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Best first credit card: credit history 101


Never had a credit card before? Never fear.

For some years now, the ‘credit crunch’ has continued to bite and it’s bitten hardest for those with very little credit history.

But, with a bit of know-how, there are still plenty of options for those looking to get their first credit card.

Credit history boys (and girls)

The central problem for those looking for their first credit card is generally held to be a lack of credit history.

However, those looking for a first credit card are often not as green as they think.

Credit history doesn’t mean just credit cards, mortgages and loans but any longstanding agreement between a consumer and a business that will show up on a report from a reference agency.

More casual borrowing relationships such as overdrafts are increasingly taken into account and so are mobile phone contracts, home broadband subscriptions and the like.

Credit card providers use all of these as a measure of an individual’s success with managing credit commitments and, to a lesser extent, as a measure of stability.

Other indicators of stability important both to those new to credit and to old hands include: electoral roll registration, to make it easy for providers to confirm personal information is correct; consistent address information, for the same reason, and salary or savings.

All in all, then, it’s a mistake to think of credit history as a fixed rating or a concrete thing, as if a good history is something you either have or don’t. All credit card providers have different ways of assessing applicants, as we’ll see in the next section.

Getting started

Rather than focusing solely on credit history, then, first time credit card applicants can increase their chance of a successful application by considering the type of credit card they’re looking for.

The most eye-catching deals – the longest 0% offers or best deals on cash back – are likely to be out of initial holders’ grasp but variations on these – loyalty cards, shorter 0% deals – are often available.

For first time applicants, as with all credit card applicants, the important point is finding a specific function that will be useful and then using the credit card as a tool for that purpose.

That’s why our main credit card comparison tool has a ‘filter by’ option based on the main feature of the card.

As we said above, the main intended use might be collecting rewards or borrowing interest free with a 0% deal but, as we’ll see below, perhaps the most frequently cited ‘main use’ is building or rebuilding credit history, essentially borrowing for the purposes of getting a better borrowing product in the future.

Making applications

At the point of making applications, then, first time credit card applicants should have a good idea of the type of credit card they want.

Now it’s time for them to see whether credit card providers want them: how can they tell?

Many credit card providers only advertise to those with ‘good to excellent’ credit profiles. However, the following providers do advertise ‘poor credit or new to credit’ products:

These rebuilding cards generally have limited if any 0% introductory offers and rewards, and only minor extra consumer protection such as purchase delivery insurance (more on what that is here ) or a fraud guarantee.

Their purpose is often just to be a first credit card.

However, that is not the same as the card being guaranteed: there are still application criteria and, in fact, it’s vital that applicants meet and, ideally, exceed application criteria at the time of their application.

So, for example, in the table below you can see three of these cards and a ‘suitable for’ column of application criteria.

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