credit Under(669) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

New/Rebuilding Under(579) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

New to Credit Under(579) Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Welcome Offer:

N/A

Welcome Offer: Circle with letter I in it. Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Cashback Match

Welcome Offer:

N/A

Rewards Program:

N/A

Rewards Program: Circle with letter I in it. 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

1% - 2% Cashback

Rewards Program:

N/A

Intro APR:

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Intro APR:

Purchases: n/a

Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Intro APR:

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Regular APR:

29.74% (Variable)

Regular APR:

27.24% Variable APR

Regular APR:

26.74% (Variable)

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Highlights:

  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Building your credit? Using the Capital One Platinum Secured card responsibly could help
  • Put down a refundable security deposit starting at $49 to get a $200 initial credit line
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Monitor your credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. It's free for everyone
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with online banking to access your account from your desktop or smartphone, with Capital One's mobile app

Highlights:

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200. That means a $200 deposit for a $200 credit line. Or a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit, and the security deposit equals your credit limit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 7 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Click "Apply Now" to see terms and conditions.

Highlights:

  • The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is a no annual fee credit card that helps you build your credit when used responsibly.
  • Unlike a debit card, it helps build your credit history with monthly reporting to all 3 major credit bureaus. Once available, you will also have free access to your FICO score online.
  • Use your card anywhere Mastercard® is accepted — worldwide.
  • A security deposit is required. Once approved, your credit limit will be equal to your security deposit (minimum of $200).
  • Get help staying on track with Auto Pay and account alerts.
  • With Flexible Payment Due Dates, you can choose any available due date in the beginning, middle or end of the month.
  • Manage your account 24/7 online, by phone, or in our mobile app.
Show More Arrow graphic to expand and collapse content Show Less Arrow graphic to expand and collapse content

Selecting the best first credit card for you

The current credit card market is glutted with options, even for first-time cardholders. Here are a few things to keep in mind while looking for your first credit card:

  • Annual fee: Some credit cards charge you an annual fee to keep your account open. While these fees can be worth paying in some cases, avoid cards with annual fees for your first credit card if possible.
  • Grace period: The grace period indicates how many days after the end of the billing cycle you have to pay your bill before you start accruing interest fees. If you pay your balance in full during this time, you'll only pay the cost of your purchases. It's rare for credit cards to not offer a grace period, but it's worth checking before you apply.
  • Annual percentage rate (APR): The APR dictates how much interest you'll be charged on any balances you carry from month to month. If you pay your balance in full each month, the APR shouldn't matter. In general, though, a lower APR is better.
  • Rewards: Although rewards shouldn't be a top priority in choosing your first credit card, they can be a good way to choose between otherwise similar options. Choose the rewards that best match the purchases you make to get the best return on your spending.

In the process of choosing your first card, remember that it's just that: your first card. This isn't your forever card. Pick a card that helps you build credit responsibly without breaking the bank. Everything else is gravy.

Choosing a credit card

Don't you wish you could take a peek inside a credit card expert's wallet sometimes? Just to see the cards they carry? Well, you can't look in anybody's wallet, but you can check out our experts' favorite credit cards. Get started here:

Tips for using your first credit card responsibly

A credit card can help you build a positive credit history that makes it easier to secure new loans or lines of credit in the future. But that's only if you use that new card wisely.

The single most important thing to do to keep your credit in good shape? Pay your credit card bills on time every single month. Late payments not only come with costly late fees, but if you fall more than 30 days behind, your credit score is in for some heavy damage -- especially when you only have limited credit history.

You don't necessarily have to pay off your entire credit card balance every month to avoid credit damage -- though you should. But you need to make at least the minimum required payment before your due date. A good way to make sure your account is always in good standing is to set up automatic payments, which, just as it sounds, automatically makes your minimum credit card payment every month.

But why is it better to pay your bill in full? Because any balance you carry past the end of your grace period starts to accrue interest fees. And those fees can get expensive, fast.

Carrying a balance on your credit card also raises your credit utilization ratio. As noted above, this is the ratio of how much credit card debt you have versus how much credit you have available (i.e., your credit limit). A utilization rate of more than 30% is considered a warning sign, and can decrease your credit score.

You'll also want to limit how often you apply for new credit. Every time you apply for a new credit card, the lender performs a hard credit inquiry. Each hard inquiry has a small negative impact on your credit scores, and too many hard inquiries in a short time can lead to more significant credit damage. It's a good idea to stick with just your first credit card for six months to a year to let your credit history grow.

There's a lot to understand when applying for your first credit card, but hopefully the above guide makes it a little easier. It'll probably be a while before you earn the lucrative rewards you might hope for, but with consistent, responsible use, you can build a solid credit history that opens up opportunities for better credit cards over time.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

Our Credit Cards Expert