How to Apply for a Credit Card and What You’ll Need to Get Approved

Dayton Uttinger
How to Apply for a Credit Card

You’ve probably got a credit card application in your junk mail right now. Banks send them out all the time, trying to entice just about anyone to apply for a credit card. If you’re in the market for a credit card, check off the basic requirements below and commit to getting approved. While most people could definitely apply for a credit card, not everyone will get approved.

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What Do You Need to Get a Credit Card?

There’s a few basic pieces of information that you’ll need to get approved for a credit card.

  • Your name
  • Date of birth
  • Billing address
  • Social Security Number

However, besides these basics, the institution you’re applying through will likely want to know a couple more things.

Age to Get a Credit Card

The 2009 CARD Act helped protect young adults against predatory practices from credit card companies. You must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card, but even then it might be difficult if you don’t have any credit history. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 21, your income will be under closer scrutiny in your application. You’ll have to either prove that you have a reliable, consistent stream of adequate income, or you’ll have to get a co-signer in order to be approved.

Alternatively, you can be an authorized user on someone else’s account, even if you’re under 18. An authorized user isn’t held responsible for the balance on the card, but can make purchases with it all the same. Parents sometimes allow their kids to be authorized users on their own cards, ensuring some control over their spending, but that’s not always an option if you need your own card.

Annual Income to Get a Credit Card

There isn’t an absolute income threshold you have to hit to get approved. Your annual income is just a factor that is mostly used to determine your debt-to-income ratio. If you already have a lot of debt, you’ll need a higher income to show that you plan on paying back that debt. If you are entirely debt-free, you don’t need as large an income to demonstrate your ability to pay off a credit card every month.

If you don’t have a job, it’s probably not the best time to apply for a new credit card, unless you have some other means of income (like a working spouse, retirement income, or income from investments). Again, it’s not impossible, but the deck is stacked against you, because a salary is a simple, predictable measure of income.

Credit Score to Get a Credit Card

A credit score of 700 or more will allow you to qualify for most cards, but plenty will accept a lower score. However, if you’ve got bad credit, usually 600 or below, then you might have trouble getting approved for any credit card.

However, there are some workarounds. You could get a co-signer, become an authorized user, or get a secured or prepaid card. These options can allow you to build your credit without bearing sole responsibility for qualifying or paying off credit card debt.

How to Apply for a Credit Card

Before you apply for a credit card, get all your ducks in a row so you can evaluate all your options. That means knowing why you want a credit card, how much debt you can afford to charge and pay off every month, as well as what features or terms you’re interested in. Regardless of your specific wants and needs, you’ll also need to do the following to ensure you get approved:

Check Your Credit Score

The three credit bureaus allow for one free credit check each every year, so give yours a glance to see where you stand. You don’t want to check more than that, otherwise it might lower your score.

If it’s just not where you want it to be, there are several ways to raise or repair your credit. Focus on making your payments on time and not overextending your finances.

Shop Around

It might be tempting to go with one of those junk mail credit card offers, since you’ve already been pre-approved, but don’t fall for it. They probably don’t represent your best option. Instead, shop around to make sure that you’re getting the best terms.

Compare your options based on what you want out of a credit card. Some cards are better at building credit; others will have better rewards. Some credit cards will require you to pay monthly or annual fees just to keep them active. Weigh your options carefully before making a decision.

Fill Out the Application for Your Preferred Credit Card

Most applications will look roughly the same. They’ll ask for the same basic information listed above, but some might go a little more in depth about your source of income or your living situation, especially if you are young, have limited credit history, or have a history that includes credit card charge-offs.

You’ll have to give permission to the credit card company for a hard inquiry. Too many of these can hurt your credit score overall, so make sure that this is really the card you want before you file an application. If you aren’t as picky about what card you get, you can potentially avoid the hard inquiry by going after certain store-brand credit cards using what’s known as the shopping cart trick. For more conventional, big name credit cards, though, plan on a hard inquiry before you get approved.

Have a Backup

On the other hand, one rejection is not the end of your dreams of owning a credit card. You can still apply for another, ask your family and friends to be a co-signer, or work on improving your credit. There are plenty of other options if you’re looking to get a credit card. Don’t let one rejected application get you down.

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