How to get a credit card for the first time

If you’ve decided to apply for a credit card – either to build your score or to access emergency funds – there are a few steps you should take before you apply. You can do your research and use eligibility checkers to find the right card for you.

5 min read
woman taking credit card out of purse

Eligibility checkers and soft searches

If you apply for a credit card, a ‘hard search’ will be conducted on your credit report – this leaves a temporary negative marker, so applying and being rejected for several can really have an impact on your score. But how do you now if you’ll be approved without applying? This is where an eligibility checker or a ‘soft search’ comes in.

Eligibility checkers give you an idea of whether you’ll be accepted or not before apply for a credit card.

They’ll only conduct a soft search which lenders won’t be able to see and it won’t knock your score.

An eligibility checker can help you to:

  • find financial products that you’re eligible for
  • reduce the number of applications you make
  • reduce the risk of rejection.

Most banks, comparison sites and credit reference agencies have online eligibility checkers that you can use for free to check if you’d be approved. Remember, that even if they say you’ll be approved, it’s not a 100% guarantee as different lenders have their own specific criteria. We use QuickCheck to see if you’re pre-approved for the Ocean Credit Card.

What will a credit card provider look for?

Common factors a lender will check include:

  • your credit history (this includes store cards and overdrafts)
  • verifying your identity
  • your income and if you can afford repayments

Your credit history

Your credit history is important when it comes to making applications for any kind of credit. You can check yours by looking at your credit report with any three of the main credit reference agencies (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion). You can also see your Equifax credit report free (for life) through CredAbility. Plus, you can check it as many times as you like, without leaving a footprint.

Someone who has no history of borrowing may find it more difficult to be approved for a credit card. This is because the lender has no reference for how you manage your money and if you would be reliable when it comes to repaying. If this is the case for you, you should look at credit cards that are designed for people with thin or bad credit.

Lenders will be able to see how you’ve managed any previous credit:

  • if you’re in or have been in your overdraft for a long time
  • if you’ve missed any repayments for cards or loans in the past.

Your identity

When you check your credit history, make sure your personal details are up to date. This includes your:

  • name
  • address
  • any financial links you have – such as a current or ex-partner
  • if you’re on the electoral roll.

This is essential to do across different credit reference agencies. If there are discrepancies between them, it could affect your credit history.

Being on the electoral roll helps the lender verify your identity and eliminate the risk of fraud. You can register to vote on the government's website.

Your income

If you have a consistent income and have done for a while, this will make lenders more comfortable when lending to you.

However, if you have no source of income or it’s inconsistent then it can make lenders nervous about lending to you. This is because your income will seem less secure.

If you’ve changed jobs a lot, then this can also put lenders off. If you've just started at a new job, it could be worth waiting a couple months before you apply for a credit card.

Do I need a credit builder credit card?

If you have a thin credit history, then a credit builder card could be an option. These are designed for people with either a poor credit score or little-to-no credit history.

These cards usually come with a higher interest rate and lower spending limit than most, but they can help you build up a better credit score over time.

You’ll need to keep up with the repayments and stay within your limit to help improve your score, not doing so could harm it. Once you’ve built up your credit rating, you’ll be eligible for a wider range of products.

What if my application is rejected?

It can be very frustrating to put in a credit card application only for it to get rejected. While this is disappointing, you should avoid making lots of applications for different cards within a short space of time – because of the negative impact on your credit score.

Using an eligibility checker before you apply for another product, this will reduce the risk of rejection and putting a bad mark on your credit history. It’ll show you how likely you are to be accepted, without affecting your credit score.  While there are plenty of advantages to getting a credit card, take your time and try to consider the above before you submit an official application.

Remember, there are different cards for different circumstances, so do some research online to see which might be right for you.

Improve your credit rating with Ocean Finance

  • Up to £1,500 credit limit
  • Quickcheck won't impact your credit rating
  • Check your eligibility in 60 seconds
Check now

39.9% APR
Representative (variable)

Intelligent Lending Ltd (credit broker). Capital One is the exclusive lender