The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Wednesday, July 17, 2024

7 Best First Credit Cards, No Credit Needed (Feb. 2024)

First Credit Cards
Lauren Keys

Written by: Lauren Keys

Lauren Keys
Lauren Keys

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.

See full bio »
Advertiser Disclosure

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

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

Indeed, as an initial step to establishing your consumer credit report, obtaining your first credit card is often considered a financial right of passage by many young Americans. And the card issuers are happy to help, offering a variety of options for the credit novice, including everything from cash back rewards to credit-friendly secured cards.

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

Best First Credit Cards with “No Annual Fee”

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

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

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

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
29.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

0.0

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Easy application! Get a credit decision in seconds.
  • Build your credit history – Fingerhut reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • Use your line of credit to shop thousands of items from great brands like Samsung, KitchenAid, and DeWalt
  • Not an access card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Issuers Website
$0
Poor Credit

One of the best things about cards that don’t charge an annual fee is the fact that you can choose to — and afford to — hang on to them indefinitely. This not only helps your credit utilization rate, but it also ensure your burgeoning credit history keeps growing.

The length of your credit history is 15% of your credit score, which includes both the age of your oldest account as well as the average age of all of your accounts.

Chart of FICO High Achievers

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

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

Best First Credit Card with “Cash Back Rewards”

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

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

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

  • 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
  • Enjoy up to 6 months of complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
29.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited

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

Best First Credit Cards for “Students”

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

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

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

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
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

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

Best First “Secured” Credit Cards

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

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

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

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • 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
29.99% (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 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
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

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

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

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

Best First “Prepaid” Credit Cards

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

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

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

Discover® Cashback Debit Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Cashback – Earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month
  • No. Fees. Period. That means you won’t be charged an account fee on our Cashback Debit account.
  • Early Pay – Get your paycheck up to two days early with no charge
  • No Credit Impact - You can apply without affecting your credit score.
  • Fraud Protection - You’re never responsible for unauthorized debit card purchases. If you suspect someone else has used your debit card without your permission, let us know.
  • Member FDIC
  • Fee-free overdraft protection
  • No minimum opening deposit and no minimum balance
  • Add cash into your account at Walmart stores nationwide
  • Cash access at over 60,000 no-fee ATMs nationwide
  • 100% US-based customer service available 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Needed
Chime® Checking Account Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Your Chime Checking Account comes with a Chime Visa® Debit Card, and no monthly fees or maintenance fees.
  • Avoid out-of-network ATM fees and access to 50,000+ fee-free ATMs¹ — more than the top 3 national banks combined!
  • Direct deposits arrive up to 2 days early.²
  • Disclosures: Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services and debit card provided by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC.
  • ¹Out-of-network ATM withdrawal and over the counter advance fees may apply except at MoneyPass ATMs in a 7-Eleven, or any Allpoint or Visa Plus Alliance ATM. Bank ranking and number of ATMs according to U.S. News & World Report® 2023.
  • ²Early access to direct deposit funds depends on the timing of the submission of the payment file from the payer. We generally make these funds available on the day the payment file is received, which may be up to 2 days earlier than the scheduled payment date.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
Not applicable
Brink’s Armored™ Account Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Brink’s knows Security! 24/7 access to a suite of security benefits to help keep your account armored.
  • Get access to over 100,000 Brink’s Money ATMs.
  • Get paid faster than a paper check with direct deposit.
  • Add funds to your Brink’s Armored Account and use Brinks Armored debit card anywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted.
  • Account opening is subject to registration and ID verification. Terms & fees Apply. Deposit Account is established by Pathward®, N.A., Member FDIC.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
Not applicable

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

Tips for Getting & Using Your First Card

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

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

Chart of Authorized User Minimum Ages

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

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

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

Graphic Showing FICO Score Components

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

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

Find the Right Card to Start Your New Credit Adventure

With nearly six decades of predecessors and an ancestry spanning more than 100 years, credit cards today are used by more than 70% of U.S. households to make purchases and have become an integral part of the American economy. Obtaining your first credit card is the first step toward establishing a credit history, and become a financial right of passage, signaling entrance to the real world of consumer credit. And there’s something to be said for putting your hands on your very first credit card and the feeling of financial freedom that comes with it.

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

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