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Published: Mar 15, 2024 12 min read

When used wisely, credit cards can be great tools for building credit and earning rewards such as free flights or cash back on your everyday purchases.

If you’re thinking about applying for your first credit card, read on to learn the steps to follow and what you should consider before submitting your application.

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Applying for a credit card

Applying for a credit card is a fairly straightforward process that requires you to provide some personal and financial information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, address, income and employment status.

The following steps can guide you through the process and help you make the correct decision before submitting your application.

Check your credit score

Knowing your credit score is an important part of the process since it’s the most important factor when applying for a credit card. Once you know what your score is, you can start focusing on credit cards that accept borrowers in your credit score tier.

Most issuers use the FICO score and disclose whether a card requires a fair, good or excellent credit score in that scoring system. While each issuer might have a slightly different range for every tier, in most cases they’re determined as follows:

  • Poor: 300 - 579
  • Fair: 580 - 669
  • Good: 670 - 739
  • Very Good: 740 - 799
  • Excellent: 800 - 850

Most of the best credit cards require credit scores that fall within the very good to excellent categories. However, there are some cards — such as some of our picks for the best credit-building cards, that cater to consumers with lower credit scores or little credit history.

There are also other factors that will also affect your chances, such as income and employment history. This means that, even if you have a good or excellent credit score, you can still get rejected if you don’t meet other requirements.

Decide on a type of credit card

Credit cards can be classified according to the types of rewards they offer. Although not all cards give rewards — for instance, most starter or credit-builder cards don’t offer them — many of them do. These rewards can be in the form of cash back, points, miles or, in some instances, statement credits that can help offset the balance you owe.

Other cards, such as balance transfer or 0% APR cards, offer an introductory period of low or no interest that can range from 12 to 21 months. This introductory APR can apply to both purchases and balance transfers carried out within a certain period of time, or to one or the other.

Make sure to read about the different types — our pages are a good place to start — and make sure the rewards they provide align with your financial goals. For example, if you’re an avid traveler and want a card that will rack up miles for your next trip, you might do best with one of the best travel cards. If, on the other hand, what you want is to get cash back on everyday purchases, one of the best cash-back or best cards for groceries might help.

Another important consideration is how much of an annual fee you’re willing to pay. Annual fees can range from none at all to roughly $700 for a premium card. Before applying for a card, it’s important to analyze whether the card’s rewards are enough to offset the fee you’d pay.

Read the fine print

Once you’ve decided on a credit card, read the fine print to make sure you understand its features and fees. Reading the fine print also provides additional information that is not always included in an issuer’s homepage or its marketing materials, especially when it comes to some credit-building cards.

Fill out and submit your application

You can apply for a credit card several ways: in-person at a bank branch, by phone, through regular mail, online on the issuer’s website or mobile app and even through third-party services. When filling out the application, be sure to have the necessary information at hand:

  • Exact residential address. Be as accurate as possible and try to use the same address for most, if not all, your credit-related proceedings. Sometimes, small mistakes with personal information can result in a denial.
  • Gross total income. Provide your gross income (meaning, before taxes). Depending on your state, you may provide total household income by including your partner’s earnings. If you’re under 21, you might need to provide actual proof of income (such as pay stubs or bank statements) or have a cosigner.
  • Social Security or Individual Tax Identification Number. While there are some credit-building cards that don’t require an SSN, most cards still do, including the most popular rewards and travel credit cards. With most banks and issuers, you could also use your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in lieu of your SSN.

How long does it take to get a credit card?

Many credit cards offer instant or near-instant approvals. Some might need a few days or request more information, however. Once approved, credit cards usually take five to seven business days to arrive at your mailbox. If it doesn’t arrive on time, or if you need it quicker, many issuers may accommodate your request and expedite the shipping.

Some issuers also offer the opportunity to use your card instantly through digital wallets and their rewards portals. Double check with each issuer and particular card you’re considering, as not all have this feature.

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What to do if your credit card application is denied

If your application is denied, wait for the issuer’s physical letter, which will explain the reasons for the denial and might include a copy of your credit report. Reasons for a rejection could include a credit score that is too low, insufficient credit history, too many open accounts or too many recent applications.

If your application is denied, here are some alternatives:

  • Find a card with less stringent requirements. If you were denied a card with strict requirements, use your credit report to better gauge the types of cards that could offer a higher chance of approval. For example, if you have a poor credit score or little to no credit history, a secured card is a safer bet.
  • Improve your credit score. Your rejection could be tied to a low credit score, which, depending on the situation, is a workable fix with some patience and planning. Paying off some of your existing credit card debt decreases your utilization ratio (owed balance vs. available credit) which can raise your score. You can also wait until past inquiries fall off the report (hard inquiries disappear after 24 months) and improve your credit age; or consider credit repair companies if you need help removing inaccurate items from your credit report.
  • Look for credit card alternatives. If you’re in dire need of a credit card (say, for international travel), but have run out of options, you can look for alternatives such as debit cards with VISA or Mastercard logos, prepaid credit cards (VISA gift cards and so on) or get someone to add you as an authorized user.

How to get a credit card with no credit

If you don’t have credit history or your credit score is in the poor to fair ranges, there are still ways to get approved for a credit card:

  • Get a cosigner. Just like with car loans or mortgages, some credit card issuers allow the use of co-signers, that is, someone with a longer credit history or higher score that can assume responsibility for the debt should you fail to pay it back. This can help raise your approval odds; however, not all cards allow this. As an alternative, you can also ask to be added as an authorized user on someone else’s card.
  • Apply for a credit card meant to build credit. There are many credit cards designed for people with little to no credit, such as secured credit cards (which require a security deposit). While some of these cards don’t offer many perks, there are some gems among the best credit cards to build credit.
  • Be patient. If you do have some credit history and one or more open accounts that you’re currently paying on time, the best choice might be to wait a little longer before applying. As time passes, your credit age will increase and provide issuers with a larger sample of your payment history.

If I apply for a credit card, do I have to accept it?

That depends on the situation. If you only filled out a pre-approval application, you have the chance to reject the card with no effects on your credit score. If you received a pre-approval offer in the mail or through email, you can ignore it.

However, if you actually applied for the credit card and were instantly approved, the account is open and you’d have to start the process to close it. While this is possible, the inquiry will still affect your score and the account will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years (if closed with a $0 balance).

You might have the chance to cancel applications that are not immediately approved, such as those done through the mail or that are missing information. You need to contact the issuer as soon as possible if you want to stop the application from going through.

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How to Apply for a Credit Card FAQs

What do I need to apply for a credit card?


To apply for a credit card, you need to be over the age of 18 and have a Social Security number, though applicants younger than 21 need proof of income or have a co-signer older than 21. Other than that, you need personal information such as address and income in order to fill out the application.

Some credit card issuers offer products that don’t require an SSN, but these are designed for people with no credit history or who have recently moved to the U.S.

What happens if I cancel a credit card?

Canceling a credit card isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will impact your credit score in the short term. Once you close a card, your available credit immediately decreases, raising your utilization ratio. This has the potential to lower your credit score.

How do I apply for a business credit card?

The application process for a business credit card is very similar to the one for consumer credit cards, but you’ll be asked for additional information, including the nature of your business, its annual revenue (if any) and the employer identification number (EIN). Sole proprietors that don’t have an EIN can use their Social Security number for the application. Furthermore, if your business doesn't have any credit history, issuers can use your personal credit report for evaluation.


When applying for a new credit card, it's important to understand your financial situation, your purpose for applying and the credit card options available. Here are some other points to remember:

  • Check your credit score and consider your income before applying.
  • Read up on the different types of credit cards you can apply for, especially those within your approval range.
  • If you have low odds of approval or have had an application rejected already, look for credit-building cards or find a cosigner.
  • Have your information at hand: full name, address, SSN and gross annual income.
  • You can apply in person, through the phone, through regular mail or through the issuer’s website or mobile app
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