Credit history is an important factor when you're applying for a credit card. If you don't have a long history of credit, you may have limited options, but there are still starter credit cards you can choose from. There are plenty of ways you can use those cards to establish credit and increase your credit score.
What having “no credit" means
Having a limited credit history won't block you from getting a credit card completely. But it can affect the types of cards and terms you're approved for.
When applying for a card, issuers consider factors like your credit score, income, and employment. Your credit history heavily influences your credit score, so it may influence how issuers work with you.
If you don't have a credit history, your card may come with higher interest rates, for instance. So you may get approved for a card but have to pay more over time for the credit you use. You might also have a lower credit limit, restricting the amount you can spend each month. This is just because you haven't yet proven that you can pay back money on time. Once you open your card, however, you can start to build that credit history through on-time payments which may make you eligible for lower interest rates and higher limits.
What you need in your first credit card
If you have no credit history, you'll want to look for certain credit card features to help you build your credit and manage your spending.
You'll want a card with no annual fee, for example, so you don't have to pay any money out of pocket just for carrying the card. Additionally, you may want to make sure your credit card issuer reports to all three credit bureaus. This way, you can build credit history across the board and improve your chance of getting future cards and loans. Not all issuers report to all three credit bureaus, so if you find a card that works for you but doesn't report to all three bureaus, that is okay.
Credit cards for beginners
If you're wondering how to get a credit card with little credit history, you can also look at starter cards. There are a few different types of starter credit cards for new borrowers, including:
- Student credit cards. These cards are built for college students who haven't had a credit card before and are looking for helpful rewards and perks, like no annual fees.
- Secured credit cards. These cards require a refundable security deposit to open. The amount of your security deposit is usually your credit limit.
You can also become an authorized user on someone else's card. This may help build your credit, depending on the issuer and if they report to the credit bureaus. The card will have your name on it, but the primary cardmember will be responsible for making payments. This can be especially helpful if the primary user has a long and healthy credit history with no late payments.
How to qualify for a starter card
To qualify for your own starter credit card, you'll need to provide your:
- Social security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN)
- Source(s) of income
- Monthly housing or rent
Your income doesn't have to just be from a job, either. It can come from different sources, such as investments and a spouse's income.
Most credit card issuers also require primary cardmembers to be at least 21 years old. If you're under 21, you can still apply for a card but you'll have to prove that you have your own source of income. You can also apply for a joint credit card or ask to become an authorized user on someone else's card.
How to apply for your first credit card
Applying for your first credit card doesn't have to be scary. If you already have a checking or savings account in good standing, consider applying for a credit card at your current bank.
For many credit cards, you can apply online or visit a bank branch to work directly with a representative. Make sure to ask about all of their credit card options.
How to use your first card to build credit
Now that you know how to apply for a credit card with little credit, here are some tips for using that card to build your credit history and score.
- Make payments on time. Stay on top of your monthly payments by setting up auto payments or calendar reminders.
- Maintain a low balance. Keep your credit usage below 30% of your limit or less.
- Keep your card open. The best way to build credit history? Time. Make sure your account stays open, even if you don't use it much.