How to Apply for a Credit Card - dummies

How to Apply for a Credit Card

By Pierre Lehu

Credit cards have many attributes, so when applying for a credit card your first decision is to figure out which factors of the various cards best meet your needs. As you research the various credit card companies, be sure to check these important characteristics to find the ones most favorable to you:

  • Annual percentage rate (APR)

  • Low or no yearly fee

  • Length of grace period

  • Rewards or airline miles

  • Cash back

  • Student

  • Business

Most credit cards are issued by one of four companies, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover. While these companies handle the transactions, they don’t necessarily handle your application. Most credit cards are associated with a bank, either a national bank like Citibank, Chase or Capital One, or a local one. As far as the merchants that accept credit cards are concerned, which bank is behind your card doesn’t matter, so if you already have an account with a particular bank, you may want to begin your search there, as that bank may be more likely to accept your application because you are an existing customer.

The major banks offer a wide variety of credit cards so it’s best to know what type of card you want before you apply. If you visit a website such as Creditcards.com or Credit Land, you can find out the types of cards and the terms that the various national banks are currently offering. The word “currently” is important not only because the terms vary among the banks at any given time, but the terms of some cards are temporary, so for example you might get an introductory APR of 5% but that rate will then jump to 24% at the end of six months. That’s why you should not only shop around for the best deals, but also read the fine print as the best short run deal may be the worst long term one.

Some people keep switching cards to take advantage of the introductory offers, switching to another card with a good introductory offer as soon as the initial term of the first card is over.

How your credit score affects a credit card application

When applying for a credit card, the bank to which you apply will check your credit score, which will tell the bank whether or not you are a good risk. Most young adults may not have a credit score yet, and there is a common belief that young adults should get a credit card as soon as possible in order to establish a credit score. Your credit score doesn’t depend on how much you earn but whether you pay your bills on time and how much debt you have. That’s why it’s advisable not to “max” out your credit card when you get it as that will have a negative effect on your credit score, which could then make it difficult to sign a lease, buy a car or get a cell phone.

When you actually apply for a credit card, you may want one with particular attributes, like a low APR, but your credit score, or lack of it, may limit you. Because banks have different policies regarding credit scores, if one bank turns you down, don’t assume that means every bank will do so.

Privacy and your credit card application

These days it’s easiest to apply online, which you can do at the bank’s website or from one of the websites mentioned above. Always make sure any site that asks for personal information protects your privacy through encryption, or sends you to an encrypted portion of the site for filling out the application. You can tell if you are protected if the URL begins with https. (the “s” in “https” means secure.)