4 Tips for Getting Your First Credit Card

Teen boy using his phone and holding a credit card in the city.

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Credit cards can be a great tool to help you build credit as they give you the opportunity to show you can pay your bills on time. If you get a rewards credit card, you can also benefit from all the spending you do by earning miles or points you can use toward trips or merchandise or by getting cash back.

While there are plenty of great reasons to open a credit card, it can be complicated to get your very first card -- especially if you don't have much of a credit history as card companies will check your credit score. Here are four tips to help you make sure you're able to open a card -- and that you get the right one for your needs.

1. Consider a cosigner

Sometimes, credit card companies will be reluctant to give you your first credit card because they have no way of knowing if you'll pay responsibly. If you want the broadest choice of card options for your first credit card, it's worth considering getting someone to cosign.

A cosigner agrees to share legal responsibility for making payments, so card issuers won't have to worry as much about you defaulting. If you can get someone to cosign for you who has good credit, you should be able to get approved for just about any credit card because the card issuer will have a fallback option if you don't pay as promised.

Just be sure you pay your bills if you go this route, as otherwise your cosigner could be on the hook and your late payments or nonpayments could damage their good credit.

2. Look into secured cards

If you can't or don't want to get a cosigner, a secured card could be the perfect choice for your first credit card. Secured cards require you to put down a deposit equal to your line of credit. So, for example, you'd have to deposit $500 to get a credit card with a $500 line of credit.

Card issuers will let almost anyone get a secured card since there's no risk to them because they could seize your deposit if you failed to live up to your payment obligations. But you can build credit with one, since your payments will be reported to the credit bureaus.

Over time, many secured cards can turn into unsecured ones, so this is a good way to get your foot in the door and start being able to borrow.

3. Watch out for fees

Chances are good you won't want a card with high fees for your first credit card. Sometimes, it's smart to pay an annual fee if doing so gives you access to a generous rewards program or great cardholder perks. But when you're just starting out with building credit and getting your financial ducks in a row, you may not spend enough on your card to justify paying an annual fee for it.

4. Research rewards programs

Finally, you'll want to research the rewards programs different cards offer. If you can find and get approved for a card that offers you bonus rewards for the things you spend the most on, you can reduce the effective cost of all your purchases.

By considering these four tips, you should hopefully find a great card. Just remember, credit cards have high interest rates so you'll want to use them responsibly, avoid carrying a balance, and always pay your card on time -- no matter what card you end up signing up for.

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