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Your first credit card

How to choose your first credit card

Rebecca Goodman
Written by  Rebecca Goodman
Ella Jukwey
Reviewed by  Ella Jukwey
5 min read
Updated: 01 May 2024

Make the most of your first credit card by finding a card that suits your needs and won’t push you into unmanageable debt

Key takeaways

  • Credit cards allow you to make a purchase now but pay at a later date.

  • Credit cards come with advantages such as improving your credit score, earning reward points and allowing you to spread your payments.

  • If you don't use your credit card responsibly you risk hurting your credit score and getting into credit card debt.

A credit card can be a useful money management tool - according to our data on young people and credit cards, 59% of 18-24 year olds in the UK have a credit card. But with hundreds of credit cards to choose from – how do you know which is the best first card for you?

When choosing your first credit card, the best way to find one that suits you is to ask yourself what exactly you need a credit card for. Then you need to look at your financial situation and your money goals.  

Our guide can help you navigate the world of credit cards. Then, once you’ve figured out the type of card you want, MoneySuperMarket can help you compare deals, see which cards you’re eligible for and help you apply.

Man paying with credit card

What to consider before getting your first credit card?

Credit cards can be handy but only if you use them wisely. When misused, a credit card can lead to serious debt problems, which could affect your credit score and make it difficult to secure credit in the future. So, think carefully about why you want a credit card.

Before applying for your first credit card, you should think about:

  • Representative APR: Providers only have to offer the representative APR – or advertised interest rate – to 51% of successful applicants; the rate you are offered will depend on your financial situation  

  • Credit limit: Your credit limit will depend on your financial situation and credit history and you won’t usually know what it is until you receive your new card.

  • Credit utilisation ratio: Your credit utilisation ratio is the amount of credit you've used in relation to how much you have available. A lower credit utilisation ratio is usually seen positively. For example, if you want to improve your credit score it’s generally advisable to keep your credit utilisation at 25% or lower.  

  • Introductory APR: Some credit cards offer low or 0% interest rates to attract new customers. However, these interest rates don’t last forever – once the introductory period is over, you’ll start paying the standard interest rate. 

  • Minimum repayments: It’s best to pay off your entire balance each month. But if you can’t do this, you should aim to pay at least the minimum monthly repayment . Failing to do so will damage your credit score and could spell the end of any benefits – including low or 0% interest rate periods.  

  • Fees and charges: If you miss a payment or exceed your credit limit, you’ll probably face penalty fees and charges. Cash withdrawals from an ATM using a credit card will also typically incur fees and immediate interest, while overseas purchases usually trigger separate charges – which can be high.

Am I eligible for a credit card?

Whether or not you can take out a credit card will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Your age: Most providers will want you to be at least 18

  • Your income: Some credit cards will require you to earn a certain amount or be in full-time employment

  • Your finances: Any county court judgements or bankruptcies can put lenders off giving you credit 

  • Your credit score: Generally, the higher your credit score the easier it’ll be for you to be accepted for credit. You may have a low credit score for various reasons; not having borrowed before or missing credit card payments. Bad credit can make it harder to borrow, but you could borrow from bad credit specialist lender

You can avoid being rejected for a credit card – which can damage your credit score - by finding out which cards you’re likely to be offered before you apply using MoneySuperMarket’s free eligibility checker. We can show you what cards you’re most like to be accepted for without harming your score.

What are the pros and cons of getting a credit card?

Having a credit card comes with benefits and downsides, including:

Advantages

  • Breathing space: One of the main benefits of having a credit card is it allows you to make a big purchase and spread the payments out, or delay them, until a later date  

  • Improve your credit: If you make your credit card payments on time then you could boost your credit score.

  • Cashback and rewards: A rewards credit card can come with benefits such as air miles and cashback on purchases

Disadvantages

  • Lower your credit score: If you fail to keep up with your credit card payments you run the risk of damaging your credit rating. A poor credit score will make it harder to borrow in the future 

  • Debt: If you’re unable to pay back what you’ve borrowed then you could get into debt. If you have bad credit, you’ll face high-interest rates which can make your debt even more expensive  

  • Restricted use: You might be charged for using your credit card to withdraw cash or making purchases abroad

Which type of credit card should I get?

There are lots of different types of credit cards to choose from. Finding the best first credit card for you will depend on how you plan to use it.

Credit-builder cards

Credit-builder cards allow you to build up your credit history and are aimed at those who have previously struggled with debts and have no or poor credit history. They come with low credit limits, typically up to just a few hundred pounds, and higher than standard interest rates.

Credit-builder cards can be easier to get than standard cards, which is one reason they are the most popular choice among 18–24-year-olds, according to MoneySuperMarket data.

Student credit cards 

If you’re at college or university, a student credit card can make a good first credit card. You’ll usually need a student bank account with the card provider to qualify, but you may be offered a range of benefits, including interest-free purchases for a limited time.  

As with standard cards, you’ll pay interest if you don’t clear your balance in full each month (outside of any interest-free offer periods). Any missed repayments or failing to meet the minimum monthly repayment is likely to have a negative impact on your credit score.

Other types of credit cards include: 

  • Balance transfer cards that allow you to transfer existing credit balances onto a new card offering a lower or zero interest rate for a limited time 

  • Purchase cards designed for spreading the cost of making purchases at a low or 0% interest rate for an introductory period

  • Reward cards that offer incentives such as cashback, shopping points, or air miles in return for using the card, but often charge high interest rates and may come with monthly fees.

How to choose the best first credit card

 The best credit card for you will depend on what you plan on using it for. Here are some credit card features to consider when applying:

  • APR: APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate. APR is calculated by taking into account the interest rate on a credit card and other charges such as an annual fee. When comparing credit cards with MoneySuperMarket, we let you see the advertised APR, so you can decide which is best for you 

  • Travel: If you’re a frequent flyer then a travel credit card could be in your best interest. A travel credit card typically won’t charge you for spending abroad 

  • Rewards: A credit card that comes with rewards could be a smart move for savvy shoppers. With a rewards credit card you gain ‘rewards’ from spending on your credit card ranging from cashback, air miles and shopping points

How to apply for a credit card for the first time?

Applying for your first credit card can seem daunting. Here, MoneySuperMarket breaks down the application process for you:

  • Explaining why you want a credit card: You’ll usually be asked what you’ll want a credit card for and how it’ll be used.

  • Providing information: Generally, lenders will ask you for some personal details such as your salary and proof of ID.

  • Eligibility: When applying for your first credit card, eligibility is something that might be on your mind. Compare credit cards with us, so you can find out what cards you’re likely of being accepted for.

  • Choose the card: When picking the card you want, you need to remember that different lenders will offer different deals and interest rates, depending on your financial circumstances.

  • Getting the card: Once your application is accepted, you’ll receive your card. 

Our expert says...

"A credit card can be a really useful tool to keep in your wallet and there are many benefits to having one, from being able to spread the cost of a big payment such as a holiday, to earning cashback or rewards on your spending. They're also a good way to have a backup in case you lose your debit card or for emergency spending. However, if you don’t use a credit card properly and clear it (if there’s interest to pay) and make payments on time, you’ll end up paying interest on the money you borrow and you could risk damaging your credit score and your ability to get credit in the future."

- Rebecca Goodman

Other helpful guides:

It can be tricky choosing a credit card for the first time. Let MoneySuperMarket walk you through the different stages of the process with our range of credit card guides

Compare credit cards with MoneySuperMarket

Let us help you choose the best first credit card for you. It’s quick and easy. Just tell us a little about yourself and your finances, including your income, employment status, and what you want to use the card for, and we’ll give you a list of options tailored to your needs.

Our free eligibility checker will show you how likely you are to be accepted if you apply for a particular deal. Then all you have to do is pick the card you want and click through to the provider to finalise your application.  

If it’s accepted, your provider will send your card through the post for you to activate.

MoneySuperMarket is a credit broker – this means we’ll show you products offered by lenders. We never take a fee from customers for this broking service. Instead we are usually paid a fee by the lenders – though the size of that payment doesn’t affect how we show products to customers.

Compare credit cards