Throwback: TPG staff talk about their first credit cards

Apr 28, 2020

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The Points Guy staff are among the savviest when it comes to getting the most out of the points and miles we accumulate in the air and on the ground. But we all started somewhere. So we polled the TPG staff on what their first credit card was and why they got it. Some even learned a few hard lessons about using and paying off their cards.

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Brian Kelly, The Points Guy

The Points guy
(Photo by The Points Guy)

My first was an MBNA University of Pittsburgh credit card in 2003 — and the sign-up bonus was a T-shirt! I maxed it out on a spring break trip to Ireland — I couldn’t help but book a $300 Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-Manchester-Dublin round-trip on US Airways! I ended up having to take out a student loan to pay it off because my parents would NOT bail me out. It wasn’t a smart decision at the time, but it was one I learned from.

Related reading: Your guide to responsible credit card use for college students

Nathan Richardson, TPG Executive Vice President

I had a Citibank card that let me put my picture on it. I received it as part of a campus promotion while I was at Babson College in 1991. It had a $300 limit. I wasn’t into points and miles back then, but I was pretty irresponsible with it.

Related reading: The best Citi credit cards of 2020

Clint Henderson, Senior News Editor

(Photo by Richard Derk/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Derk/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

My first points-earning credit card was the JP Morgan Chase United MileagePlus debit card, which I think I got in 2004. It gave you 1 United mile for every dollar you spent. It was really my introduction to getting points for everyday spend. Sadly, it was closed by Chase way back in 2011 after it stopped offering debit card rewards to most customers after the banking reforms enacted in the wake of the financial crash of 2008. New rules made the swipe fees for debit cards not worth the cost of the miles to the banks. It did, however, kick off my obsession with earning points and miles via cards. Shortly afterward, I opened my first American Airlines card — the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.

Related reading: Credit card review: The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Nick Ewen, Senior Editor

(Photo by Nick Ewen/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ewen/The Points Guy)

My first-ever card was a Chicago Cubs Mastercard issued by MBNA, which I got in June 2005 after graduating from college. I was (and still am) a diehard Cubs fan, so what better way to celebrate my fandom than by carrying and using a credit card with the team’s logo on it? It offered me a paltry 1 point per dollar spent on everything, but I did manage to cash out my points for a few plane tickets when my then-girlfriend, now-wife and I were living across the country from one another. I still have this card, which is now the Major League Baseball Platinum Plus Mastercard from Bank of America. Since it charges no annual fee and is my longest-tenured account, I plan to keep it open in perpetuity — I charge a few bucks to it every couple of months to ensure it isn’t canceled by the bank.

Related reading: The best credit cards for sports fans

Benét Wilson, Credit Cards Editor

(Photo by Shutterstock)
(Photo by Shutterstock)

I’m almost embarrassed to share this, but my first card was a Sears credit card. I grew up ordering from the Sears catalog while living in Europe as a child. And when my family came back to the U.S., my parents continued to shop at Sears. When I graduated from college, my grandparents advised me to get a Sears card to build my credit, buy furniture for my first apartment, along with proper clothing for my first job. It’s a shock, but I managed to get into some trouble with this card (hello, 26-inch color television, VCR with the wired remote control and repeated car repairs on my 1974 Chevrolet Nova). But I learned my lesson.

Related reading: Why store credit cards are (almost) always a bad idea

Ariana Arghandewal, Credit Cards Editor

Technically, my first credit card was a Bank of America card that my sister added me on as an authorized user when I was 16. I don’t recall actually carrying it in my wallet – it was just meant to help me build credit. When I turned 18 (literally, at the stroke of midnight), I applied for a card of my own. It was a zero-fee American Express card from either the Blue or Clear family and it earned 1.5% cash back on everything.

At 18, I was not always responsible with that card. Between the 0% introductory interest offer and cash-back earning rate, I got a little reckless and racked up some debt. By the end of the year, the card was paid off and I ended up canceling it. The cash-back I earned didn’t amount to much and I decided to look at other options.

At one point I remember comparing the different airline credit cards against their award charts to determine which one would earn free flights faster. It became clear I’d never spend enough to earn an award ticket. It took another five years before I realized how lucrative sign-up bonuses could be and how category bonuses can help you earn rewards faster. I was also much more financially responsible by then, so I applied for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, earning more 100,000 points in the process. I was instantly hooked. The rest is history.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.   

Related reading: Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select card review: 60,000 bonus miles with a low spending requirement

Katherine Fan, Senior Travel Features Reporter

My first-ever credit card was an Express store card when I was 18 and visiting the U.S. for a couple of months to attend school. I used the card to buy a bell-sleeve burgundy lace sweater, mostly because I didn’t realize I was signing up for a credit card. The shady store representative positioned the application as a “loyalty program membership” with a 15% discount and I was a clueless teenager who didn’t know any better. However, the joke was on the company. I listed an overseas mailing address and received a letter seven weeks later saying that the credit card issuer had regretfully declined my application. I still got my 15% off, and I cheerfully wore that hideous sweater for far too long. Who’s winning now?

Related reading: The best credit cards for buying clothes

Ethan Steinberg, Senior Points and Miles Writer

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
The first-class cabin on a Lufthansa Airbus A380. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

My first credit card was the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with a 50,000-point bonus and the annual fee waived (offer not currently available). I got it at the ripe age of 19, in the spring of 2016. My dad had added me as an authorized user on his old United MileagePlus Explorer card before I left for college, in case of emergencies, so I was able to “borrow” his two-to-three decades of perfect credit history on that card. I had no trouble getting approved for the CSP without any credit history or even really any income. That was still one of the only times in my life I’ve been auto-approved for a card without having to call in and haggle. I used those bonus points to fly Lufthansa first class to India less than a year later. I kept it until the first annual fee that posted after the Chase Sapphire Reserve was released.

Related reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

Madison Blancaflor, Credit Cards Reporter

My first card was the Discover it Cash Back. I got it back in college because I took a “personal asset management” class, and my professor (who remains one of my favorite professors I’ve ever had) recommended that we all start building up our credit histories if we were able. Of course, I was young and stupid and didn’t use the card as responsibly as I should have. The process of paying off that card in my first year after graduation was a good lesson in why you should never spend more than you can pay off at the end of the month on your card.

The information for the Discover it Cash Back card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

I’ve moved on to more rewarding travel credit cards (including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which still holds a top spot in my wallet more than two years after I applied), but the Discover it® still sits in all its holographic-card-art glory in a drawer at my apartment.

Related reading: Best credit cards for college students

Related reading: Trying to build your credit? Consider these secured credit cards.

Samantha Rosen, Lifestyle Editor

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

My first credit card was The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. I got it right after I graduated from college in 2015, although truth be told, I was scared to use it and stuck to my debit card instead. In fact, this was the only credit card I had when I started working at TPG almost three years ago. You could say a lot has changed since then. For starters, I have seven credit cards and am not afraid to use them — but I keep my trusty Amex EveryDay card close by. I use it for a lot of my, well, everyday purchases, including online shopping (hello, ShopRunner!), plenty of Target purchases and streaming services. I love that it doesn’t have an annual fee and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to get their first card.

The information for the Amex Everyday Credit card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Jill Bressler, TPG Design Director

(Photo by Shutterstock)
(Photo by Shutterstock)

My first credit card was an old Amex Green card (American Express® Green Card) in 1997. I don’t think I got a welcome offer. I had that card for about 10 years until I got a job doing advertising for Amex Open, when I upgraded to an American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (which has since been replaced with the American Express® Gold Card). It took about two years of diligently earning Membership Rewards points to get enough to fly from San Francisco to Thailand — via Tokyo — round-trip in economy for 90,000 points in 1997.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Julia Jannetti, Business Development Associate

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

My first credit card was the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, which I got in 2017. I actually worked at a bank and applied for a credit card, but could not get approved because of my low/short credit history. So then I figured starting with a store card would be the easiest to get approved. Of all stores I thought I could get the most use out of — an Amazon card, thanks to my Amazon shopping history. I still have it and use it. I never carry it around with me, but it’s loaded into my Amazon account and my Apple wallet. I only use it for Amazon or Whole Foods purchases.

The information for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Jonathan Eves, TPG Business Analyst

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

I got the Uber Credit Card in 2018 because it had great cash back and was easy to get approved for. It was only cash back and UberCash back then. However, after getting stuck in Reyjkavik, Iceland, after Wow Airlines went under, I decided I needed a card with travel insurance. I got rid of the Uber Card and ended up getting the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Kelley King, TPG SEO Associate

My first credit card was a pink Discover it Cash Back Credit Card. I originally signed up for the card in 2016 for the rotating 5% cash-back calendar. It has no annual fee and they matched the cash back I earned for the first full year. I ended up getting the bonus after a year and I totally forgot about it — it was just like Christmas! I still have this card and I continue to utilize the 5% cash back to fuel any and all of my Amazon purchases.

Related: The complete history of credit cards, from antiquity to today

Haley Mellen, TPG Social Media Producer

My first card was the Discover it Secured Card. I got it after graduating college in 2019.  I chose this card since I hadn’t established credit and needed a good jumping-off point. It helped that I was already preapproved for the card.
The information for the Discover It Secured card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Featured photo by Shutterstock

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.