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How to Get Your First Credit Card

Follow These 5 Steps

  • 1. Make sure you’re ready
  • 2. Check your credit report
  • 3. Apply for the right card(s)
  • 4. Submit your application(s)
  • 5. Wait to hear back

By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff

A credit card can be a valuable addition to anyone’s wallet, including college students. Not only does it provide flexibility when making purchases; it also helps you build credit … when used responsibly.

Building your credit history now will come in handy after graduation when it’s time to move into your own apartment, buy a new car, or take-on any other credit-dependent goals. When that time comes, you’ll need to prove you’re a reliable borrower who can be counted on to make full payments on time. A credit card is your opportunity to do just that.

So how do you get your first credit card? Follow these steps.

1. Make sure you’re ready

It’s a mistake to get a credit card before you’re ready to use it responsibly. The last thing you want is to get a card and miss your monthly payments or overspend and get charged interest (when you can’t pay off the full balance). Either of these oversights will negatively impact your credit score, which is the opposite of why you’re applying for the card in the first place!

2. Check your credit report

As a college student, your credit history is probably minimal. A lack of credit history can impact which types of credit cards you’re eligible for. To be sure, check your credit report before filling out an application.

You can get your credit reports free through each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You’re eligible to request one free credit report from each of these bureaus every 12 months.

Applicants with good credit and reliable income could be eligible for rewards credit cards and higher credit limits (the maximum outstanding balance you can have on the card).

You can order your free Experian, Equifax, and Transunion credit reports online.

3. Apply for the right card(s)

Applying for a credit card is not like applying for a scholarship — with a credit card, you want to limit how many applications you send out. With every application comes a credit inquiry, and having too many pending credit inquiries, in a short period of time, will negatively impact your credit score in the short term.

That means you should limit your applications to one or two credit cards. That’s why you want to apply for the right card(s) to make your applications count.

A good place to start is by getting a credit card through your primary bank. Many banks are more likely to approve credit card applications if you have other accounts with the bank.

Plus, secured credit cards might only be available to existing customers. Secured credit cards can be given to applicants with limited or poor credit history. Essentially, the customer puts down a deposit to be held as collateral, and in exchange, the customer receives a card with a credit limit equal to or close to their deposit amount.

At this point, don’t get caught up chasing fancy reward offers. Odds are, even if you qualify, those rewards would be pretty insignificant since you should only be using the card minimally while in college. After graduation, when you have steady income and stellar credit, you can always apply for a second credit card that offers premium rewards.

4. Submit your application(s)

Credit card applications are fairly straightforward. They usually can be completed on the card issuer’s website.

Here’s a list of information you’ll typically need for your application:

  • Driver’s license number
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Annual household income

5. Wait to hear back

The time it takes to get a decision on your application can vary. Some card issuers provide instant approval or rejection, while others can take weeks before making a decision. You’ll hear back via email, mail, or both.

What to remember

Applying for a credit card is a rather easy process. The hard part is deciding whether you’re ready to use one responsibly and which card to apply for.

When you get your card, don’t rush to the mall to test it out! The best way to break in that new credit card is to choose one regular expense to charge every month — gas, for instance — that is controllable enough where you can confidently make your payments and not risk overspending.

More information

Interested in opening a credit card with Citizens Bank? Learn more about our options here.

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