12 Best First Credit Cards (No Credit Needed)

12 Best First Credit Cards (No Credit Needed)

credit card advice

Lauren Keys
By: Lauren Keys
Posted: July 20, 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.

The first revolving credit card, the direct predecessor of today’s consumer cards, was the BankAmericard credit card, issued in 1958 by Bank of America to 60,000 unsuspecting citizens in Fresno, California.

Of course, since its popularization almost 60 years ago, the credit card has become a personal finance staple for millions of Americans. In fact, the US market is currently home to nearly 2 billion credit cards, with an average of four per consumer. The average American picks up their first credit card by the age of 20.

Indeed, as an initial step to establishing your consumer credit report, obtaining your first credit card is often considered a financial right of passage by many young Americans. And the card issuers are happy to help, offering a variety of options for the credit novice, including everything from cards with no annual fee and student-centric perks to cash back rewards and credit-friendly secured cards. Use the links below to skip ahead to the card type of your choosing, or read along to learn the benefits of each.

No Annual Fee | Rewards | Student | Secured | Prepaid | Tips for Applying

Best First Credit Cards with “No Annual Fee”

Although the first credit cards didn’t require cardholders to pay annual fees (or, in some cases, to even fill out applications), today’s feature-rich credit cards often come with mandatory fees to cover all the bells and whistles.

For those users who are interested in earning purchase rewards or useful travel benefits, such as cash back or complimentary rental car insurance, the annual fee can be well worth the expense. But being saddled with a hefty up-front fee can be a turnoff for many a credit card newcomer simply looking to start establishing his or her credit history.

Thankfully, many issuers offer credit card options that are unencumbered by costly benefits and come completely free of annual fees. While you won’t be using credit card miles to fly around the world, you also won’t pay $50 or more for the pleasure of purchasing with plastic. We’ve selected some of our favorite no-annual-fee cards designed for first-timers with limited (or non-existent) credit histories.

  • 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
Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★
4.0

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

One of the best things about cards that don’t charge an annual fee is the fact that you can choose to — and afford to — hang on to them indefinitely. The length of your credit history is 15% of your credit score, which includes both the age of your oldest account as well as the average age of all of your accounts.

Chart of FICO High Achievers

This chart from FICO shows the average account ages of consumers with the highest credit scores.

This means that maintaining your first credit card in good standing for several years will help increase your credit score by helping you build a long history of responsible credit behavior. Consumers with the best credit scores (FICO scores of 800 and up) tend to have an average account age of 11 years.

Best First Credit Card with “Cash Back Rewards”

Another distinct event in the history of credit cards, the cash back rewards program was pioneered by Discover Financial Services in 1986. Discover’s fledgling cash back system rewarded cardholders with cash at the end of the year based on the total charges made on their Discover card over the previous 12 months.

Today’s cash back programs aren’t all that different from Discover’s initial foray into rewards, still offering consumers a portion of their purchases as cash back. Instead of waiting a full year for rewards, however, many modern cash back programs typically issue rewards within one statement cycle of being earned. Our favorite cash back card for those looking to establish credit offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Use your QuicksilverOne card and get 50% back as a statement credit on your monthly Spotify Premium subscription, now through April 2018
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited

No matter what your credit situation, you’ll need to make sure your rewards card is actually worth its rewards; many cards that come with a cash back or points program will charge an annual fee for the privilege of earning rewards. You may need to crunch the numbers based on your projected spending to see if the rewards will outweigh a potential annual fee.

Best First Credit Cards for “Students”

If one ignores the apparent semantic arguments about “colleges” versus “universities,” the first institution of higher learning in the US was Harvard University, chartered by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. More than 375 years later, the US is home to over 7,200 postsecondary institutions attended by approximately 20.5 million students each fall

With many of those new students experiencing the full realm of personal finance for the first time, college students are just as much students of life as they are of academia. And one of those key life lessons is on the importance of building credit early — which can be learned the right way with responsible use of a student credit card.

Our top picks for student credit cards come with everything first-time credit builders need to get started, including free monthly credit scores. They also offer other perks, such as good grade bonuses and cash back rewards, that can make learning to manage credit really pay off (especially during the annual back-to-school shopping crunch).

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
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 different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • 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

Regardless of which school you attend or what you study, the time you spend at college (or university, as the case may be) will influence the rest of your life — including your finances. The best way to use your first student credit card is sparingly, paying your full balance on time each month to avoid fees and build a positive credit history.

Best First “Secured” Credit Cards

While there’s little information on the origins of the secured credit card, it’s probably safe to say it came shortly after the issuers experienced one too many expensive credit card defaults. Today’s secured cards are offered by many large issuers and small banks alike, offering a line of rotating credit to consumers with no credit, limited credit, or bad credit.

The key difference between secured cards and other credit cards is the required deposit, typically from 25% to 100% of your desired credit limit. Held in a special savings account, your deposit acts as the issuer’s insurance in case you default and can’t pay your credit card balance.

Secured credit cards are great first cards because they are easy to obtain without a long credit history — some don’t even require a credit check — and limits are set by the cardholder through the initial deposit. Our top picks for first-time secured credit cards include several without annual fees and may even offer cash back rewards on your purchases.

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

While the deposit required by a secured credit card is held against default, it is generally not applied after a single missed payment. In most cases, the deposit will be used to cover an outstanding credit card balance at the time the account is closed. This applies whether the account is closed at the request of the cardholder or by the issuer due to severe delinquency (150 to 180 days late).

This means that if you have a balance you can’t repay on your card and need to have it covered by the initial deposit, you should close the account as soon as possible. During the time the account remains open and delinquent, interest fees, late fees, and other applicable charges can still collect on the account.

These charges can add up quickly and may even exceed the card’s credit limit, so don’t wait for fees to get out of hand before taking action. You should keep in mind that closing your account will impact your credit by lowering your average account age — but defaulted accounts hurt your credit even more.

Best First “Prepaid” Credit Cards

Prepaid credit cards are more like gift cards than credit cards, as they are preloaded with funds that are then used to make purchases. Although not true credit cards because they don’t actually represent a line of credit, prepaid cards do carry issuer logos (Visa, Discover, etc.) and can be used to make purchases anywhere its issuer is accepted.

Since they don’t actually have any impact on your credit, prepaid cards can be an excellent first “credit” card for young people starting to learn about personal finance. Prepaid card users learn many key aspects of credit card use, including how to track their balance, how to spend within their means — and how to resist the impulse purchasing that comes with swipe-and-buy convenience.

To make it easy to stay on top of spending, all of our top first-time prepaid picks come with easy online banking and mobile app interfaces so you can track as you go. Individual cards may come with different features and fees, so compare options to find the card right for your spending habits.

Pink NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Sign up for NetSpend Payback Rewards and earn cash back.
  • No late fees or credit card debt because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get real time text message alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply.
  • *Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
No Credit Check
AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card Review

at AccountNow'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • $0 Monthly Fee Pay As You Go Plan (See Cardholder Agreement on site)
  • No Credit Check. No Overdraft Fees, ever.
  • Free† direct deposit and online bill payment
  • Use it Everywhere Visa Debit Card Accepted in the U.S.
  • Easy Online/Mobile Account Access
  • Perfect for Occasional Usage
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Check
READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card Review

at READYdebit'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★
4.3

OVERALL RATING

2.0/5.0
  • Instant Account Number - A Great Card for your Money.
  • Free† Direct Deposit — Paycheck, Benefit Checks, Tax Refund Checks
  • Easy Online Bill Payment & Mobile Account Access
  • No Purchase Transaction Fees
  • No Risk of Overdraft Fees or Balance Minimums
  • Withdraw Cash at ATMs or Get Cash Back with Purchases
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$9.95 monthly fee
No Credit Check

While prepaid cards do make excellent first experiences for those new to the power of plastic, the lack of a credit impact is a double-edged sword. Prepaid cards won’t hurt your credit — but they won’t help you build it, either. Once the cardholder has learned how to responsibly manage a prepaid card, it’s time to move on to a credit-based card, be it secured or unsecured.

Tips for Getting & Using Your First Card

Obtaining your first credit card can be an important initial step in the credit-building process, and plenty of issuers are happy to help you do just that. Of course, the credit card industry has few guarantees and it’s very unlikely that every application you submit will be approved.

That said, don’t try to apply to multiple cards at once. This probably won’t do much to improve your odds if you don’t have much credit — and it may actually harm your approval chances. This is because nearly every credit card application results in a hard credit pull.

Chart of Authorized User Minimum Ages

For consumers with established credit, a hard credit pull or two has minor credit score impacts, often of just a few points, but those impacts may be more severe for consumers without a well-padded credit report to cushion the blow. The best way to avoid damaging your credit before you even get started is to research your first card carefully, then apply for only that card. If you’re rejected, determine why before applying for another card.

If you know someone with good credit, you may potentially jump-start your credit history by becoming an authorized user on one of his or her accounts. As an authorized user on the account, your information will be included in the reports made to the credit bureaus by the issuer, helping to establish your consumer credit profile.

Another way someone with good credit can help you start your own credit journey is by becoming a co-signer. As a co-signer, he or she will accept responsibility for any potential debt in the event that you, as the primary cardholder, cannot repay your credit card balance. This reduces credit risk for the issuer and can improve both credit limits and interest rates.

Graphic Showing FICO Score Components

Additionally, improving your income may also be a good way to improve your chances of approval. Since the Credit CARD Act of 2009, anyone under the age of 21 must have a verifiable source of income (or a parental co-signer) to qualify for a new credit card. Even beyond the age of 21, your income can be an important factor in credit card approval, especially if you have current financial obligations, such as rent or student loan payments, that may tie up funds.

To ensure the best first-card experience, be sure to always pay your bill on time, as late and missed payments are credit score killers. You can also skip the expensive interest fees by paying your complete balance before the due date each statement period. With a few years of responsible credit card use, you can be well on your way to a great credit score.

Find the Right Card to Start Your New Credit Adventure

With nearly six decades of predecessors and an ancestry spanning more than 100 years, credit cards today are used by more than 70% of US households to make purchases and has become an integral part of the American economy. Obtaining your first credit card is the first step toward establishing a credit history, and become a financial right of passage, signaling entrance to the real world of consumer credit.

Regardless of which card you choose to start your credit adventure, remember that how you use your new credit card will impact your finances well into the future. Responsible use of your first credit card will build a solid credit foundation, enabling rewarding credit experiences later in life.