How to Get Your First Credit Card with No Credit

Ben Allen  | 

It’s a vicious cycle; you have no credit, so you look into how to build your credit. Tons of people suggest getting a credit card, so you apply for one. However, you are denied from getting a credit card because you don’t have credit. Consequently, you can’t build credit without tools like credit cards… which you just got denied for.

Don’t panic, though; all is not lost! It is possible to get your first credit card, even when you have no credit, it just requires planning, and choosing the right card.

Provide Proof of Income

For almost all credit cards, regardless of the issuer, you will need to have some proof of income. Different credit cards will carry different income limits, but they generally will expect some assurance that you can actually pay back what you charge. If you are a student, under the age of 21, or unemployed for any reason, you can still qualify for a credit card, but you may have more limited options. We’ll address those below when we talk about secured credit cards and co-signers.

Apply Through Your Bank

A good first place to start on your mission to get a credit card is your bank or credit union. Unlike other credit card companies, your bank has extra information about you other than just your credit report.

As they go through the approval process, they’ll look at things like your savings and checking account to see how much money you have. The bank will look to see how often you have money flowing, in and how much money available.

Many banks and credit unions also have a variety of credit cards they can offer. This can include starter credit cards, cards designed for students, and cards meant to help build credit with minimal risk. Many of these beginner credit cards will have lower monthly limits to help minimize risk.

Get A Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards are another great option to help you build credit. A secured credit card allows your bank or creditor to give you a card with a credit limit, similar to a credit card. The difference is that then, before you make any purchases with it, you have to put money on the card, usually matching the limit. Then, it spends very similar to a debit or prepaid card, where once you run out of money, it’s done. Then, you add more money on it, and you are good to go.

There is one major benefit to a secured credit card. It reports your activity to the credit bureaus as you start using your credit card responsibly. Since you’ve already paid money, there is no risk of missing payments and hurting your credit, but it does enable you to build credit, and eventually graduate from a secured card to something better suited to your needs.

A secured credit card is a really good option for students looking to build their credit. While many can qualify for student credit cards, which have low interest rates and credit limits, with a secured credit card you can’t overspend. It’s impossible to ruin your credit while using a secured credit card because you can’t miss payments.

Apply Through Retail Stores For Their Credit Cards

Many retail stores are notorious for giving out credit cards to basically anybody and everybody, including people with bad or no credit. This is because these stores have lower standards when it comes to credit cards, especially if they have a closed-loop card.

Closed-loop cards are credit cards that can only be used in their specific stores and aren’t backed by major credit card companies like Mastercard and Visa. Since they aren’t backed by these companies, retail stores that used them can be a bit more flexible to who they give them out too. Many of these cards also have extra benefits, like points or rewards for the store.

With that flexibility comes some negatives. If the credit card is backed by a company liked Visa, then you can use it almost anywhere, but if not, you are restricted to just shopping at that store. That means that in order to build credit, you have to shop there on a normal basis, at least once a month. These cards also have lower credit limits and higher interest rates, so be sure to pay them off on time.

Have a Co-Signer

Many credit card companies are going to be much more open to giving you a credit card if somebody with good credit is willing to take responsibility for you. If you are under age 21, then a co-signer may be your only pathway to getting your first credit card. In any situation, having a trusted friend, spouse, or other family member be a co-signer can open up doors to a ton more credit card options.

The danger of this choice, though, is that if something terrible happens and you can’t pay off your credit card, your co-signer is on the hook for it. Either they have to pay it off, or their credit is on the line. This can lead to hurt feelings, or a potential rift with important people in your life.

If you are responsible and only put what you can pay off on your card, you’ll be golden. Then, after a while of using the credit card and building your credit, you can get a new credit card without a co-signer, freeing them from the obligation.

Understand Best Credit Card Practices

Your credit is incredibly valuable, and being in the situation of having no credit can be very advantageous. If you are responsible with your credit, you can have a strong credit score within a year or so. Yeah, it’s possible to get a car without credit, or rent an apartment, but having good credit makes it so much easier.

Always pay off your credit card debts before they are due. If you leave debts on your card past their due date, they will grow exponentially. If you can’t pay off all of the debt, pay as much as you can. Be responsible, don’t buy more than you can actually afford and be smart with your investments. A credit card can be a tool to build your credit, but if you fail to pay off your debts, it can ruin your credit.


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Ben Allen is a freelance content creator and digital marketer who believes in helping small businesses succeed. He spends his free time bragging about his two daughters, eating stuffed crust pizza, and playing video games.

This post was updated October 10, 2017. It was originally published September 29, 2017.