Best starter credit cards for 2023
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The best credit card for someone just starting out will vary from person to person, but they should all offer the chance to build positive credit habits like paying your bill on time. If you’re looking for the best starter card to begin your credit journey, the first step is to compare your options.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best for beginners
- Rewards: 2 percent back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined spending each quarter (then 1 percent); 1 percent back on other purchases
- Welcome bonus: Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year of card membership
- Annual fee: $0
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a secured credit card, which means you will have to put down a refundable deposit that acts as your card’s credit limit. While putting down a cash deposit may seem less than ideal, secured credit cards are some of the easiest credit cards to get approved for. As a result, secured cards allow you to build credit over time with responsible use when you may not be able to get approved for a better card. Also, note that you’ll get your initial deposit back when you close or upgrade your account in good standing.
This card doesn’t have an annual fee, and you’ll earn 2 percent back on up to $1,000 in combined gas station and restaurant spending each quarter (then 1 percent) and 1 percent back on other purchases. Plus, Discover will match all the cash back rewards you earn at the end of your first year.
Why the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is the best starter card for beginners
Some secured credit cards charge annual fees as well as other hidden fees, but the Discover it® Secured Credit Card does not. You won’t even have to pay a late fee on your first late payment (after that, up to $41), and you’ll get a FICO credit score for free on your statement each month. You also have the opportunity to earn rewards (including a minimum of 1 percent back on everything you buy), and you can get started with a deposit as low as $200.
Capital One QuicksilverOne: Best for flat-rate cash back
- Rewards: Unlimited 1.5 percent cask back on all purchases; 5 percent back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Welcome bonus: None
- Annual fee: $39
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is available to consumers with fair credit, which typically means any FICO score between 580 and 669. This could make it the best credit card for starting out if your credit history is minimal and your score is in this range. You get the chance to earn rewards, and you can build credit history with responsible use over time as your credit movements are reported to all three credit bureaus.
This card does charge a $39 annual fee. Still, you’ll also get a surprising number of benefits, including no foreign transaction fees, 24-hour travel assistance services, secondary auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance and extended warranties.
Why the Capital One QuicksilverOne is the best starter card for flat-rate cash back
Once you sign up, you’ll earn a flat 1.5 percent cash back for each dollar you spend. There are no limits to the rewards you can earn, and you can redeem your cash back for a check in the mail, statement credit or gift cards.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card: Best for building credit through responsible use
- Rewards: None
- Welcome bonus: None
- Annual fee: $0
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is not a rewards credit card, so you cannot use it to earn cash back. This card focuses on helping you build credit with responsible use, and it’s available to consumers who have a fair credit score that is lower than average.
We like that this card is easy to qualify for, and the lack of rewards may be a minor downside. If your goal is learning positive credit habits, and you’re worried earning rewards might cause you to overspend, this card is worth considering.
This starter credit card is also unsecured, so you don’t have to put down a cash deposit as collateral.
Why the Capital One Platinum is the best starter card for building credit through responsible use
Capital One states it will automatically consider you for a higher credit limit in as little as six months, which can be useful for keeping your credit utilization low and boosting your credit score even further. That said, you should steer clear of carrying a balance on this card since you’ll pay a high variable APR of 29.74 percent.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best for students
- Rewards: Unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases — boosted to 1.25 percent for the month when the card is paid on time; 5 percent back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Welcome bonus: None
- Annual fee: $0
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One lets you earn a minimum of 1 percent back for each dollar you spend, although your rewards will tick up to 1.25 percent if you pay your bill on time each month. This card doesn’t charge an annual fee.
While your credit limit might start on the lower end, Capital One promises to see if you’re eligible for a credit line increase after the first six months. Cardholders also get perks like 24-hour customer service and no foreign transaction fees.
Why the Journey Student Rewards is the best starter card for students
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is available to credit newcomers and college students with fair credit, so it’s easy for someone to qualify for if their credit score isn’t in the best shape. This student credit card is a good option for those who want to build credit slowly with responsible use while earning rewards, and that’s especially true since there’s no annual fee.
OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card: Best for no credit check
- Rewards: None
- Welcome bonus: None
- Annual fee: $35
The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card is another secured credit card, meaning you must put down a cash deposit to start. However, your credit movements will be reported to the three credit bureaus, so this card gives you a chance to prove your creditworthiness as you responsibly use credit and pay your bill on time.
However, you should be warned that this card does carry an annual fee of $35, which is a hard sell since it doesn’t offer rewards.
Why the OpenSky Secured Visa is the best starter card for no credit check
The main draw of this card is that, unlike others on this list, the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card does not require a credit check at all. That makes it a good starter card option for someone without any credit history or a recent bankruptcy. Since this card reports your payments to the three credit bureaus, you can use it to build credit no matter where your credit stands.
What to know before getting a starter credit card
While debit cards are great for convenience, credit cards offer additional consumer protections and help during times of lean cash flow (and are also convenient). When you use a credit card wisely, you avoid the excess fees often associated with these benefits.
For example, paying the balance in full each month and on time as often as possible means you avoid interest charges, late fees or other charges. When used responsibly, proper management of a credit card can help improve your credit score, which is another benefit that sets it apart from a debit card.
How to choose the right starter credit card for you
When it comes to choosing your first credit card, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. The right credit card should match your budget, spending habits and financial goals. Here are some steps you should take as you begin your search.
Check your credit score
Before you apply for a starter credit card, it can help to know where you stand regarding your credit. We suggest checking your credit score online. That way, you can understand if your credit score is at least in the fair range, which can help you gauge if you need to apply for a secured credit card. You may also find your credit score is better than you thought, but you’ll never know unless you check.
Decide on rewards
If you’re interested in starter credit cards that offer rewards, spend some time comparing rewards programs and the redemption options available. Some starter credit cards with rewards only let you redeem for a statement credit, yet many of the best rewards credit cards let you redeem points for gift cards, travel, merchandise and more.
Compare cardholder benefits
Also, check for cardholder perks like travel insurance, purchase protection against damage or theft and extended warranties. Many starter credit cards also come with valuable credit-building tools that can be useful when starting out. For example, some cards let you see your credit score for free each month and others have credit-tracking tools that help you monitor your progress over time.
Look at costs and fees
As you compare starter credit cards, you should also keep an eye out for annual fees and other fees you might be charged to maintain your account. Another thing to consider is the role that budgeting plays in maintaining a healthy credit profile. By budgeting to pay your monthly balance in full or at least keep a lower balance and staying within your credit limit, you’ll avoid costly interest charges, late fees and over-the-limit fees.
What you need to qualify for a starter credit card
Once you narrow down your choice for the right starter credit card, you can follow the online prompts for the application process, contact customer service or complete an application by mail. While some approval decisions are immediate, others can take up to 10 business days or longer. Although starter cards may extend credit to those with no or limited credit history, your credit score and income will be factored into the decision.
Another point to note is that your credit score will be impacted by a credit card application. This is referred to as a hard inquiry, and the application is noted on your report for up to two years. While the impact is minimal, applying for too many credit cards can harm your report, so you should limit the number of applications you submit.
The bottom line
A lot of thought goes into choosing your first credit card, and the process can feel overwhelming. As you explore your options, compare the cards featured on this page with other credit cards for no credit history, or try out Bankrate’s CardMatch tool for a more personalized recommendation.
Once you find a credit card that best suits your needs, you’ll be on your way to excellent credit in no time.