Get Your First Credit Card

Applying to get a credit card can be an intimidating process. Here’s everything you need to know to get your first credit card.

Is it too early for me to start building credit?

NO! College is actually a perfect time to start building up your credit score. Because you’re likely not making many large purchases, making smaller purchases and frequently paying the charges off is a great way to establish credit. Remember – your credit score follows you through your entire life, so you want to have a good foundation.

Once you graduate college, you will want to have a decent credit score if you want to buy a car, a house, or even rent an apartment without a cosigner. Additionally, if you plan to go to grad school, you’ll want to be sure you have a strong credit rating to borrow money.

How do I know what type of credit card is right for me?

There are lots of options when it comes to picking a credit card. Consider your normal spending habits as well as what types of rewards you may be interested in. If you love to travel, look into cards that will earn mileage over time. If you want to simply earn cash back, there are cards for that too! Look on your bank’s website for their options, but don’t limit yourself to just one website. Websites like will show you the cards best for you based on your credit and what you want from a card. Do your research!

Your current credit score will also determine which card you are eligible for. If you don’t have any credit, that’s okay. There are credit cards to help build credit from the ground up. If you’re worried about your credit score and your parent(s) are willing to be an authorized user, you can continue to build credit but the responsibility for late payments would fall on the parent(s).

Larger companies like Mastercard or VISA generally have lower interest rates than in-store cards or rewards cards. However, if you pay back the full amount due each month, you won’t have to worry about high rates.

So, what’s the catch?

When you apply for a credit card, it’s like signing a contract. It’s extremely important to read ALL of the fine print before you sign up.

Here are a few things to consider before you make a decision:

  • Credit limit: This is the maximum amount you can spend and usually starts around $500-$1000, increasing as your credit score strengthens.
  • Interest rates: If you choose to not pay the full balance due each month, you will be charged interest. These rates fluctuate depending on what card you apply for, so consider this when making your decision. Interest rates can be fixed or variable. Fixed rates are constant, while variable rates fluctuate depending on the ‘prime rate’ which is set by the Federal Reserve.
  • Late-payment penalties: Life happens. If you miss a payment, it’s not the end of the world. Obviously you don’t want to be late on your payments regularly, as this reflects poorly on your credit score. Different companies charge different amounts for overdue payments, so have a good understanding of these fees before making a decision.
  • Transaction fees: Some companies charge for exceeding the credit limit, withdrawing money from an ATM, transferring balances between cards, or making international purchases. Be sure you have a full understanding of any and all fees associated with your account.

Now that I have my card, how do I maintain good credit?

Maintaining your credit is actually really easy. Start out with small purchases like gas, groceries, or meals. This will make it easier to pay off the balance in full at the end of every month, and you likely won’t have a high credit limit right away.

The best way to keep your credit score in good shape is to ALWAYS pay off your bill in FULL each month. The interest rate on minimum payments will add up fast and showing that you have the ability to pay the amount in full proves you’re not a credit risk.

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