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If you’re a student, a first-time credit card seeker or someone with poor or no credit history, it’s natural to assume a good credit card is likely out of your reach. But you actually have several great options. While most of these cards have higher-than-usual interest rates, the top ones allow you to earn cash back/rewards while you’re on your journey to build your credit.
MoneyGeek’s Take: Top First-Time Credit Cards in 2023
The best beginner credit cards are usually ones that come with no annual fees, although there are a few exceptions. We’ve selected the best of the lot based on other aspects as well. These include annual percentage rates (APRs), rewards/cash back and additional benefits. You get more options to choose from further down the page.
1% Cash Back
1.5% Cash Back
OakStone Platinum Secured Mastercard®
The links in the table above will take you to one of our partner's sites where you can compare and apply for a selected credit card.
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Best First-Time Credit Cards in 2023
MoneyGeek experts have narrowed down on the best first-time credit cards after accounting for factors such as the creditworthiness required to apply, annual fees, APRs, rewards/cash back and added perks. We are quick to highlight a card’s advantages as well as possible drawbacks.
Best First-Time Credit Cards for Anyone
The best first-time credit cards for the general population are typically ones that come with no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees and offer rewards or cash back. Some of these cards come with introductory spend-based bonus offers too.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card - Ideal for building credit without paying annual or foreign transaction fees
This beginner’s credit card from Capital One comes with no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees. Capital One automatically considers cardholders for higher credit lines in as little as six months. Setting up automatic payments is possible. Free access to CreditWise lets you easily monitor your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card - Great for earning cash back on all purchases
This Capital One card makes it to the list of best credit cards for beginners because it offers 1.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases. However, it charges an annual fee of $39. You pay no foreign transaction fees when you use this card outside of the U.S. Monitoring your credit score is easy through the free-to-use CreditWise platform. You may also set up automatic payments to ensure that you never miss a payment.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® - Good for people with less-than-perfect credit
The Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® issued by Celtic Bank is available to people with less-than-perfect credit. You get to choose from different colors and designs. It comes with an annual fee that varies from $0 to $99 based on eligibility criteria. You pay a 1% foreign transaction fee when you use this card outside of the U.S.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit - Good for earning cash back on gas, groceries and internet, mobile phone, satellite TV and cable services
This Credit One Bank credit card for beginners requires that you pay a $75 annual fee for the first year and $99 per year after that. Choosing your payment date is possible, which makes it easier to match your pay schedule. You get 1% cash back on everyday spending across multiple categories. This card comes with a 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Good no-frills unsecured card for building credit
- NoneRewards Rate
- 30.74% VariableAPR
- $0Annual Fee
- Fair – GoodRecommended Credit
- Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best card for earning cash back across categories
- 1.5% Cash BackRewards Rate
- 30.74% VariableAPR
- $39Annual Fee
- Fair–GoodRecommended Credit
- Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
A great card with global access to rebuild your credit
- NoneRewards Rate
- 29.9% VariableAPR
- $0–$99*Annual Fee
- Fair–GoodRecommended Credit
- Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
Best credit card for prequalifying with bad credit
- NoneRewards Rate
- 28.99% VariableAPR
- $99Annual Fee
- Limited–PoorRecommended Credit
Best Secured Credit Cards for Beginners
Qualifying for a secured credit card is typically easier than a regular credit card because the former requires you to pay a security deposit. Depending on your need, the best option might come with a low minimum security deposit requirement or let you get a high credit limit by paying a large security deposit. The top cards from this category usually do away with annual fees.
Capital One Secured Mastercard - Best for building credit without paying annual or foreign transaction fees
The Secured Mastercard from Capital One is a good first credit card to build credit as it comes with no annual fees or foreign transaction fees. The starting credit limit is $200, and it requires a security deposit of $49, $99 or $200, depending on your eligibility. However, you may go as high as $1,000 with a larger deposit. Choosing your own due date is possible. Capital One reviews your account for an automatic increase in credit line in as few as six months.
Merrick Bank Double Your Line® Secured Credit Card - Ideal for those seeking credit limits of up to $3,000
This secured credit card for first-time users from Merrick Bank requires a $200 security deposit, which also serves as your credit line. If you make your first seven minimum monthly payments on time, your credit line increases to $400. You have the option of increasing your security deposit and corresponding credit limit to as much as $3,000. This card comes with a $36 annual fee for the first year, and you are billed $3 per month thereafter. Using this card outside of the U.S. comes with a 2% foreign transaction fee.
OakStone Platinum Secured Mastercard® - Good for people who need high credit limits of up to $5,000
The OakStone Platinum Secured Mastercard® comes with a $49 annual fee. Depending on the security deposit you provide, your credit line may vary from $200 to $5,000. Foreign transaction fees stand at 3%.
Citi® Secured Mastercard® - Good for building credit without paying annual fees
The Citi® Secured Mastercard® can make for a good beginner’s credit card, given that it charges no annual fee. However, using this card outside of the country comes with a 3% foreign transaction fee. You need to provide at least a $200 security deposit that serves as your credit limit, and this amount may go up to $2,500.
- Merrick Bank Double Your Line® Secured Credit Card
Best credit card for training good financial habits
- 22.45% VariableAPR
- $200Min. Security Deposit
- $36*Annual Fee
- PoorRecommended Credit
- OakStone Platinum Secured Mastercard®
An excellent secured credit card with no credit score requirement
- 9.99% VariableAPR
- $200Min. Security Deposit
- $49Annual Fee
- None–PoorRecommended Credit
- Citi® Secured Mastercard®
Best credit card for building credit with no or limited credit history
- 27.74% VariableAPR
- $200Min. Security Deposit
- $0Annual Fee
- None–LimitedRecommended Credit
Ideally, the card that you choose will increase your credit limit or convert to an unsecured card after you've been responsible with your credit for a period of time. A higher limit adds flexibility to your finances and can increase your credit score by lowering your utilization ratio. — Lee Huffman, credit card expert at BaldThoughts.com
Best Starter Credit Cards for Students
The best starter credit cards for students don’t require that you have an extensive credit history, and you may qualify for a few even if you have no credit history at all. The leading cards from this segment offer rewards or cash back. It is also common for good student credit cards to charge no annual fees.
Chase Freedom® Student credit Card - Good for earning cash back and getting an automatic credit limit increase
This student credit card from Chase comes with no annual fees. It offers $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to five years. All purchases come with 1% cash back. This card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. You qualify for an increase in credit limit by meeting some credit criteria and making five monthly payments on time within 10 months of account opening.
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students - Ideal for earning cash back and receiving cell phone protection
You pay no annual fees or foreign transaction fees for using the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students. It offers 1% cash back on all purchases. You may apply for this card as an international student since its application does not require a Social Security number. This card offers Amazon Prime Student membership for a year if you meet some basic requirements as well as cell phone protection.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Card - Best for earning cash back and paying no foreign transaction fees
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Card charges no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees. All purchases you make come with 1% cash back, which increases to 1.25% if you pay your bill on time. You also stand to earn a $5 statement credit per month for 12 months on specific streaming subscriptions by making your payments on time.
- Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Best student cash back card for limited credit history
- 1% Cash BackRewards Rate
- 23.99% VariableAPR
- $0Annual Fee
- None–PoorRecommended Credit
- Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Best student credit card with up to 1.25% cash back
- up to 1.25% Cash BackRewards Rate
- 29.99% VariableAPR
- $0Annual Fee
- Limited–FairRecommended Credit
Quick Tips for Comparing First-Time Credit Card Offers
Starter credit cards are typically easier to qualify for than conventional credit cards meant for people with at least good credit. In addition, they give you access to revolving lines of credit, just like regular credit cards. However, these cards may come with several differences as well, which is why you need to pay attention to various aspects.
- Annual fees: Annual fees of starter credit cards usually range from $0 to $99.
- APR: It is common for starter credit cards to come with higher APRs than regular cards. However, APRs may vary significantly from one starter card to the next, thereby warranting your attention (read more about APR vs. APY).
- Rewards/cash back: While the best cards from this category offer rewards or cash back, they usually offer low earn rates. For instance, the Chase Freedom® Student credit Card, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students and the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Card offer just 1% cash back on purchases. If you qualify for a rewards or cash back card, you might stand to benefit through higher earn rates.
- Need for deposit: This aspect requires your attention if you plan to get a secured card. Typically, the security deposit you provide functions as your credit limit, although this is not always the case. For example, while the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card comes with an initial credit line of $200, you need to pay a security deposit of $49, $99 or $200 based on its eligibility criteria.
- Introductory offers: Some of the best credit cards for beginners come with introductory spending-based offers. For example, you may stand to earn a $50 cash reward if you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
- Foreign transaction fees: If you intend to use your new credit card outside of the U.S., getting one that does not charge foreign transaction fees makes sense. With cards that charge this fee, the amount charged typically varies up to 3% of each international transaction.
- Additional features: While starter cards don’t usually offer much in the form of added perks, you may expect features such as fraud protection and free credit score access.
>> More: A Guide to Your First Credit Card
How to Get a Credit Card for the First Time
Getting your first credit card is relatively straightforward, provided you know what steps to follow. For instance, you’ll need to keep different types of information close at hand to get through the application process quickly.
Start by checking if you have an existing credit report and credit score
This might be the case if you’ve taken out a student loan, been an authorized user on someone else’s card, or if your rent or bill payments have been reported to credit bureaus. Once you know your credit score, you can look for cards that fit the bill accordingly.
Compare available credit cards based on factors such as APRs, fees and rewards/cash back
If you’re an existing student, consider applying for any of the student credit cards listed in the table above. If you have no credit history and have difficulty qualifying for a regular starter card, getting a secured card might be an option. No matter what type of card you’re looking for, compare the top ones from the category across parameters such as fees, APRs, rewards/cash back and added perks
If you’re 18 to 21 years of age, you need to show that you earn adequate independent income to repay your debt, otherwise, you must have a cosigner. There is no minimum income requirement specified by issuers of student cards, and most let you add income from multiple sources.
Apply online, over the phone or in person
Depending on the card issuer you select, you might be able to initiate the application process online, over the phone or in person. Irrespective of how you choose to apply, the information you need to provide remains the same.
- Your name and Social Security number (a few cards don’t require SSNs)
- Your phone number, residential address and email address
- Details about your income and housing costs
- Housing status (homeowner, renter or living rent-free)
- Time spent at current residence
How to Use a Credit Card to Build Credit
A credit card gives you the ability to build credit in different ways. The first is by making all your payments on time. This is because credit card issuers report payment histories to credit bureaus.
While making payments on time helps build credit, making late payments or defaulting on a credit card debt has an adverse effect on your credit score. Your payment history is the most important factor that affects your creditworthiness, accounting for 35% of your FICO score.
The other way you may use a credit card to improve your credit score is by keeping your credit utilization ratio low. This refers to the amount you’ve used from your total available credit.
For example, if your only credit card comes with a credit limit of $500, and you’ve used $400 of this limit, your credit utilization ratio is 80%. Ideally, your credit utilization ratio should be below 30%. This aspect accounts for 30% of your FICO score. So, if you have a credit card with a credit limit of $1,000, keep its outstanding balance below $300.
The longer you maintain your first credit card, the better it is for your credit score. This is because your credit length history accounts for 15% of your FICO score.
If you already have a student or an auto loan, getting a credit card may help improve your credit score. This is because your credit mix accounts for 10% of your FICO score.
Incidentally, applying for multiple credit cards in quick succession may affect your credit score adversely. This is because the number of hard inquiries that lenders carry out when you apply for credit and how many credit accounts you’ve opened recently account for 10% of your FICO score.
How Fast Can I Rebuild My Credit?
Know that there is no way to improve your credit score overnight, and the answer to how quickly you can rebuild your credit depends on several factors. In most cases, getting your credit score to an acceptable level takes six months or longer. If you have poor or fair credit, the best way to reach the average or good range is by making your payments on time, making more than the minimum monthly payments, not accumulating more debt and not applying for new credit. If you’re aiming for excellent creditworthiness, the process may take two to three years or even longer.
Is It Worth Getting a Credit Card?
Getting a credit card might be worth your while if you wish to build credit by developing healthy financial habits.
You might also benefit by getting a credit card that offers rewards/cash back, provided the value of your rewards/cash back exceeds the cost of the card through its annual fee and interest. If you plan to maintain revolving balances in your account, you may want to consider getting a low APR card instead of a rewards card.
Using a credit card also makes it easy to avoid losing money through fraudulent transactions. For instance, in case of possible misuse of your debit card, the money disappears from your bank account straight away.
However, if you detect a fraudulent transaction on your credit card, you simply need to notify your card provider about it, and the card provider then works on resolving the matter. As long as you notify your credit card provider in time, you are not held liable for unauthorized transactions.
How We Rank First-Time Credit Cards
Our lists of the best credit cards are based on publicly available data from card issuers and other reputable sources like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. We review each card’s fees, interest rates, rewards, benefits and more to assign a rating for each feature. These ratings are stack ranked and weighted for each card category to determine our top selections for each type of user. Because card details change regularly, we revisit our data each month to update our ratings, recommendations and other card information as needed. Learn more about our data collection and ranking process.
Top Rating Criteria for First Time Credit Cards
FAQs About First-Time Credit Cards
Improve the odds of finding the best first-time credit card by understanding the answers to other commonly asked questions about how these cards work and what to expect when you use them.
Now that you know how the best credit cards to build credit work, select one after considering your existing creditworthiness and other individual requirements. When comparing your options, make sure you pay attention to aspects such as fees, interest rates, rewards and added benefits.
Experts Tips on Finding the Best First-Time Credit Cards
- What APR might someone with no credit history expect from their first credit card?
- Can immigrant workers and international students without Social Security numbers apply for credit cards?
- Are there any benefits of getting a credit card while still in college?
- Is there any particular credit card issuer that's better than the others for first-time credit card users?
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About Rajiv Baniwal
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