How to Apply for a Credit Card

When I was younger, I applied for a first credit card. Notice I didnt say I applied for a first right credit card.

I didnt know any better. I just accepted the first credit card for which I successfully applied. It happened to be a Wells Fargo card because there was a Wells Fargo branch in my local grocery store.

Getting that card was a mistake. I didn’t even know how credit cards work.

I wish I wouldve taken a bit more time and applied for the right credit card for me. Dont make this same mistake. Well help you learn how to apply for a credit card, including finding the right credit card for you.

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Know Your Credit Score

Before applying for a credit card, youll want to know your credit score. Two credit scoring models exist, FICO and VantageScore. These models study your financial history and assign you a score between 300 (worst) and 850 (best). Average scores are around 700.

Payment history and the percentage of your credit limit youre currently using are key components of both FICO and VantageScore.

Credit reporting services, such as Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, add the score to your credit report which banks and other organizations can check.

Knowing your credit score will give you a better idea which cards will accept you.

How to Check Your Credit Score for Free

If youd like to know your credit score before you apply for a credit card, multiple sources are available for free.

Some options for receiving a free credit score include:

  • Your bank: Your local bank where you have an account may check your credit score for you for free.
  • Credit card issuer: Some credit card companies will print your credit score on the monthly statement, or they will check your credit score if you make a request. I now have several cards with Chase which also gives me access to my score.
  • Equifax: If you visit the Equifax website, youre allowed to create an account and receive your credit score for free.
  • Experian: You can see your credit score for free at the Experian website or by using the Experian app.
  • Free annual credit report: If you sign up at the Annual Credit Report website, you can receive a free copy of your credit report, which contains your credit score. You may receive a report from each of the three credit reporting companies once per year.

What Credit Card Issuers Are Looking For to Approve You

Your credit score has a massive impact on whether you get approved for a given card. The better the card, the better the score that youll need.

Some of the premium rewards cards need a score of 700. Others might need a score of only 600. And some cards are designed for building credit from scratch or improving a low credit score.

To improve your score, youll need a credit report that shows flawless payments on all your loans (including credit cards) for years on end.

But other factors also play a role in determining whether a credit card issuer will approve your application.

  • Delinquencies: If you have reports of delinquencies on your credit history, your chances of receiving a new credit card will drop. Late payments count as a delinquency, as do missed payments. These delinquencies can remain part of your credit history for several years.
  • New account requests: Each time a creditor checks your credit history because youve applied for credit, it counts as a hard inquiry that stays on your account for a couple of years. With too many hard inquiries on your account, a creditor may see you as a risk, believing you may be trying to open too many accounts. Each time you apply for a credit card, even if you receive a denial, it counts as a hard inquiry.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: The credit card issuer will attempt to calculate your debt-to-income ratio. If you have too much debt, the issuer may deny your request.
  • Credit limit usage: The issuer will calculate how much of your credit limit youre actually utilizing across all of your credit accounts. If youre utilizing less than 30 percent of your total credit limit, youll have a better chance to receive approval for a new credit card.

Understand The Different Types of Credit Cards

Theres several different types of cards that youll be able to choose from. Here are the primary types:

Rewards Credit Cards

A rewards type of credit card allows users to earn free benefits or other perks over time. Rewards cards calculate what you can receive by the amount of money you charge to the account. Subsets of rewards credit cards include:

  • Points: A points card gives users the ability to receive points which they can redeem for flights, hotel rooms, Amazon purchases, and other rewards.
  • Travel: Not only does a travel credit card usually give points or miles for free travel, it also might have special perks for traveling.
  • Cash back: You get a small percentage back on every purchase, usually 1-2%.

Cards for Building Credit

Some credit cards market themselves toward college students, people who havent built up a credit profile yet, or folks with previous credit problems. Some of these types of credit cards include:

  • No perks: A credit card aimed at someone whos trying to build his or her credit likely will not have rewards or perks associated with it.
  • Student: Some banks are willing to extend college students a special type of credit card as a first card. This may be a low credit limit card.
  • Secured: A secured credit card requires a deposit to receive it. If you end up being unable to pay back the card, the bank will keep your deposit.
  • Poor credit: For people with a poor credit score, a bank may have a special type of card to help them rebuild their credit. However, these cards often have very high interest rates and very low credit limits.

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Specialized Credit Cards

Some cards will have specialized features that differ a bit from a standard credit card.

  • Business: A business credit card has specific features aimed at business users, such as extra perks or high credit limits. Using a business card is a good way to keep track of expenses you may have in a side business.
  • Balance transfer: These cards are designed for folks with high interest rates on another card and then want to transfer that balance to a card with a lower interest rate. I dont recommend looking at these cards, you need to get in the habit of paying off your cards in full every month.
  • Low interest: Some cards provide you with a lower than average interest rate, which is beneficial for those who carry a balance. Again, dont spend much time with these. Focus on getting yourself to the point that you can pay cards off in full every month.
  • Charge card: A charge card is one that the user must pay off within each statement period. You cant carry a balance like a normal credit card. Some people prefer the charge card because they have no temptation to run up the balance.

Figure Out The Best Credit Card For You

Looking for the right credit card boils down to finding a card that matches your spending habits and your current financial situation. Here are some tips for applying for just the right credit card for you.

Find the Best Card for Which You Qualify

Based on your credit score, youll receive approval for some cards. But other banks may deny your application.

Dont worry if you dont qualify for the exact card you want. Use the card for which you qualify responsibly for a couple of years, and your credit score should rise so you can receive the card you really want.

Look for a Card That Has the Perks You Want

If youre a big fan of travel, look for a travel card that provides perks that match how you like to travel.

Or if you prefer a simple credit card that you dont have to think about using, maybe a cash back card is up your alley.

Avoid Picking Up Too Many Cards

Those new to credit card usage should stick with one card until they have built up their credit scores. After a couple of years, you can expand your collection to two or three cards.

Dont apply for several cards at one time, just to try to receive a large number of sign-up perks, or you could end up with more cards than you need. Youll end up creating confusion for yourself with too many cards, trying to remember what steps to take to receive various rewards. And youll place multiple hard inquiries on your credit report which lowers your score.

Apply Online – Here’s What to Expect

Now for the easy part, which is the actual application.

Just visit the website for the credit card for which you want to apply. Fill in the information in the form and hit the submit button.

The majority of credit card applications require less than five minutes to complete, and you should receive an answer about approval or denial within a couple of minutes.

Some of the information you must provides includes:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Mailing address
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Estimated annual income
  • Common monthly expenses
  • Balance of checking and savings accounts
  • Social Security number

Credit Cards Help You Get Rich

Having a credit card, putting your day-to-day spending on it, and then paying it off in full every month is the easiest way to build up your credit score.

The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate that youll have when you apply for a mortgage or a car loan. A lower interest will save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your mortgage.

And a good rewards card basically gets you a 1-2% discount on everything you purchase for life. Plus some sweet perks when traveling.

You can get all that for free.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Apply for a Credit Card

Can I have multiple credit cards?

Yes, you can have multiple credit cards. However, it’s important to use them responsibly and avoid taking on more debt than you can handle. Having too many credit cards can also negatively impact your credit score.

What should I do if my credit card application is denied?

If your credit card application is denied, you can ask the issuer for the reason why you were not approved. You can also work to improve your credit score and address any issues that may have led to the denial before applying again.

How much credit limit can I expect to receive?

The credit limit you are approved for will depend on several factors, including your credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio. If you have a higher credit score and income, you may be approved for a higher credit limit.

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Written by

Host of Netflix's "How to Get Rich", NYT Bestselling Author & host of the hit I Will Teach You To Be Rich Podcast. For over 20 years, Ramit has been sharing proven strategies to help people like you take control of their money and live a Rich Life.