How to Get Your First Credit Card

Plus, how to use it wisely and earn the lowest interest rates.

If you’re smart about when and how you use it, a credit card can help you build a solid credit history and boost your credit score. That will help you get a lower rate when you apply for a mortgage or other loan.

QUIZ: The Truth About Credit and Debt

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Header Cell - Column 0 ProsCons
Strongest fraud protectionsHelps build credit historyPerks such as purchase protection and travel insuranceRewards, such as points for travel or cash back, on some cardsTemptation to accumulate debtLate feesSome cards have an annual feeHigh interest rates compared with home and car loans
Limits spending to what you have in the bankNo monthly payments or interest chargesUsing it may fulfill requirement for no-fee checkingHigh fees if you allow overdraftsWeaker fraud protection than a credit cardDoesn't build credit historyMay be harder to use for hotel and rental-car reservations
Limits overspendingSome have direct deposit, ATM access and online bill-payingEasier to acquire if you have poor creditMay charge high activation fee and monthly maintenance chargesFewer fraud protectionsDoesn't build credit history

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Lisa Gerstner
Editor, Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine

Lisa has been the editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance since June 2023. Previously, she spent more than a decade reporting and writing for the magazine on a variety of topics, including credit, banking and retirement. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.