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.
Our Research & Methodology
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 #1 pick for the best first card for young adults is the Discover it®–Cashback Match™. It offers excellent cash back of up to 5%. Discover doubles the cash back you’ve earned at the end of the first year. There is no annual fee. And you even get free access to your FICO credit score.
We list more options for the best starter credit cards below:
- Rewards: Discover it®–Cashback Match™
- Cash Back: Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
- Travel: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- College Student: Discover it® chrome for Students
- No or Bad Credit: Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee
- Limited Credit: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Best First Time Credit Cards
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.
If you’ve built up a decent credit history with student loans or other installment loans, turn to the Discover it®–Cashback Match™ card. The Discover it card is a great option for a rewards card. And right now, it will match your whole first year’s worth of cash back at the end of your first year of ownership.
You can earn five percent cash back on categories that rotate quarterly. Categories include things like gas stations, restaurants, wholesale clubs, Amazon.com, and Target. Then you’ll get unlimited one percent cash back on all your other purchases.
The other perks on this card include a free FICO score, an easy card freeze option if you lose your card, and $0 fraud liability. The card also has no annual fee and comes with a 0% introductory APR for the first 14 months on both purchases and balance transfers.
While we love Discover it 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 Android Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
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 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. That bonus is equal to $400 in travel.
There is no annual fee the first year, $59 after that. There are also no foreign transaction fees when you travel overseas.
Many of us will get our first credit cards as students. The good thing about this move is that students may have more options. Creditors don’t expect college students to have a large credit history. So you may qualify for a better offer than you otherwise would.
Our top pick for this category is the Discover it® chrome for Students. This card earns you two percent cash back on gas and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter. You’ll also earn one percent cash back on everything else. At the end of your first year of card ownership, Discover will match your cash back earned from that year, dollar for dollar.
Plus, if your GPA is 3.0 or higher in a school year, you’ll earn an extra $20 cash back. Not a bad deal for students!
This card has a few other great perks, including:
- No annual fee
- Late payments won’t raise your APR
- No over limit or foreign transaction fees
- No late fee on your first late payment
- A free FICO score each month
- Quick account freeze in case you lose your card
- 0% introductory APR for six months on purchases
- 13.99% to 22.99% variable APR on purchases after that
If you have absolutely no credit to your name, you probably won’t qualify for a regular credit card. And that’s also true if you have bad credit. Instead, you’ll need to check out a secured credit card. In this category, you just can’t beat the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee.
With this card, you’ll make a minimum $200 security deposit. As long as you make your payments on time, your security deposit just hangs out there. If you miss a payment, though, that’ll come out of the deposit.
This is how all secured credit cards work. But there are two unique aspects to this one:
1. You’ll actually earn rewards. This card gives you two percent cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter. It gives you one percent cash back on all other purchases. It’s unusual to earn rewards from a secured credit card, so this is a great perk.
2. After seven months of on-time payments, Discover will automatically review your account each month to consider transitioning you to a regular Discover it card. This makes the process of upgrading really simple.
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
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.