Help Me Get A Credit Card For Christmas

“I am 19, and have never owned a credit card, only debit cards. I have had a 47.50 (or so) debt in the past due to a large overdue fine to a Hollywood Video. I took my sweet time in paying that off and now after one credit card refusal, I expect that it has damaged my otherwise non-existent (to my knowledge) credit score, which (if I understand things right) puts me in a heck of a hole. How do I get out of it? I’m assuming that not building any credit, then going into debt just messed me up and I need to know how to get things right, but if I can’t get a card, how can I get good credit? This is a really unpleasant situation, especially with Christmas coming around.

Any tips you guys have for me would be tons of help, I rely on you guys for all my consumer-related stuff!

Thanks a lot,


Since you’re just guessing about your credit report, you should actually check it:
Here’s how to get your credit score.

There are ways to build credit without history, which we’ve covered in Your Good Name: Build Credit With Loans & CD’s, HOW TO: Get Your First Credit Card, and How To Improve Your Credit Score With Department Store Credit Cards.

But Brian, hold on a second before you go running off and doing all that. I’m sure that your family will understand that you’re a poor student. It’s not necessary to get a credit card to pay for Christmas, there’s plenty of no-cost/lo-cost ways to give presents. And if you have trouble paying off a $47.50 video store fine, how good do you thing you will be at paying down a credit card racking up interest? Until you increase your cash flow, being denied for a credit card could be a blessing in disguise.

(Photo: Getty)

UPDATE: Brain writes:

I guess the one thing I wanted to at least let you know (whether the post is updated to reflect or not) is that I phrased that a bit poorly…when I got that debt, I was unemployed. I am now making about $200 a week after taxes. It’s not much but I figured it’d be enough to pay off small purchases on a card like food, or gas, you know?

Thanks again,



Edit Your Comment

  1. Tracy Ham and Eggs says:

    I agree with Ben, if you are a 19 year old student then no one should expect gifts from you. My siblings and I never gave big presents when we were in school, and small things like $10-$20 gift cards to the movies are great.

    If you do want to start improving your credit, have a parent add you as a joint cardholder on one of their cards. They are cracking down on giving past credit for that card, but you would get the positive flow going forward, and at your age and limited history that will go a long way. I also doubt that the Hollywood Video charge is on your credit, since they rarely sell to 3rd parties who report.

  2. backspinner says:

    I agree with Tracy–have a parent(with good credit) add you as a joint cardholder, but don’t use their credit card. Just piggyback off of them.

    Also, it may be a good idea to join a credit union and get a secured loan. The bank would freeze a set amount of money in your account, and then “loan” you that amount of money. You would pay it off, and if you default, the money that is frozen in your account would be used to pay the remainder of the loan. This is a great way to get started.

  3. Buran says:

    Why not get a secured credit card? It’d let you start building up past credit. You don’t need to spend a lot, and shouldn’t; I don’t spend a lot on gifts even though I could. I try to choose gifts that friends and family members will enjoy, without necessarily spending a lot to do it. Isn’t that what really counts?

    It’s good that you’re thinking ahead about your credit, though — it’ll come in handy later in life. Just take good care of your finances.

  4. Buran says:

    @Buran: Whoops. I meant future credit.

  5. Imaginary_Friend says:

    I agree with Ben. Still, there are many positive aspects to using a credit card – laying the smackdown on unscrupulous merchants with a chargeback is my number one reason. This is especially handy if you do a lot of shopping online, as I do.

    Brian, if you have a family member or close friend who has an American Express or MasterCard, you can have him/her buy you a credit card that links back to their own card. If you want, say, a credit card with a $500.00 limit, have your friend buy it for you and give them the cash. Once you have the card you can reload it as often as you like. It won’t help fix your crappy credit (I don’t think), but at least you’ll be offered some protections during your holiday shopping.

  6. mdktx1 says:

    “how good do you thing you will be” How good do I “thing” I will be? Well, I think that Consumerist needs an editor.

  7. wesa says:

    I suspect that the reason he was denied one card was due to lack of credit. Building credit with a secure credit card or being an authorized user on another card will help remove that barrier in the future.

  8. @mdktx1: Grammar Nazi.

  9. freshyill says:

    I’m sure his family will be much happier to see him stay out of debt than to get presents he can’t afford. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get a card, but he just shouldn’t get it for the wrong reasons. That’s a VERY bad foot to start on.

  10. warf0x0r says:

    Its a slippery slope so be careful Brian. Plus @Tracy Ham and Eggs: Is right, you don’t need to charge things to a card for your friends and family over Christmas when your a 19yo. Wait until you have a good FT job before you start dishing out the awesome presents.

  11. scarletvirtue says:

    @Buran: You mean that I can’t build my credit retroactively? Dammit!

    @wesa: I had that same problem – the catch-22 of not being able to get a credit card because I had no existing credit whatsoever. So, I was added to a credit card as an authorized user – only used that card once – and obtained a card of my own.

  12. VA_White says:

    You want a credit card to pay for Christmas? No, you don’t. You might think you want that but you don’t. If you can’t pay cash for Christmas, you need to make your peeps a nice card out of construction paper, warmly and sincerely wish them a Merry Christmas, and be done with it.

    Don’t be as dumb at nineteen as I was. Please. This warning is our Christmas gift to you, Brian. Accept it with thanks.

    Then save up $500 and get a secured credit card next year.

  13. Buran says:

    @scarletvirtue: I built mine by getting one of those student cards that get vilified for teaching bad responsbility. However, I knew that responsibility comes from the person, not the bank, and used it well. Worked perfectly — when I started needing credit later on, I already had a good record. Maybe that’s why I’m 32 and have a score of 750+.

  14. SpaceCowgirl01 says:

    I was in a similar pickle – my freshman year of college, through the combined fantastic organizational skills of myself and my mother, we lost track of a hospital bill with my name on it until a collection agency started calling. I paid it right away, but it was still a blemish on my credit report. Needless to say, I was stuck with just a debit card for the next four years, couldn’t even qualify for cards made for students, and relied on my boyfriend’s good credit to qualify for a decent apartment (my parents had credit issues of their own – genetic?).

    But now that I’m working full time, I make enough money to cover for that youthful misstep and recently got a credit card with a whopping $500 credit limit. It’s a start!

  15. TheHeartless says:

    This is Brian

    Thanks a lot, guys, for all the helpful advice. I already e-mailed Ben about this but I wanted to at least let you know I phrased something poorly. When I got that debt, I was unemployed. Now, I can easily handle something like a 50 dollar fine. I work a minimum wage job but I still get about 200 bucks a week, so…yeah.

    I’ll take a lot of this advice to heart, you guys have been terrific.

  16. VA_White says:

    I work a minimum wage job but I still get about 200 bucks a week

    Brian, honey, you don’t make enough for credit card debt. Do you have three or four months expenses saved up? Do you have enough left over to save or invest an additional amount? Are you doing anything that will get you out of a minimum wage job in the future like school? How are you paying for that?

    How do you know that your hours at work won’t get cut drastically and without notice? That is the disaster that started my downward debt spiral at age 19. I went from getting 20 hours a week to 6, got behind on my payments, and suddenly my measly $400 credit limit was far more than I could handle.

    For the love of Santa, be smarter than I was. Be smarter than most of your peers are. Please.

  17. Sam2k says:

    First of all. Don’t spend money you don’t have. As a 19 year old college student, with 2 credit cards paid off monthly, I feel safe dispensing this advice. Read around and you will find that many college students needlessly dig themselves into a hole with credit card debt when there are other alternatives.

    Secondly, you may not have been denied credit for this reason. Depending on what card you applied for, your lack of a credit history may have been the only reason. No credit is a score of 0. Nobody lends to a person with a 0 rating. Also, it may be that the card you applied for has an annual income requirement that you don’t meet.

    If you are determined to get a credit card and feel that you can handle the responsibility, look at CitiBank’s MTVu College Student Visa. The requirements aren’t high, it has rewards, and CitiBank’s customer service is very good.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    Also, read the article posted today about the amount of time for payment shrinking. You might be fine working for $200 a week (x 3 weeks, that’s $500 and will cover a $500 credit card limit) but if for some reason, your hours get cut (like VA_WHITE said) or you just can’t make it…what then? Sure, you can pay your minimum, stave off the hounds. But that’s where it begins.

  19. Gloria says:

    I’m a 22-year-old student, work a decent part-time job, and have a credit card. I, honestly, use it more like a debit card; I buy with the money I already have. No problems.

    Is Brian necessarily looking for a credit card because he wants to spend money he doesn’t have? I got mine because it’s much more widely accepted than debit, especially online, and because of the rewards. Wanting a credit card doesn’t necessarily mean asking for debt.

  20. North Antara says:

    While I agree with Ben, this article was posted to try to answer the original question.

    Chances are, Hollywood Video did not post your delinquency to all 3 major agencies. Credit card companies often only check one or two agencies. Get a copy of your credit reports (, find a credit pull database (hint:, match them up, and apply to one that won’t try to look at where HV posted the delinquency.

    Don’t expect more than about $300. You’d be lucky to get even that.

  21. scootinger says:

    As everyone else has said, don’t get a CC if you don’t think you can trust yourself with it. But if you do decide to apply for one here’s a couple of options I recommend:
    – Student credit card – I have a student CC with Citibank, and it was pretty easy to get with practically no credit. I’m not sure if that fee will count against you in the application but usually you will be able to get the CC, possibly only having to send in proof of enrollment.
    – Secured credit card – you have to be a little careful here, there’s a lot of ripoffs on the Internet. (ie “Continental Finance” MasterCard, Consumerist wrote about it a while back) I would recommend trying a local credit union and seeing what they offer.

  22. pyloff says:

    umm… yeah christmas in near and you need CASH… not credit. NOT FUNNY.

  23. samurailynn says:

    I read that as something more like – “Dear Santa, for Christmas I want a credit card” rather than the “Please help me get a credit card in order to pay for Christmas gifts”. I guess he meant the latter, so I’ll address that also.

    Christmas gifts suck. No one really needs the things that you will buy them, and you probably don’t really need the things that people will buy you. Everyone will end up getting things they don’t really want after having shelled out a lot of money buying things that other people probably don’t really want. Now imagine that on top of all that consumer let down, you have to keep paying for it for the next 3+ months (as you probably would if you bought it on credit).

    Bleh, let’s not do Christmas this year.

  24. gingerCE says:

    Do not get a credit card right before Christmas with the intent to charge up a bunch of gifts that you cannot otherwise afford. The credit card companies are doing you a favor by refusing you credit. It’s a blessing in disguise.

  25. gingerCE says:

    Brian, just read your earlier comment. If you are working, I assume you have a bank account. If not, get one. They will give you a debit card you can use to purchase any gifts. It’s not credit, so you have to have the money in your account or else pay very steep fines, but if you’re just looking for a card to pay for things online or make purchasing easier, you need a debit card, not a credit card. Plus, many online sites will let you pay directly from a bank account so you don’t need a card at all.

  26. gingerCE says:

    Wait sorry, you have a debit card? If so, why do you need a credit card asap? You can use your debit card like a credit card.

  27. MrEvil says:

    My first question is, why would you even WANT to mess with the folly that is credit cards? I learned my lesson the hard way and will probably never have another credit card EVER. Count your blessings that you DON’T have one.

  28. mdktx1 says:

    LOL, sorry! I guess it’s a bit of a pet peeve….

  29. FLConsumer says:

    I’d vote to say forget about the credit card for a year or so. Be responsible with your debit card first, THEN persue a credit card.

  30. Bay State Darren says:

    I honestly do not have a credit card and love it! Granted, I’m financially incompetent, but I like not having owing the CC debt looming over my head all the time. I’ve heard far too many horrors. And yes, I’m a college student.

  31. RocktheDebit says:

    Dude. You’re nineteen. You make $200 a week. You can’t even buy beer yet. You do not need a credit card. Unless, of course, you want to file for bankruptcy before you turn twenty-five.

    May I suggest crafting this holiday season? And I mean “I made you a papier-mache fruit bowl” instead of “here’s a merino wool scarf”.

  32. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Brian, I was where you are when I was your age. I did get a credit card and used it for Christmas. Then I got laid off. Worst year of my life. I hope to God that never, ever happens to you.

    I’m not going to say what everyone else says. I don’t use credit cards now because I sat down and thought about it years ago and decided I didn’t need to spend money I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to have to pay off the debt, long after I had enjoyed the whatever and forgotten about it. Few people can operate on a cash basis like I do. I’m not saying you should necessarily do so, either. Just know that if you are careful, it is possible to pay the bills and afford some decent things even on a small wage.

    I also wanted to caution you against other people’s expectations. Are you wanting a credit card because other people expect pricey gifts from you? They may not say they do, but nevertheless you might be thinking how much your little brother would look up to you if you gave him a Wii, or how proud your dad would be if you gave him a “real, grown-up” gift, or how loud your girlfriend would squeal over that diamond pendant. Understand that the people who care about you would never want you to get in trouble with money just because you tried to impress them at Christmas.

    I’m sure everyone on this blog has really awesome ideas for making or finding great gifts on a budget. Real, desirable gifts, not cheap crap that shouts poverty. Good gifts that people want. Maybe one of our moderators will suggest that for an upcoming article.

  33. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I should add that one of the best gifts I ever received was a box of crayons and a roll of newsprint from a wedding guest, a destitute art student. He and we and our whole group of friends colored and colored and had the best time. :)

  34. m.ravian says:

    christmas gifts?

    thrift shops. yard sales. flea markets.

    not only cheap, but environmentally sound as well.

  35. ninjatales says:

    Go through your bank. They usually offer it to you on the spot if you ask.

  36. agb says:

    @samurailynn: Agreed. I hate Christmas. I asked Starbucks for a regular cup instead of a holiday-themed one and this bitchy customer asked me where my holiday cheer was and I threw my streaming hot triple-grande no-whip half-caf mochacinno in her face

  37. agb says:

    And, Brian: I recommend getting into as much credit card debt as possible and then simply declaring bankruptcy once you have tons of cool swag.

  38. rdm24 says:

    @Buran: Secured credit cards are really a great way to build up from nothing. But it keeps you on a REALLY short leash! I think it’s worth it to build up your credit score. (Of course, a parental co-signor will do way more than that, I think.)

    As for gifts: Isn’t it the thought that counts? If anyone is disappointed in getting nothing more than warm holiday wishes, screw ’em.

  39. TheHeartless says:

    I understand your guys’ concerns but I’m really not that blind, I understand that one should never start down the path of spending what they don’t have. I guess I’ve just been feeling like I need to get my credit started some time, and Christmas being around the corner seemed like a good chance to do it.

    And I promise I’m not making excuses ;-)

  40. Jesse in Japan says:

    I find it hard to believe that there’s a 19 year old in America who can’t get a credit card.

  41. dirtymoney says:

    Discover card was the ONLY card that gave me a chance when I was first starting out. Nearly EVERY card issuer denied me because I had no credit history. Miserable SOBs! :|

    Give discover card a try & be UBER-responsible with your new card. That means buy NOTHING you cant pay for when the credit card bill comes due & never make a late payment.

  42. JustRunTheDamnBallBillick. says:

    @TheHeartless: Ignore the lurkers. Credit is important, and should be managed carefully, but ignoring it is bad too. Someone mentioned banks. Since you work, I assume you have a checking account. Check in with the bank and see if they offer a secured card that is linked directly to your bank account. It will offer you the protections of a credit card rather then a debit card (limited liability) without running the risk of getting you in too much trouble.

    I speak from experience. When I first got out of college I ran up about 15k in cc debt cause I could easily afford pay it back thanks to a great paying job. Two years later a health and unemployment battle left me with about 25k in cc debt that it took me forever to settle (they wanted far more then I owed, so I refuse to pay). When I did my mortgage it cost me about $200 extra a month based on my credit (and I got the best mortgage deal possible).

  43. RokMartian says:

    One thing that is often overlooked is call the company you had a bad payment history with and ask them what can be done to take it off your credit report. I had an old mervyns card that I took my time paying off (it was only 50.00) but it was hurting my credit. I called them one day and asked them, very nicely, how to take it off and they did. I didn’t have to do a thing to clear it up. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

  44. JanetCarol says:

    Don’t Do it! Credit cards when you are young and poor are the devil!

  45. ARPRINCE says:

    I agree to most of the post. You are too young to get one considering the fact that it took you a while to pay-off your Hollywood Video debt speaks so much about how responsible you would be handling debt. A 19 yr. old + Credit Card is a financial disaster waiting to happen!

  46. bravo369 says:

    I started out my credit card history with a student card from capital one. It only had a $200 limit which was fine with me because there was no way i would ever put more than that on.
    I also feel your pain. When I wanted my first credit card, i got rejected from 2 of them because they said I had no credit. Duh, that’s why I was applying for a credit card…to build credit history. I was 18 or 19 at the time.

  47. Most of you guys are way off base.


    In fact, I asked Ben this same question about 6 months ago (at the time I was 20). I got all of the same answers that you guys are giving, and for the most part none of them were useful. There were even people who suggested that I carry a balance and pay financing charges in some weird bid to make the company notice me. I was pissed because I make a solid 20% more than the average household income where I live, yet I was having trouble getting a card with more than about a 300 dollar credit limit. I also was pissed that I had to ask my old man to co-sign when I bought my new truck.

    For the most part I’m still in the same situation, but it is improving slowly. When I first talked to Ben, I had my Debit card, as well as a capital one card with a 250 dollar limit. I got my dad to co-sign on my truck, which has helped me to get a lot of junk mail. What I was looking for in that junk mail was a card that gave me cash back on gas. The truck gets 8 MPG, so I buy a lot of gas. I’ve shredded every credit card offer I’ve gotten other than that one (this is important. don’t get every card they offer you. I assume you’re smarter than that, but you never know). I buy gas only on this card. I only drive the truck on weekends since I have a company truck, but I guess I spend about 200 bucks on it per month. Billing is done on the 28th for that card, so it gets paid, in full, on the 25th. To date, I’ve built up a bit of cash back, never been billed for anything, and have had an increase to 500 dollars on that card.

    I do much of the same on the other card. I spend as much as I can on it, then pay it off a week before I get billed. In about 8 months I’ve had 2 credit increases, I’m now over 1000 dollars on that card. What this means is that I’ve gone from 1 card with a 250 dollar limit to 2 cards and about 1800 dollars worth of limit. This didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen overnight. The best you can hope for by christmas is maybe 300 bucks. I still am not at a point where I can unify all of my expenses onto one bill, then pay it at the end of the month, so the vast majority of my purchases still go on the debit card, but I’m getting there. In about a year I expect to have a semi-useable credit limit with which I can do that. The most important thing to remember is that you CAN NOT, and I repeat CAN NOT use your card to buy something you won’t be able to afford. Use it like it’s cash, and you won’t get into trouble no matter how much you spend.

    Hopefully that’s helpful for you.

  48. ravensfire says:

    I agree with the suggestions to get a student credit card. That’s how I got my first credit card at age 19. I also agree with Gloria, don’t buy things you otherwise would not have the money for using your credit card. Treat the card like cash, that is when you purchase something with it, be sure you have money in the bank to back it up so you can be sure that you are paying it off each month.

    The schedule for paying it off is up for debate. Certainly pay it off monthly, but I understand that it may be better to pay the minimum by the due date and then after the first of the month following the due date, pay of the rest. The idea behind this is that you have to be carrying a balance when the card company reports things to the credit bureaus so that it will look like you have been paying off a balance rather than just carrying a 0 balance. So, certainly research this when you have a card. Bankrate and Kiplingers could b good starting places.

  49. NefariousNewt says:

    Do yourself a favor — do not get trapped on the credit treadmill. Especially as a student. Work a job, tuck $10 a week away in a sock, spend the rest on your bills. Give your family cards for Christmas. You won’t need credit until you get out into the workaday world, and even then, be wary of it. Have a credit card, but use it sparingly. If you do use it, pay it off. You have a chance to keep yourself out of deep debt, keep your credit clean, and actually be able to afford to live your life.

  50. Bassdrop says:

    I got my first credit card when I was 20… $1000 Visa through my bank (RBC). I owed money to a couple collection agencies at the time too… one for Blockbuster late fees and the other for high speed internet through Rogers. If you’re on good terms with your bank, you could try applying for a credit card through them… Not sure if it’ll make a difference, perhaps I just lucked out, but it’s worth a shot.

  51. Bassdrop says:

    Oh, and I maxed it out within a few months and it cost me a fortune, especially once they started charging me monthly over-limit fees ;-) Live and learn.

  52. LostDog says:

    Don’t don’t don’t get a credit card.

    Get a checking account with a “visa debit” or “mastercard debit” card. As long as you run it as credit (but is still comes out of your checking) you have all the same protections.

    Don’t get in the “credit” trap. Building credit is WAY over rated. All a credit score does is allow you to borrow money (admittedly some insurance companies are looking at it but you can get around that by actually talking with them). You can still get a prime mortgage rate if you find a company that does manual underwriting.

    Pay for things in cash. If you can’t afford it, DON’T BUY IT.

  53. Brad2723 says:

    Stay away from secured credit cards. Most of them are scams.

  54. Froggmann says:

    19 + Wants a CC = NO! Learn to manage your cash first. Then you can start moving to the credit game.

  55. UpsetPanda says:

    Credit cards in general are NOT scams. They’re not “traps” and they aren’t out to get you. Sure, if you get into debt, I see how for some bizarre reason, you might think it’s all their fault and none of it is yours, therefore the cards must be a scam. But if you are good at managing money, you won’t have a problem with credit cards. Stop managing well, you get into trouble. Credit cards are not evil, they are just tools for purchasing. If you’re not sure if you can handle it, get a store credit card, but get it at a store that your mom or dad shops at, not one that you shop at. Since you’re probably not going to buy ladies clothing (though that’s a totally different issue), you’re not likely to max out the account. BUT, you’ll still build credit and you can get mom a gift for mother’s day, Christmas, birthday and arbor day.

  56. QWGHLM says:

    UPDATE: Brain writes:

    Fun mistake.

  57. QWGHLM says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: A prepaid card is a good idea, but a real credit card with a lower limit is also a good idea.

    I’ve had a card since I was 16, when my parents set a whopping $300 limit on one linked to theirs. I got to learn about credit limits (never went over) within a limited budget.

    Even now, when I applied for a new card (I have 2 total), I call and ask the company to lower my spending limit. I know how much I spend each month, so why do I need an extra $2,000-$3,000 on my limit that I’ll never use?

    The credit card rep was surprised that I wanted to lower the limit, but she was happy to do it.

  58. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @QWGHLM, true, but Brian said he wanted one fast, in time to do Christmas shopping, that’s why I recommended Amex. Their customer service is the best, in my experience.

    When I was 18, I had a hard time getting a credit card too. I joined a credit union at 19 and bought a car with my parents as co-signers and within 6 months, I was inundated with offers. Ironically, the ones with the highest credit limit were from companies that had turned me down in the past. Go figure.

    A credit card with a low limit might be ideal in some situations, but in others (trying to get a home loan, for example), it can work against you. Income to debt ratio and all that… I have about a dozen cards with very high limits, but I pay them off every month without fail.

  59. TTFK says:

    @backspinner: Being added as an authorized user on a card will not work for much longer to bump up a credit score. The new Vantage credit scoring models ignore AU accounts.

    The best advice I can give for rebuilding credit is to hit up the forums and take advantage of all the people willing to help step by step.