Getting your first credit card - A complete guide

A happy couple using a credit card onlineStarter credit cards can be a great money management tool to help you gain a better understanding of the way that credit works and to help you build up your credit score for future purchases such as obtaining a mortgage.

However, there are a few tips and tricks you should bear in mind when it comes to applying for your first credit card. It’s important to understand how credit cards work and what they can be used for and you should also consider the type of credit card you want, depending on what you want to use it for.

In our complete guide to getting a first-time credit card, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about credit cards for 18-year-olds, why it’s important to use it wisely and how to use a credit card to build up your credit in the UK.

Should I get a credit card?

Credit cards are a useful tool for everyday spending and they can also be used for short-term borrowing as well. Providing that you pay off the balance in full at the end of the month to avoid paying high interest rates and getting into credit card debt, they are great for making purchases.

Credit cards also have several benefits when they are used correctly, including:

  • They can help give you a bit of extra breathing space when it comes to spending between paydays.
  • They can give you extra protection when making purchases through the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
  • They give you the chance to build up your credit history so your credit score is in a better position when you come to apply for a mortgage.
  • They give you the ability to spread the cost out over several months on big purchase items.
  • Some credit cards enable you to earn cashback rewards when you use them.

How old should you be when getting a credit card for the first time?

Most credit card providers will require you to be at least 18 years old to qualify for a first-time credit card, but as long as you’re over 18, you should definitely consider getting one at some point.

Credit card eligibility

To determine your eligibility for a credit card, providers will consider the following eligibility factors:

  • You will need to be at least 18 years old.
  • Some providers will require you to have a full-time job or earn over a certain amount (this criteria can sometimes make it tricky for first-time credit cards, especially if you’ve only just turned 18 and you’re not in full-time employment yet).
  • If you have any county court judgments or if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy, this could have an impact on your eligibility to qualify for a first time credit card.
  • Some lenders also take your credit score into account, but if you’ve only just turned 18 and never had a credit card before, they may take this factor into consideration. 

Types of first-time credit cards

There are several credit cards available that you might want to consider for your first credit card, including student credit cards and credit builder cards.

Credit builder credit cards

A credit builder card is usually a great option for first-time credit card holders as it can help you to build up your credit history. Providing that you pay them off in full every month so that you avoid paying any interest on the money you borrow, these types of credit cards can be great for first time users.

Student credit cards

If you’re a college or university student, you might want to consider getting a student-specific credit card that often offers great benefits for first time credit card users such as interest-free purchases for a certain amount of time.

There are also several other types of credit cards available including purchase credit cards, rewards credit cards and balance transfer cards.

Read our complete guide to credit cards for more information on the different types.

How to choose the best first credit card

There are several things to consider before getting a credit card to ensure that you get the right one for you and your spending habits.

  • Fees and charges - you should look out for the kinds of fees and charges that might come with getting a credit card. For example, some providers will charge penalty fees on late repayments.
  • Minimum repayment terms - while you should always try and aim to pay the full balance off your credit card each month, if you’re unable to do this, try to always pay at least the minimum repayment as required by the credit card provider.
  • Credit limit on credit card - try to find out what your credit limit will be on your new credit card. The limit that you’re given usually depends on your credit history and financial situation.
  • Introductory APR - check to see what the introductory rate offer is for the credit card you want. Some credit card providers offer a 0% introductory offer, but this won’t last forever so you will need to see what rate you will be expected to pay once it’s over.
  • Credit utilisation ratio - this is the amount of credit that you’ve used in relation to how much you have available. You should try and aim to keep this below 30% where possible.

How to use your new credit card sensibly

Using your new credit card sensibly as a first-time credit card holder will work exactly the same regardless of your age or the type of card you get.

You must try and pay off the balance of your credit card in full at the end of every month to avoid paying high-interest rates and to avoid getting into credit card debt.

You should also only use your credit card to purchase things that you know you will be able to pay back. The money on a credit card isn’t free cash and you will always have to pay it back so make sure you spend wisely.

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