If you've resorted to filling the slots in your wallet with your library card, frequent flier cards and health insurance card, it's may be time to apply for a credit card and start building your payment history. Having a couple of credit cards that you use and pay off regularly is a great way to not only manage your household purchases but also boost your credit score. Having a high score with an on-time payment history is important when you go to buy a house or car in the future.
Get a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit bureaus through the Annual Credit Report website. Check them carefully for errors. If you find any, file disputes to get the mistakes removed from your record. Mistakes happen and removing errors before applying for credit lets you put your best foot forward.
Catch up on any delinquent debt payments. Although the late payments will appear on your credit report, it's much better to have your account marked paid as agreed instead of delinquent when you apply for a card. Your credit report lists delinquent accounts, or you can dig through your mail or check online summaries to find your most recent bills for each account.
Ask your credit-savvy honey to add you as an authorized card user. Your spouse can usually do this online or by calling the phone number on the back of the card. If your sweetie has had good payment history, adding you as an authorized user should give your score a boost.
Choose a credit card that's designed for people with scores in your range. Some of the top credit cards are only available for people with excellent credit, so you don't want to waste your time applying for them. Mint.com, Bankrate.com and CardHub.com are among the sites that list details of available credit cards and offer tools to help you select the right one.
Go to your bank's local branch and talk to a banker before applying for your first credit card. The banker can explain what cards the bank offers and help you pick the best one. Often, applying for your bank's card will give you a better chance of approval because the bank sees your checking account history.
Ask someone with good credit to cosign your application. You don't have to be married or related to have a joint credit card, so as long as you're committed to managing the debt together, go ahead and use your loved one's good credit to help you get the card you want. The cosigner becomes equally responsible for the debt on the card, so be sure this person is someone you'll want to deal with long-term.
Apply for a secured credit card if you have no credit history or very poor credit history and cannot get a cosigner. A secured card usually has an annual fee and requires that you put down a deposit, but your chances of approval are much higher than with a traditional card. In most cases, you won't be able to spend more than your deposit, but it will help you build a credit history so that you can apply for an unsecured card later.