Best first credit cards

Finding the best first credit card doesn't have to be difficult. CardRatings editors offer first-time cardholders options that include cash back rewards, intro 0% APR offers and opportunities to build your credit.
Best credit cards of 2022
author Jennifer Doss
Terms apply; see the online credit card application for full terms and conditions of offers and rewards. Please note: Any balance transfer savings vary depending upon account usage and payment behavior.
20+ years
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5,000+ cardholders
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List of Winners

Whether you've just turned 18 and are looking for an easy way to build your credit, or you're 30 with an established credit history and you're ready to start earning rewards on purchases, the process of choosing your first credit card can be an intimidating one, but with the right information, it doesn't have to be. We have put together our choices for the best first credit cards to help make the process a bit easier.

A credit card, when used properly, is an excellent way to build a thin credit history. A strong history and robust credit score can help you get favorable interest rates and a much greater likelihood of approval, when looking to make big-ticket purchases, such as new cars and homes. On the flip side, the wrong card and poor budgeting habits can quickly put you in a fiscal hole and do significant damage to your credit score.

Wherever you are in your credit journey, our best first credit cards list is a great place to start your research for the best credit card for your needs. Check out some of our favorite cards below, as well as answers to some questions frequently asked by new cardholders.

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CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: No annual fee and bonus rewards in a number of popular bonus categories makes this card a great option for anyone who spends heavily in a variety of categories.
Welcome Bonus
up to $300 Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on purchases during your first year (up to $20,000 spent), for up to $300 cash back
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on purchases during your first year (up to $20,000 spent) for a bonus opportunity worth up to $300. In addition, you get 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (then, RegAPR).

The Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% back at drugstores and restaurants and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. There is no limit to the rewards you can accumulate and you can redeem for cash at any time. Rewards accumulate as Chase Ultimate Rewards® so you can also redeem for travel through the Chase portal.

Annual Fee: AnnualFees

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • You probably don't want anything complicated for your first credit card so a rewards program with no rotating categories is likely a good thing.
  • The bonus opportunity is worth up to $300 cash back – earn 1.5% more on every purchase during your first year, up to $20,000 spent.
  • You can save some money on interest with an introductory 0% APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers (then, RegAPR). This is a great offer if you have a large upcoming purchase that you'll need extra time to pay off.

CONS:

  • There are a number of lucrative rewards bonus categories that earn more than the base rate, but if they don't fit your regular spending, they won't do you any good. Make sure this card is a good fit for your lifestyle.
  • This isn’t the best card for you to take along on a trip abroad; it charges foreign transaction fees.

Read our full CardName.

Current Scores Past Scores (avg.)
Overall Score 83.4 84.5
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.3 8.4
Customer Service 8.4 8.6
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.4
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.3 9.0
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.0 8.1

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: Let's face it, not everyone has excellent credit, or even good credit. You have an excellent chance to be approved for this card with just fair credit. In addition, a simple, no-frills cash back rewards program offers the opportunity to add to your bank account. And with Credit Steps, you can gain access to a higher credit line in as little as six months.
Rewards
1.5% Earn 1.5% cash back on all your purchases
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus:  There is no bonus with this card.

The Rewards: You can earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. You can redeem your rewards as a statement credit at any time with no minimum.

The Annual Fee: AnnualFees

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • The annual fee is reasonable, especially for a card that requires a fair credit score, which first time cardholders might be starting out with.
  • This card includes extra benefits that are nice to have, like travel accident insurance, roadside assistance and an extended warranty protection plan.
  • Capital One will automatically consider you for a higher credit limit in as little as six months.

CONS:

  • Although reasonable, the AnnualFees annual fee should be considered. There are credit cards available for first-time cardholders that don't charge annual fees.
  • There's no welcome bonus with this card.

Read our full CardName.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 84.0 86.6
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.4 8.3
Customer Service 8.4 8.7
Website/App Usability 8.4 8.9
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.4 9.3
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.4 8.9

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: If you're just starting out, you likely don't have a high credit score. This card is a great card for first-time cardholders with limited credit because there's no annual fee, a generous welcome bonus and you could qualify for transition to an unsecured card in as few as four months.
Welcome Bonus
Sable's Double Cash Bonus Sable will match dollar-for-dollar all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus: Sable will match all the cash back new cardholders earn at the end of your first year. For example, earn $500 cash back and Sable will match that dollar-for-dollar for a bonus worth $1,000 cash back at the end of your first year.

The Rewards: Earn 2% cash back on purchases at Amazon, Uber, Uber Eats, Whole Foods, Netflix, Spotify and Hulu. You also earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The Annual Fee: AnnualFees

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • There's no credit check required for approval. The fewer the hard inquiries on your credit, the better.
  • Many – perhaps most – secured cards require a minimum security deposit of $200 to establish your line of credit. Sable requires at least $10 to establish your credit line, making the bar much lower.
  • You could qualify for transition to an unsecured card in as little as four months.

CONS:

  • This isn't the best option for traveling abroad as it does charge foreign transaction fees.
  • The welcome bonus offer has the potential to be lucrative, but you'll have to wait until the end of your first year to receive the match.

Read our full CardName.

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: With 1% cash back, and a potential for 1.25% cash back on all purchases as well as the opportunity to gain access to a higher credit line in as little as six months, this is a great first card for students. And with no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and easy redemption tools, this card makes a great companion on campus and on the road.
Rewards
up to 1.25% on all purchases Earn 1% cash back on purchases; boost that to 1.25% each month when you pay your bill on time
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus: Cardholders can get access to a higher credit line in as little as six months.

The Rewards: Cardholders earn 1% cash back on every purchase, regardless of the category, and can boost cash back to a total of 1.25% each month just for paying on time.

The Annual Fee: AnnualFees

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • This card includes auto rental insurance if you need to rent a car.
  • You can set the date you want to make your monthly payments.
  • No foreign transaction fees make this a great card for study abroad semesters or spring break adventures.

CONS:

  • Like many first credit cards, this card has a fairly high APR and is not a card you want to carry a balance on. However, you really don't want to carry a balance on any credit card.
  • This card has no welcome bonuses.

Read our full CardName.

Current Scores Past Scores (avg.)
Overall Score 67.9 80.7
Features Satisfaction 6.7 7.9
Customer Service 7.2 8.1
Website/App Usability 7.2 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 6.8 8.4
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 6.5 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: This cash-back credit card offers a rate of 2% on up to $1,000 per quarter in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants. You'll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. You can stash your rewards until it's time to pay for textbooks, or just use those credits toward a semester's-end splurge.
Welcome Bonus
Cashback Match Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Intro )% APR
6 months on purchases span class="tooltip_icon">ⓘ Enjoy an intro six months 0% APR on purchases (then, RegAPR)
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • You can pay the bill up until midnight on the day it's due.
  • Earn cash back on purchases you likely make quite often. 
  • Take this card on your next trip abroad – it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

CONS:

  • Discover isn't as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard, and so that's always something to consider.
  • This is another card for students so if you're not a student and looking for your first credit card, you'll want to consider one of the other options on this list.

Read our full CardName.

Current Scores Past Scores (avg.)
Overall Score 80.8 83.7
Features Satisfaction 7.9 8.4
Customer Service 8.0 8.3
Website/App Usability 8.0 8.4
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.5 8.7
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.3 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: With no credit check, applying for this card is extremely simple. Your credit limit is set based on your security deposit amount, which protects against falling into debt. Cardholders have access to a wide range of online and e-newsletter financial literacy tools. These useful tools can help you to understand your credit score and manage your debt. In addition, the issuer reports to all three major credit bureaus. So, if you use the card responsibly and pay your bill in a timely fashion, you can get your score trending in a positive direction.
Security Deposit
Minimum of $200
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus: There is no bonus with this card.

The Rewards: There are no rewards with this card.

The Annual Fee: AnnualFees, plus a minimum security deposit of $200.

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • There’s no credit check when you apply so you don't have to worry about where you credit score is starting out.
  • OpenSky provides credit tips and a dedicated credit education page to help you build a positive credit rating.
  • You can add authorized users to the card – with no authorization fee.

CONS:

  • There are no perks or rewards offered with this card.
  • This card charges an annual fee, in addition to a security deposit to establish your line of credit.

Read our full CardName

Current Scores Past Scores (avg.)
Overall Score 66.7 74.9
Features Satisfaction 6.5 7.5
Customer Service 6.5 7.4
Website/App Usability 6.7 7.4
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 7.0 7.9
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.0 7.4

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: Combining a credit builder account with a credit card can fast track your credit building journey (with responsible use, of course). In the case of Self, you can do it without paying a lot of fees or security deposits along the way.
Welcome Bonus
N/A
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

The Bonus: No bonus with this card but you control your credit limit based on how much collateral you put in from your associated Self Credit Builder account.

The Rewards: This card has no rewards program but, because of the way it's structured, payments to your credit builder loan and your credit card will create a mix of account types on your credit report. That's a good thing when you're trying to build credit.

The Annual Fee: AnnualFees. You can qualify for the card after opening a Credit Builder Account and accumulating at least $100 in that account along with making a minimum of three on-time payments.

Credit Score Needed: CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • A secured card without a sky-high security deposit requirement is a rarity; this sets Self apart.
  • There's no credit check required to qualify.
  • Your credit report will reflect both a credit card account and a loan account, which can help move your credit score in the right direction more quickly than only carrying one of those accounts (with responsible use, of course).

CONS:

  • You'll want to try hard not to carry a balance as the ongoing APR rate (RegAPR) is fairly high.
  • This card doesn't offer rewards on purchases.

Read our full CardName.

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

CardName discontinued    Winner

EditorRating
 
foreign_fee AnnualFees
Why We Like It: As a secured credit card, your credit limit is set based on you're deposit, protecting you from falling into debt. However, unlike some secured credit cards, the CardName also offers a nifty first-year bonus and the opportunity to earn rewards. Cardholders also have access to numerous online credit management tools, providing additional means to help repair damaged credit and boost your credit score. Plus, after seven months, Discover will begin reviewing your account and if you qualify, transition you to an unsecured card.
Welcome Bonus
Cashback Match Discover will match all the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardholder
Annual Fee
AnnualFees
Regular APR
RegAPR
Credit Score
CreditScoreNeeded

PROS:

  • This is one of the rare secured credit cards that offers a rewards program.
  • It's also rare to offer a welcome bonus to new cardholders. The match offer is unique and has the potential to pay off big.
  • This card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees so it's safe to travel abroad with.

CONS:

  • While there's no annual fee, the minimum security deposit amount could be difficult to come up with.
  • Rewards are capped for the 2% earning when you hit $1,000 in spending each quarter in those categories combined.

Read our full CardName

Current Scores Past Scores (avg.)
Overall Score 81.6 82.8
Features Satisfaction 7.9 8.2
Customer Service 8.2 8.3
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.3
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 8.7
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.3 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

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FAQ

Building a strong FICO/credit score is foundational to a healthy fiscal adulthood. A credit card, used properly and responsibly, can be an effective tool in building your score. If your credit is damaged, a card can be used to repair it. Making purchases with a credit card offers layers of security that cash does not. Should it be lost or stolen, it can easily be cancelled and replaced. Most credit card companies also offer purchase protection, in case items you buy are stolen or damaged within a certain window of time. Some companies offer car rental insurance (a significant savings) and some offer cell phone protection if you use your card to pay your bill.

While using your card responsibly and paying your bill on time each month will help build good credit, some companies also offer free access to your credit scores and credit management tools you can access online.

Credit cards for beginners are designed to be accessible even to those with little to no credit history. However, they still have the following requirements:

  • You need to be old enough to open an account. Legally, you can get a credit card at age 18, but the Credit CARD Act of 2009 says you must demonstrate you have independent income or else open an account with a co-signer. That restriction ends at age 21, making it the earliest many people can get a first time credit card.
  • You need to have income. Credit card companies want to know you can make payments, and application forms ask about for your income. Income can include money from a job, unemployment benefits, investments, alimony or other funds you may reasonably have access to, such as a spouse's earnings. Income information is used to make approval decisions as well as determine how much credit to extend.

And really, that's it. If you don't have a credit history or have a poor credit score, your choices may be limited, but there are still card options for you, such as secured credit cards and credit cards for limited credit.

You don't need a job to get a credit card, but issuers aren't likely to approve your application if they don't think you can pay off your purchases. Fortunately, they will consider more than job earnings when making their decision. Alimony, unemployment benefits, scholarships and income from another household member, such as a spouse, can be considered.

If you don't have any of these, you could get access to credit in one of the following ways:

  • Finding a co-signer for your application
  • Becoming an authorized user on someone else's account
  • Applying for a secured credit card

Yes, there are many cards designed specifically for those who are building credit. Some of these are student credit cards that may or may not require proof of college enrollment. However, there are options for applicants who aren't in school as well.

For instance, the CardName will let applicants with no credit score link to their bank account to demonstrate their credit worthiness. As a bonus, this card offers some nice cash back rewards. (Petal credit cards are issued by WebBank, Member FDIC; See Rates and Fees)

Since every credit card application can affect your credit score, you want to be selective about which cards to pursue. Here's what to look for in a first time credit card:

Credit requirement: Some card issuers are very clear on their website about the credit level needed for each card. For cards from other issuers, you may need to check CardRatings.com reviews for that information. If you have little or no credit history, look for cards designed for those building credit.

APR: It's always best to pay off your balance each month, but if you think you'll be carrying a balance or financing a large purchase, look for a card with a low APR to limit the amount of interest you'll pay.

Fees: Credit cards can come with a slew of fees - from annual fees to foreign transaction fees. Read the fine print before applying so you understand how much a card will cost you beyond interest charges.

Deposit requirement: Many of the best first credit cards are secured cards, which means a deposit is required. Don't get discouraged by this. Some secured credit cards - such as the CardName - will review your account and may move you to an unsecured account once you have a history of timely payments.

Credit reporting: Credit cards from major issuers almost always report to the credit reporting companies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you are applying for a card from a lesser-known company, double check to make sure they do so as well. You want your timely payments reported so you can build a positive credit report and score.

Picking your first credit card is not unlike picking your first apartment or your first car. What you NEED is more important than what you WANT. You want a card that is functional for your lifestyle, will help you build your credit and, if possible, provides some useful benefits. You don't want a card that only offers perks you would never use. You also want to apply for a card you have a good chance to be approved for. Applying for and being rejected for cards not only wastes your time but can actually be damaging to your credit score.

Therefore, you want to know your credit score and your credit history before starting the process. Take an honest look at your lifestyle and your spending habits. Take time to shop through a number of cards, looking at terms, interest rates, bonus offers, rewards and other benefits. You will also want to take a close look at the various fees a card charges. These fees can catch a first-time cardholder by surprise if you are not prepared.

When you're starting out in the world of credit cards, you might find that there isn't much to get excited about. The CardName is one of the few first credit cards that offers a rewards program, bonus opportunity and 0% introductory APR offer with no annual fee or security deposit. Basically, it comes with everything you'd want to start out with on a credit card and the benefits can be valuable even for people on their second, third or fifth credit card. Because of this, CardRatings experts rate this card as the best first credit card.

However, the best first credit card for you will depend on your creditworthiness, your spending and the goals you have in mind for the first card you sign up for. For many people, a secured credit card like the CardName is actually better to start with because having a security deposit on the line helps stay on track.

That depends on how you use your card. If you make regular purchases and pay them off each month, your credit score should go up. If you are late on payments or go over your limit, that will cause your score to drop.

It also bears noting that applying for a credit card usually results in a hard inquiry on your credit report. Each inquiry can temporarily drop your credit score by a few points and that's one reason to limit your applications. If you want to avoid a hard inquiry, you could apply for the CardName which doesn't perform a credit check on applicants.

Learn more about how credit cards affect your credit score

In many cases, the best credit cards for beginners are secured cards that requires a deposit. Approval is usually easier to get with these cards, and they can be used to establish a positive pattern of payments. That, in turn, should boost your credit score.

If you don't want a secured card and are a college student, you may be able to get an unsecured student card. Others may want to look into options such as the CardName or the CardName, which is available to those with limited credit.

There are cards with no preset spending limits, but these exclusive cards are typically only available to those with high incomes and excellent credit. The Centurion Card from American Express - also known as the Black Card - is one example. It's so exclusive though that only those invited by American Express can apply.

Even the best first credit card will have a credit limit so a "no limit" card is something to maybe shoot for in the future, not right now.

That depends on your priorities.

If you are trying to instill good spending habits, we like the CardName which earns additional cash back when you pay on time. For great rewards and no annual fee, we recommend the CardName. And if you find yourself eating out a lot, the CardName may be the right choice for you.

Survey Methodology: CardRatings commissioned Op4G in September and October 2021 to conduct surveys among 1,524 cardholders nationwide. CardRatings website analytics from Jan. 1, 2021-Aug. 31, 2021 were used to determine a selection of the most popular cards and additional cards were included to add survey breadth. Responses to each of nine questions were given on a scale of 1-10 and respondents' scores were then averaged under broad topics. To determine the overall score, responses from questions 1-8 were summed and the answer to "How likely are you to recommend this card to a friend, coworker or family member?" was double weighted. "Current Scores" reflect scores from the most recent survey; "Past Scores (avg.)" are the scores averaged over each prior year the card has been surveyed. "Past Scores" indicates a card has only been surveyed in one prior year.

Ranking Methodology: CardRatings experts review the fine print, details, perks, rewards and features of hundreds of cards and compare them side-by-side with similar cards. A card that makes an excellent balance transfer card may not make a great cash-back rewards card even though it offers those rewards. While the Best of the Year list is announced annually, that list – and all other “best of” lists on CardRatings – are regularly reviewed and updated as issuers change the terms and features of each card often.

Disclaimer:

The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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