The Best First-Time Credit Cards of 2019

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Finding a good first credit card can be frustrating, given most credit cards require some sort of credit history to qualify. The good news is there’s a small collection of products designed just for people new to credit. Each card below has minimal credit requirements (if any at all) and gives cardholders regular access to a free credit score, in addition to stand-out offerings like rewards, few costs, or a low APR.

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Discover it® Secured

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Card Cards
4.6
Discover it® Secured
Full Review
Next Steps
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 24.99% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee
Minimum Deposit to Activate $200
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes

Why We Chose This Card

A secured credit card is often your best option when getting your first credit card. And as far as first-time credit cards go, this is also the best secured card, best for rewards, best for learning about credit, and the card with the fewest fees. You can get the Discover it Secured card with a relatively low deposit, and after eight months of on-time payments, Discover may consider your account for an upgrade to an unsecured card (meaning you’ll get your deposit back).

Best for Students

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Card Cards
4.2
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Full Review
Next Steps
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.96% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.
Foreign transaction fee 0%

Why We Chose This Card

One of the best things about student credit cards is they give first-timers a chance to use credit cards with rewards without having to put down a deposit. This is an unsecured card with a simple rewards structure, plus incentives to build good habits. Every month you pay your bill on time, Capital One gives you a slightly higher rewards-earning rate (1.25% cash back instead of 1%), and after making your first five monthly payments on time, you could receive a credit limit increase.

Best Unsecured Card

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Card Cards
3.9
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Full Review
Next Steps
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.96% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee

Why We Chose This Card

This no-frills card is a great option for people who don’t want to have to put down a deposit for their first credit card. If you make your first five monthly payments on time, Capital One may increase your credit limit, which can help you improve your credit score (as long as you use as little of your available credit as possible). As long as you don’t carry a balance, this is a simple, low-cost card perfect for establishing a strong credit profile.

Lowest APR

SKYPASS Visa® Secured Card

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Card Cards
4.8
SKYPASS Visa® Secured Card
Full Review
Next Steps
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $50
Minimum Deposit to Activate $300
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes
Pay deposit in installments No

Why We Chose This Card

While this is the only secured credit card that allows you to earn airline miles, that’s not its only appeal—the relatively low APR stands out, too. While 18.24% is a low rate compared to other products available to people getting their first credit card, carrying a balance on this card can get expensive. If you want a credit card on hand in case of emergencies, this is your best bet for minimizing interest costs. Keep in mind this card also has an annual fee, so make sure the rewards make sense for you before applying.

Find Your Credit Card Match

When it's your goal to build credit, we believe it's important to seek out credit cards with low fees and features that help you improve your credit score, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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    Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
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    580 669
    670 739
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What Makes a Starter Card Different Than a Typical Card?

At its core, a “first” credit card functions the same way any other credit card does: Using your card, you borrow a financial institution’s money to make purchases, and after several weeks, you must repay a portion of what you borrowed. Any remaining amount accrues interest at the card’s annual percentage rate (APR) until you pay it off. You can avoid interest charges by paying your bill in full each time it comes due.

But there are a few common qualities of credit cards designed for first-timers:

  • Low credit limits
  • High interest rates
  • Limited (if any) rewards
  • Upfront fees or deposits

These features account for the fact that the company backing the card is taking a risk by extending credit to someone with no track record of managing credit responsibly.

Should You Get a Credit Card?

Credit cards offer a variety of advantages and drawbacks, and you should consider both before applying.

Reasons to Get a Credit Card

  • Ability to establish and build credit

  • Potential to earn rewards

  • Promotional financing for large purchases

  • Access to emergency funds

  • Good consumer protection

Reasons to Not Get a Credit Card

  • High interest rates

  • Expensive fees

  • Potential to accrue debt

  • Temptation to spend beyond your means

Why Building Credit Is So Important 

Despite the potential risks, using a credit card can be the easiest, least expensive way to build good credit. Considering that establishing a solid credit history takes years, you need to start using credit well before you want to do something like buy a home or finance a new car. Without good credit, you may not qualify for the loan you need, or if you do, it may be much more expensive than you’d like it to be.  

How to Start Building Credit

Credit scores have five main components: history of making credit payments, amount of debt, length of credit history, kinds of credit, and history of requesting credit. Building a good credit score requires paying attention to each one.

Habits That Help You Build Credit

  • Pay your credit card bill on time, every time.
  • Use as little of your available credit limit as possible.
  • Keep your first credit card open, provided it doesn't charge an annual fee.
  • Show you can responsibly use revolving credit (aka a credit card). The other kind of credit is installment credit, such as a mortgage or auto loan.
  • Minimize the number of times you apply for new credit.

How to Get a Credit Card With No Credit History

Look for credit cards that advertise that they accept people new to credit or building credit. Such products generally include store credit cards, secured credit cards, and student credit cards, but there are some unsecured cards designed for people with no credit, like the Capital One Platinum card. 

You can also consider asking someone to co-sign your credit card application, or ask a family member to add you as an authorized user on their credit card. Both strategies carry risks (mostly for the co-signer or primary accountholder), but they may give you access to cards with more features.

How to Pick the Right First Credit Card

Choosing your first credit card depends entirely on what you want out of the card.

  • If you want to keep it simple ...
    Look for a card with no annual fee and no rewards.
  • If you want to make sure you can cover your needs if you’re hit with an unexpected expense ...
    Apply for a card with a low APR. (But focus on building your emergency fund so you don’t have to go into debt.)
  • If you want to earn rewards while building your credit ...
    Check out secured or student cards, because they tend to have more generous benefits than entry-level unsecured cards.

At What Age Can You Get a Credit Card?

The CARD Act of 2009 restricted credit card marketing to young adults because of the industry’s history of incentivizing college students to sign up for credit cards they didn’t understand and weren’t equipped to manage. While you can qualify for a credit card when you’re 18, you must prove you have independent income capable of supporting a credit card payment if you’re younger than 21.

Tips For Using Your First Credit Card

Don’t underestimate the risks that come with using a credit card for the first time. To build good credit and avoid debt from the very beginning, consider following these tips:

  • Set calendar reminders for paying your bill
  • Use a budgeting app or spreadsheet to make sure you don’t overspend
  • Check your credit score regularly to see how your credit card use affects your score
  • Redeem your rewards to reduce your credit card bill or save on everyday expenses

Methodology

At Jacara, it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We start by filtering our database of more than 200 cards for products that accept applicants with no credit, bad credit, or fair credit (300-579 or 580-669 on the FICO 8 scale of 300 to 850.)

What We Score

Annual fee, regular APR, and rewards are the most important things people consider when choosing a credit card, so we weigh those features heavily. And for this list of cards, we also look closely at features like having access to a free credit score and the potential to upgrade from a secured card to an unsecured card. For full details on how we evaluate credit card attributes, check out our full methodology.