If you don’t have a credit history, it can be tough to convince credit card issuers that you’ll be able to manage your account effectively. You might have to ask for help from an established user to get your first chance at having your own card. If that’s not an option, you may be able to get a card at your financial institution or college campus.
Getting added as an authorized user on an existing account may allow you to build your credit history without having to make a credit card payment. This gives you a credit card in your name and the charging privileges that go with it, but the main cardholder gets the bills. You face two risks here. If the main account holder doesn’t pay her bills, that negatively impacts your credit score, though you generally can contact the credit reporting bureaus to get the entries removed. You also risk the relationship with the main account holder if you overextend yourself, charge too much and can’t cover your tab.
Find a Co-signer
You also can apply for a credit card with a co-signer who agrees to step in if you stop making payments. The co-signer's stronger credit history, and her agreement to help you settle the account if you find yourself unable to, can make you a more attractive risk. Unlike an account where you’re just an authorized user, you’ll get the monthly statement and be responsible for paying the balance. That credit history will go on the credit reports of both of you, so any late payments on your part drag down your co-signer’s credit score as well.
Some financial institutions offer secured cards, which are low-risk enough to be options even with no credit history. You provide the issuer with a deposit, generally a few hundred dollars. That becomes your credit line. The bank holds onto that deposit in case you can't pay your bill, but the intent is for that to serve as collateral. After a set period of consecutive on-time payments, a secured card often converts to an unsecured card, at which point your deposit is returned.
You may have a better chance of getting a credit card for the first time if you're a college student. Though the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 limited the marketing tactics that credit card issuers can use, students still are an attractive customer target because of their youth and their earning potential after college. If you're younger than 21 and not an authorized user on your parent's card, you'll have to show proof that you earn enough income to pay off any balance you might charge. However, these issuers are also far more likely to overlook a lack of credit history and give you a chance to prove your credit-worthiness.