21 Picks for a Best First Credit Card in 2018

21 Picks for a Best First Credit Card in 2018

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Updated: September 4, 2018
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.

Life is full of firsts. Your first steps, your first date, your first pizza — each first, whether big or small, is one of the many moments that make up a lifetime. But, some moments are more significant than others.

In fact, some firsts have the ability to set the tone for what’s to come, and, sometimes, to shape your future. Like getting your first credit card. The card you choose — and how you choose to use it — can influence your financial future for years, if not decades to come.

With that in mind, getting your first credit card shouldn’t be a snap decision like those you make in line at your favorite clothing store. Instead, you need to take a good look at all of your options to find the card that best fits your needs and lifestyle.

Student | Secured | Build Credit | Cosigner | Store | Good Credit | Prepaid

Best First Cards for College Students

Nearly everything in life has some sort of learning curve, including credit cards. What better time to learn how to use credit cards than while you’re already working on your education? A student credit card can be a great tool for college students looking to establish their credit.

Most student credit cards are the same as any other unsecured credit card, except they’re designed specifically for students, with special perks and benefits aimed at helping students start their credit journey on the right foot. Some of our favorite student cards even let you earn cash back and a statement credit for good grades.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit 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
14.99% - 23.99% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit 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
14.99% - 23.99% 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
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

Although student credit cards are designed for students, they’re not exempt from CARD Act age restrictions. That means you’ll need to be at least 18 years old and have a cosigner or independent income to qualify for your own credit card account. Otherwise, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old.

On the plus side, money you earn through scholarships, grants, and fellowships can typically be reported as income on your credit card application. This can make it easier to qualify by showing you have the financial means to pay any debt you take on.

Best Secured Cards for First-Time Users

One of the hardest parts about qualifying for a first credit card is that you likely have little to no credit history, which a credit card issuer will generally see as a risky venture. A secured credit card eliminates the risk for credit card issuers by requiring a deposit to secure the credit line.

Aside from the deposit, a secured card works exactly the same as an unsecured card, with the ability to make in-store and online purchases anywhere your card’s network is accepted. With some of our top-rated cards, you may even earn purchase rewards or avoid an annual fee.

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.9

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 Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It’s a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit from $200-$2500 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% for 6 months
24.99% Variable
$0
Please refer to issuer's website
First Progress Platinum Elite MasterCard® Secured Credit Card Review

at First Progress'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★
4.0

OVERALL RATING

2.3/5.0
  • Fund your new MasterCard® secured credit card with your tax refund today!
  • Receive Your Card More Quickly with New Expedited Processing Option
  • No Credit History or Minimum Credit Score Required for Approval
  • Good for Car Rental, Hotels; Anywhere Credit Cards are Accepted!
  • Monthly Reporting to all 3 Major Credit Bureaus to Establish Credit History
  • Credit Line Secured by Your Fully-Refundable Deposit of $200 - $2,000 Submitted with Application
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
20.24% (Variable)
$29
Bad Credit

One good thing about a secured credit card is that your security deposit is fully refundable. You can reclaim your security deposit at any time simply by closing your account, so long as you have $0 balance and your account is in good standing. In some cases, your security deposit may even earn interest.

Even better, several secured credit cards offer the ability to upgrade to an unsecured card. Some issuers will track your credit progress and automatically upgrade you to an unsecured credit card when they feel you’ve made sufficient improvement. If your card is upgraded, your full security deposit will be refunded.

Best First Cards for Building Credit

While student cards can be a good first option, and secured credit cards can be easy to obtain, what card do you choose if you’re not a student and don’t want to make a deposit? You find an entry-level unsecured starter card designed for first-timers and credit-builders.

With fair or limited credit, you likely won’t be eligible for a top-tier rewards card or 18-month APR deals. That said, you also won’t be relegated to subprime cards with outrageous fees. Our category picks include options without annual fees as well as cards that offer purchase rewards.

FAIR 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

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability
  • Qualified applicants will receive a card with a competitive APR and no annual fee along with 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, terms apply
  • View updates to your Experian credit score with free online access, terms apply
  • Make paying your bill easier with the ability to choose your payment due date, terms apply
  • Access your account on-the-go with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 25.99% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

Given that these cards are intended for people to use to build their credit, they tend to fall a little short in the “bells and whistles” department. But don’t just assume you should cancel your card as soon as you become eligible for something with more rewards or better rates.

Instead, consider transitioning your card after your credit improves. Many credit card issuers will allow you to transfer your existing credit line to a different card (so long as you qualify for that card) without needing to cancel your account. This can maintain your account’s age, which can be particularly important for a first credit account.

Best First Cards for Cosigners

According to the CARD Act, 18-year-old applicants need either an independent income (hint: allowances don’t count) or a cosigner to qualify for their own credit card accounts. For students and other young people, meeting the income requirement can be a challenge, making a cosigner the only way to obtain their own credit line.

Unfortunately, most credit card companies don’t allow cosigners, so the options are limited. That said, several major issuers — Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and US Bank, specifically — do allow cosigners for most of their cards, including the competitive rewards cards below.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (fees apply), then a 15.99%-26.99% variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
15.99%-26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.49%-26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card Review

at Bank of America'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • No annual fee
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas up to the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 12 Billing Cycles
0% Intro APR for 12 Billing Cycles (for balance transfers made in the first 60 days)
15.24% to 25.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

Before you rush out to find a cosigner, be sure you understand the responsibility you’re asking them to take on. Cosigners are agreeing to be financially responsible for the credit line, meaning they’ll need to repay any debts that the primary cardholder can’t (or won’t) repay.

Additionally, the credit line will be reported to the credit bureaus for both the primary cardholder and the cosigner. This means any bad credit behaviors — such as delinquent payments or, worse, default — will negatively affect the credit of both parties, potentially ruining your cosigner’s good credit.

Best Store Cards for First-Time Users

Closed-loop store cards — those that can only be used with one brand — are usually easier to obtain than other types of cards, thanks both to being closed-loop and because they tend to have low credit limits. Nearly every brand has its own store credit card, from clothing stores to gas stations and everything in between.

While it’s not a great idea to get a credit card for each store you frequent, starting out with one store credit card for somewhere you shop regularly can be a good way to build credit when you use the card responsibly.

13. Target REDcard

The Target REDcard doesn’t offer traditional cash back that you redeem later. Instead, you’ll save 5% right at checkout, reducing your immediate out-of-pocket costs for everything from bath products to winter wear.

Target REDcard

  • Get 5% off your total purchase at checkout for eligible in-store or online Target purchases
  • Receive exclusive deals & discounts
  • Pay no annual fee

Don’t forget to use your favorite manufacturer’s coupons on top of your Target REDcard discount to earn even more savings every time you shop.

14. Amazon.com Store Card

The Amazon.com Store Card can be a good option for first-timers who are already Amazon Prime members, as cardholders who are Prime members earn 5% cash back on Amazon.com purchases.

Amazon.com Store Card

  • Receive special financing on eligible Amazon.com orders of $149 or more made with your card
  • Amazon Prime members get 5% cash back on Amazon purchases
  • Pay no annual card fee (Prime fee may apply)

All cardholders can also access special financing, regardless of Prime membership. However, financing deals come with deferred interest, so be sure to pay off your financed balance well before your promotional period ends.

15. Old Navy Credit Card

The Old Navy Credit Card offers rewards on purchases made at Old Navy, as well as other Gap Inc. brands.

Old Navy Credit Card

  • Earn 5X points per dollar on purchases at Old Navy and other Gap Inc.-brand purchases
  • Reach Navyist status by earning 5,000 points
  • Pay no annual fee

One thing to keep in mind with this card is that rewards are capped at $250 per billing cycle. Rewards earned beyond the monthly cap will be rolled over into the next billing cycle.

Best First Cards for Good Credit

In some cases, you may be looking for your first credit card but already have an established credit profile thanks to other types of credit, such as an auto or student loan or having been an authorized user for a card account in good standing.

Whatever the case, if you already have a good credit score (a FICO Score above 700), your credit card options will be better than those for most first-timers. With good credit, you’ll have your pick from a wide range of rewards credit cards, no-annual-fee cards, and 0%-APR cards — plus cards with all of the above.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

GOOD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • 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
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

GOOD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.99-25.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase - it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.99% - 25.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

GOOD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

Given the number of options, picking the right rewards credit card can take some research. You’ll want to consider the categories in which you have the most out-of-pocket costs, be it gas stations, groceries, or dining out. Once you know where you spend the most, choose a rewards card that offers bonus points or cash rewards for those purchases.

Of course, rewards may not be your biggest concern. A card with a low interest rate on balance transfers may be better if you’re paying high interest rates on an existing balance. Similarly, if you travel frequently, you may be most interested in a card without foreign transaction fees for more affordable purchasing abroad.

Best Prepaid Cards for First-Timers

If your only reason for obtaining a credit card is to make online purchases, then a prepaid card may be a useful alternative to a credit card. Prepaid cards can be used to make purchases anywhere the network is accepted, including most online retailers.

The benefit to prepaid cards is that they don’t require any kind of credit check or credit history to obtain. You simply connect the card to a bank account, similar to a debit card, and pre-load the card with funds. Purchases are paid from the funds you put on the card, rather than a bank-funded credit line.

Pink Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Netspend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. "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
Brink

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • Brink's gives you the peace of mind you deserve. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • With Brink's Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster* than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Brink's Money Prepaid Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply.)
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your Card Account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • *Card issued by BofI Federal Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Mastercard Debit cards are accepted. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
No Credit Check
Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Netspend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Up-to $9.95 monthly
No Credit Check

Although prepaid cards can be good tools, they do have a number of downsides, not the least of which is that they don’t report to the three major credit bureaus. While this means that prepaid credit cards can’t hurt your credit, it also means they can’t be used to build credit history or improve your credit score.

Additionally, prepaid cards lack many of the perks of regular credit cards. Most prepaid cards won’t offer credit card rewards, so you won’t earn points or cash back. They also don’t typically offer the travel and purchase protection benefits provided by most credit cards.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

Once upon a time, the credit card issuers were the first ones to wish you a happy 18th birthday — by way of a slew of pre-approval invitations in your mailbox. Today, the CARD Act restricts marketing of credit card products to consumers under the age of 21, making it necessary to opt-in to receive invitations before your 21st birthday.

Furthermore, the CARD Act set limitations on when and how young people can qualify for their own credit card accounts. As before the law, you still need to be at least 18 to open your own credit card account — i.e., to be the primary cardholder, not just an authorized user — but there’s now a catch.

Chart of Authorized User Minimum Ages

These days, applicants under the age of 21 (but over 18) need to meet one of two conditions to open their own card: have an independent income source or apply with a qualified cosigner.

And no, the allowance you receive from your parents every week does not count as “independent income.”

The only way to obtain a credit card in your name under the age of 18 is to become an authorized user on an adult’s credit card account.

Authorized users are issued their own card and can make purchases as normal, but are not financially responsible for the account. Make sure the primary account holder is responsible, however, as high balances and late payments may reflect poorly on the authorized user’s credit reports as well as the credit of the primary cardholder.

Some credit card companies have a minimum age requirement for authorized users, but other companies will allow authorized users or any age. In many cases, accounts on which you are an authorized user will appear on your credit profile, which can help young people to establish a credit history before they even turn 18.

How Do You Establish & Build Credit?

Having a positive credit history is the simplest way to ensure you can qualify for affordable credit products when you need them. And, given that 15% of your FICO Score is based on your credit history, the sooner you start building it, the better your credit score can be.

All you need to establish a credit profile is to open a credit account. This can be a consumer credit card, but it can also be done with various loan products like auto or student loans. In some cases, a business credit card may also show up on your personal credit report.

The key factor in establishing a credit history is that the lender or issuer must report your payment history and balance information to at least one (but, ideally, all three) of the major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

FICO Score Factors

Once you open a credit line that reports to the credit bureaus, you’ll start building a credit history. It typically takes at least six months of payment history to become eligible for a credit score under most credit scoring models. Most credit score ranges go from 300 up to 850.

It’s important to understand that you don’t start off with a perfect credit score. In fact, most people will likely start off with a low credit score (a FICO Score in the 500 to 600 range) and have to build up from there.

Thankfully, building up your credit score is fairly easy, as you simply need to maintain good credit habits. The most important thing is to always pay your bills on time, making at least your minimum required payment before your due date. (Of course, you’ll ideally pay off your full credit card balance each month to avoid interest fees).

That’s because your payment history is more than a third of your credit score, and even a single delinquent payment — one more than 60 days late — can tank your fledgling score. You should also be cognizant of your credit utilization — avoid maxing out any credit cards — as your credit-to-debt ratio can contribute to up to 30% of your score.

How to Choose Your First Credit Card

Once your credit is well-established and you have your pick of the credit card market, choosing a new card will be about finding a card that offers the best rewards program and the lowest rates.

However, while these are still important factors in selecting a first card, they probably shouldn’t be your main focus. For example, while you’ll still want a low purchase APR on your first card, you likely won’t need a card with a balance transfer offer (balance transfers aren’t useful if you have no balances).

In general, picking the best credit card for your first card will depend on what you can qualify for more than anything else. If you need a cosigner, for instance, your options are limited to issuers and cards that allow cosigners.

Similarly, certain types of rewards cards will likely be out of reach at first. The Chase’s Ultimate Rewards® program, for instance, is very popular for travel rewards, but the cards that earn Ultimate Rewards® generally require at least good credit to qualify, so they’re not a good choice of starter for most people.

Chart of Issuers Allowing Cosigners

Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t earn cash back or points with your first credit card. Plenty of rewards cards are available to those with limited credit, particularly student and secured cards.

Depending on the rewards program, you may even earn bonus points or cash rewards for purchases made in set bonus categories. These cards can be a good way to maximize your rewards for purchases you make most frequently.

You can also find a first credit card that will offer a sign-up bonus, a one-time bonus that offers you extra cash back or rewards points for reaching a certain spending requirement in the first few months of account opening. Sign-up bonus offers for starter cards won’t be huge, but they’re still valuable additions.

One of the first decisions you’ll likely need to make when selecting a first card is to decide whether you want to go with an unsecured or secured card. Secured cards are much easier to qualify for with no or limited credit, and they can offer better benefits and lower rates. However, they do require a deposit.

Depending on your needs (and means), you may choose a secured card over an unsecured card to obtain a higher credit limit. Most secured cards allow you to obtain a higher credit limit by making a deposit larger than the required minimum.

Other factors can also influence your pick for a first card. If you will be traveling abroad, for instance, you may wish to find a card without foreign transaction fees, rewards credit card or not. You also need to decide if you are willing to pay an annual fee. Don’t forget that you may want to hang on to your first card for quite a while, so cards without an annual fee can be easier to keep for the long haul.

Chart of Credit Card Fee Frequency

You may also want to factor in things like the issuer and credit card network. The credit card issuer will be who you interact with to manage your account, and you may want an issuer with a reputation for good customer service.

The network you select will determine where you card is accepted, another key factor for travelers. Credit card issuers and networks also offer various perks and credit card benefits — things like rental car insurance and extended warranty protection — that can offer a lot of value if you’ll use them.

Make Your First Credit Card Impression a Good One

Some of life’s firsts are small things, like your first digital music download or your first time eating chili fries. Other firsts, however, can have huge impacts on your life — and on your future.

Despite their ubiquity in today’s world, getting your first credit card should definitely fall into the latter category.

That’s because your first card can set the tone for the rest of your financial future. Picking the right card — and using it responsibly — can put you on the path to good credit later in life, making it easier (and a lot less expensive) to obtain loans and other credit products.

But simply selecting the best card isn’t a guarantee of success. You need to use that card wisely to build credit. This means always, always, always making your payments on time, as well as maintaining low credit card balances and keeping your overall debt levels in check.