Credit cards are an essential financial tool. When you use your card responsibly, you can build credit, finance new purchases, get out of debt and earn rewards.
If you’ve decided to open a new credit card, it may seem as simple as applying, but there are a few more factors to consider to ensure you get the best card for your needs.
How to get a credit card
CNBC Select has five steps to follow when you want to get a credit card:
- Decide why you want a credit card
- Check your credit score
- Shop around for the best credit card offers
- Read the fine print
- Apply for the best credit card for your needs
1. Decide why you want a credit card
The first step is to figure out the reason you want to get a credit card. To make the decision easier, answer the common questions below.
- Do you want to build or rebuild credit? If you’re just beginning your credit journey, or looking to repair poor credit, it can be a little more difficult to find a card that fits your needs that you’ll also qualify for. Check out secured cards or cards for building or rebuilding credit. The Discover it® Secured is on both lists as one of the best options because it gives you a timeline for upgrading to an unsecured card.
- Do you want to earn rewards? A rewards credit card is a great way to earn cash back, points or miles on every purchase you make. You can maximize rewards by considering cards that offer bonus rewards in specific categories, such as gas, groceries, restaurants, entertainment and travel. If you rather have a simple rewards program, consider a flat-rate cash-back card, such as the Citi® Double Cash Card.
- Are you in debt and paying high interest? Carrying a balance on a high interest credit card can be costly. You can transfer debt to a balance transfer credit card offering no interest for up to 21 months, such as the Citi Simplicity® Card (after 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR), or a card with no balance transfer fee, such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card (see rates and fees).
- Do you have a big purchase coming up? Many credit cards offer no interest on new purchases for over a year. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers no interest for the first 15 months from account opening (after 16.49% to 25.24% variable APR).
- Do you travel abroad? Some credit cards charge around a 3% fee on purchases made outside the U.S. If you travel abroad, a credit card with no foreign transaction fees is essential. Also, some cards waive Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers cardholders both perks.
2. Check your credit score
Many bank issuers are transparent about the credit score requirements needed to open certain cards, such as “average” or “good/excellent.” It’s key to know your credit score so you know which cards you have the best chances of qualifying for.
Thankfully, there are numerous resources available for you to check your credit score for free, such as Discover Credit Scorecard and CreditWise from Capital One.
Here are the FICO credit score ranges, according to Experian:
- Very poor: 300-579
- Fair: 580-669
- Good: 670-739
- Very good: 740-799
- Exceptional: 800-850
These ranges are estimates and vary by card issuer.
3. Shop around for the best credit card offers
4. Read the fine print
When you’ve narrowed down the credit card you want, make sure you read the fine print before applying. It’s important you review the details specific to the card you want to apply for.
The terms and conditions listed in the fine print are key for you to understand before submitting an application.
Review the annual fee and interest rates for purchases, balance transfers, cash advances and penalties. Plus, be aware of any fees for foreign transactions and late payments.
5. Apply for the best credit card for your needs
Once you’ve settled on the best credit card for your needs, you can submit an application. The quickest way to do this is online (whether it’s on a laptop or via a mobile device). You also have the option to call, go in-person to a bank or send in a paper application.
The application process is similar between issuers, and you’ll typically be required to provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number, annual income and employment status.
After you submit an application, you can receive a decision in as little as 60 seconds, but it may take longer. If you’re instantly approved, expect to receive your card within the next two weeks. Some card issuers, such as American Express, may provide an instant card number that you can use for online transactions right away.
Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
For rates and fees of the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, click here.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.