What Do I Need to Apply for a Credit Card?

Applying for a credit card is quite simple — it’s getting approved for one that can be difficult. You can never be certain an issuer will give you a credit card, but there are several things you can do before applying to improve your chances of approval.

As far as the application goes, you could probably fill one out in less than five minutes. You’re generally required to provide your legal name, birth date, address, Social Security number and annual income. Giving an issuer your Social Security number allows them to check your credit, which largely dictates whether or not you’ll receive the card. Your income is important, too, because it indicates whether or not you’re able to pay a credit card bill and how much credit you should be extended.

If you’re younger than 21, you’re required to have independent income, but consumers over that age can submit their household income for consideration (assuming they have access to that money) — having a job is not a requirement for getting a credit card. A Social Security number isn’t always a requirement, either, but you’ll need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead — you’ll have to ask the issuer what’s acceptable.

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Having good credit isn’t a requirement for getting a credit card, but it will give you access to more credit cards than having bad or no credit will. Before deciding what cards to apply for, get an idea of what your credit rating is. You can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com and use that information to see what kinds of cards you’re likely qualified to receive.

If you don’t have a credit history (or yours is riddled with negative information), you still have the option of getting a secured credit card (here are some of the best secured credit cards on the market). With these products, you make a deposit as collateral for the card, and that deposit also serves as your credit limit. For example, if the deposit is $500, you can use up to $500 before paying your bill (though you should keep your balance as low as possible), but if you miss a payment, the issuer can take the deposit. Secured cards often come with annual fees as well.

Credit card applications are pretty short forms (with the exception of all that fine print). Above all, focus on applying for cards you reasonably believe you’re qualified for — that means knowing your credit score and how that fits into the cardholder profile described by the issuer.

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