“How Do I Get a Credit Card?” Answered in 3 Easy Steps

“How Do I Get a Credit Card?” Answered in 3 Easy Steps

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Posted: May 24, 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.

Despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of millions of credit cards in the world, some cards still stand out from the rest. These ultra-exclusive credit cards are for high rollers with high limits — and they want you to know it. Plastic is for plebeians; instead, these puppies are made of precious metals like titanium, palladium, and gold. Sadly, obtaining many of these metallurgic masterpieces requires hitting a six-digit monthly spending requirement — or even receiving a personal invitation directly from the issuer.

Although diamond-studded decadence isn’t attainable for most of us, today’s credit card market still has plenty to offer the discerning credit consumer, including a few metal-manufactured options realistically attainable for the masses. Indeed, the typical credit card doesn’t require reaching lofty limits. You really only need to complete three simple steps.

1. Find | 2. Apply | 3. Activate

1. Find the Right Card

For many people, the first step to getting a credit card will likely be the most difficult: finding the right card. If you think ordering a coffee comes with too many decisions, just wait until you try to pick the perfect credit card from the crowd. Simply looking at the top 10 issuers will reveal literally dozens of credit card options, and that’s not including the credit cards offered by local banks and community credit unions.

So, how do you narrow it down and actually make a choice? By figuring out exactly what you want — and need — out of your credit card. If you simply need a way to safely and conveniently make purchases, a basic cash back rewards card may be the right fit. For jet-setters (or those who would like to be) looking to earn free flights or hotel stays, a quality travel rewards card will likely fit the bill.

Balance Transfers | Cash Back | Rewards Points | Travel Rewards | Students | Businesses

Best “Balance Transfer” Credit Cards

Although you can’t technically pay one credit card with another, a balance transfer can be the next best thing. The goal of a successful balance transfer is to move your credit card debt from a card with a higher APR to one with a lower APR, thus saving you money each month on interest fees and making it easier (and faster) to pay down your debt.

The best credit cards for balance transfers will be those that offer the lowest APRs for transferred balances. While this may mean a low ongoing APR, those with good to excellent credit can find quality introductory balance transfer offers that provide a 0% APR on qualifying balances for the length of the promotional period. Our top-rated offers provide a 0% APR on balance transfers for up to 18 months.

Discover it® Balance Transfer Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs 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.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • 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 6 months
0% for 18 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 16.90%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
  • 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 Platinum Visa® Card
  • Free access to your FICO® Credit Score with Wells Fargo Online®
  • Zero Liability protection for promptly reported unauthorized transactions
  • Convenient tools to help create a budget and manage your spending with My Money Map
  • $0 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 18 months
0% for 18 months
16.90%-26.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
0% BALANCE TRANSFER RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • 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 for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

+See More Cards for Balance Transfers

Best “Cash Back” Credit Cards

Cash back rewards are the most straightforward of credit card rewards, providing simple redemption options that typically include a statement credit or a deposit into a qualifying bank account. Most cash back rewards are earned as a percentage of your purchases, with some programs offering higher cash back rates for purchases in specified bonus categories.

Choosing the right cash back card for you will come down to determining the areas in which you spend the most money, then finding the card that rewards you at the highest rate for those purchases. For example, if your family spends a lot of money on groceries each month, a card that offers bonus cash back on grocery purchases may be most lucrative. Our favorite cash back cards also have valuable signup bonuses.

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • 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 for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

CASH BACK 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 Android 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, then a 14.74%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.74%-26.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, 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
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

+See More Cards for Cash Back

Best “Points” Credit Cards

Rewards points are often the most versatile type of credit card rewards, as the redemption options often include cash back, travel expenses, merchandise, and gift cards. Some points programs also allow you to transfer rewards points to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs where they can be combined with your existing frequent flyer or hotel rewards points.

Selecting the best points credit card will come down to how you earn the points — and how you spend them. While you’ll want to choose a card that offers higher earnings rates for the purchases you make most often, you should also make sure the available redemption options are things you’ll really use. Our list of points rewards credit cards include several that provide bonus points for everyday purchases like gas and dining.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Excellent Credit
POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, 2% on groceries and 1% on all other purchases
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.99%-24.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.99%-24.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.99% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

POINTS & GIFTS RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

+See More Rewards Points Credit Cards

Best “Travel Rewards” Credit Cards

Although travel rewards credit cards are obviously most appealing to consumers who travel frequently, these points and miles cards can also be a great way for more grounded cardholders to make that dream vacation an affordable reality. Not only do most travel cards allow you to earn unlimited points or miles for every purchase, many also offer bonus rewards for purchases in certain categories.

Picking a travel rewards card will require looking at more than just how many points or miles you can earn per dollar spent. You’ll also want to determine at which airlines or hotels you can use those rewards, as some cards will have limited partners. If you plan to travel abroad, also look for cards without foreign transaction fees, like many of our expert-rated travel rewards cards.

AIR MILES 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
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with 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
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Excellent Credit
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

+See More Cards for Travel Rewards

Best “Student” Credit Cards

While students under the age of 21 will need a qualified cosigner or independent income to obtain a credit card, simply meeting the age, cosigner, or income requirements won’t guarantee you a card. If, like most students, you have a limited credit history, you’ll likely have the best chances of getting a credit card if you choose a student credit card from an understanding issuer.

Of course, student credit cards provide more perks than merely being easier to obtain with a limited credit history. You can find a number of quality student cards with a low (or no) annual fee, as well as those that offer solid purchase rewards. Some cards even offer bonus rewards for maintaining a good GPA. Plus, all of our favorite student credit cards will let you check for pre-qualification offers before you apply.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 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
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 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
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
24.74% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+See More Cards for Students

Best “Business” Credit Cards

Whoever coined the phrase, “The best things in life are free,” has obviously never tried to run a business. As any business owner can likely tell you, every business is just plain lousy with expenses — even the “best” ones. And that extends into every aspect of the company, including its financing.

While many good business credit cards can be had without an annual fee, the best business cards typically aren’t free (not after the first year, at least). But don’t be discouraged by a little fee; select the business credit card that best fits your company’s spending habits, and that fee may pay for itself in purchase rewards. See options for cash back or travel rewards on our list of expert-rated business cards.

BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Named "Best Rewards Card for Small Business Owners" by Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2017
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 12 months
14.74% - 20.74% Variable
$0
Excellent Credit
BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases–with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more – your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 22.49% Variable
$95
Excellent Credit
BUSINESS CARD RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earning unlimited 1.5% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Plus, a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.49% - 22.49% variable APR after that
  • No annual fee
  • Use Spark Cash Select across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 9 months
N/A
14.49% - 22.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+See More Cards for Businesses

2. Fill Out the Application

Once you’ve decided on the card you’d like to pursue, it’s time to fill out the application. In the era of online applications, this process can be ridiculously simple — and remarkably quick. Typically asking no more than a couple dozen questions about your personal details, income, and employment, most credit card applications can be completed in less than five minutes.

Thanks to the proficiency of the online application algorithms used by most issuers, you’ll likely receive a response to your online application within minutes of submitting it, particularly if you’re approved. In some situations, however, the algorithm doesn’t have the necessary information to make a decision, such as when one or more aspects of your application may be on the borderline of acceptable.

If you get a “pending” response to your application, you’ll typically receive a final decision in the mail within a few weeks. You should also receive correspondence if your application is rejected that will explain the reason(s) you were not approved. In most cases, your credit score is likely the culprit, as it plays the largest role in credit card approvals.

Depending on the reason your application was rejected, you may have some success with credit card reconsideration, which involves calling the issuer and having a human re-evaluate your application. Most often, however, you are probably better off to choose a different card that better suits the credit score range into which you fall, improving your chances of approval.

Good Credit | Fair Credit | Bad Credit | No/Limited Credit

Best Cards for “Good” Credit

With good credit, the chances of being turned down simply due to your credit score are generally low, unless you’re applying for a particularly picky card or have a credit history less than two years old. Being denied for too many recent credit applications, however, is a frequent issue faced by cardholders regardless of their credit, such as victims of Chase’s infamous “5/24 Rule.”

For many consumers, the best way around these types of denials is to simply choose a card from a different issuer, perhaps one with less stringent requirements. Happily, good-credit applicants are always in demand, and you can choose from a huge variety of benefit-rich credit card options. Many of our top cards for good credit not only offer solid rewards, they do so with low annual fees and competitive APRs.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, 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
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • 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 for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good
GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

+See More Cards for Good Credit

Best Cards for “Fair” Credit

Located somewhere in credit card limbo between those who easily qualify for prime credit cards, and those who are relegated to the subprime credit card market, fair-credit consumers are fairly likely to be rejected due to a troubled — or very limited — credit history. This can be especially true when applying for the most lucrative rewards cards, as they typically prefer good-credit applicants.

One of the easiest ways to improve your approval chances when you have fair credit is to choose a card specifically designed for credit-builders. While they may have higher annual fees or lower (or nonexistent) rewards rates, these “starter” cards can be a great way to build your credit score, making those premium cards a less-distant reality. Start comparing fair-credit card options with our top-rated picks.

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
24.74% (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
24.74% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Find out if you Pre-Qualify without harming your credit score
  • Eligible purchases earn 1% cash back rewards automatically, terms apply
  • Get a credit line between $300 and $3,000 based on your credit history
  • Looking for more credit? Get credit line increase opportunities, a fee may apply
  • Choose your monthly payment due date for added convenience, terms apply
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 25.49% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

+See More Cards for Fair Credit

Best Cards for “Bad” Credit

Those with bad credit are the most likely to be turned down for a big-bank prime credit card solely due to their potential credit risk. In general, having a bad credit score automatically narrows the options down to the subprime unsecured credit card market or a secured credit card that will require an initial deposit.

Generally, secured credit cards tend to have lower fees and often offer higher rewards rates, but the initial deposit requirement can make potential applicants think twice. When weighing your options, keep in mind that secured credit card deposits are fully refundable, while unsecured credit cards fees are not. Our list of cards for bad credit include both card types so you can see the differences.

Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
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
  • Take advantage of low monthly payments if you apply and are accepted for a Fingerhut Credit Account issued by WebBank, who determines eligibility and qualifications for the terms of credit
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Issuers Website
$0
Poor Credit
BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
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
First PREMIER® Bank Mastercard® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.5
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Checking account required
  • Application response in 30 seconds
  • Know the score! Quarterly FICO score on your monthly billing statements
  • All credit types welcome to apply
  • Your First PREMIER Bank credit card activity is reported to the Consumer Reporting Agencies each month. Making your payment on time and keeping your balances low relative to the credit limit will result in positive marks on your credit report
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See issuer website
See issuer website
Bad Credit

+See More Cards for Bad Credit

Best Cards for “No/Limited” Credit

While those with poor credit will generally have the most difficult time getting approved for a credit card, getting a card with no or limited credit won’t exactly be a piece of cake. In the absence of an established credit history to prove you can repay your debts, many issuers will simply assume you can’t and reject you accordingly.

The key to finding credit card approval with a limited credit history is to select a card that’s actually intended to be used to build credit. A variety of major card issuers offer starter cards that can be obtained even without a long credit history, some of which even let you earn rewards on your purchases. Start your search with our expert-rated options below.

NO/LIMITED 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
24.74% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 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
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.6
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 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

+See More Cards for No/Limited Credit

3. Activate & Start Using Your Card

After you’ve been approved for a new credit card, you’ll need to wait several days — and sometimes several weeks — for your card to arrive in the mail. Before you can start swiping (or chipping, as the case may be), the card will need to be activated. This can typically be done online or through the automated phone number provided on your new card.

Congratulations, you’re a fully fledged credit cardholder. Time to get spending, right? Well, not necessarily. Some aspects of credit card usage may need to be addressed shortly after you get your new card, including paying any annual fees, setting up a cash advance PIN, and meeting the requirements for any available signup bonuses.

Annual Fees | Cash Advances | Signup Bonuses

Pay Your Annual Fee Right Away

Often charged by credit card issuers to help cover the cost of a card’s perks and rewards, annual fees can range from a reasonable $25 up to a staggering $2,000. And unless your card has a deal that waives the first-year’s fee, you’ll be charged that first annual fee as soon as you open your account, decreasing your initial available credit before you even activate.

In some cases, these annual fees can be worth paying — such as when the rewards will pay for the fee — but they’re hardly necessary for everyone. Given the glut of credit card options in the current marketplace, many quality cards are available sans-annual-fee, including a wide range of rewards cards like those on our list below.

BEST OVERALL RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good
Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, 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
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
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 Android 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, then a 14.74%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.74%-26.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

+See More Cards with No Annual Fee

Set Up Your Cash Advance PIN

Another thing you’ll want to consider after activating your card is whether you’ll be likely to need a credit card cash advance, which allows you to use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM or bank. If you think you may want to use your card for a cash advance at some point, you’ll need to set up a cash advance PIN with your issuer. This can typically be done over the phone.

Credit card cash advances should only be used if absolutely necessary, as they can be quite expensive. They are typically charged a higher APR than other types of transactions — and there’s no interest-free grace period, so that interest starts accumulating right away. Plus, most cards charge a cash advance fee ranging from 3% to 5% of the advance amount. The cards below have some of the lower cash advance fees or APRs available from big banks.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, 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.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
EXPERT'S RATING
★★★★★
4.9
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
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good
BankAmericard 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
  • $150 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)
14.49% to 24.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

+See More Cards for Cash Advances

Earning the Signup Bonus

While credit card signup bonuses aren’t something you need to necessarily address right after you activate your new card, signup bonuses do typically come with a time limit that expires within a few months (often 90 days) of opening your account. Once that time limit passes, you’ll no longer be eligible to earn that particular signup bonus.

So, depending on the size of the spending requirement — and the amount you normally purchase with your card — you may need to start using the card right away to meet the requirement before the offer expires. Since these bonuses can easily be worth hundreds of dollars, they’re often the driving (and deciding) factor for many cardholders. Check out some of the sweet signup bonuses offered by our picks below.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, 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
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
BEST OVERALL RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Excellent Credit
BEST OVERALL RATING
★★★★★
4.9
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
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with 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
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

+See More Cards with Signup Bonuses

Getting a Credit Card is Only Half the Battle

People like luxury. That’s evident in the abundance of vehicles with six-figure price tags zooming along the roads — and the gem-studded credit cards in the drivers’ pockets. And just like you’ll need to work hard to get that barely-street-legal sports car, you’ll need to jump through plenty of hoops to get your hands on a gold-plated payment card.

Lucky for the rest of us, you can still get a well-appointed, bells-and-whistles vehicle without taking on a second mortgage — and you can also get a hefty half-ounce metal credit card without needing an invitation. In fact, getting the credit card is often the easy part for many consumers; it’s using that card wisely that can be a challenge.

Once you have your shiny new card (whatever it’s made of), you need to follow the two basic rules of responsible credit card use. The first — and most important — is to always make at least your minimum required payment before the due date each billing cycle. Late payments can kill credit scores.

Secondly, try to avoid carrying a balance on your credit card from month to month. Unless you have some sort of 0% APR offer active on your account, you will be charged interest fees on any balance that remains on your card after the end of the grace period (the time between when you make the charge and when the bill for that charge is due).

And third, never max out a credit card unless you can pay it back before the end of the billing cycle (or shortly thereafter). Not only does carrying a large balance from month to month often mean interest fees, it also results in a high utilization rate being reported to the credit agencies. (Your utilization rate is the ratio of how much debt you’re carrying over how much credit is available.)