The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Friday, April 12, 2024

12 Best Credit Cards for Building Credit (April 2024)

Cards For Building Credit
Ashley Fricker

Written by: Ashley Fricker

Ashley Fricker
Ashley Fricker

Ashley Fricker has more than a decade of experience as a finance contributor and editor, and has specialized in the credit card industry since 2015. Her credit card commentary is featured on national media outlets that include CNBC, MarketWatch, Investopedia, and Reader's Digest, among many others. She has worked closely with the world’s largest banks and financial institutions, up-and-coming fintech companies, and press and news outlets to curate comprehensive content and media. Ashley holds a bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism from Florida Atlantic University.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. 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 journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

Finding the right cards for building credit is a crucial step on the journey to establishing, or re-establishing, good credit. People looking to build credit are starting their credit journey for the first time, while others may be resuming a journey derailed by a financial mistake (or three). Either way, building — or rebuilding — a positive credit history can have substantial benefits for your financial future.

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

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

Students | No/Limited Credit | Bad Credit | Secured

Best “Student” Cards for Building Credit

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

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

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match for all new cardmembers – 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 cash back 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 you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically.
  • Redeem your rewards for cash at any time.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • Discover could help you reduce exposure of your personal information online by helping you remove it from select people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the mobile app.
  • 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 18.24% - 27.24% applies.
  • Terms and conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
18.24% - 27.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Early Spend Bonus: Earn $50 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Earn 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats, plus complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® Student Chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match for all new cardmembers – 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 cash back into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your rewards for cash at any time.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • Discover could help you reduce exposure of your personal information online by helping you remove it from select people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the mobile app.
  • 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 18.24% - 27.24% applies.
  • Terms and conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
18.24% - 27.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

+See More Cards for Students

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

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

Best “No/Limited Credit” Cards for Building Credit

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

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

Secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • No credit check to apply
  • Adjustable credit limit based on what you transfer from your Chime Checking account to the secured account
  • No interest* or annual fees
  • Chime Checking Account and qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more required to apply. See official application, terms, and details link below.
  • The secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Card is issued by Stride Bank, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted.
  • *Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply. See here for details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
None

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • 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
30.74% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Early Spend Bonus: Earn $50 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Earn 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats, plus complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+See More Cards for No/Limited Credit

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

Best “Bad Credit” Cards for Building Credit

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

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

Secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • No credit check to apply
  • Adjustable credit limit based on what you transfer from your Chime Checking account to the secured account
  • No interest* or annual fees
  • Chime Checking Account and qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more required to apply. See official application, terms, and details link below.
  • The secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Card is issued by Stride Bank, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted.
  • *Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply. See here for details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
None
FIT™ Platinum Mastercard® Review

at Continental Finance'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • $400 credit limit doubles to $800! (Simply make your first 6 monthly minimum payments on time)
  • All credit types welcome to apply
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • Initial Credit Limit of $400.00 (Subject to available credit)
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Use your card at locations everywhere Mastercard® is accepted
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
29.99%
$99
Fair/Poor/Bad

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 1% cash back rewards^^ on payments made to your Revvi Credit Card
  • Perfect credit not required
  • $300 credit limit (subject to available credit)
  • Checking account required
  • Opportunity to request credit limit increase after twelve months, fee applies
  • *See Rates, Fees, Costs & Limitations for complete offer details
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
35.99%
$75.00 1st year, $48.00 after
Fair

+See More Cards for Bad Credit

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

Chart Showing Negative Account Credit Report Lifespan

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

Best “Secured” Cards for Building Credit

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

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

Secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • No credit check to apply
  • Adjustable credit limit based on what you transfer from your Chime Checking account to the secured account
  • No interest* or annual fees
  • Chime Checking Account and qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more required to apply. See official application, terms, and details link below.
  • The secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Card is issued by Stride Bank, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted.
  • *Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply. See here for details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
None
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card Review

at Capital Bank N.A.'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • New feature! Earn up to 10% cash back* on everyday purchases
  • No credit check to apply. Zero credit risk to apply!
  • Looking to build or rebuild your credit? 2 out of 3 OpenSky cardholders increase their credit score by an average of 41 points in just 3 months
  • Get free monthly access to your FICO score in our mobile application
  • Build your credit history across 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
  • Add to your mobile wallet and make purchases using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay
  • Fund your card with a low $200 refundable security deposit to get a $200 credit line
  • Apply in less than 5 minutes with our mobile first application
  • Choose the due date that fits your schedule with flexible payment dates
  • Fund your security deposit over 60 days with the option to make partial payments
  • Over 1.4 Million Cardholders Have Used OpenSky Secured Credit Card To Improve Their Credit
  • *See Rewards Terms and Conditions for more information
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
25.64% (variable)
$35
Poor
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 history.
  • Your secured credit card requires a refundable security deposit, and your credit line will equal your deposit amount, starting at $200. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • 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, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Discover could help you reduce exposure of your personal information online by helping you remove it from select people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the mobile app.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites. Activate for free.
  • Terms and conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
28.24% Variable APR
$0
New/Rebuilding

+See More Secured Cards

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

Chart Comparing Unsecured, Secured, and Prepaid Credit Cards

You should also note that secured credit cards won’t keep your deposit forever. Your full deposit will be returned to you when you close your account, so long as your account is in good standing. If you have an outstanding balance when you close your account, you’ll need to pay your balance in full to recover your deposit.

If at any time, you default on your secured credit card balance, the issuer will close your account and use your deposit to cover what you owe. If you owe more in balance and fees than your deposit can cover, you’ll be required to pay the difference.

In some cases, a secured credit card issuer may automatically upgrade you to an unsecured credit card and return your deposit after 12 to 24 months of responsible use and credit improvement. Not all secured cards offer upgrades, so be sure to research your chosen card carefully before applying.

You Can Benefit From Establishing Credit Early

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

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

Advertiser Disclosure

CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation for referrals for many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across CardRates.com (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.