Best First-Time Credit Cards of December 2019

The best offers for credit beginners, plus tips on how to get your first card

Disclosure: We are committed to recommending the best products for our readers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to products, but this never affects our reviews or recommendations.

The best first-time credit cards have minimal credit requirements (if any at all) and give cardholders regular access to a free credit score, in addition to exceptional offerings like rewards, few costs, or a low APR. They stand out from the majority of credit cards, which require some sort of credit history to qualify. A small collection of products is designed just for people new to credit, and we’ve chosen the best ones.

Best First-Time Credit Cards

  • Wells Fargo Cash Back College
    Best Overall, Best for Students
  • Apple Card
    Best for Avoiding Fees, Best Unsecured Card
  • Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card
    Best With a Low APR
  • Discover it Secured
    Best Secured Card, Best for Earning Rewards, Best for Learning About Credit

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠

Best Overall

,

Best for Students

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Cards
4.6
Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠
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 (%) 12.65% - 22.65% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Rewards Earning Rate 3% cash rewards earned for up to $2,500 spent on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first 6 months. 1% cash rewards for each $1 spent on virtually all other purchases with your card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%

Why We Chose This Card

When you’ve got no credit record, getting any credit card rewards is a plus. The fact that in the first six months you earn 3% cash back on up to $2,500 of everyday buys like groceries and gas makes this card especially notable. So does its relatively low interest rate, though paying any interest on debt is a bad habit, so avoid it if at all possible. Note that you’ll have to have a Wells Fargo bank account and be a student to apply.

Apple Card

Best for Avoiding Fees

,

Best Unsecured Card

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Cards
4.3
Apple Card
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 (%) 12.74% - 23.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3% cash back at Apple and select Apple pay partners, 2% on other Apple pay purchases, and 1% on everything else.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

This co-branded card doesn’t charge an annual fee, late payment fee, or any other of the tricky fees you might encounter with cards aimed a people new to credit. Although it's recommended you have a credit score of at least 600 when you apply, you may still be considered for the card if you have no credit history. Whenever you use Apple Pay, you’ll get 2% cash back, and the card offers tools that can teach you how your usage impacts your credit history. Keep in mind you have to have an iPhone to get the most value out of this card.

Green Dot primor® Visa® Gold Secured Credit Card

Best With a Low APR

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Cards
3.8
Green Dot primor® Visa® Gold Secured Credit Card
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 (%) 9.99% fixed
Annual Fee $49
Minimum Deposit to Activate $200

Why We Chose This Card

Many cards aimed at newcomers charge sky-high interest rates for carrying a balance, but not this one. The Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured card has the lowest APR of any secured card we’ve reviewed, plus it’s a fixed rate, which means it won’t fluctuate with the market like most other card rates. We don’t recommend carrying a balance, but if you need to, the low APR on this card will help you put more of your payment toward the principal.

Discover it® Secured

Best Secured Card

,

Best for Earning Rewards

,

Best for Learning About Credit

Our Rating Among First-Time Credit Cards
4.4
Discover it® Secured
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 (%) 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
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 this is a good one. It offers cash-back rewards that are almost unheard of in a secured card, so it's also our pick for best rewards card on this list. 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).

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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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

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

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.