The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

10 Best Starter Credit Cards to Build Credit

10 Best Starter Credit Cards to Build Credit

credit card advice

Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: March 4, 2020
Advertiser Disclosure

In this article, we review the 10 best starter credit cards to build credit. Using a starter credit card is an efficient way to create and build your credit profile.

Many consumers who’ve never used credit are candidates for these cards, including students and unbanked millennials. In addition, you can work to rebuild a low credit score by getting a starter credit card and using it responsibly.

These cards are easy to acquire and most offer cash back rewards. Whichever one you choose, resolve to pay your bill on time and limit the amount of available credit you use. By doing so, you can establish yourself as a creditworthy consumer with a good credit score and one who deserves access to loans and additional credit.

Best Overall
Students | Cash Back | Secured

Best Overall Starter Card to Build Credit

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is our top choice for credit beginners. It is a no-frills card that is fairly easy to obtain.

It takes only a minute to find out whether you’re approved — just fill out a short application form with information about your employment status, annual income, and monthly mortgage/rent.

  • 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
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The card charges no annual fee and provides $0 fraud liability. The minimum credit line is $300, but you may be able to access a higher limit by making your first five monthly payments on time.

Benefits include instant purchase notifications, free access to your credit score, instant card lock/unlock, and suspicious activity alerts.

Best Student Starter Cards to Build Credit

College is a place to experience many new things, from wild to mild. In the latter category is getting your first credit card.

The following three cards are designed to give students access to credit without requiring a credit history or score. They all offer cash back rewards and charge no annual fees.

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 on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when 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
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit
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
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit

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 Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The two Discover cards offer a Cashback Match on all cash back you earn in the first year after opening the account. We also like the Discover cards for their good-student rewards and an introductory six-month period of 0% APR on purchases.

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® encourages good financial habits by offering a higher cash back rate for the months you pay your bill on time. The card also rewards timely payments during the first five months of ownership by raising your credit limit.

Best Cash Back Starter Cards to Build Credit

The combination of easy acceptance and cash back rewards sets these cards apart, as you often have to choose between one factor or the other. Two of the cards (Capital One® QuicksilverOne® and Credit One Bank® Visa®) offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases, although the former offers a slightly higher rate.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.7

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
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® Secured Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★
3.7

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 with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
24.49% Variable
$0
New/Rebuilding
7

Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card with Cash Back Rewards

This card is currently not available.

Cash Back Rating

★★★★★
N/A

OVERALL RATING

N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

Cash back may be the most useful reward for a wide swath of consumers with no credit histories. Most folks who prefer travel cards that provide mile or point rewards already have credit cards (and credit histories), considering how hard it is to travel without a credit card.

Certainly, cash back cards give you the most flexibility. It’s nice to earn cash back when you’re buying groceries and gas, as it acts as an automatic discount without the need to clip coupons.

Of course, you’ll only truly reap the benefits of cash back — or any credit card rewards — if you pay your total balance off each month. This prevents interest charges that will negate the value of any rewards earned from accruing.

Best Secured Starter Cards to Build Credit

Secured credit cards are among the easiest to obtain as long as you can afford to make the required cash deposit. You should prefer your deposit to be FDIC-insured and earning interest.

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
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (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 with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
24.49% Variable
$0
New/Rebuilding
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
18.89% (variable)
$35
Poor

We like the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® because you may need to only deposit as little as $49 to get the card.

The minimum deposit required by the Discover it® Secured is $200, however, you earn handsome cash back rewards and you can convert to an unsecured card with responsible use.

The OpenSky® Secured Visa® also requires a minimum deposit of $200, but unlike the other cards, it doesn’t require you to have a bank account and you won’t have to undergo a credit check for approval.

The OpenSky® Secured Visa® appeals to the millions of unbanked consumers who’d rather not deal with banks. However, it’s the only card in the trio that has an annual fee, albeit a small one.

What is the Easiest Credit Card to Get with No Credit?

Secured cards are the easiest to acquire because your cash deposit acts as collateral. However, all the reviewed cards approve applicants with no or scant credit history, so you may not need a secured card unless your credit is already bad.

The size of the security deposit generally determines your credit line. Some cards, like the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, may allow you to make a deposit that is less than your issued credit line, depending on your credit. This is known as a “partially” or “semi” secured credit card.

Unsecured vs Secured Credit Cards

The issuer maintains your deposit in a locked account that covers missed or late payments. This reduces the riskiness of these cards, which enables lenders to offer reasonable APRs and approve applicants with unestablished or bad credit histories.

Most secured cards provide a path to upgrade to an unsecured card if you consistently pay your monthly bill on time. The OpenSky® Secured Visa® doesn’t perform credit checks for approval, nor does it require you to have a bank account. That’s great for unbanked consumers new to credit cards.

The student credit cards are also easy to get if you’re enrolled in a two- or four-year school. You don’t need to have a credit history or score, and these cards offer surprisingly generous rewards.

How Do You Get a Credit Card if You Have No Credit?

The 10 cards in this review all give you the opportunity to obtain a credit card even if you have no credit history. But you have additional options that will unlock access to a credit card:

  • Ask to be an authorized user on another person’s credit card. As an authorized user, you can use the card as if it were your own, but you are not obligated to make payments — that honor falls to the primary cardholder. The credit bureaus will record payments on both your and the primary cardholder’s credit reports, giving you the opportunity to establish and build your credit through responsible use.
  • Recruit a cosigner when applying for the card. Doing so means that you and the cosigner jointly own the card. As was the case for authorized users, payments are recorded on the credit reports of both parties. In this case, however, both you and the cosigner are responsible for ensuring the monthly payments are made. Naturally, you’d like to have a cosigner with a good credit score, as this will increase your chances of approval.
  • Get a credit builder loan. These are offered by many credit unions and some other lenders. With a credit builder loan, you borrow a sum of money that is held in a bank account. You then make payments on the loan that are reported to the credit bureaus. Once you fully repay the loan, the money is released to you — you now have your money back (with interest) and a credit history.

Of course, if you are in a position to do so, you can apply for a mortgage or car loan. This will establish your credit profile and make it easier to get a credit card, assuming you make your payments on time.

What is the Best First-Time Credit Card?

We give top marks to the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card, as it charges no annual fee and most folks with no credit history will qualify.

Capital One®Secured Mastercard

However, it offers Spartan benefits (no rewards or introductory 0% APR offers) and a limited credit line. Nonetheless, if you want to establish your credit with a minimum of hassles, this card is our recommended choice.

If you happen to be a student, we suggest you get one of the three student credit cards we recommend. All three are easy for students to obtain, charge no annual fees, and offer cash back rewards.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Our favorite is the Discover it® Student Cash Back card. It is very similar to the Discover it® Student chrome card, except for its more generous rewards scheme — limited 5% cash back on purchases at quarterly rotating merchant categories that you must activate each quarter.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is our recommendation among the cash back cards, due to its ease of approval, unlimited cash back reward rate, and access to higher credit limits through responsible use.

What Credit Score Do You Start with?

If you are new to the world of credit, be aware that the most popular credit scoring system is called FICO and has a range from 300 (worst possible score) to 850 (exceptionally good score). The average FICO score in the U.S. is just over 700.

FICO Score® Ranges

It takes about six months of credit card use or loan repayments to establish a credit score. Actually, you get three credit scores, one from each of the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Your credit card issuer reports your payment activity to one or more of the credit bureaus. Over time, the bureaus receive enough information to formulate a starting score.

Many factors go into that score. If you use your card responsibly, you should expect an average beginning credit score.

FICO Credit Score Factors

Based on the above credit score factors, responsible credit card use entails:

  • Paying your bill on time, every time, without exception.
  • Maintaining a credit utilization ratio (i.e., amounts owed / total available credit) below 30%.
  • Having a mix of credit and loan accounts.
  • Having a long credit history (i.e., not closing old accounts just because you no longer use them).
  • Not applying for too many accounts at the same time.

Through continued responsible use, your credit score might climb into the good or excellent range. This usually requires you to maintain several credit accounts of various types.

On the other hand, if your credit habits are sloppy, you can expect your credit score to sink into fair or poor territory. This can raise the interest rate you’re charged and limit your access to additional credit.

Is No Credit Worse than Bad Credit?

Having no credit is actually better than having bad credit. With no credit, you have a clean slate. By using your first credit card responsibly, you can establish an average credit score and work your way toward a higher score.

If you already have bad credit, you’re in a hole from which you must emerge. That’s harder to do, especially if your bad credit is due to one or more derogatory marks on your credit reports.

When you get your first card, you should make sure it reports your payments to one or more credit bureaus — not all cards do. For example, a prepaid card is easy to obtain, but this kind of card doesn’t report payment activity.

That’s also true of debit cards — except if you are overdrawn and fail to correct the problem quickly, at which point you may be dinged on your credit report. In other words, debit cards can only hurt your credit score.

Other types of accounts may not appear on your credit reports. These include accounts such as rent, cable services, utilities, and water.

However, a free product called Experian Boost automatically incorporates your phone and utility account payments into your Experian credit report, giving your score a modest boost.

Use Your First Card Responsibly to Establish Good Credit

Most folks eventually take the plunge and obtain a credit card. The 10 cards in this review all make it easier to get your first card and thereby establish your credit profile.

Use your first card to establish responsible habits that will help you build a good credit score. A good score can improve your lifestyle by allowing you to make purchases without waiting to save up the cash.

Once you have a good credit score, you can qualify for premium credit cards that offer copious rewards and benefits.