How to get a credit card? Steps to apply & get approved

Gabriela Peratello

Credit cards can be helpful if you want to build your credit score, spread the cost of high value purchases over a few months, or earn perks and rewards as you spend. However, they also often come with costs and tricky eligibility requirements.

In this article, we’ll show you how to get a credit card in the US, and also talk about an alternative option, the Wise debit card. There's no credit check for approval, no ongoing maintenance charges to pay, and no interest costs to worry about. Let’s get right into it.

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How can I qualify for a credit card?

Being rejected for a card can be detrimental toward you getting a card in the future, so take these steps and make sure you’ll be qualified beforehand.

1. Have a good credit score

It’s impossible to talk about getting a credit card without mentioning your credit score, so this is first on the list. Though there are exceptions, qualifying for an unsecured credit card requires a credit score of 700 or more — don’t worry if your score isn’t at that level just yet, you have options, which we will discuss later.

Credit score is the ultimate factor in determining whether the credit card issuer will approve you for the card, and it also determines the interest rate they’ll charge on the card. The best way to avoid surprises during the application process is to double-check your report before applying.

To check and see if your credit score is high enough, you can request a report from one of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax®¹, Experian®², and TransUnion®³—or reach out to your bank.

You’re also legally entitled to an annual credit review⁴, which you can get through the annual credit report website⁵ which is authorized to provide credit reports by the US government.

2. Be at least 18 with a source of income

There’s no age limit on being an authorized user for an approved credit card account, but you must normally be 18 to apply for your own credit card.

Regardless of age, financial institutions won’t approve your application without a proven source of income, so have your bank statements ready to show income and any other assets in your name.

3. Social Security number or ITIN

Any credit card application will require a valid social security number or ITIN to complete.


How can I get a credit card for the first time?

1. Make sure that you know why you need a credit card – if you need one.

Before applying for a credit card, understand what a credit card can do to your credit history. If you’re unprepared and irresponsible with the card, it can ruin your credit for years or even decades to come. And getting your score back in good standing can be a long and difficult path.

For these reasons, always consider your purpose in having a credit card:
  • Are you looking to build credit?

  • Do you just want cash back or perks on what you spend?

  • Do you need more security for your purchases?

2. Take your time

When you apply, don’t just apply to the first offer that comes your way. It’s important to research and compare options for a credit card.

Do you have a solid history with your checking and savings accounts? Then you could choose to apply for your first card at your bank. Existing relationships are gold in the financial world, and if your credit score is a little below par, then working with your bank can improve your chances of being approved, especially if you’ve been responsible with your accounts.

You can also look into cards from retail and department stores for extra perks where you shop the most. But beware that these cards usually have the highest interest charges and often have limitations on where you can use them.

Regardless, shop around for a card before you decide.

What is the easiest credit card to get approved for?

For those enrolled at a university, a student credit card is often your best bet for getting approved by a major credit card company.

However, if you’re not in school and don’t have much credit history—or a poor credit history—you can apply for a secured credit card. This type of card has a low credit limit and requires a security deposit to open.

Often, the deposit amount matches the spending limit. With this card, you can quickly build a good credit history, and when you’re ready, you can apply for an unsecured card.

💡 If you’re looking for a great alternative to a credit card, why not try a Wise debit card? It’s easy and free to open a Wise account. Plus, it’s only $9 to get a card, and there are no monthly fees! 

With a Wise account, you can keep your funds in multiple currencies, send money abroad with a small and transparent fee, and always spend in the local currency at the mid-market rate.

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Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

3. Apply

After checking your credit report and doing some extensive research on which card is right for you, it’s time to apply. The process is quick and will tell you whether you qualify for the card and what your interest rate will be. Again, credit card companies base this application entirely on your credit history found in your credit score.

Though different banks and financial institutions require different information, generally, you must provide the following:

  • Name

  • Address

  • Date of Birth

  • Social Security Number or ITIN

  • Proof of employment and employment history

  • Income and assets including student loans, government or military benefits, and any other investments

Most credit card applications are virtual and provide a decision almost immediately. If you’re approved for the card and accept the terms, they usually send a card within two weeks. On the other hand, if you’re denied, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your credit score and take another shot at it later on.

Denied? Don’t take it personally.

Denied for your first credit card—or even on the first few attempts?

Don’t be surprised and don’t take it personally! Even people with extensive, long-term credit histories get denied. And you’ll know exactly why you were denied because they’ll send a letter stating the reasons. With that, you can now create a plan that will increase your approval odds in the future.

Take this opportunity to read carefully and maybe apply for a different type of card. Or you can try to increase your credit score by using a secured credit card.

Looking for an alternative card which lets you spend globally like a local? Try Wise

Wise is another great option if you are unable to obtain a credit card. The Wise debit card isn’t a credit card, so you’ll need to top up your balance in advance - but you can’t run up interest fees, and there’s no credit check to apply for your account and card.

It only takes a few minutes to register for a Wise Account and upload your documents for verification. Once your account is open, you can keep your funds in over 40 currencies with no charge, and for $9, you can get a Wise debit card that allows you to spend money in 150+ countries, in the local currency.

Whenever you spend or send money abroad your dollars are converted at the mid-market rate, with low transparent fees from 0.43%⁶ - and with no foreign transaction fee, which could help you save overall.

Wise isn’t a bank - it’s a fully licensed and regulated Money Services Business in the US, which offers innovative and intuitive products which are already trusted by millions of customers.

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Credit cards can be super handy for certain purposes and purchases. However, they’re not always the right choice - and they’re not always available, depending on your credit score and income.

Use this guide to make your credit card application, and don’t forget to look at the Wise debit card as an alternative if you're interested in spending money overseas with the mid-market exchange rate and low, transparent fees.


  1. Equifax
  2. Experian
  3. TransUnion
  4. US government - credit scores
  5. Annual credit report website
  6. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Sources checked on 09.18.2023

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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