Your First Credit Card: A Q&A for the Real World

This is a guest post from Laura Edgar, a senior writer for NerdWallet, an unbiased personal finance website committed to improving your financial literacy.

 

It’s exciting to be a young adult! Chances are, your life is filled with many firsts, like living on your own, taking advanced biology classes, and managing your own finances. This is a great time to explore your world and try new things. It’s also the perfect time to get your first credit card. When used wisely, a credit card will help you build your credit history and credit score. At NerdWallet, we spend our days digging through credit card disclosures and answering the tough questions. Trust us: you’re not alone if you’re confused. You’ve already taken a great first step by coming to a not-for-profit credit union for your information. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about credit cards.

 Why get a credit card?

A credit card offers you a secure and convenient way to make purchases. It will also help you build a credit history, which you’ll need when it comes time to buy your first car or apply for your first loan. You may even need a good credit score to rent a room or land a job. An increasing number of employers and landlords are requiring credit checks. Your credit score is literally your permanent record, so take it seriously. Use your credit card to make small, affordable purchases, not to buy things you can’t afford. You can certainly use your credit card to pay bills in an emergency, but always use this as a last resort.

What kind of credit card should I get?

For your first card, you’ll probably want a “starter card” or, if you’re a college student (part time totally counts), a college student credit card. Apple Federal Credit Union offers both. Their Credit Builder card offers a higher credit limit, but also requires you to put down money to secure it. You’ll get this money back when you close the account and graduate to a regular credit card. Apple FCUs Student credit card has a lower credit limit, but doesn’t require any money up front. Both cards have a very low APR, which is typical of credit union credit cards. You can read about each card in more detail here.

Should I pay attention to the APR or annual fee?

The APR is a percentage of your total balance, which you’ll have to pay in addition to your total balance if you rack up debt. You’ll never have to worry about the APR if you don’t carry a balance. That said, the higher the APR, the more debt you’ll have if you can’t make your payments. An annual fee is exactly what it sounds like: a yearly fee for the privilege of using a card. Apple Federal’s credit cards don’t have an annual fee, however.

Should I get a rewards credit card?

Rewards credit cards give you 1-5% back on your purchases. These cards also tend to have the highest interest rates. Rewards aren’t worth anything if you rack up debt. However, once you’ve spent a few years building your credit history and making regular payments, a rewards credit card is a great way to earn points or cash back for the purchases you make every day.

I’ve been told I need a cosigner. What does that mean?

If you’re at least 18 years old and have a full-time job, you can apply for a credit card on your own. If you’re under 21 and don’t have your own steady source of income, you’ll need to have your parent or guardian co-sign your application to get a card. This might sound annoying, but it usually gives you an edge. You’ll get to piggyback on your cosigner’s credit score, which may give you better options for credit cards.

What’s wrong with making minimum payments?

Your credit card statement will include a minimum payment option. If you like, you can pay this smaller amount and still be “in the clear” with your credit card issuer. However, this is exactly how people get into trouble and rack up debt. Don’t fall into the “spend now, pay later” mindset. When you incur debt, you are paying for the privilege of spending money you don’t have. Debt damages your credit score, which makes people less likely to lend to you in the future, and gets very, very expensive.

What if I have more questions?

That’s great! We’re serious; you should know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign up for a credit card. Make sure you read all the disclosures before you apply for anything. You can also stop by your local Apple FCU branch and ask a representative to help you. They can help you pick the right card for your needs and increase your chances of being accepted.