Step 1: Consider a few questions before applying for a credit card. If your answer is “no” to any of the following questions it might be in your best interest reconsider applying for a credit card until the answers are yes.
- Do you have a written budget and a method (spreadsheet, budgeting app, pen & paper) to track your expenses monthly see if they line up with your budget?
- Have you been using a written budget and tracking your expenses for at least 3 months?
- Are you aware of the impact credit card interest rates can have on your financial reality if you do not pay the card balance off fully each month?
Step 2: Determine what kind of card you would like to apply for. Cards have different benefits some of which are: sign up bonuses, cash back cards, hotel rewards, airline miles, rewards cards, balance transfer, student, zero APR, no annual fee, a retail card, etc. Typically cards offer more than one of the benefits listed. You can go to places like bankrate.com, creditcard.com, and creditkarma.com (the websites do make money off marketing the cards if someone applies for the card through their website). Make sure that you look to see what annual fees may be associated with the card you decide on.
Note: Make sure that before you apply for a credit card it includes a grace period for purchases! Be aware that even if a credit card includes a grace period for purchases there still might not be a grace period for cash advances and balance transfers.
The grace period is the time between the end of your credit card’s billing cycle and the due date for that billing cycle. This is typically about 21 days. As long as you pay off your card’s balance by the due date then you will not experience any finance/interest charges. If you do not pay off your balance in full by the due date then you will immediately be charged finance/interest charges. These charges will continue until you have paid your balance of in full. The interest rates are steep on credit cards. Sometimes almost 30% so make sure and pay that balance off completely if at all possible!
Step 3: Determine your credit score. An easy way to get your credit score is to create a free account with creditkarma.com. Credit Karma offers scores for two of the three credit bureaus and it is free. When perusing through different cards, usually in the details section for the card it will show a credit score range applicants typically have when they are approved for the card.
Step 4: Apply for a card. Nowadays this is possible through an online application- this is the easy way. Applying at a bank or a retail location or sending off an application is still an option. Make sure you answer the questions on the application asked accurately.
Step 5: This step happens behind the scenes. The lender will complete an investigation into your credit history to determine your creditworthiness. If applying online, often this takes just a matter of seconds. The lender will obtain your credit report from one of the credit bureaus. The lender may get your report from one of the bureaus or all three of the bureaus. The lender will also get your credit score to help make an informed decision on whether or not to grant you a card.
Step 6: The lender will decide to accept or reject your application. If your application is accepted then the lender will determine the exact terms of your credit agreement. The higher your credit score the lower the interest rates will be on the card and the lower your credit score the higher the interest rates. Under the Fair Credit Report Act if your credit application is rejected you are allowed to request a free credit report. You must request it within 60 days of being notified of the application rejection.
Step 7: Make sure to include your credit card in your budget! It is easy to forget how much is spent on the card when not carefully including it in your budget and making sure that money is accounted for to pay off the balance each month. Read more here on budgeting with a credit card.