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How to get your first credit card

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Written by Dom James, Financial Content Writer

3 January 2019

Here is how to prepare yourself for your first credit card application.

A picture of 5 credit cards stacked on top of each other

Getting your first credit card is an important step into adulthood, and can be a useful facility in the case of emergencies.

Using a credit card regularly also helps in building your credit, which is vital when you start considering larger forms of borrowing such as buying a car, or your first home.

As a first time borrower it's likely that you will not have a credit record, so banks and lenders will consider you to be a high-risk borrower. While that may limit the number of credit cards and the amount of credit you're offered, there are a number of options available.

Before you apply for your first credit card

You need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a credit card, but some cards have a higher minimum age. Most providers will only let you apply for their credit cards if you live in the UK, are employed and earn more than a certain amount, e.g. £7,500 a year.

Before applying for your first credit card, it's important to lay the groundwork to make sure you're in the best possible financial shape to be accepted for the credit card you choose.

Some steps you can take are:

  • Registering to vote: Getting on the electoral roll provides proof of address, which can help improve your credit score

  • Get a job: Even if you get a part-time job, showing a regular income will show that you're capable of repaying any credit.

  • Opening a bank account: Managing a current account can help you improve your chances of being accepted. By setting up direct debits, and even putting away savings will help you show you're financially responsible.

  • Paying bills on time: Build history of bill repayments for at least six months. It's seen as proof of financial responsibility, and may convince lenders that you can be trusted to pay back credit/

Choosing your first credit card

There are a variety of different credit card types, which are best suited for particular kinds of borrowing.

As a first time borrower, the credit cards you're most likely to be approved for would be credit builder cards.

These are credit cards aimed at first time borrowers or those with poor credit looking to improve their credit rating. Credit builder cards typically have low credit limits, usually between £100 and £250 and charger higher than usual interest rates ranging from 24% and going upwards of 50%.

As you consistently spend and make repayment your credit card, you'll create a record of a responsible borrower. Once you have a long enough credit history you may be able to consider other types of credit cards. These include:

  • 0% on purchases: This means you won't pay interest on what you spend on your card for a fixed period.

  • 0% on balance transfers: If you had another credit card with a balance charging you an APR, you could switch it to a 0% deal to cut out interest.

  • 0% on money transfers: This lets you transfer most of the card balance to your current account. There is usually a transfer charge for this.

  • Air miles: This type of card gives you air miles for spending a certain amount on your credit card

  • Rewards: You can find rewards like cashback, that give you a percentage back on what you spend, like 0.5%.

What to consider when applying for your first credit card

When you compare credit cards, it's important to consider a few key points:

Interest

The interest charged on your credit card is the cost of borrowing. When comparing credit cards, look out for the 'Representative APR'. This is the rate offered to 51% of customers, but is not necessarily the rate you will be offered.

This is because the interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit history and financial circumstances, which may mean you'll be offered a higher rate than the one advertised.

Introductory APR

Some cards often come with lower, or even 0% introductory interest rates that last for a few months, but then revert to the standard variable rate. While these can be useful for spreading the cost of purchases, make sure you can pay off your balance before the introductory rate ends.

Credit limit

This is the maximum amount you will be able to borrow on you credit credit. Like the APR, your credit limit will also depend on your credit history and finances. As a first time borrower you may not be offered a high limit, but if you consistently pay off your balance on time, the lender may offer to increase your limit, or you can request for it to be increased

Fees

It's also important to be aware of the fees charged by the card. These could be late payment fees, foreign transaction fees, or cash withdrawal fees.

How to apply for your first credit card

You can apply for the credit card you choose online, by phone, by post or in person.

The simplest and quickest way is to apply online by completing an application form on the provider's website.

Most credit card providers will require you to provide the following information:

  • Name and address

  • Date of birth

  • Employment status and income

  • Nationality

If your application gets declined

Do not apply again for the same card, as most providers will automatically reject you if you re-apply within six months.

Here is how to get accepted next time you apply by building your credit history, timing your application well and cleaning up your finances.

Find the best credit card for you, whether you're looking for 0% card for balance transfers or purchases or day to day spending and rewards

Compare credit cards

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  • How to choose a credit card that suits you
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  • How to use a credit card for interest free purchases