Need a Fresh Start? Here are the 12 Best Credit Cards for Beginners

Here’s some good news: unlike Bumble, Tinder or a loan app that doesn’t disclose terms, when you just don’t know if you’ve found a match, you don’t have to apply for every card you find to see if it’s right for you. If you learn how to read the fine print and are honest with yourself about your financial situation, you can figure out which card is best before signing a contract. 

This post is going to focus on “starter” credit cards. These cards are for people who belong to one of two categories. In the first category, applicants have no credit history and are just starting to build one. In the other, applicants have a blemished credit history and are starting to rebuild their histories and raise their scores. 

Best Starter Credit Cards

These 12 credit cards have more lenient credit score requirements, making them ideal for beginners or those looking to rebuild credit.

Best Overall Card for Beginners: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

  • Application requirements: Must be 18, have a physical address, have proof of income.
  • Social Security number requirement: Yes
  • Credit score requirement: None
  • Minimum security deposit: $49 to $200 to get a $200 credit limit. Deposit more to get a higher credit limit. 
  • Introductory offer: None
  • APR range: 26.99%
  • Annual fee: No
  • Other fees: Late payment fee of up to $40
  • Reward program: None
  • Other perks: $0 Fraud Liability, virtual card numbers, card lock, CreditWise, 

Other important information: If you use your card responsibly, Capital One might refund your deposit and upgrade you to a non-secured card. 

For more information, click here

Best for Perks: Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Application requirements: Must be 18
  • SSN requirement: Yes
  • Credit score requirement: 690
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: Get 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • APR range: 17.49%-24.49%
  • Annual fee: $95 
  • Other fees: Late payment “penalty APR” of 29.99%, Balance transfer fees, late payment, return payment fees, My Chase Plan fees.
  • Reward program: Chase Ultimate Rewards: 
  • Other perks: Year-long DashPass from DoorDash, Chase Dining Program, 

Other important information: Chase has a 5/24 rule—if you’ve applied for more than 5 lines of credit (from any creditor, not just Chase) within the past two years, your application will be denied.

For more information, click here.

Best No-Annual-Fee Card: American Express Everyday

  • Application requirements: Must be at least 18 years old, must be a US Resident
  • SSN Requirement: No
  • Credit score requirement: 700+
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: 0% APR for 15 months
  • APR range: Variable, 15.24%-26.24%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Penalty APR of 29.99%, Up to $40 for late and/or returned payment fees
  • Reward program: Membership Rewards: earn points for shopping, travel, etc.
  • Other perks: Fraud Protection, use points to pay for charges to the card

Other important information: You’ll want to complete the pre-qualification process so that you know your approval odds before you apply. Pre-qualifying only adds a soft hit to your credit report.

For more information, click here.

Best for Cash Back Rewards: Capital One Quicksilver One Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • SSN requirement: SSN or Taxpayer ID required
  • Credit score requirement: 640+
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: 0% APR for the first 15 months 
  • APR range: 16.49%, 22.49%, or 26.49% depending on credit factors.
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Late payment fee of up to $40
  • Reward program: Capital One Rewards Program, Capital One Travel—both points based.
  • Other perks: 1.5% Cash back on every purchase

Other important information: Capital One has very strict requirements for credit approval including debt requirements, employment requirements, housing requirements, etc.

For more information, click here.

Best for No Credit Check: OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

  • Application requirements: Must be 18 years old and have a street address, must be a US citizen or permanent resident
  • SSN Requirement: SSN or Taxpayer ID number
  • Credit score requirement: None, no credit check required
  • Minimum security deposit: $200 to $3,000
  • Introductory offer: None
  • APR range: 18.89%
  • Annual fee: $35
  • Other fees: Up to $38 for a late payment, up to $25 returned payment
  • Reward program: None
  • Other perks: Helps build credit

For more information, click here.

Best for Bad Credit: Chime Credit Builder Visa

  • Application requirements: Must be a Chime account holder
  • SSN requirement: None
  • Credit score requirement: None
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: No
  • APR range: None
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: None
  • Reward program: No
  • Other perks: Helps raise credit scores

Other Important Information: Chime’s Credit Builder Visa isn’t a “typical” credit card. It’s actually a spending account that you set up adjacent to your existing Chime Checking Account. The amount of money you deposit into the Credit Builder account is what determines your spending limit. As long as you’re depositing money into your account each month, Chime will report the account as having “on-time payments” to the major credit bureaus and help you raise your credit score. Bonus: If you’re looking for a fancy metal credit card, this is the easiest way to get one. 

For more information, click here.

Best Student Credit Card: Discover it Student Cash Back

  • SSN requirement: Yes
  • Credit score requirement: None
  • Minimum security deposit: N/A
  • Introductory offer: 0% APR for the first six months
  • APR range: 14.49% to 23.49%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Up to $41 late and returned payment fees, cash advance fees, balance transfer fees
  • Reward program: Cash back rewards on purchases
  • Other perks: Unlimited cash back match during the first year you have the card, credit and identity monitoring

Other important information: For high school students (with parent or legal guardian’s signature) and college students.

For more information, click here.

Best for International Students: Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

  • Application requirements: Must be enrolled in a college or university
  • SSN requirement: None
  • Credit score requirement: None
  • Minimum Security Deposit: N/A
  • Introductory offer: None
  • APR range: 20.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Late fees of up to $25
  • Reward program: Cash back
  • Other perks: Includes a year-long Amazon Prime subscription, this is one of the few entry-level cards that provide cellphone protection

Other important information: The card is managed through an app, so you’ll need access to a smartphone.

For more information, click here.

Best to Help Build Credit: Capital One Platinum Credit Card

  • Application requirements: Must be a resident of the U.S., Puerto Rico, or on a U.S. Military Base
  • SSN requirement: Yes (an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
  • Credit score requirement: 640+
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: None
  • APR range: 26.99% 
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Late fees up to $40, transfer fees, cash advance fees,
  • Reward program: None
  • Other perks: Get unlimited access to your credit score through CreditWise.

Other Important Information: Pre-approval is available so you can find out whether you qualify without hurting your credit score; automatic credit line evaluation lets you see if you qualify for a credit-limit increase, so if you employ good credit practices, you could get an increased credit limit after just six months.

For more information, click here.

Best for Amazon Shoppers: Amazon Visa

  • SSN requirement: Yes. Alternatively, an ITIN is needed.
  • Credit score requirement: 700+
  • Minimum security deposit: N/A
  • Introductory offer: A $100 Amazon Gift Card will be instantly loaded into your Amazon.com account upon the approval of your credit card application with an eligible Prime membership.
  • APR range: 15.74%-23.74%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Balance transfer, cash advance, foreign transaction, and up to $39 in late and returned payment fees.
  • Reward program: 1% to 10% cash back, depending on the purchase and Points
  • Other perks: Travel perks and purchase protection are available

Other Important Information: The Amazon Visa is backed and insured by Chase Bank. 

For more information, click here.

Best Low-Deposit Secured Card: Discover it Secured Credit Card

  • Application Requirements: Must be 18 years old, U.S.-based bank account, U.S. address
  • SSN Requirement: Yes
  • Credit score requirement: None
  • Minimum security deposit: $200
  • Introductory offer: None
  • APR range: 25.24%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other fees: Balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, late fees (up to $41 per month), returned payment fees (up to $41 per month).
  • Reward program: Cash Back and Points
  • Other perks: Cash back matching for your first year with the card

Other important information: After you’ve had your card for seven months, Discover will start conducting monthly account reviews to find out whether you qualify for a credit-line increase.

For more information, click here.

Best for Quarterly Reward Bonus Categories: Chase Freedom 

  • SSN Requirement: Yes
  • Credit Score Requirement: 700+
  • Minimum Security Deposit: None
  • Introductory offer: 0% APR for the first fifteen months, earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening and earn 5% cash back on gas station purchases for the first year (up to $6,000.)
  • APR range: 16.49% to 25.24%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Other Fees: 29.99% Penalty APR, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, foreign transaction fees, up to $41 late payment fee, and $41 return payment fee
  • Reward program: Points and Cashback
  • Other perks: Fraud protection, zero liability, travel insurance and more

Other important information: Chase monitors your account and can change your terms if your financial situation changes.

For more information, click here.

What You Need to Know

The first thing you should know about all credit cards — especially credit cards for beginners — is that the hype is usually just that: hype. Credit card companies like to make flashy promises and then bury all sorts of qualifiers in the fine print of their contracts. 

A good example of this is introductory APR. A card company will promise you something like “pay zero interest for 24 months!” Sounds great, right?

In fact, this means that—while you might not have to make any interest payments during the first two years of your contract, that interest is still accruing on your account. If you carry a balance over into your 25th month, all of that accrued interest will be added to your amount due. You will then be charged your “regular” interest rate on your new total amount due—not just on the balance you carried over. Make sense?

A lot of credit cards for beginners will also charge fees for opening an account and/or an annual fee, which means you’ll owe the company money as soon as your application is approved. 

Of course, not everything associated with starter cards is bad! Credit card companies also like to offer a lot of perks like bonus points, etc. 

What to Look For

Credit card companies often offer some sort of immediate incentive to encourage people to at least listen to their pitch. On college campuses, for example, many credit card companies will offer students a free t-shirt to fill out a credit application. 

Don’t fall for the free t-shirt. Your personal information and credit score are more valuable than that. If you’re looking for a first credit card, instead consider the Amazon Visa, which comes with $100 Amazon credit and eligible Prime membership (ideal for students who already get a discount on Prime service), or Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns you a $200 bonus if you charge $500 in the first three months.

Before applying, make sure you know what the different terms and conditions mean. Check out DebtHammer’s “Debt Glossary” if you get hung up on what the terms and conditions actually mean. 

Compare and contrast card offers with each other and against your current financial situation. It is important to be honest with yourself while you do this. You need a card that you can handle now. You do not need a card that you hope to be able to handle in the future. 

Finally, look at the rewards programs each card offers. Which perks do you like the best among the cards that match your current financial situation?

How to Apply for Your First Credit Card

When you’ve figured out which cards will work best for you, it’s time to start the application process. If the card company offers you the chance to find out if you are pre-qualified, take it! You’ll better understand your approval odds without your credit taking a hit.

The application will ask you for information like your name, address, phone number, social security number, income (before taxes), how much you currently pay in rent or on a mortgage, etc. Some companies, like Capital One might ask that you provide documentation proving your income and expenses. It’s good to have copies of these documents ready to send before you fill out the application. The more time it takes to complete the application, the more time you have to wait for approval! 

Pros of Credit Cards

Credit cards can be an important boon to your financial health. The biggest advantage is that a credit card gives you a buffer in case an emergency expense hits. Many Americans have no emergency fund, and a credit card offers the security of knowing that you won’t have to turn to a payday lender, a cash advance app or a Buy Now, Pay Later plan to cover you in a financial crisis.

Among the many other advantages they offer, credit cards can help you build a solid credit history, making it easier to get loans, business funding, or even a mortgage later. 

The perks offered by credit card companies can come in very handy. For example, some cards will offer up to 5% cash back when you use your card at the gas station. Who wouldn’t want to save a little more with prices as high as they are?

Cons of Credit Cards

One of the biggest disadvantages is the high-interest rates most of them charge. If you carry a balance from month to month, however, you could wind up paying much more for your purchases than you would if you had just paid cash.

The other major disadvantage is the damage you’ll do to your credit score if you fail to use your card responsibly. It can take years to undo the damage done by mismanaging even one credit card.

What if I Have Bad Credit or No Credit?

In many ways, it is better to have no credit than it is to have bad credit. 

FICO Scores range from 300-850. Here’s how they are broken down:

  • Excellent: 800+
  • Very Good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor: 300-579 

If you have no credit, you’re a blank slate. There’s nowhere to go but up. But you won’t start with a credit score of zero. And it’s never too early to start building your credit score before you actually need the credit card.

Use a service like Experian Boost, which will help you rebuild your credit by reporting on-time utility, rent, and subscription payments to the credit bureaus

If you have bad credit, you have proven that you are, financially speaking, a big risk. You aren’t necessarily done for, though. Here are some options to help you get a credit card when you have bad credit:

  • Ask if you can have a financially responsible person be a co-signer for your card
  • Have a parent or family member with good credit add you as an authorized user on one of their cards
  • If you already have a bank account, ask if your bank has a credit card that will work with your financial situation

Want to learn more about the basics of credit cards and how to use them? Check out this video:

How Can I Check My Credit Report?

Each of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) allow you to get one free copy of your credit report every twelve months. You can request these reports through the individual credit bureaus. Alternatively, you can save time and request all three at once by using AnnualCreditReport.com. Credit Karma also allows free access to two of the three credit reports.

It can also be helpful to sign up for credit monitoring through Credit Karma or Experian. These services monitor your credit 24/7. This is very handy for catching and disputing errors as soon as they happen, which increases your chances of having those errors corrected promptly.

READ MORE: Do subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu build credit?

Speaking of errors, do not just assume that your report is correct. Most reports contain at least one error, if not more. it is vital that you scour your credit report and make sure it is 100% accurate. Dispute every error on your report, no matter how seemingly small.

READ MORE: How to check your credit report and dispute errors

The Bottom Line

Life happens. Credit card companies know this. This is why they have credit cards for beginners — to help people begin to build their credit history. It is also why so many companies offer secured cards for people who need help rebuilding credit after life has thrown them a few obstacles. 

Do your research and evaluate all of the offers for which you qualify. Make the smart choice, and healthy credit can be yours!

FAQs

What’s the Difference Between a Credit Card and a Debit Card?

A debit card links to an existing spending or checking account. It spends the money you already have on hand. A credit card allows you to “promise to pay” by fronting the money for your purchases and allowing you to repay the loan over time. 

Why Can’t Anyone Younger than 18 Get Approved for Their Own Credit Card?

Because people younger than 18 are not allowed to enter into binding contracts legally. Every credit card company requires applicants to sign a binding contract before they will grant that person credit.

What’s the Difference Between an Unsecured Credit Card and a Secured Card?

A secured credit card is a card that you “secure” with collateral. Usually, that collateral is a deposit that doubles as your credit limit. On the other hand, an unsecured card does not require you to put up collateral to get credit. These are usually harder to get and require good financial and credit health before your application is approved.

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