Best First Credit Cards of October 2020

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

We publish unbiased reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments we receive from our advertising partners. Learn about our independent review process and partners in our advertiser disclosure.

The best first 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 a more established 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 Credit Cards

Discover it® Chrome for Students

Best Overall

,

Best for Students

,

Best Unsecured Card

Our Rating Among Cards for Beginners
4.8
Discover it® Chrome for Students
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

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 $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    This student card offers good rewards, a great welcome bonus, and an additional cash-back bonus for cardholders who get good grades, making it a stellar first credit card. Like the other Discover cards on this list, Chrome also waives your first late fee. You should always make payments on time, but it's nice to know you won't have to pay a fee for a one-off mistake as you acclimate to using your first credit card. Since this is an unsecured card, you won’t have to pay a deposit upfront to secure a credit limit, either. 

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Available to those with fair credit, which makes this a good starter card
    • First late payment fee is waived
    • First-year cash-back earnings will be doubled for a generous and unconventional bonus
    • Annual $20 reward for maintaining good grades

    Cons

    • Bonus rewards categories have quarterly earning limits
    • Discover card acceptance may vary compared to Visa and Mastercard
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Get $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next five years.
    • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
    • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
    • Cashback Match - Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. There's no limit to how much they'll match.

Chase Freedom® Student credit card

Best With a Low APR

Our Rating Among Cards for Beginners
4.8
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
Current Offer

$50 Bonus earned after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening.

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
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% cash back on all purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    If you have good credit and there’s a chance you’ll carry a balance on your first card (or you just want a lower-cost option), this is your best option. It carries a 14.99% variable APR, which is below the average student card interest rate and far lower than what even other cards on this list may charge. There’s no promotional 0% APR deal for new cardholders, but that’s not unheard of among student cards. You’ll be eligible for those offers after you’ve become a more experienced credit card user. We also like that the Chase Freedom Student card doesn’t charge an annual fee and offers easy cash-back rewards, too.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Simple cash-back program makes earning and redeeming rewards easy while building credit
    • Lets you earn a credit limit increase by making five on-time monthly payments within 10 months of opening account
    • $20 bonus each year your account is in good standing (for up to 5 years)

    Cons

    • Card cannot be applied for online. You must visit a Chase branch
    • Low rewards-earning rate compared to other student cards
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • $50 Bonus earned after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening.
    • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases.
    • $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years.
    • Earn a credit limit increase after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria.

Discover it® Miles

Best for Earning Rewards

Our Rating Among Cards for Beginners
4.7
Discover it® Miles
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

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
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 11.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 miles for every dollar spent.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 14 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    Those new to using credit cards will appreciate how simple it is to earn and redeem rewards with this no-annual-fee card, especially if you like to travel. You’ll earn 1.25 miles on every $1 spent, and those miles can be redeemed for cash back or as reimbursement for travel purchases made with this card—even those made on third-party websites. Either way, your miles are worth a consistent 1 cent each. Discover will also match all the miles earned your first year, essentially doubling your earnings, which is a top-notch new-cardholder bonus for those who don’t mind the delayed gratification.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • No annual fee
    • Miles can be redeemed as travel statement credits or cash back
    • Generous, unconventional bonus doubles your first year earnings
    • Competitive 0% purchase APR offer

    Cons

    • Miles can’t be transferred to airline loyalty programs
    • No travel insurance benefits
    • Card acceptance may vary compared to Visa or Mastercard
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn unlimited 1.5 Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases.
    • Only Discover automatically matches all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.
    • Use your card to pay for airfare, hotels, rideshares, and more with no blackout dates. Then easily redeem miles as a statement credit for travel or get cash.
    • No annual fee.

Discover it® Secured

Best Secured Card

Our Rating Among Cards for Beginners
4.6
Discover it® Secured
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

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 (%) 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Minimum Deposit to Activate $200
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes
Pay deposit in installments No
  • 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 a generous cash-back rewards rate that is nearly unheard of in a secured card. 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).

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Ability to earn cash-back rewards while building credit
    • Responsible use can lead to automatic unsecured card upgrade
    • No foreign transaction fee
    • Cash-back match as a first year bonus

    Cons

    • Low cap on highest rewards earning rate
    • Mediocre maximum credit limit compared to other secured cards
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • No annual fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
    • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
    • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if Discover can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
    • Get 100% U.S.-based customer service and get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO Credit Score.

Apple Card

Best for Avoiding Fees

,

Best for Learning About Credit

Our Rating Among Cards for Beginners
4.5
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
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 10.99% - 21.99% 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 at people new to credit cards. 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 a limited, or no, credit history. Whenever you use Apple Pay, you’ll get 2% cash back, or 3% back at Apple and eligible partner retailers such as Walgreens and Uber. Better yet, the card also 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.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Good rewards on Apple and partner-retailer purchases
    • Ability to earn more when using this card with Apple Pay
    • Interactive account tools offer visual ways to learn about credit
    • Lowest offered APR is good for a rewards card
    • No annual fee

    Cons

    • Mediocre rewards rate on non-Apple and non-Apple-Pay purchases
    • Non-iPhone users will miss out on highest rewards earning rate
    • Few extra benefits (e.g. bonus or free credit score)
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Apply and start using in minutes. Just open the Wallet app and tapthe plus icon.
    • Get 2% Daily Cash back every time you pay with your iPhone or Apple Watch.
    • See each purchase go through right away. No waiting. No wondering.
    • No fees. Period.
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 Is Building Credit 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 Do You 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 Do You 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 Do You 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.

Here's another summary of our top picks for the best credit cards for first-timers:

Best First Credit Cards
Credit Card Category Annual Fee
Discover it Chrome for Students Best Overall $0
Discover it Chrome for Students Best for Students $0
Discover it Chrome for Students Best Unsecured $0
Chase Freedom Student Credit Card Best With a Low APR $0
Apple Card Best for Avoiding Fees $0
Apple Card Best for Learning About Credit $0
Discover it Secured Best Secured Card $0
Discover it Miles Best for Earning Rewards $0

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.

Some 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.

What We Score

Annual fee, average regular APR, and rewards are some of 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 the minimum required credit score, number of other fees a card may charge, and features like access to a free credit score. For full details on how we evaluate credit card attributes, check out our full methodology.