12 Best Credit Cards for Building Credit (2017)

Best Cards for Building Credit

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Posted: August 25, 2017
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

People looking to build credit are starting their credit journey for the first time, while others may be resuming a journey derailed by a financial mistake (or three). Either way, building — or rebuilding — a positive credit history can have substantial benefits for your financial future.

Why? Because credit reports are used by everyone from potential lenders to potential landlords to get an idea about your financial habits, meaning the information housed within those reports will influence many important decisions throughout your life. Life events, such as qualifying for credit, seeking a new apartment, or even competing for a new job, could depend on the information in your credit report.

For most consumers, the easiest way to begin building (or rebuilding) credit is to get a credit card. And despite what many may assume, plenty of issuers are happy to help you get your credit on track — the hardest part may be simply narrowing down your options. Check out our category breakdown to start your search.

Students | No/Limited Credit | Bad Credit | Secured

Best “Student” Cards for Building Credit

Although colleges and universities are intended to be institutions of academic learning, the average college student likely obtains more than a basic education with that degree. Indeed, college is also the place where we learn many important life lessons — including the true cost of the goods we took for granted when living at home.

Additionally, those years as a student can be a great time to begin building credit and learning responsible credit behaviors. To help students get started on the right foot, most major credit card issuers offer student-centered cards designed to help credit students become credit masters. Our favorite student cards are annual-fee-free, while still providing solid cash back rewards.

Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+See More Cards for Students

One thing to note before applying for your first student credit card is the age restriction imposed on credit cards by the CARD Act of 2009. The CARD Act specifically states that those under the age of 21 may not apply for a credit card on their own, unless they can show proof of an individual income of a suitable amount.

For potential cardholders aged 18 to 20, the income restriction can be circumvented by applying with a qualified co-signer. To qualify, co-signers must be over the age of 21 and have a good credit history. The decision to become a co-signer should be considered carefully, as co-signers will be held responsible for any debt accumulated on the card should the primary cardholder become unable to (or chooses not to) repay the debt.

Best “No/Limited Credit” Cards for Building Credit

A common catch-22 in finance is the idea that you need to have credit to get credit. This is because creditors use your credit report to determine your credit risk. No credit history means there is no way to determine your actual risk — which makes you a risk by default. For instance, a consumer without any established credit history will likely find it quite difficult to secure a mortgage.

Luckily, that pesky catch-22 isn’t quite universal, and those who have yet to establish their credit can get started by applying for their first credit card. Many major credit card issuers offer easy-to-get cards designed especially for credit newbies, including options for earning cash back rewards as you learn. Start your search with our top-rated picks, which come without annual fees to hold you down.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

+See More Cards for No/Limited Credit

Before applying for your first credit card, of course, it can be extremely beneficial to research how credit cards actually work, including how credit card interest is calculated. Knowing what to expect before you run out and start making purchases can save you a lot of heartache (and expensive fees) in the long run.

Best “Bad Credit” Cards for Building Credit

While it can be difficult to obtain new credit without an established credit history, the opposite can also be true; sometimes it’s your credit history itself that makes the job difficult. In fact, in many cases, it can be easier to obtain credit with no credit history than with a poor one.

On the plus side, bad credit doesn’t have to be forever. It’s possible to rebuild a positive credit history through the responsible use of credit, no matter how low your original score. A new credit card — such as those offered by our top-rated poor credit card issuers — can be a good way to start rebuilding a good payment history. Our picks include both unsecured and secured cards, providing options for almost any credit need.

Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Holiday gifts they'll like, payments you'll love! Use your line of credit to shop over 550,000 items from great brands like Samsung, KitchenAid, and DeWalt
  • Take advantage of low monthly payments if you apply and are accepted for a Fingerhut Credit Account issued by WebBank, who determines eligibility and qualifications for the terms of credit
  • Fast, easy online application process and a quick decision
  • Not an access card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Issuer Website
$0
Poor Credit

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Total Visa® Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • Checking Account Required
  • Fast and easy application process; response provided in seconds
  • A genuine VISA card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online
  • Manageable monthly payments
  • If approved, simply pay a Processing Fee to open your account and access your available credit
  • Reports monthly to all three major credit bureaus
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Terms
See Terms
Fair, Bad Credit

+See More Cards for Bad Credit

In addition to showing improved financial behavior by responsibly using new credit and paying off old debts, one of the best things for your score will be time. The most recent information on your credit report will have the most impact, and as the negative accounts on your credit report age, they will have less and less impact on your credit score.

Chart Showing Negative Account Credit Report Lifespan

Furthermore, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, most of the negative marks on your credit report, such as missed payments and defaulted accounts, have a set lifespan of seven years, after which time they should be removed from your report. The major exceptions to this rule are for hard credit inquiries, which only last two years, and bankruptcies, which can last up to 10 years.

Best “Secured” Cards for Building Credit

When exploring credit card options for building credit, you’ll likely come across two main card types: secured cards and unsecured cards. The primary difference between the two card types is that secured credit cards require an initial cash deposit to establish an account, while unsecured cards do not.

Whether you have yet to establish a credit history or have made a few mistakes in your credit past, secured credit cards will likely be the easiest card to obtain. The secured nature makes them less risky than unsecured cards, so issuer requirements tend to be less strict. Our top options are free of annual fees and will report to all three major credit bureaus.

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% for 6 months
23.99% Variable
$0
Please refer to issuer's website
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card Review

at Capital Bank'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★
4.0

OVERALL RATING

2.9/5.0
  • No credit check necessary to apply. OpenSky believes in giving an opportunity to everyone.
  • The refundable* deposit you provide becomes your credit line limit on your Visa card. Choose it yourself, from as low as $200.
  • Build credit quickly. OpenSky reports to all 3 major credit bureaus.
  • 99% of our customers who started without a credit score earned a credit score record with the credit bureaus in as little as 6 months.
  • We have a Facebook community of people just like you; there is a forum for shared experiences, and insights from others on our Facebook Fan page. (Search "OpenSky Card" in Facebook.)
  • OpenSky provides credit tips and a dedicated credit education page on our website to support you along the way.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.39% (Variable)
$35
No Credit Check

+See More Secured Cards

Another difference between secured and unsecured credit cards is how your credit limit is determined. With unsecured credit cards, your credit limit will be based mostly on your individual credit history. The credit limit of your secured credit card, on the other hand, will be determined by your initial deposit alone, or some combination of initial deposit and creditworthiness.

Chart Comparing Unsecured, Secured, and Prepaid Credit Cards

You should also note that secured credit cards won’t keep your deposit forever. Most cards will automatically upgrade you to an unsecured credit card and return your deposit after 12 to 24 months of responsible use and credit improvement. You can also regain your deposit by closing your secured credit card account. However closing a credit account can have negative impacts on your credit.

You Can Benefit From Establishing Credit Early

Whether we like it or not, consumer credit reports play a significant role in many of the major events in our lives. Everything from getting your first job to buying your first home can involve an examination of your credit reports, so it’s in your best interest to make sure the information on those reports is positive.

It’s also a good idea to start building a good credit history as early as possible. A full 15% of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history and the average age of all of your credit accounts combined, so the earlier you start establishing credit, the better you will score in this area.