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If you're looking for your first credit card, you know the options are almost endless. We've narrowed down the best starter credit cards in this roundup.

Are you looking for your first credit card? Digging around online can be overwhelming, to say the least. Hundreds of companies provide credit cards, and many offer multiple options.

Many of these cards are for those with excellent credit, of course. But plenty are made for those with no credit or even terrible credit.

So how do you sort through the options to determine which credit card is best for your needs? First, we’ll talk about our methodology for assembling this list. Then will cover our top all-around choice and best first card options by category. Finally, we’ll look at how to choose the best starter credit card.

How Doughroller came up with the list top 10 credit cards for young adults

The editorial team here at Dough Roller has covered credit cards for more than 10 years. And we’ve all been there–nervously applying for our first credit card. The founder of Dough Roller still remembers being rejected for his first card more than 30 years ago!

And we’ve done our research. To identify the best starter credit cards, we considered several factors:

  • Credit History & Score: We looked for card offers that were designed for those with no credit, limited credit, or even not so good credit.
  • Fees & Rates: We also looked for cards with low fees and reasonable rates. Nobody wants a card that gauges them with ridiculously fees and eye-watering interest rates.
  • Rewards: Not all first credit cards offer rewards. But many do. Where available, we focused on these reward cards.

Our Top Pick

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is our top pick for a first credit card. It has $0 annual fee, and typically qualifies those with fair or limited credit history. You’ll likely start out with a low credit limit. But after you make your first five monthly payments on time, you’ll automatically get bumped up to a higher credit limit.

Learn more: See card details/apply or read our Capital One® Platinum Credit Card review

We list more options for the best starter credit cards below:

Best First Time Credit Cards for 2020

Now that you know what to look for in a credit card and what your spending strategy will be, check out this list of the best starter credit cards. One of them might just be perfect for your particular needs.

Best First Credit Card for Rewards

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is great all-purpose card. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase. You can also get a $150 cash bonus when you spend $500 on the card in the first three months. There is a $0 annual fee.

The card also offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (with an everyday APR of 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)). And if you travel overseas, there is not foreign transaction fees with this card.

Learn more: See card details/apply

Best First Credit Card – Cash Back Credit Card

While we love Chase for overall rewards, it does have the rotating categories to keep track of. For a simple 1.5% cash back on all purchases, we like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card. You can even increase the reward to 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening

It also offers a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. And there is no annual fee.

Best First Credit Card – No-Fee Credit Card

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The Upgrade Card easily takes top honors in this category. Not only does the card come with no annual fee, but there also no fees of any kind. That includes balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, return payment fees, foreign transaction fees, or even late fees. That last one is particularly valuable with a first credit card for either young adults or first timers, since an occasional late payment is always a distinct possibility. What’s more, Upgrade doesn’t even have a penalty APR if you make a late payment.

But no-fees aren’t all the Upgrade Card has to offer. It also comes with a credit line of up to $20,000–and there aren’t many credit cards offering a credit limit nearly that high–and a fixed interest rate and monthly payment to help you pay off your balance in a lot less time than it takes with other credit cards.

That’s because the Upgrade Card is set up with a specific repayment term, ranging from 24 months to 60 months. That’ll keep you from being in credit card debt forever. You’ll also love the potential low interest rate. The card comes with an APR range between 6.99% and 29.99%.

Despite the obvious benefits the Upgrade Card offers, there are a couple of downsides to this card. It doesn’t offer a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers or purchases, nor does it offer any type of rewards program. But as a low interest, no-fee credit card with a fixed repayment term, it’s an excellent choice for anyone new to credit.

Best First Credit Card – Travel Rewards Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

For those looking to earn free travel, we like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. You can also earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. That bonus is equal to $500 in travel.

There is a $0 intro for first year; $95 after that. There are also no foreign transaction fees when you travel overseas.

Learn more: See card details/where to apply or Compare the Capital One® Venture® Rewards cards in this review.

Best First Credit Cards for Young Adults Average/Limited Credit

If you have a limited credit history, try applying for a card that typically takes such applicants. The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a good option here. It has no annual fee, and typically qualifies those with fair or limited credit history. You’ll likely start out with a low credit limit. But after you make your first five monthly payments on time, you’ll automatically get bumped up to a higher credit limit.

Note that this card does not offer rewards. It’s a good option if your goal is simply to build your credit. If you don’t plan to spend much money on the card each month, the rewards don’t matter as much, anyway. But it does come with some built-in perks, including:

  • Extended warranty options
  • Car rental insurance
  • Travel accident insurance
  • 24-hour roadside assistance and travel services
  • Price protection
  • Capital One CreditWise score and tools

Learn more: See card details/where to apply or Compare the Capital One® Platinum card in this review.

How to Pick Your First Credit Card

First, Know Your Credit Score

When we talk about credit cards, we often talk about the credit categories that are good fits for those cards. Some cards are only for those with excellent credit, for instance. But others are set up specifically for those with new credit, no credit history, or even bad credit. Before you can choose which cards to apply for, you need to know where you stand.

So first, get a copy of your credit report and score. Do this even if you think you have no credit. Many consumers are surprised to find that they do, in fact, have a credit report. Yours could include things like student loans or even records from utilities companies or paying rent.

Luckily, you can get a free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. And you can get a free credit score pretty easily, too.

We’ll talk more about specific credit scores when we talk about the cards that are available. For now, just keep this information in your back pocket.

Next, Understand Your Priorities

Though some people will tell you differently, there’s no such thing as the perfect credit card. There are just good matches for different priorities.

For right now, your main priority is probably just qualifying for a credit card in the first place. That’s why we’ve narrowed our list down to cards that are tailored for those who are just starting out or who are repairing their credit.

After that, though, you may still have a few priorities in mind. These will help you choose the right card for your needs. Then use your card responsibly and increase your credit score. Over time, you’ll likely be able to work into a card that fits your priorities even better.

For now, here are some of the things you’ll want to consider:

  • Credit Limit: Is your goal to increase your credit limit? This can help you boost your credit score by reducing your debt-to-credit ratio. A higher credit limit can also give you the option to charge more expenses each month. As long as you pay them off monthly, this is a good way to earn more rewards.
  • APR: Unfortunately, many credit cards for first-time credit card users don’t have a great APR or introductory APR offer. You should still have a solid understanding of what APR you’ll pay if you do carry a balance, though.
  • Fees: With a starter credit card, there’s absolutely no reason to pay high annual fees. There are just too many free options on the market right now. Paying higher fees only makes sense when you move into high-rewards cards where you’ll out-earn the fees considerably.
  • Extra Benefits: Will you be traveling abroad soon? Look for a card with no foreign transaction fees. Or if you travel often, check the card’s additional travel benefits, such as built-in travel insurance. Usually, the extras won’t make or break your decision. But you could be looking for one or two specific things in your first credit card.
  • Rewards: We left this one until last for a reason: starter credit cards don’t always have great rewards. These are available as you move into cards for those with excellent credit. With that said, some of the cards on our list do have a pretty decent rewards structure. Get familiar with these before you make your choice.

Then, Set Your Credit Card Strategy

Finally, you need to think about how you’ll actually be using the card in question. We’ve got some general tips that will keep you from wrecking your credit, as well as some more specific points to consider.

  • Pay it off every month. If you have a problem with overspending, you may actually want to choose a card with a low credit limit. This will keep you from charging more than you could possibly pay off in a given month. Paying off your card every month is the best way to keep your credit card debt from spiraling out of control. And it’ll help you build a solid credit history, as well.
  • Use it for emergencies. A credit card isn’t the ideal emergency fund. But it can be a stop gap if you’re working on building your savings. Keeping a credit card handy for when you need it can make sense. Just be sure that if this is your strategy, you won’t pay fees for maintaining a card you rarely use.
  • Rack up some rewards. Chances are you won’t be racking up huge rewards with your very first credit card. This is especially true if you’re just starting to build credit. Still, some of the best starter cards do offer rewards systems. So check out which system aligns best with your spending patterns before you sign up.
  • Use it for specific expenses. One good way to keep your credit card spending in check is to use it for only certain expenses you already pay every month. For instance, you might just use the card to pay for gas or groceries. Then, you’ll know you can pay it off monthly. If this is the case, look for a card that gives greater rewards in these spending categories.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 317
Abby is a freelance journalist who writes on everything from personal finance to health and wellness. She spends her spare time bargain hunting and meal planning for her family of three. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, and lives with her husband and children in Indianapolis.

Article comments

1 comment
Ron T. says:

Excellent list of card(s) for building or re-establishing ones credit. A few years ago I was approved for a Capital One Platinum credit card. After a year of responsible use (paying on time, keeping credit usage below 30% of available credit, and no missed payments) I was approved for a Capital One Quick Silver card. Secured credit cards are like “financial training wheels.”