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How to Apply for a Credit Card

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How To Apply For a Credit Card

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.

Understand Your Credit Score

Since your credit score determines which cards you’ll qualify for, learn your score, using’s free Credit Report Card.

Now, shop.’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.

Don’t Overdo It

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’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.

Shopping Tips

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.

Special Circumstances

No credit

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.

Bad credit

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 a cosigner

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.

After divorce

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.

After the death of a spouse

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

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Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on News & Advice may also be offered through product pages, and will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.