The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Best Starter Credit Cards to Build Credit

Best Starter Cards To Build Credit

credit card advice

Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank

Eric Bank has been covering business and financial topics since 1985, specializing in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences. In addition to his work on CardRates.com, Eric has appeared regularly on Credible.com, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Get.com, Zacks, Chron and dozens of other outlets. A former software engineer, Eric holds an M.B.A. from New York University and an M.S. in finance from DePaul University.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

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

Many consumers who’ve never used credit are candidates for these cards, including students. 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.

  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Help build your credit through responsible use of a card like this
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Monitor your credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. It's free for everyone
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with online banking from your desktop or smartphone, with Capital One's mobile app
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 six 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 student credit card options 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

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24% applies.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), with 1% on all other purchases
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The two Discover cards offer attractive cash back rewards. We also like the Discover cards for their free FICO scores and lower APRs.

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 six months of ownership by potentially 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. There is one unsecured credit card and two secured cards in the group.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or limits to how much you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account. It's that simple
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® Secured Credit Card Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★
3.7

OVERALL RATING

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200. That means a $200 deposit for a $200 credit line. Or a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit, and the security deposit equals your credit limit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 7 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.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
25.24% Variable APR
$0
New/Rebuilding

7. Secured Sable ONE Credit Card

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, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, 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

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual or hidden fees, and you can earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Put down a refundable $200 security deposit to get a $200 initial credit line
  • Building your credit? Using a card like this responsibly could help
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Building your credit? Using the Capital One Platinum Secured card responsibly could help
  • Put down a refundable security deposit starting at $49 to get a $200 initial credit line
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Discover it® Secured Credit Card Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200. That means a $200 deposit for a $200 credit line. Or a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit, and the security deposit equals your credit limit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 7 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.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
25.24% Variable APR
$0
New/Rebuilding

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

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is the only secured card we know of that offers 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 Platinum Secured Credit Card, 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.

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.

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.

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 major credit bureau — 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.

How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?

There is no fixed number of credit cards a person should or shouldn’t have, but having at least one is good for building credit. The average American has four credit cards.

You can get a rewards card and earn cash back or points on eligible net purchases or a card with low ongoing APR if you tend to carry a balance.

After you’ve had your card for a while and are comfortable using credit, you can consider applying for another card to help maximize your rewards earning potential or take advantage of 0% APR deals when your credit score is in the good to excellent range.

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.

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