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  1. Credit Cards: Introduction
  2. Credit Cards: What Are Credit Cards?
  3. Credit Cards: How to Apply for a Credit Card
  4. Credit Cards: Credit Card Agreements and Consumer Rights
  5. Credit Cards: Types to Choose From
  6. Credit Cards: Making Payments
  7. Credit Cards: Cons of Using a Credit Card
  8. Credit Cards: Pros of Using a Credit Card
  9. Credit Cards: Identity Theft and Fraud Protections
  10. Credit Cards: 10 Key Takeaways About Credit Cards

Banks such as Chase and Wells Fargo, as well as credit unions such as Navy Federal Credit Union and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, issue MasterCard and Visa credit cards. MasterCard and Visa are payment companies and do not issue credit cards directly. Discover and American Express, by contrast, do issue credit cards directly. From a consumer standpoint, you’re unlikely to notice the difference, except that Visa and MasterCard are accepted more widely. (See Visa vs. MasterCard: Is There a Difference?)

Applying for a Credit Card Online

The easiest way to apply for a credit card for most people is online through a computer, smartphone or tablet. This is also the most secure way, assuming your computer is not infected, the website uses secured encryption, and you have the proper Internet security software installed and running. To apply online, just go to the website of the company whose card you want to apply for. Provide your personally identifying information, including name, address, date of birth, phone number and Social Security number.

The application will also ask about your annual household income, which is used to determine your credit limit,  who your employer is and what your work phone number is, in case you don’t pay and they need to track you down or garnish your wages to get payment. It will also ask whether you rent or own, what your monthly housing payment is and which types of bank accounts you have (checking, savings or both). All this helps determine your ability to repay what you charge, allowing the issuer to decide whether to approve your application and what credit limit to issue. (Learn about how credit companies decide whether to lend to you and at what interest rate in The 5 Biggest Factors That Affect Your Credit.)

An automated system will either approve you instantly or inform you that the issuer needs more time to review your application. You will then receive a decision by mail within about 7 to 10 business days. In some cases, the card issuer will ask you to call to verify your identity or answer more questions before your application will be approved or denied. (Wondering if you’re too young or your child is too young to get a card? Read The Best Time for Young People to Get a Credit Card.)

Alternative Ways to Apply for a Credit Card

You can also apply for a credit card by filling out a paper application and mailing it in; by calling the credit card issuer; or by filling out an in-store application, as you might be tempted to do when the friendly cashier at your favorite store asks if you want to get a discount on your purchase by signing up for the store card. The phone method may be more of a hassle as you’ll have to spell out various answers, but you’ll be able to ask a representative any questions you might have. Filling out a paper application could expose your Social Security number to more people than necessary and put your personal data at greater risk than applying online or by phone. If you use a brick-and-mortar bank you can also apply in person at a branch.

Getting Approved for a Credit Card

To have your credit card application approved, you must be at least 18. If you are under 21, you will need to prove your ability to independently repay your card balance or have a cosigner who is 21 or older who would be able to make payments. If you can’t get approved for your own card, you can ask someone such as a parent or partner to add you as an authorized user to their account. Being an authorized user will give you the convenience of access to credit and may help you build credit or improve your score, but only if the primary cardholder uses their card responsibly. In turn, if you want someone to add you as an authorized user, they will need to be able to trust you to not incur charges you can’t pay since the primary cardholder will be held responsible for the authorized user’s charges.

If your credit card application is declined, you can ask the credit card issuer to provide its reason in writing. You can then work to change the factors that resulted in the turndown. You can also try applying through a different issuing bank, which might have different approval standards and be willing to give you credit, or asking the issuer who declined you if they have a card with looser standards that you could get approved for.

Closing a Credit Card

Once you have a credit card, you aren’t stuck with it forever, especially if its terms aren't the best. Closing a credit card is easy. Just log into your account online and send an email to customer service informing them that you wish to close your account. There’s no need to provide a reason, and they should close your account shortly thereafter and send you a notice informing you that you must repay your current balance according to your card agreement. You can also call or mail your request to close your account, but those methods may take longer and be more of a hassle. (See Should You Close Your Credit Card?)

In the next section, we’ll talk about credit card agreements and your rights as a credit card consumer.

Credit Cards: Credit Card Agreements and Consumer Rights
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