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CREDIT CARDS

10 Essential Strategies to Help You Qualify for a Credit Card

EXPECTED READ TIME: 6 MINUTES

It's a fairly straightforward process to apply for a credit card — you add relevant details to an application form and wait for the issuer to send you a card. But getting approved for a credit card isn't the same as applying for one. You'll need to meet certain requirements.

Want to increase your chances of qualifying for a credit card? Here's how.

1. Understand How Credit Works

Credit in general is essentially an agreement between you and a lender or creditor that allows you to borrow money for goods and services to be paid back over a period of time. This agreement may include fees and interest you'll have to pay, and other terms such as billing due dates.

A credit card is a specific form of revolving credit where you can borrow against a line of credit up to a predetermined limit. Once you've paid down some of that debt, you can borrow more money up until that same limit again and again. Creditors will report all your credit activity to credit bureaus, and that will, in turn, affect your credit score.

Knowing how this works is helpful because you want to use credit in a way that proves you'll be responsible with the money you borrow — meaning, you'll pay it back in time.

A credit card is a form of revolving credit where you have a line of credit and can borrow up to a predetermined limit.

2. Review & Assess Your Credit Score

If you're wondering how to get a credit card, the higher your credit score, the better. That being said, there are also credit cards that are aimed at those in different ranges, and even those new to credit.

Here's a table showing the different levels of credit score ranges:

Score Classification (FICO/VS) FICO Score Range VantageScore Range
Excellent/Exceptional 800-850 781-850
Very Good/Good 740-799 661-780
Good/Fair 670-739 601-660
Fair/Poor 580-669 500-600
Poor/Very Poor 300-579 300-499

To increase your chances of getting approved for a credit card, determine your credit score and select a credit card based on what you may qualify for. Start by checking your credit report to see what might be affecting your score — you can get a copy for free at each of the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you see any discrepancies or errors on your credit report, it's best to dispute them directly with the credit reporting bureau or the creditor who made the mistake.

3. Have a Steady Income

In order to qualify for a credit card, you'll need to show some sort of income to let the lender know you can pay back what you use. While it's not necessary to hit a certain number, increasing your income may help you gain higher credit limits once you qualify for a card. Don't forget to include all of your actual income on the application form, which includes wages from your full-time job, government payments, and any side businesses.

4. Know the Age Requirements

The legal age to qualify for a credit card is 18, though you may be able to apply with an adult cosigner if you're too young. You'll also need to have a steady income, whether or not you're considered an adult. However, if you want to include your parent's or guardian's income, you'll need to apply for a joint credit card.

Curious about the difference between a co-borrower and a cosigner?

5. Research and Compare Credit Card Options

It's important to shop around for different types of credit cards so that you can find the best terms and rates that suit your needs — banks and credit unions are good places to start.

For example, if you're looking to build your credit, there are credit cards that charge an annual fee and ones that don't. If you're someone with a good or excellent credit score and you want to sign up for a rewards credit card, shop around for one that allows you to redeem rewards you'll actually want to use. And be sure to look for rewards beyond the usual suspects (travel, gas, groceries) if you have a specific hobby or spending habit.

6. Consider a Starter Credit Card

It may be easier to qualify for a starter card than it is for a card with a lot of rewards and requirements. This can help you build credit if you have none.

A starter credit card is aimed toward those who are new to credit or have low credit scores. Look for credit cards advertised as secured or designed for students. Student credit cards can be a great way to get a head start on building your credit while learning to budget in college.

7. Don't Apply for Too Many Cards at Once

Yes, applying to more than one credit card in theory would increase your chances of getting approved by at least one. However, each time you apply for one credit card, you'll have to go through a hard credit inquiry that leaves a new mark on your credit report. It can also lower your credit score temporarily and raise a red flag for lenders, who will wonder why you want to apply for so many credit cards. Make sure you wait at least three to six months between applications.

8. Have a Low Debt-to-Income Ratio

A debt-to-income, or DTI ratio is the percentage of your income that goes toward debt payments. Credit card issuers may want to look at your DTI to determine if you can afford to open another credit card based on your existing debt.

The higher this percentage, the more likely it'll appear that you may be stretched too thin financially. Having a lower DTI means you're more likely to make monthly payments and you may get a lower interest rate.

You can lower your debt-to-income ratio by, you guessed it, paying down debt. A good way to start is by sitting down with your current debts — car loans, student loans, other credit cards, personal loans, child support — and deciding what you can pay off most efficiently. You can also use an online calculator to help determine your debt-to-income ratio.

If you have poor credit, consider applying for a secured card.

9. Consider a Secured Credit Card

If you have poor credit, consider applying for a secured card to increase your chances of being qualified. A secured credit card means you'll need to make a deposit to serve as collateral for your credit limit. (Collateral is a personal asset that can be taken by your creditor if you default.) After a while, you may then qualify for an unsecured card. Some credit card issuers may even offer an upgrade to another credit card once you qualify.

10. Don't Give Up

Even if you've applied for a credit card in the past and got denied, don't give up. You can call the issuer to find out why, and you can try again. By taking the time to be more informed about your credit situation and using these tips to adjust your approach, the right credit card will be within reach sooner than you think.

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