How Do I Get a Credit Card? (And Other FAQs)

It's one of the most frequently asked credit-related questions we get from our readers: How do I get a credit card? The short answer is that you simply apply for one. From a technical standpoint, that's all there is to it. But if you want to get the right kind of credit card, with the best possible interest rate, you'll need to do some homework first. Here's what you need to know.

Q&A: How Do I Get a Credit Card?

How do I get a credit card? For some consumers, the answer to this question is fairly obvious. After all, credit card offers are all around us. We get them in the mail. We see them online in the form of banner ads. We see them on TV and hear them on the radio. They're ubiquitous. Want to get a credit card? Just reach out and grab one!

In reality, it's a legitimate question because credit cards are not created equally. There are different types of cards for different types of consumers, and they all have certain pros and cons associated with them. It's not enough to ask: How do I get a credit card? The real question is: How do I get the right types of card for me, given my financial needs? To help you answer this question, we have gathered a wealth of information, tools and tips.

Minimum Requirements to Get Approved

In order to get a credit card, you will likely need the following items:

  • You need to be a certain age. You must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card these days. If you're younger than 21, you'll also need to use a cosigner. The cosigner must be 21 or older. Learn more
  • You need a decent credit score. Creditors use these scores to see how you have repaid your debts in the past. To get approved for most credit cards, you'll probably need a score of 600 or higher. But certain products are available for consumers who fall below that point. Read "Check Your Credit Score" below for more on this subject.
  • You need to have some form of income. For most people, this means having a steady job. Employment requirements vary. Most card issuers want to see steady employment for at least a year. (Some creditors set the bar very low in this department. Example: For certain Capital One cards, your "annual income must be greater than your annual rent/mortgage payments.")
  • You might need a social security number to get a credit card with most providers. Most of the big-name issuers require an SSN on their application forms.
  • You need to fill out a credit card application. You can do this online, or by filling out a pre-approved offer sent to you in the mail. (Tip: the Internet allows you to shop for the best terms and rates quickly and easily.)

How do you get a credit card? You can start by satisfying all of the requirements listed above. If you're old enough, and you have decent credit and steady employment, you're ready to move on to the next step -- the application.

Check Your Credit Score First

I know what you're thinking: "I just want to know how to get approved for a credit card. What does my credit score have to do with anything?" Actually, it has everything to do with it. This three-digit number will determine (A) whether or not you can qualify for a card in the first place, and (B) what interest rate the creditor will assign. So it's doubly important.

Credit scores are more important today than they were before the recession. Banks, lenders and creditors are more risk-averse these days.

According to Ben Woolsey, Director of Consumer Research at, "The card issuers have become a bit more conservative and have raised the bar in terms of what they consider good [scores]."

It begs the question: What score do you need to get a credit card these days? This will vary from one company to the next. There is no single standard across the industry. Different card issuers have different thresholds. Some companies even target their offers to consumers with bad credit, so they can charge them a relatively high interest rate.

With that being said, there seems to be an "invisible" line at around 600 these days.

  • If your score is above 600 or so, you may have an easier time getting a credit card. You won't qualify for the best rates at that level -- but you may at least get approved for the account.
  • If your score falls below that point, you'll have a higher chance of being turned down. Or maybe you'll have to use a secured credit card (one that requires a cash deposit).
  • If you have excellent credit, generally defined as a score of 750 or higher, you should have no trouble getting approved for a card. You'll also qualify for a lower interest rate than most consumers. This could save you a lot of money over time.

Helpful Articles in This Series

How to Apply for a Card
The credit card application process can be daunting, especially if it's your first time trying to get a credit card. The terminology alone can leave your head spinning. This guide walks you through the initial steps in the process and clarifies a lot of the industry jargon. The bottom line is this: A higher score will increase your chances of getting approved for a credit card. It will also help you secure a lower interest rate / APR, which could save you money. A low score has the opposite effect.

Minimum Credit Card Age
How old do you have to be to get a credit card? Currently, the absolute minimum age is 18. But new rules require borrowers younger than 21 to have a cosigner when they open an account. This article explains current age requirements.

Lower APRs Available for Responsible Borrowers
It's not enought just to get a credit card. Any responsible consumer with a job and a social secruity number can do that. The trick is to get one with the lowest possible APR. This could save you hundreds of dollars in interest charges over the course of a year. How do you secure such a low APR? You'll need a better-than-average credit score, for starters. This news story was published in April 2013.