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Can I apply for a credit card before I start my first job?

A solid job offer that starts in a few weeks shouldn't hold you back

By  |  Published: April 26, 2017

Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.

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'Opening Credits' stories

Question Dear Opening Credits,
I am a student looking to open a credit card. I have signed to work full time with a company after I graduate in May. If I apply for a credit card today, can I include that company and salary as my employer/gross income?  – Dom

Answer

Dear Dom,
If you’re worried that the credit card issuer will conduct an FBI-type investigation regarding the actual date your paychecks will begin flowing, relax. Credit card issuers typically rely on stated income. Even if you’re under the age of 21, you should be fine. Although the CARD Act imposed restrictions on young adults’ access to credit cards, requiring them to prove they have a steady income, it’s still usually based on the honor system. It’s possible that the issuer will ask for your company’s phone number or verification of employment, and that’s OK because you are just about to go to work.

Honesty is key, so don’t fib or fluff the numbers. If you inflate your earnings on the application then get in over your head and the debt goes delinquent, unpaid or you file for bankruptcy, the credit issuer has the right to take legal action against you. It would be considered fraud.

Of course, income is only part of the qualifying process. The card issuer also will check your credit history to see how you’ve done with past and current credit products. That information is available on your consumer credit reports. Hopefully, your reports are already populated with some positive data, such as a student loan in good standing or a car loan that you’ve been paying on time. Credit scores, which are derived from the financial data on your credit reports, may also be pulled, and the scores will give the issuer an idea of how much risk it will take if it does business with you.

So, before you apply, pull your credit reports for free from AnnualCreditReport.com as well as a free FICO score from Discover Scorecard and your VantageScore from CreditCards.com. These scores run from 300 to 850, with higher numbers being preferable as they indicate low lending risk.

Depending on your credit score, you have some credit card options:

  • Student cards. These accounts are specifically for young adults with thin credit files. Eligibility is more dependent on income.
  • Secured cards. If you don’t have an established credit profile at all, you may have to start one with a secured card. Secured cards require a deposit of a few hundred dollars to put down as collateral, which serves as your credit line. After a year of using the secured card responsibly, you can most likely apply for a more mainstream card.
  • Unsecured cards. If you have some positive credit activity on your reports already, you may be eligible for an unsecured account that requires no deposit. To get an idea of what kind of card you can qualify for, go to CardMatch.

Select the best card that matches your credit profile and apply. Just once, though. If you get rejected, wait six months before you try again as your credit score takes a small, temporary hit each time a lender checks your credit. 

As soon as you have a card, use it to add positive activity to your credit reports. This means pay on time and send the full amount of the bill so you never get into consumer debt. This simple two-part system can be harder that it sounds. You’ll have to maintain a running total on what you’ve already spent, then stop when you’re at your personal limit. Do this for a year and you’ll be in a far better position than you are today!

See related: Chronic late card payments: How bad can fines, fees get?, College students: Prepare your credit for graduation

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Updated: 08-18-2017

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