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Reader Dilemma: I Cant Get Approved for a Credit Card! How do I Build Credit?

Last updated by on January 19, 2015

How Do you Get Approved for Credit Without a Long Credit History?

This question comes from a reader who has been unable to get a credit card approved, despite seemingly doing everything by the textbook. I have not been in the situation of being unable to receive approval for a credit card. Anyone have any advice on this topic? I can only imagine the frustration.

I’ve applied for a credit card through Chase Bank (my personal bank) twice now and been denied each time. My credit score is not bad, just not established. Here’s a little history (followed by my question):

how to build a credit history1. I’m 24 years old and I’ve never had a credit card.
2. I’ve always been on time with rent and utilities payments (all utilities been in my name at every residence I’ve had for four years now).
3. I’ve cosigned two car loans with my parents before the age of 20, both of which have since been paid off.
4. I’ve got one small student loan in my name which I just started making payments on (it was in forbearance due to my participation in the AmeriCorps VISTA program immediately after college).

My credit history (apparently) is approximately zilch. I am joining the Peace Corps in nine to twelve months and would like to build some credit before I duck out of the country for two or more years, so it’s important to me that I get approved asap.

Do you have any advice? Do secured credit cards actually help you build your scores?

Credit Card Approval Discussion:

Has anyone been in a similar situation to this? What did you do to build enough credit to get more credit?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Nick says:

    Get one of your parents to co-sign on a credit card for you. I couldn’t get approved for one on my own at 18, but then got my dad to co-sign for one and it was approved. He’s never had to help me pay for it, just needed his name on the application. 5 years later, my credit limit is up to $7500 on that card and I was able to get a $20k car loan in my name alone.

  • SarahB says:

    I feel this reader’s pain. When I was 22 I was in the same boat.

    I had no debt (I was very fortunate and left college with no loans), had several thousands of dollars in the bank, paid all my bills on time, and had a full-time job. However, I had no credit history at all. I checked my credit and it literally came back with nothing on it but my name, address and social security number. Because of all this I could not get a cellphone (pre-paid cells were not easily available back then) or a credit card. My parents refused to co-sign for me for either item. So I was stuck for a while. I just kept paying all my bills on time and put money in the bank, hoping I could figure something out. Eventually, my now husband became concerned because during my long drives to come visit him at graduate school I had no cellphone or credit card in case of an emergency. He mentioned this to my now father-in-law and without me even asking he offered to co-sign for a credit card for me and added me to the family cellphone plan with the understanding that my phone was for work and emergencies only.

    I honestly still don’t know what I would have done if my father-in-law hadn’t so generously helped me.

    Once I received the credit card I made a few purchases with it every month and paid the balance off in full. However, this did not seem to add much to my credit history. As a few years later when my husband and I went to sign loan papers for a new car, we were informed that we had a loan, but one of us had great credit (my husband) and one of us had no credit history (me). We paid the loan off within a year and a half and began using our credit card for most purchases with the balanced paid in full each month and in no time I went from having no credit to having good credit.

  • A F says:

    I got a secured credit card from BoF. Had it for 2 years.
    Paid up in full everytime.
    2 years later my credit score is good.
    One piece of advice, pay up front because the interest rate will be high.
    Good luck.

  • Jeanne says:

    This is the exact same problem that I’m having right now. I’ve applied for a Chase card and was rejected. I applied for a Discover card and was rejected. I’m about to try a freaking Walmart card!

    However, my boyfriend has great credit, so it could be a possibility to have him co-sign for me. However, I’d really like to avoid that dependency, so I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s comments.

    • Aro says:

      It is better to start off with a small bank credit card. Usually they will approve a simple credit card that will provide u roughly 300 dollars to 2000 dollar credit limit. This is recommended, if you have a checking account or saving account for your bank.

      I advised you to talk to you personal banker to assist you in this matter.

      Here some advice, if you have no or low credit do not try to apply for American Express and Discover. They required a certain amount of credit in order for you to be accepted for one.

      Try the small weak bank credit card that give no rewards or very minor benefits. Start from there and build your way up.

      If you’re a student, applied for a student credit card that will be more beneficial to start off. In a year or two, many people should developed some credit. Pay your payment on time and you should be fine.

      Do not pay just the minimum fee for you credit card.

      Don’t apply for store credit cards because they have the highest apr.

    • sam says:

      Dont apply for wallmart card you will get denied and it will hurt ur credit the only way is to get a secured card it will help when you use it wisely and pay off every month in full

  • Tuan says:

    I was in this position a year ago. At the time I was 22, had my first job for 6 months and I wanted to build my credit. I had zero credit in High School and College. Basically when I started to apply for credit I had the ‘insufficient data’ on my credit report because I had absolutely zero credit. It also didn’t help because at the time it was the full blown credit crunch that everyone was experiencing. Even Capital One, who are notorious in pushing Credit Cards to ‘young adults’ denied me one.

    Eventually, I found out that my local credit union was more helpful. Because they are member-minded rather than stockholder mentality. I was able to get an unsecured card from my credit union and if for some chance I couldn’t get the unsecured one, the secured one would have been given to me instead.

    So short story, check your local credit union, open a checking account and go from there.

  • Robert says:

    The first credit card I got was through my bank. They offered it to me after I had kept my account with them for a few years.

  • Robert says:

    Also, try applying for a gas card. They’re usually pretty easy to get started.

    • Johnny says:

      not true…..i am in the same boat as these people. Have had a great relationhsip with my bank. Alway have a few thousand in my account. But i have no credit yet. I have been at my job for 4 months. So I had heard Gas Cards were easy to get so off i went applying for all the gas cards thinking one of them would approve me. Nope!! not one!

      I am going to ask my bank to open a credit card for me and i guess i will start there.

  • Kelsey says:

    Consider applying somewhere else. Try a credit union. They are generally able to work with you and go over what you need to fix in order to get a credit card. And review your credit report ( is the actual place to go for free credit reports). Three-quarters of credit reports have at least one error, and at least one-quarter have an error that will prevent you from getting credit.

    One of the comments above suggested a secured credit card. This can be a great way to build a credit history. Basically, you set aside a certain amount of money, usually $500, and that money is used as collateral against the credit card. You make payments like you would with a regular credit card, it’s just the risk is much lower for the financial institution.

  • Tanish says:

    Get yourself a secured credit card with a high enough limit(ofcourse you ‘ll have to shell out all that money upfront)….
    and start spending it…and paying back complete amount on time…
    let you credit score buildup…then you can go for unsecured ones from DCU likes and then go for ones from BOA or Chase…
    Remember have the initial credit limit high enough…That is what others will carry as base when they issue you an unsecured one…

  • Ken says:

    Ask all your friends and parents’ friends if they know someone personally in the banking business. Get a cheap car for a couple thousand (low risk).
    Whatever item you want to buy make sure the loan amount is small and affordable.
    If you haven’t tried credit unions give one a shot.

  • Dr Dean says:

    A few suggestions from a greybeard who has the scars to prove it.

    1) Do not sign or cosign for a card-it is the best way to ruin friendships/relationships.
    2) Pre-paid and credit unions are great places to start.
    3) Start small, make sure you pay everything off when you get the first card-never charge more than half your limit.
    4) Consistency is key.
    5) Make sure utilities are in your name, as that can establish a regular payment history-many young people have their parents do the legwork when they rent.
    6) Begin your savings at a bank early in your life, (for your cash Christmas, and birthday gifts, and part-time job money) a long term account holder will be given more credit than short term.

  • Joe says:

    Unfortunately, store credit cards are the easiest things to get. Try going to Macy’s first. The bad thing there is that if you don’t pay off your balance every month, they have really high interest rates. The other thing to consider is that in this economy, banks and credit card companies just don’t want to hand out much credit anymore, so it’s tough for a lot of people.

  • LeanLifeCoach says:

    Did I miss it?

    There are other forms of credit that help your credit score. Consider getting the utilities at home changed to your name too!

    Stop by Kohls or similar store, they often will offer a store card at the register with instant credit…

    Save some cash, buy something on credit and then pay it off, “rinse and repeat”

    Beyond this it takes time which unfortunately you are limited by.

    Good luck in the peace corps, it will be a life changing experience!

  • Shaun says:

    I know the feeling. So frustrating not getting credit when you have done everything by the book.

  • Robert says:

    Try a pre-paid card. After a few months when your credit is established you’ll be able to get a real credit card.

  • Tomas says:

    I couldn’t get approved for a credit card when I first got to the US. I opened a Secured Credit Card account with Bank of America (you give them a deposit and that becomes your credit limit, so you’re effectively lending money to yourself).

    After a year I got my deposit back and that became a regular credit card. A while later I applied for another card at a different bank and got approved.

  • Agency collection says:

    First do not expect results fast. Building credit can take years. A great way to start is with secured credit cards which means the amount of credit you have is the amount that you pay them upfront and they hold it in a savings account. I suggest 2 or 3 of these type of cards. Once the credit accounts have been open for 18-24 months with NO late payments then you may be able to start getting real credit cards. A great first card that is usually given to everyone is Capital One. Infact you may be able to get 2 or more capital one cards. Remember that after the 18 month period try not to apply for too much credit all at once. Credit reports show a list of anyone who pulls your credit, creditors do not like to see many inquires close together. I suggest 2-3 inquires in a 6 month period at the most. Keep in mind that when you apply for real credit cards, the SUM of all your credit should not be over 20% usage. So if you have 4 credit cards (including secured cards) with a limit of 100$ each, 400total credit, then your balance total for all the cards together should be 80$ or less.

  • DC @ Dollar Commentary says:

    Those gas cards are a pretty good way to build credit. That, and you don’t even have the option of purchasing anything but gas with them.

  • nick says:

    I’m lucky in that my parents helped me big time – not by giving me money, but by teaching me the importance of understanding how money and credit worked.

    When I was a baby, they opened a savings account in my name where all of the birthday/christmas money went until I was old enough to do something with it. They recommended savings bonds to family members as gifts for me when I was very young.

    I got a job on the weekends when I was 15, then when I was 16 they sold me (NOT gave me) their old car and cosigned for a credit card. They strongly believed that having a car meant a credit card was a requirement in case of an emergency. They cautioned me against buying things I couldn’t afford, and I always knew that if there really was an emergency, I was safe as I could take care of it with my card (ie a major repair far from home or breaking down and needing to get a tow or a taxi or a hotel, etc.). That’s not to say I didn’t use the card for a pizza or a new pair of jeans, but each month when the bill came, my parents sat me down and made me pay up.

    I then signed up for a few store cards as I turned 18 still paying off the balance in full and just using them for the coupons and rewards for things I would have purchased with cash anyway.

    My student loan interest rate is next to nothing (1.6%), I have no credit card debt, a Roth IRA, a 401k, and most importantly, the ability to get almost whatever type of credit I need even in these tough times.

    I’m now 25 years old with a FICO score JUST shy of 800, and I’m confident that when I apply for a mortgage in a few years that I probably couldn’t be better financially prepared. I don’t make very much money, but I know how to live within my means and use credit to my advantage.

  • Robert says:

    That really sucks! I mean if you’ve got money in the bank then you deserve a credit card! Did they give you any reasons why you were rejected?

  • CLewis says:

    Get a secured credit card through your bank. Whatever amount you put down will be you spending limit. The amount you put down is considered collateral to the bank so they will not view your credit history as a risk. Most will extend your line of credit after a good payment history.

  • Julia says:

    I’m 18 and I have never had type of bill or payment in my name before. After getting turned down for a couple of different cards, I applied for the Discover student card. All I had to do was send them a copy of my acceptance letter from the university I attend, and I was approved and now have a card with a $500 limit. I’m sure many other companies have student cards as well, so try looking into it.

  • Lucrecia Schwenck says:

    I confess, I’ve not came to this blog in a long time. nonetheless it had been yet another pleasure to read your excellent articles.

  • Josh says:

    I was stuck in a hard place, when I was 17 I applied for a credit card and capital one approved me cause they thought it was just an typo on the date of birth and listed me as 18 instead of 17. I joined the military and paid my credit card on time for months and built good credit history. While I was in the military someone stoled my identity, and I had to file a bankruptcy, that didn’t ruin my creidt at all I went to a credit union and gave them 3k and got a secured card, after 12 months they converted to unsecured and gave me a 10k limit. I applied to another credit union and they gave me 12k limit for their credit card. I bought three new cars and paid them off. And all of this with a credit score less than 600!, However a few years back I lost my job, wasn’t able to make payments on my credit cards, and when I did finally get a job I was unable to catch up on payments and my credit card companies weren’t willing to work with me, so I filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy despite the fact i didn’t want too, i couldn’t afford those companies suing and garnishing me. I paid of the Chapter 13 bk, my credit scores were 659TU, 606 Exp and 599 Equifax. However Chase in my area only pulls Transunion. I have my transunion score up to 700 because I got them to remove the bankruptcy off my credit report and all of my negative accounts except for US cellular for 200 bucks chase won’t approve me for a credit card because of that collection on my record. I higherd lexington law firm, they got all negative items removed off my credit report I applied again with chase and was granted a 10k creidt card! Experian and Equifax still has my bankruptcy on there but since chase only pulls Transunion for credit cards it worked out relaly well and i’ve been with Chase banking with them for years!

  • Ramon says:

    I just got approved for $4000 citi credit card, I am only 19 will little history, but i pay bills on time, also i applied for the STUDENT CREDIT CARDS, they are for helping students build credit.

  • Linda says:

    When I turned 18 my mom was supposed to add me to her credit cards accounts but she fell on hard times. I have heard that you can get credit history by piggybacking off of a parent or grandparent and that will establish your credit history. Too back My mom ended up loosing her job and filling BK or else I would have an 800 by now. I found a Company that offer Authorized User accounts that you can buy and they will add you as an AU for up to 6 months. I sent them close to $1300 and I had to option to choose from over 25 different accounts I picked 4 trade lines and in about 2 weeks “Presto” they were reporting as promised. So far so Good 😉 I have one trade line that has a history of 20 years which would make me 2 years old when I got the card…lol needless to say it has boosted my credit score faster than any other company out here and now I have a 735 FICO It it so fun to wake up every morning and check my scores to see how much they have increased.

  • I WAS IN YOUR SHOES! says:

    I was in your shoes.
    I raised my score over 50 points in less then two months!
    Answer: Secured credit card from Capitol One and only used about 15% of the card balance and paid if off —WHEN I GOT THE BILL—not too early not too late. Built a fair score so far. In about 3 months–
    Good Luck!!

    Plus they have an online account so every month you can pay your bill and use the card even when you are not here in the US.

    Thanks for your service.


  • shnaice says:

    hey what i need a credit card
    and i am 16

  • Evelyn says:

    Hey i’m 19 years old and i went on a website to see my credit report and they said that i had a “Thin File”. I didn’t understand this b/c when i applied for a cell phone they told me i had decent credit. How is this possible? For almost 2 years, i had a contract phone in my name, paid it on time, cable in my name and i paid that on time. I been rejected by almost every credit card company. How can i build my credit?


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