A starter card can help you get accustomed to purchasing on credit and paying off balances each month while building your credit score to a level at which you’re more likely to be approved for more premium credit cards and loan rates.
If you’re just starting out with credit, your selection of attainable cards may be limited, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great credit cards that you’re likely to get approval for even with little or no credit history.
Best starter credit cards
- Best for cash back: Discover it® Secured
- Best for no credit check: OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
- Best for flat cash back rates: Petal® Visa® Credit Card
- Best for credit building: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
- Best for students: Discover it® Student Cash Back
Since the Discover it Secured is a secured credit card, you will have to put down a refundable deposit that acts as your card’s credit limit — the minimum for this card is $200 and maximum is $2,500. After 8 months of steady payments though, Discover will evaluate your history to determine if you qualify to upgrade to an unsecured card.
This card’s APR is a high 24.49 percent variable, though it does charge no annual fee. You’ll want to pay your balances in full each month so those high interest charges don’t outpace your earnings from the card’s biggest draw: its rewards structure.
Rewards: You can earn 2 percent cash back on your restaurant and gas station spending (up to $1,000 combined per quarter, then 1 percent) and 1 percent on everything else. Plus, one of the best perks of this card is that Discover matches your total cash back earnings at the end of your first year.
Why it’s the best starter credit card for cash back:
If you’re brand new to the world of credit, the Discover it Secured card is a great way to begin building credit habits while also earning a bit of cash back. And since Discover begins evaluating your account after just 8 months of on-time payments, you can enjoy the freedom to quickly move on to another unsecured Discover card with even more cash back earning potential if you choose.
The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card is another secured option for building credit; its credit limit is also determined by your deposit, which can range from $200 up to $3,000. The variable APR is a decent 18.99 percent.
Be warned: this card does carry an annual fee of $35, which is a steep price to pay for a secured card with no rewards structure.
Why it’s the best starter card for no credit check:
This card’s biggest draw is its lack of a credit check upon application, making it a good starter card option for anyone without a credit history.
You can make payments via debit card, check or even Western Union wire or mailed money order if you don’t have access to a checking account. While you use your card, the issuer will report your payments to each of the three credit bureaus, though, so you can begin building a great credit score.
The Petal Visa Credit Card is a new card option, but its flexible rewards, no fee structure and credit-building benefits make it a competitive pick among starter credit cards.
To obtain the Petal Visa card, you don’t need a great credit score. Instead, Petal uses your banking information (which you provide during the application process) to determine your financial situation and creditworthiness and assign your card limit (which may range from $500 to $10,000) and interest rate (which can range from 14.49 to 25.49 percent variable).
Rewards: As a new cardmember, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases. After six on-time monthly payments, that increases to 1.25 percent and after twelve on-time monthly payments you can earn 1.5 percent cash back.
Why it’s the best starter card for flat cash back rates:
The major perk of the Petal card is its tiered rewards structure, which is relatively high for a starter credit card.
But Petal also prioritizes helping cardmembers build great credit, and offers money management and credit-building tools within its app, which can help you put your rewards to good use as you earn them. These tools may be especially useful for anyone just starting out with credit.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a good starter credit card if you want to focus solely on building up your credit history, since it’s relatively easy to attain with average credit and charges no annual fee. But this likely won’t be a card that sticks with you forever.
The downside is that this card doesn’t earn any rewards, unlike several other options on this list. You should also be extra diligent in paying your balances in full each month, since the Capital One Platinum card carries a steep 26.99 percent variable APR.
Why it’s the best starter card for credit building:
Capital One’s Platinum card is an attainable option for anyone with fair credit. And it’s not a secured card, so you don’t have to worry about putting down a deposit upfront.
If you pay your first five payments on time, you can be upgraded to a higher credit limit, which can be useful for keeping your credit utilization low and boosting your credit score even further. If a secured card doesn’t appeal to you and you have a thin credit profile, the Capital One Platinum may be a good place to start.
Like many of Discover’s credit cards, the Discover it Student Cash Back card earns great rewards on rotating categories. Plus, it has no annual fee and a competitive 14.49 percent – 23.49 percent variable APR.
This card is tailored for students and relatively easy to obtain with little credit history, but it’s a starter card with long-term benefits. And since it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, it’s also a solid choice for anyone with travel plans on the horizon. In addition, if you happen to make a late payment, it won’t affect your APR and your first late payment fee (up to $40) is waived.
Rewards: Every quarter, you can enroll to earn 5 percent cash back (up to $1,500 per quarter) on rotating categories, ranging from grocery stores to restaurants, online shopping and more, then 1 percent, plus 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. And like Discover’s Secured card, Discover will match all of your cash back earned at the end of your first year of card ownership.
Why it’s the best starter card for students:
If you’re looking for a starter credit card and you’re also enrolled in school, the Discover it Student Cash Back card can help you earn rewards and build a solid credit history before graduation.
You don’t have to be a student to apply for this card, but you will get the most value from it if you are enrolled in school: students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher can earn a $20 statement credit each school year, up to five years.
How to choose the best starter credit card
A credit card can be especially helpful for students moving away for college or recent graduates living on their own for the first time, as well as anyone with no credit history who is thinking about taking on a mortgage or auto loan in the future.
Your first credit card doesn’t need to offer the most premium travel rewards or the best sign-up bonus. Instead, you should find a card that won’t accumulate unnecessary fees, search for rewards that you can earn on your everyday spending and seek out money management tools your issuer offers that will help you start building a solid credit history, which will help you qualify for more premium cards in the future.
Here are some of the most important factors to consider in a starter credit card:
Credit building tools
When choosing your starter card, make sure your issuer reports payments to the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) so your good habits are reflected in your credit score.
If your issuer also offers money management tools and other online resources, that can be a great way to establish habits that will lead to great credit long-term. Look for resources available through your issuer’s mobile app or access to online tools through your account.
If your first credit card bears several types of hefty fees, it’s likely not the best option.
Look for a card with no annual fee to begin (or a low annual fee if the card’s other details align with your needs), then evaluate things like late payment fees, foreign transaction fees, balance transfer fees and other costs that may be hidden in the fine print of your cardmember agreement.
You should always know your interest rate, or annual percentage rate. Choosing a card with a low APR is smart, but you should be diligent in paying your balances off in full and on time each month so you can keep yourself from falling into the habit of accumulating debt from the beginning.
Rewards probably aren’t your top consideration with a starter credit card, but they can be a deciding factor in favor of one card over another.
Unless you’re willing to put in time to research redemptions and value for cards that earn points rewards, you may want to stick to a starter card with a simple cash back rewards structure. Go back through your budget or bank statements from the past few months to see which categories you spend in the most, then find a card with rewards that best match your spending. If you don’t find any trends in your spending, a card that offers a flat cash back rewards rate is also a great option.