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How to get a credit card

Credit cards can be an essential financial tool, whether you use it to pay for everyday expenses or help finance bigger one-time purchases. If you've decided to get a new credit card, follow these steps on how to open one today.

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The Discover offers on this page are no longer available via CNBC. As a result, Discover offers described on this page may be out of date.

Credit cards are an essential financial tool. When you use your card responsibly, you can build credit, finance new purchases, get out of debt and earn rewards.

If you've decided to open a new credit card, it may seem as simple as applying, but there are a few more factors to consider to ensure you get the best card for your needs.

How to get a credit card

CNBC Select has five steps to follow when you want to get a credit card:

  1. Decide why you want a credit card
  2. Check your credit score
  3. Shop around for the best credit card offers
  4. Read the fine print
  5. Apply for the best credit card for your needs

1. Decide why you want a credit card

The first step is to figure out the reason you want to get a credit card. To make the decision easier, answer the common questions below.

2. Check your credit score

Many bank issuers are transparent about the credit score requirements needed to open certain cards, such as "average" or "good/excellent." It's key to know your credit score so you know which cards you have the best chances of qualifying for.

Thankfully, there are numerous resources available for you to check your credit score for free, such as Discover Credit Scorecard and CreditWise from Capital One.

Here are the FICO credit score ranges, according to Experian:

  • Very poor: 300-579
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Good: 670-739
  • Very good: 740-799
  • Exceptional: 800-850

These ranges are estimates and vary by card issuer.

3. Shop around for the best credit card offers

It's a good idea to compare several credit cards so you know what's available. You can start by checking out CNBC Select's roundup of the best credit cards, which includes our top cards for a variety of categories, including balance transfers, no annual fee, travel and college students.

We also have side-by-side comparisons of popular credit cards:

Compare the rewards, fees, perks and credit requirements to see which card is best for your needs.

4. Read the fine print

When you've narrowed down the credit card you want, make sure you read the fine print before applying. It's important you review the details specific to the card you want to apply for.

The terms and conditions listed in the fine print are key for you to understand before submitting an application.

Review the annual fee and interest rates for purchases, balance transfers, cash advances and penalties. Plus, be aware of any fees for foreign transactions and late payments.

5. Apply for the best credit card for your needs

Once you've settled on the best credit card for your needs, you can submit an application. The quickest way to do this is online (whether it's on a laptop or via a mobile device). You also have the option to call, go in-person to a bank or send in a paper application.

The application process is similar between issuers, and you'll typically be required to provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number, annual income and employment status.

After you submit an application, you can receive a decision in as little as 60 seconds, but it may take longer. If you're instantly approved, expect to receive your card within the next two weeks. Some card issuers, such as American Express, may provide an instant card number that you can use for online transactions right away.

Information about the Discover it® Secured, Citi Simplicity® Card, and Capital One® cards has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.