The key is to applying for a credit card is to comparison shop, as you would for a car. Do online research and collect any offers that you've received in the mail. Ask your bank or credit union what they offer.
Since your credit score determines which cards you'll qualify for, learn your score, using Credit.com's free Credit Report Card.
Now, shop. Credit.com's Credit Card Search Tool shows the cards based on credit score ranges. Carefully compare features, rules and costs. Read all the fine print. Call the card company with questions. Don't feel pressured and don't sign anything you don't understand.
Every time you apply for credit, it creates an inquiry on your credit report. Inquiries can lower your credit scores a few points. For that reason, it's smart to apply for credit cards you really want, and for one at a time. Again, with Credit.com's free Credit Report Card you will be presented with offers for cards generally available to people who match your profile. This can help you narrow down your choices.
Compare APRs (annual percentage rate), annual fees and other fees and rules covering introductory rates, late payments, grace periods, missed payments and defaults.
Do you usually pay your balance off in full each month? Then look for a card that offers rewards based on your spending.
Do you generally carry a balance? Then look for a card with a low interest rate.
Do you plan to transfer a balance? Then look for a card with a low introductory rate on balance transfers. Just don't forget to consider the balance transfer fee, which usually ranges between 2% and 4% of the amount transferred.
Try a small bank or credit union. Expect to pay more until you've got a record of low utilization and on-time payments. A secured card may also be a good choice: You put down a deposit of $200 to $500 for a comparable credit limit.
Consider a secured card if your credit is trashed. It lets you slowly and safely rebuild credit. You should find one that lets you graduate to a higher credit limit or grow your deposit. Some will transition you to an unsecured credit card in time.
With poor or no credit history, a friend or relative with good credit may be willing to help qualify by co-signing your credit card application. Remember: If you pay late or default you'll damage or destroy your cosigner's credit.
Divorce can drag you into financial trouble and hurt your credit. Try to close or refinance joint accounts, including credit cards. Apply as soon as possible for credit cards and accounts in your own name only. It may take some time to separate your credit from your ex's, but keep working at it.
Notify your late spouse's credit card companies of the cardholder's death. Close and pay off accounts or transfer them to your name. Next, apply for credit cards in your own name.
MORE: Credit Matters After the Death of a Spouse