I'm 19 and in the military, and I want to start building credit. Which credit card would be best?

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Q: I want to start building credit by charging my phone, cable, and Internet bill to a rewards credit card. Which credit card would be best? Also, I'm 19 and in the military.

A: First, thanks for everything you're doing to protect us here at home. It's easy to focus on things like credit scores and rewards points when we've got folks like you worrying about the heavy stuff. You deserve a credit card that gives you a little extra help building a financial future.

Because of your age, you'll need a little extra help to get a credit card in your own name. Under the Credit CARD Act, which became law in 2010, banks and credit unions can only offer credit cards to applicants under the age of 21 who provide a co-signer or other proof that they can repay their potential debt from savings or income.

Your active duty status on its own may not be enough to convince a mainstream lender to work with you, so I'll suggest a few organizations that understand how to cater to situations like yours.

  • Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Now one of the largest credit unions by asset size, this lender keeps coming up with astonishing ways to serve its members. Your military status qualifies you to set up a "share account," a savings account that can be your home base for a variety of other services. Along with checking accounts that waive fees for active duty personnel, you may qualify for a PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card with no foreign transaction fee or annual fee.

  • Navy Federal Credit Union. Like PenFed, Navy FCU caters to military professionals from all branches of service. This credit union also offers one of the only secured credit cards on the market with rewards points: the nRewards Secured card. If you can afford to leave a $500 deposit in a linked savings account, your co-signer will never have to worry about being stuck with your debt. Plus, after two years, you'll be able to qualify for your own card from Navy FCU's lineup.

  • Chase Military. After facing criticism for its handling of some military personnel accounts during the Iraq War, JPMorgan Chase made a very public overhaul of its military customer service team. Today, this dedicated unit within Chase's retail banking operation offers service-specific credit cards with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, plus waivers of any interest and service charges accrued during active deployment.

If you're mainly trying to boost your credit score by charging and paying a routine monthly bill, you may not need more than a secured credit card right now. However, I'll encourage you to speak with customer service representatives from any of these companies, who can help you set up a comprehensive plan for all of your finances, especially if your career takes you overseas.


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