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How to Get a Credit Card

Using a credit card responsibly helps you build credit and can be beneficial to your financial health in the long term. Having good credit strengthens credit card and loan applications, and will improve the rates you’re offered on mortgages, car loans, and other types of borrowing. Getting a new credit card takes several steps, but can be an easy process once you’ve decided which card you want.

Credit cards can be useful when you don't have cash on hand, want to shop safely by not carrying cash, or need to cover unexpected costs in an emergency.

There are a few things to know before you apply. In brief, we recommend you:

  • Get a credit report to check your credit score and credit history
  • Compare credit card offers
  • Read the fine print

It's best to apply to just one card at a time, rather than submitting multiple credit card applications simultaneously.

Check your credit score

Knowing your credit score is key when it comes to determining which credit cards you're most likely to qualify for. It's easy to check your estimated score using free resources like Credit Karma or WalletHub.

The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to receive a low Annual Percentage Rate (APR) and high credit limit. Even if you haven't had a credit card before, you might have existing credit from being an authorized user or taking out a loan.

It's a good idea to request your credit report at least once a year (at no cost) to make sure there are no errors damaging your credit. You can get a free annual credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

According to Experian, FICO credit scores are considered:

  • Very poor: 300-579
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Good: 670-739
  • Very good: 740-799
  • Exceptional: 800+

These ranges may vary by credit card issuer.

Choose the right credit card for you

Getting any credit card isn't the same as getting the right credit card. Finding your fit depends on your biggest need.

If you're... Try a...
Going to carry a balance 0% intro rate credit card
Making everyday purchases Rewards credit card
Already in credit card debt Balance transfer credit card

People who:

  • Plan to carry a balance on their credit card will want a card with a low APR, while those who pay in full each month may benefit more from a card with rewards
  • Spend big will want to get a rewards card with a good overall earning rate, or one that emphasizes their most common spending categories

Some cards are designed specifically for financing big purchases and balance transfers and offer 0% introductory APRs.

How to find the best credit card offers

It's best to compare your options when shopping for a credit card. If you only consider one card, you won’t know how it’s different from other offers.

Important things to compare on a credit card:

  • Eligibility: Different cards may be targeted to specific groups, like students or business owners.
  • APR: A card's interest rate only matters if you carry a balance from month to month. Some cards offer introductory interest rates of 0%.
  • Membership (annual) fees: The cost of your card shouldn't outweigh its value.
  • Rewards: Credit card rewards can save you a lot of money over time. There are three main types of rewards: cash back, points, and miles. Cash back credit cards are designed to boost the value of everyday purchases, while points and miles are more geared towards travel.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a credit card, but you want to be sure the cost of the card will not be greater than its value in rewards and benefits, etc. What will save or cost you the most money, based on how you plan to use your card?

Read the fine print

Be sure to review the details of the credit card you choose before applying. It's important to understand all the elements of an offer before you commit financially. Look out for credit limit, late payment fees, foreign transaction fees, cash advances and penalties, and annual fees and interest rates.

Apply for a credit card

It's good to remember that your credit score will be affected by your application for a credit card, so it's best to apply one at a time.

The quickest way to apply is to do so online, or you can go into a bank in person or call by phone.

No matter which card you choose, the application process will be relatively similar. You'll be asked to provide your name, address, social security number, annual income, and employment status to open a credit card account. After you apply, you could receive a decision in anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, timelines vary. If you get credit approval, you can expect your card to arrive in the mail within 2 weeks.

Make sure you're certain you’ll use a credit card before you apply. Opening a new line of credit and failing to use it won’t help improve your credit score or credit history.

Get help with credit cards

If you need guidance on your eligibility, want to better understand your credit score or credit report, or have general questions about credit cards or building credit, Santander experts are available to answer questions and provide helpful information.