For beginners, knowing how to get a credit card, where to get a credit card, or even when you can get a credit card might be confusing. Learning how to sign up for a credit card is crucial because, when properly used, it can significantly boost your credit score.
Wondering how to apply for a credit card for the first time? Cut out the stress and confusion with our seven-step guide to opening a credit card.
Now, let’s get that application ready.
Some credit card issuers allow you to see if you’re preapproved or prequalified for their credit cards. You’ll need to fill out a form and submit your personal information via the card issuer’s website. Once you’ve submitted the form, the card issuer will initiate a soft inquiry on your credit report. A soft inquiry will not affect your credit score.
If you receive a preapproval notice, you’ve met all the lender’s criteria thus far. A preapproval indicates you are likely to get approved, but approval is not guaranteed. You’ll still need to apply for the card to be fully approved.
Check your credit score and what it means
Your credit score is a creditor’s first line of defense in determining your creditworthiness. A lot of weight will be put on your credit score when you apply for a credit card. Knowing which credit score range you fall in will help you identify the right cards to apply for.
For example, if a credit card company advertises cards for people with excellent credit (800+ credit score) and you fall in the “fair” credit range, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of that specific card.
Credit scores consider your payment history, credit utilization, credit age, credit mix, and how often you apply for new credit. You can check your credit score through a credit card issuer or by ordering it from one of the three main credit bureaus: TransUnion®, Equifax®, or Experian®.
Here is a breakdown of the credit score range:
|Excellent||800 to 850|
|Very Good||740 to 799|
|Good||670 to 739|
|Fair||580 to 669|
|Poor||300 to 579|
Choose a card that meets your needs
To narrow down your list of options, start thinking about what you need from a credit card. For instance, if you have no previous credit history or score, you’ll want to look for a credit card that doesn’t require those, such as a secured credit card. Secured credit cards are a common tool for beginners to build credit and only require a cash deposit to open.
You can also consider a retail credit card if you’re new to credit. Store credit cards are generally easier to get approved for, but be careful: They often incentivize you to shop at a retailer more than you might otherwise. If you’ve already got a solid credit score from previous credit cards or other types of loans, you may be able to apply for a rewards card.
Rewards credit cards offer incentives to consumers with stronger credit scores, such as cash back or travel rewards. There are several types of credit cards, so do your homework to figure out which ones best cater to your needs. And remember: It’s OK to have multiple credit cards as long as you can keep up with the payments.
Know the card's terms and conditions
Every credit card has a unique set of terms and conditions that detail the agreement between the credit card issuer and holder. The credit card issuer should have the terms and conditions readily available for you to see before submitting their application.
Credit card terms and conditions can include fees that holders are responsible for, interest rates, and the card’s annual percentage rate (APR). If the credit card comes with a rewards program, the details of how a holder claims their benefits can also appear here.
Always check the terms and conditions of a credit card before applying so that you understand what fees you will be responsible for and which rewards you are entitled to. An understanding of your agreement with a credit card issuer is vital to keeping your credit healthy.
Decide how to apply
Now that you’re ready to apply for your credit card, you’ll need to choose how you want to do it. Depending on the card issuer, you may have a few options:
- Applying online will probably be the quickest and most convenient method — you may even get approved instantly.
- If you prefer a face-to-face experience, you can also apply in person. Applying in person will allow you to receive a quick response on approval, and you can ask questions in real time.
- You may also apply over the phone, but you might be put on hold for a while.
- The last and least convenient option is applying through the mail. If you opt for this method, it could take weeks to receive a response.
No matter which route you choose, getting approved for a credit card will probably be easier if you apply at a bank where you already have a checking or savings account.
This is especially true if you’ve demonstrated responsible account management by avoiding overdrafts and keeping up with payments.
Gather the necessary information
To speed up the credit card application process, come prepared with the information you’ll need to apply.
Application requirements can vary from issuer to issuer, but in general, this is the info you should know beforehand and have proof of:
- Full legal name
- Social Security number
- Address (you must have a valid U.S. address)
- Date of birth
- Annual income
- Housing costs
In addition, a card issuer might ask for subsidiary information, such as how long you’ve been at your current address and if you own or rent your home. They could also ask about your current employer, your main source of income, and any assets you may have.
Submit your application
Congratulations on selecting a credit card that meets your needs, gathering the necessary documents, and filling out your application! Now it’s time to submit the form and wait for the results. Depending on the health of your credit report, application approval can take a few minutes or a few days.
After you click submit, a hard inquiry may impact your credit score. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit the number of credit cards you are applying to at the same time. The good news is that the effects of a hard inquiry are often temporary.
Learning how to apply for a credit card is a smart first step toward building your credit history. After you find the perfect credit card for you, learn how to maintain a healthy credit score.
New to credit? Start building credit with everyday purchases¹ — apply for a Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card in two minutes without a credit check when you sign up for Chime.
FAQs about how to apply for a credit card
Still have questions about how to apply for a credit card? We’ve got answers.
How long does it take to get a credit card?
Depending on how you apply, getting approved for a credit card can take a matter of minutes; some credit issuers even offer instant approval. To receive your credit card in the mail, expect to wait 7-10 business days after approval.
Does applying for a credit card hurt your credit?
To check your creditworthiness when you apply for a credit card, some card issuers will run a hard inquiry on your credit report. A hard inquiry can lower your score by a few points and may stay on your report for as long as two years, but the impact is usually short-term and minimal. However, applying for multiple credit cards within just a few months results in multiple hard inquiries, which can be a red flag for lenders.
How often should you apply for a credit card?
How often you should apply for a credit card depends on your financial situation, as there’s no hard and fast rule for this. However, experts typically recommend you wait at least six months between credit card applications. Each time you apply for a new line of credit, it may trigger a hard inquiry, which can lower your credit score. Some credit card issuers might have their own limits on how often you can apply for new credit.
When can you get a credit card?
The minimum age requirement to open a credit card without a cosigner is 21.¹ But young adults under the age of 21 may be able to open a credit card if they can prove they can independently pay their credit card debts, such as by providing proof of independent income.
Can I cancel a credit card I just applied for?
It’s usually possible to cancel a credit card application if you act fast. Contact the credit card issuer right away before they run an inquiry on your credit report and decide whether or not to approve your application.
What is the minimum income for a credit card?
In general, there is no minimum income requirement to apply for an entry-level credit card. This varies depending on each credit card so be sure to check the terms and conditions of the card you are applying for.
What are the minimum requirements to apply for a credit card?
In general, you need to be at least 18 years old, have a valid license and have enough income to cover credit card costs.
What does “preapproved” mean for a credit card?
“Preapproved” or “prequalified” for a credit card simply means that the applicant has met all of the lender’s criteria for opening a credit card. Getting preapproved doesn’t guarantee approval for the card in question, though. Instead, the applicant would still need to apply to determine approval.
How do I apply for a credit card with no credit or bad credit?
Having no credit or bad credit is not necessarily a deal breaker when trying to get a credit card. There are many ways to get approval, either by changing your habits, applying for the right credit card, or finding alternative ways to build your credit.
If you have bad credit or no credit at all, you can:
- Ask someone to apply for a card with you as a co-borrower
- Have someone add you to one of their cards as an authorized user
- Apply for a secured credit card
- Open a student credit card
- Take out a credit-builder loan
- Look for errors on your credit report
- Pay down the balance on your debt
- Request a credit limit increase on an existing account