How to Apply for Your First Credit Card

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The American Dream: a nice house with a white picket fence, a big porch in the backyard and a flat-screen TV in the living room. In order to buy some of those things, most of us depend on credit. Long before you can get a mortgage for your dream home, however, you need to establish a good credit history. Applying for your first credit card is a good way to get started.

But it's not always easy to get approved for your first credit card, especially when the economy is in a slump. You need to start out with a basic card before you apply for anything labeled "platinum." And we've all heard the horror stories of people trapped in credit card debt and having trouble even making the minimum payments. How can you get your credit started and keep on the right track?

The best way to get on track and stay there is to be informed. Before you shop around for a card, know why you want a card and how much you can afford to spend. Learn the rules of applying for credit, and what questions you need to ask. The language of credit cards, like APR and balance transfer, is especially important, and know what questions you need to ask before you sign up for a program. When you've found a card that you think might be right for you, make sure to read the fine print and know exactly what you're signing up for. Choose your card carefully and never, ever make a spur-of-the-moment decision when it comes to applying.

Once you've educated yourself about credit cards and how they work, you'll be ready to get out there and find just the right one for you.