The Average Credit Limit on a First Credit Card

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An illustration of two calendars with a stack of credit cards, representing a headline that reads: How to Increase Your Limit on Your First Credit Card, and text that reads: "Pay bills on time Don’t max out your card Wait for six months of timely payments before requesting an increase."

The Balance / Julie Bang

If you have no credit history, getting approved for a credit card can be tough. Generally, you need to apply for a secured credit card and pay a security deposit. If it's your first credit card, it will likely have a low credit limit, but don't worry, that's perfectly normal.

Your first credit limit may be as low as $100 if your first credit card is from a retail store, but you might be approved for a slightly larger credit limit up to $500 if your first credit card is issued by a bank or credit card company. It's unlikely that your first credit limit will be greater than $1,500 unless you already have a credit history, such as a mortgage or car loan on your credit report.

Why Your Limit May Be Low

Credit history is one of the factors credit card issuers use to decide an applicant's credit limit. A person with a history of managing credit well will have a better chance of getting approved for a bigger credit limit. However, because you're a brand new credit card user, you don't have a history of using credit cards responsibly. Your credit card issuer doesn't know how much credit you can handle, so it will usually start you off with a small limit. 

Average Credit Card Limit

Credit reporting agencies—like Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—compile your credit history to help credit card companies decide your credit card limit. People with credit scores between 720 and 850 are considered super-prime consumers, and those with scores below 580 are considered subprime. The average credit limit for super-prime consumers is $11,000, and $1,200 for subprime consumers. Some high-net-worth individuals with excellent credit can have six-figure credit limits or no preset spending limits at all. These individuals have higher credit limits because of their outstanding credit history and ability to repay high balances.

Managing a Low Credit Limit

It's better to start small until you're used to handling credit, so don't be disappointed by your initial credit limit. You won't get too deep into credit card debt as long as your credit limits keep you from overextending yourself. As you demonstrate that you can use your credit card responsibly—by paying your bills on time and avoid maxing out your credit card—you'll qualify for higher credit limits over time.

Some credit card issuers will increase your credit limit automatically after several months of timely payments. Others only increase your credit limit upon request. Wait until you've made your credit card payments on time for at least six months before you request a credit limit increase.

How to Get a Bigger Initial Credit Limit

You may be able to get a higher credit limit on your first credit card by applying jointly with someone who already has an established credit history and good income. Another option is applying for a secured credit card whereby you place a security deposit for the amount of credit you'd like.

For example, you'd make a $2,000 security deposit for a $2,000 credit limit. With a secured credit card, your security deposit is returned to you as long as you keep the account in good standing. Starting with a bigger credit limit, and managing it responsibly, will make it easier to get approved for unsecured credit cards with larger limits. Your security deposit is off-limits until you close your credit card, so you should only use money you can spare during that time.

Getting a Credit Limit Increase

No matter what credit limit you start with, there's always a chance for an increase as long as you're not spending too much of your limit, making your payments on time, and managing the rest of your credit well. Many credit card issuers review your account regularly and raise your credit limit automatically if you've managed your credit well. Capital One, for example, automatically increases the credit limit on many of their credit cards after you've made your first five monthly payments on time.

If your credit card issuer doesn't raise your limit automatically, you can request an increase online or by phone. When you request a credit limit increase, your credit card issuer will review your account history, your credit history, your current monthly income, and other debt obligations. If these factors are favorable, you have a good chance of having your credit limit increase request approved. If your request isn't approved, the credit card issuer will send a letter explaining why. The information in the letter can help you determine what habits you need to change to be approved for your next credit limit increase.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a credit limit?

Your credit limit is the maximum amount you can borrow from a credit issuer at any given time. It typically applies to revolving credit accounts like credit cards or lines of credit. Once you reach your limit, you will no longer be able to borrow additional funds until you pay down your balance below the limit.

What happens if you go over your credit limit?

You typically cannot exceed your credit limit. If you attempt to spend more than the maximum, your credit card will usually be declined and locked until you make a payment. However, if your card issuer allows you to spend over the limit, you may be hit with steep fees and increased interest rates.

How much of my credit limit should I use?

The percentage of your total available credit that you use in a given month is called your "credit utilization ratio." It is a significant factor in your credit score and will have a negative impact on your credit if it runs above 30%. That means if your total credit limit is $10,000, you should keep the total of your balances below $3,000.

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  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Borrower Risk Profiles."

  2. Capital One. "Secured Mastercard."

  3. Experian. "What Happens When You Go Over Your Credit Limit?"

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