At a Glance

Congratulations on getting your first credit card! Starting the road to building good credit habits will get you further ahead in life than you can imagine, so it’s important you learn how to use credit wisely and understand the way your credit score works.

In this article, you’ll learn:

Get the right card.

Unfortunately, getting approved for the “right” card can get tricky when it’s your first, as credit card companies want to work with cardholders that have a proven track record of responsible spending.

The easiest card for new credit card owners to get is typically what’s known as a “secured” card. Most credit cards are “unsecured,” meaning that they don’t have any sort of down payment or collateral requirements to open the account.

Secured cards, on the other hand, require a deposit that’s the equivalent of your credit line. So if you have a $300 credit line, you’ll need to send a deposit of $300 before the card will be activated. These are great cards that can help you raise your credit score quickly and make you eligible for better cards that come with benefits and reward points. Plus, once you’re ready to move on and close the card, you’ll get your deposit back, giving you a nice chunk of money you can use however you need.

If secured cards aren’t your thing, there’s also the option of being added as an authorized user to someone else’s card. This means you’ll be able to build your credit off the positive history of someone else, just make sure you handle this responsibly, as any bad spending habits can negatively affect the original cardholder’s credit score, too.

Related: How to Choose the Best Credit Card?

Rules to follow for your first credit card

Don’t spend more money than you have – The best way to treat credit is as a temporary loan that needs to be paid back ASAP, and not as “free” or “extra” money. Treating your credit card like a money machine can cause you to get into debt more quickly than you’d expect. Plus, carrying a balance means you’re subject to interest rates on your purchases which just increases the price of anything you bought without any benefits.

Always make at least the minimum payment on time – The number of on-time payments you make is the most critical factor of your credit report and accounts for 35% of your total credit score. Write your due date in your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, or set up autopayments so that you’re never late.

Try to make more than the minimum payment – The minimum payment is the amount that keeps your account in good standing but shouldn’t be the amount you list in your budget, as only paying the minimum due will mean the rest of your balance accrues interest. As the interest accrues, things become more difficult to pay for, and may take you years before your balance gets back to $0.

How to qualify for your first credit card?

See if you can be added as an authorized user on an account – This is the easiest way to get your credit history going. An authorized user is someone who has the ability to make purchases with a pre-existing credit card but was not the original person who opened the card. Just be aware that any bad habits you form from overspending or missing payments mean the original cardholder will be on the hook for it, and you could ruin both of your credit scores.

Save for your secured deposit – If becoming an authorized user isn’t an option, your best bet is to apply for a secured credit card. Secured cards require a deposit that’s the equivalent of your credit line and you won’t be able to use the card until your deposit is received. Start saving money now so that you can apply and fund the card quickly as some secured card issuers will have a deadline you’ll need to meet for sending them your deposit or they may close the card completely.

Have a solid work record – Card issuers will want to see that you’re earning money at a steady rate and will be able to pay back what you owe easily. They’ll often look at your Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio before issuing you a credit line, so wait a few weeks to apply for a new card if you just started a new job.

Keep a good track record of your other debts – Most first-time credit card applicants will have some sort of debt history on their credit report. These are typically student loans but could also be auto or other types of personal loans. Try to get these loans into good standing before applying for a credit card so that you’ll have proof that you’re a responsible borrower.


A credit line of $1,000 is an excellent place to start for your first credit card. Remember that once you’re able to show a solid history of responsible spending you may be able to apply for a credit limit increase or an entirely new card, depending on your needs.

Your first credit card payment will be due within 25 – 30 days of your statement closing date. Each card has a different closing date so check your Cardholder Agreement for specifics. As long as your payment (which is at least the minimum amount due) is received on or before your payment date, your account will be in good standing.

If you need to wait until the actual payment deadline date, check your Cardholder Agreement to see what the cutoff is for the day so that you ensure you’re on time. Some accounts will have until 8 PM that day, while others may be earlier.

Never spend more than you can pay back by the end of the month. Don’t use your credit like “free” money. Instead, use it as a temporary loan that needs to be paid back ASAP. Sticking to this rule will help you build good credit and keep you out of debt.

Getting approved for a credit card won’t instantly affect your score much, with the exception of you having a new “hard inquiry” on your record. You may see a temporary drop in your score because of the inquiry, but this will be canceled out by your new credit line since your Credit Utilization Ratio is weighted more heavily than inquiries. If you’re able to get things set up quickly and make your first payment on time, you should expect to see an increase of around 10 points within 30 days. From there, you can continue raising your credit score by using good spending habits and raising the total amount of credit you have, either through credit line increases or by opening new cards.