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Your first credit card

How to choose your first credit card

Make the most of your first credit card by choosing a card that best suits your needs

By Jessica Bown

Published: 15 July 2021

Stack of credit cards

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A credit card can be a useful money management tool. But with hundreds of credit cards to choose from – how do you know which is the best first card for you?  

Our guide can help you navigate the world of credit cards. Then, once you’ve worked out the type of card you want, use MoneySuperMarket to compare the cards available to you – and apply for the one that best suits your needs. 

 

Should I get a credit card? 

Credit cards tend to be designed for everyday spending and short-term borrowing - and should be paid off in full each month whenever possible so you don’t incur high interest.  

The main benefits when a card is used this way include:

  • A bit of extra breathing space between pay days

  • The ability to spread the cost of expensive items

  • The opportunity to build or improve a credit history (useful for future credit applications such as your first mortgage

You can make the most of your first credit card by only spending what you can afford to pay back. If not, you’ll usually face interest charges on top of the amount you owe – unless you’re on an interest-free introductory deal for purchases or balance transfers.

 

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 to qualify
  • 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 

Lenders will look at your credit report  to see what other debts you have and to check your repayment history, which is likely to be limited when you apply for a credit card for the first time. This can put you in the “high-risk borrower” category, as there is little or no evidence you can borrow money responsibly.

However, lenders will all have different acceptance criteria and some offer credit cards aimed at first-time borrowers. 

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 handy eligibility checker. We can show you what cards you’re most like to be accepted for without harming your score.  

You can also learn more about lenders’ acceptance criteria with our guide to whether you’ll be accepted for a credit card. 

Choosing the best first credit card 

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

Credit builder cards

For many first-time credit card holders, one of the main advantages of using a credit card is being able to build up a credit history. Credit builder credit cards are designed for this. 

Aimed at those who have struggled with debts in the past and who have a poor score or no credit history, credit builder cards tend to come with low credit limits, typically up to just a few hundred pounds, and higher than standard interest rates. 

But if you pay them off in full each month – also the best way to build a good credit score – you won’t have to pay any interest on your borrowing. 

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.

Credit cards for young people

Data collected by MoneySuperMarket between May 2020 and May 2021, accurate as of May 2021

 

Student credit cards

If you’re at college or university, a student credit card can make a very 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: 

 

What to consider before you get your first card 

Credit cards can be handy but only if you use them wisely. When misused, a credit card can lead to 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 and consider about whether you’ll be able to control your spending on it.

Before applying for your first credit card, you should also 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

The credit limit you are given will also depend on your financial situation and credit history, and you won’t usually know what it is until you receive your new card. You may be able to request a higher credit limit in the future if you pay your bills on time. 

Credit utilisation ratio

Your credit utilisation ratio is the amount of credit you've used in relation to how much you have available. It's a good idea to keep this ratio below 30% where possible.
 

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 will 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. 

 

How to use your first credit card? 

 

You can start using your first credit card as soon as it is activated. In an ideal world, however, you should clear your credit card balance in full every month.  

That way, you can take advantage of the benefits credit cards offer – including building a good credit history, without paying the price in the form of interest payments. Beyond that, how you use your first credit card will depend on what type of card you have and why you took it out. 

For example, if you chose a credit card offering 0% interest on purchases for an introductory period, you could use it to spread the cost of a big purchase such as a holiday – while enjoying the extra protection offered on credit card transactions under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. 

 

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 right 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.

Ready to compare?

 

MoneySuperMarket is a credit broker not a lender. You must be 18 or over and a UK resident.