11 Things to Know Before Getting Your First Credit Card

Getting your first credit card is a huge milestone — and a big adjustment. You might already have a sense of how credit cards work and how to handle a credit card responsibly, but the devil is in the details. Understanding those ins and outs before diving in will save you money and help you build good credit more quickly.


Getting your first credit card is a huge milestone — and a big adjustment. You might already have a sense of how credit cards work and how to handle a credit card responsibly, but the devil is in the details. Understanding those ins and outs before diving in will save you money and help you build good credit more quickly.

1. The best credit cards aren’t for beginners

As a newcomer to credit, you probably won’t be able to qualify for the most valuable credit cards — the ones with rich rewards and perks, big sign-up bonuses or long 0% interest periods. Those cream-of-the-crop products are available only to applicants with good or excellent credit (scores of 690+) and longer credit histories who meet certain income requirements.

You’ll likely have to start smaller with your first credit card, with a product geared toward people with limited or no credit history. It’s not all bad news, though — many such cards offer decent rewards and don’t charge annual fees. Some options to consider include:

2. A security deposit makes a credit card easier to get

If you’re having trouble getting approved for your first credit card — say, because you’re starting out with no credit at all — try a secured credit card.

Secured credit cards are designed for people with damaged credit or no credit. To open your account, you’ll first need to put down a cash deposit. Your credit limit is typically equal to your deposit. Minimum deposit requirements range from $200 to $500, depending on the card. Most secured cards allow you to deposit more to get a higher credit line.

Falling behind on payments could mean losing this deposit. However, if you always make on-time payments and spend well below the card’s limit, you could establish good credit within a matter of months. At that point, your issuer might upgrade the account to a regular unsecured card, or you might apply for an unsecured card and close the secured card in good standing. In either case, your deposit would be refunded.

Nerd tip: Secured credit cards are different from prepaid debit cards. With prepaid debit cards, you load money onto the card and purchases are deducted from the balance. This card activity doesn’t affect your credit. With secured credit cards, you’ll have to make monthly credit card payments — that is, charges aren’t deducted from your security deposit — and card activity does affect your credit.

3. Your first credit card can build your credit — or ruin it

One of the main reasons to get your first credit card is to boost your credit. If you’re not careful, though, it can have the opposite effect. It all depends on what you do.

Every month, your issuer will report your credit card activity to credit bureaus — the companies that compile the credit reports that form the basis of your credit scores. The reported information includes whether your…



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