I just turned 18. How do I get a credit card?

If you just turned 18, congratulations! Now that you can legally get a credit card under your name, it’s time to consider getting your first credit card.

While it’s not as simple as going online and finding whatever credit card you want and getting approved for it, here’s a simple, no-nonsense path. People may claim there is no one-size-fits-all path, but in this case, there pretty much is…

(By the way, I want to make it very clear that I’m not getting paid to say any of this.)

Why can’t I just use a debit card?

Debit cards are like throwing away money because you don’t get rewards from spending on a debit card, whereas for credit cards, you do get rewards, even if the credit card doesn’t have an annual fee. Read this article for more info: Why you should never use a debit card ever again

Also, a debit card doesn’t help you build your credit score, whereas your credit card will.

Which credit card should I first apply for?

To make things simple, pick between one of these three cards. Only one. (Trust me, you can wait to apply for many, many more better credit cards later.)

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back
  • Discover it® Student Chrome
  • Chase Freedom Student (Visa)

Why isn’t Capital One or any of the other banks on this list? To save you some time, I’ll be blunt: their rewards suck, and their points are well known to be worth less than 1 cent. With the above three options, you’ll get at least 1 cent back on every dollar spent.

So, which is best for my case?

All three cards offer unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase. But each of them also have their benefits:

  • Choose the Discover Student Cash Back if you want the potential to earn 5% back on rotating categories every quarter, which sometimes includes dining and gas
    • Plus, they will match ALL cash back you earn in your first 365 days of the card being open and add that cash back amount by your 13th monthly statement.
  • Choose the Discover Student Chrome if you want 2% cash back on up to $1,000 of spending per quarter at restaurants and gas stations
    • Plus, they will match ALL cash back you earn in your first 365 days of the card being open and add that cash back amount by your 13th monthly statement.
  • Choose the Chase Freedom Student if you want maximum card acceptance (including places like Costco)
    • Plus, they give a $50 credit once you make your first purchase on the card within 3 months of the card being opened. (Don’t overthink it—yes, it’s really that easy, you can indeed just spend $1 on a candy bar right after you get the card in the mail, and you’ll get it.)
    • Plus, they give a $20 a year reward for the first 5 years the account is open. This is on the condition that your account is in “good standing”, which just means you have made your minimum payments and haven’t defaulted. If you never carry a balance, this won’t be an issue to worry about at all, and you’ll definitely get your $20 a year.

When I was a student, I picked the Discover Student Cash Back card, but that was mainly because I didn’t know there was a student version of the Chase Freedom card.

If I could do it all over again, I’d probably still go for the Discover Student card, because I had a Visa debit card I could use at Costco and on occasion when my Discover was declined by the merchant because they didn’t accept Discover. And Discover comes with no foreign transaction fees. Plus, they used to give the $20 a year Good Student reward, but apparently they have stopped doing this. The 1 for 1 point match in the first year was extremely enticing for me. Furthermore, 5% back on rotating categories per quarter was also pretty nice.

None of these cards require a prior credit history to apply for, since they are student cards. And once you’ve spent about a year of paying off these cards without carrying a balance, your credit score will be established to a decent point and you can start applying to better cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Still can’t decide? I’ll decide for you. Get the Discover it® Student Cash Back card.

If you want more insight into the path I followed to go from nothing to thriving (including owning premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum Card), see:

Leave a Reply