Best Starter Credit Cards for (Re)Building Your Credit
Despite what television ads may lead you to believe, building credit takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. One of the best methods for building credit is to apply for a starter credit card and then use it wisely. But not all cards are created equal, and knowing which ones are the best starter credit cards can get a little tricky.
By using a starter credit card responsibly, it can open up a world of opportunities for you financially speaking. A starter credit card is perfect when you don't have credit and are seeking your first credit card. They can also help improve your credit score if you have fair credit reported to the credit bureaurs, which in turn allows you to qualify for loans with lower interest rates. There are even starter credit cards offering bonuses, cash back, and travel rewards for you to take advantage of.
So whether you’re starting out right now on your personal finance journey, or rebuilding your credit, let’s take a closer look at the best starter credit cards to establish — or re-establish — yourself in the credit world.
- Overview of the best starter credit cards
- A glance at the best starter credit cards
- The bottom line
Overview of the best starter credit cards
|Discover It® Cash Back||Cash back rewards|
|Discover It® Secured||Building history and earning cash back|
|Journey Student Rewards from Capital One||Studying or traveling abroad|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Unlimited cash back potential|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Everyday purchases|
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card||Student card with cash back|
|Amex EveryDay® Credit Card||Payment flexibility|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||Easy cash back earnings|
The best starter credit cards
Discover it® Cash Back
The Discover it® Cash Back card is a smart choice for those who want to build their credit, and earn high cashback potential throughout the year. Depending on the rotating category, you can earn up to 5% cash back on everyday purchases. All purchases — regardless of the category — earn 1% cash back, meaning all purchases are eligible purchases. The best part is, your cash back never expires and you can use your cash back online with sites you likely already use, such as Amazon and Paypal.
There are extra bonuses for those cardholders who are learning how to responsibly use their credit, including $0 annual fee and the 0% Intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees — the transaction fees some financial institutions charge you when using your card overseas — and no over-limit fees. And what happens if you miss a payment? You won’t be charged additional fees the first time it happens.
Discover it® Secured
The Discover it® Secured is a great option for those who have no credit history. When you apply for the card, you secure it with a refundable security deposit and then you’re issued the matching amount for a credit line. For example, if you put down $300, your credit line is $300, and you won't need a cosigner.
But don’t worry, once you put down a security deposit, the credit card is fully functioning and can be used wherever credit cards are accepted. You can earn unlimited cash back, with 2% cash back when you use your card at gas stations and restaurants, and 1% cash back for all other purchases. Plus you have the other benefits from Discover, such as no over-limit fees and no rate hike if you’re late on one payment.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is a smart option for college students for several reasons. First, this student cash back card is great for use overseas since it doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees. Second, your credit line increases after 6 months of on-time payments, which encourages responsible use.
As an added bonus for paying on time, you’ll earn $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming subscriptions. Plus, you have access to other perks, such as 1% cash back on all purchases. But if you pay on time, you boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month. The beauty of this deal is the rewards never expire as long as your account is open.
This card is structured to help you build your credit as a student, while rewarding you along the way for smart financial decisions. And don’t worry, you won’t pay an annual fee with this card either.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
There might not be a big sign up or bonus offer with the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, but those with limited credit history will earn other benefits that make this card worth considering. As the name implies, earning cash back is easy with this card, even for those who are working on building credit.
With this card, you earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, all day and every day. After 6 months of on-time payments, you’re eligible for a higher credit limit. Your rewards never expire, as long as your account remains open. Plus, since this is a Mastercard, it comes with multiple benefits such as fraud coverage, emergency card services, and enrollment in the Mastercard ID Theft Protection program.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
For those who want to maximize earning potential on everyday purchases and build credit, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great option. You’ll earn an impressive 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with potential to earn up to 5%. The current bonus offer of $200 cash back on $500 of purchases in the first 3 months maximizes your earnings even more and makes this a fun entry-level option.
The 0% introductory APR for 15 months (14.99% to 23.74% afterward), plus the $0 annual fee, make the Chase Freedom Unlimited more appealing. But you should be aware — this card is best used in the U.S. since there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. But with unlimited cash back and rewards that never expire, this is a card worth considering if you already have some credit history and are looking to build it and improve.
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
The Chase Freedom® Student credit card is another strong contender from the Chase family of credit cards. This student card offers you a limited line of credit to those with limited or bad credit, but with unlimited cash back potential as its main credit card offer. You earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and your earning potential is unlimited.
After 5 months of on-time monthly payments, you are eligible for a credit line increase. And you’ll earn a $50 bonus after your first purchase within the first 3 months of card opening.
Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, this card has a steep 3% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not recommended to use it overseas. But for everyday purchases in the U.S., you can start building credit reported to the credit bureaus as a student and earn cash back and bonuses in the process.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
If you’re looking for an American Express product, the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card is an entry-level option. What’s great about this unsecured credit card is you can earn 2x Membership Rewards points for purchases at supermarkets, and 1x rewards for all other purchases. These points can be used for fun rewards for travel, gifts, merchandise, and gift cards.
This card allows you to carry a balance with interest or pay in full each month. This is super helpful as you're managing your monthly expenses or making a large purchase, and means you can have the payment flexibility while continuing to earn rewards.
The first year you enjoy $0 in annual fees, but you should note with this card there is a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so this isn’t ideal to use while traveling overseas. But if the grocery store is the only place you plan on traveling these days, you’ll quickly earn cash back with the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and build your credit history.
Citi® Double Cash Card
If you’re looking for a straightforward rewards program while you’re easing into the credit card world, the Citi® Double Cash Card may be your answer. The fixed-rate structure is simple: earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% cash back when you buy plus 1% as you pay. There are no limits on categories, earning potential, caps, or an annual fee. When you do earn cash back, you can convert it to a statement credit, rewards, or a direct deposit.
If you need to make a balance transfer, the Citi® Double Cash Card boasts an impressive balance transfer offer of 0% intro APR for 18 months; after that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99% based on your creditworthiness.
Currently, there’s no sign-up bonus or offer. But the 18-month balance transfer APR is one way to pay down debt and help you achieve select financial goals.
A glance at the best starter credit cards
|Issuer||Sign-up/bonus offer||Cash back||APR||Annual fee||Foreign transaction fees|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Cash back match the first year||Up to 5% rotating categories, 1% all others||0% 14 months, then 11.99% – 22.99%||$0||None|
|Discover It® Secured||None||2% at gas stations/restaurants, 1% all others||22.99%||$0||None|
|Journey Student Rewards from Capital One||None||1% all purchases, 1.25% if you pay on time||26.99%||$0||None|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||None||1.5% all purchases||26.99%||$39||None|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||$200 after $500 in 3/mo, 5% grocery 1st/yr||5% travel, 3% on dining/drugstores, 1.5% all others||0% first 15 months, then 14.99% – 23.74%||$0||3%|
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card||$50 bonus||1% all purchases||14.99%||$0||3%|
|Amex EveryDay® Credit Card||10k points/for $1K spend in first 3 mo||2x grocery/1x all other purchases||0% first 12 months, then 12.99% – 23.99%||$0||2.7%|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||None||1% all purchases, 1% as you pay||13.99% – 23.99%||$0||3%|
How do I know which is the best starter credit card?
There are many factors to consider when it comes to choosing a starter card. Your credit history and score certainly impact the type of card you can choose.
But beyond this, look for a card that rewards you for responsible financial behavior, such as paying on time each month. Once you find a card that fits in these parameters, then you can look at the cash back or reward options.
Don’t forget to consider other fees too, such as annual fees, foreign transactions, balance transfers, and late payment fees. All these can add up quickly and impact your wallet throughout the year.
Can I get a starter credit card without credit history?
Yes, it’s possible to get a credit card without credit history. Your best bet is to start with a student credit card or a secured credit card. Both types of credit cards can teach you responsible financial management and eventually, with
Who should use a starter credit card?
Starter credit cards are essential for those establishing credit, such as students or young professionals, as well as those rebuilding their credit. Some of these cards require a bit of a credit history, while others are perfect for those with no credit history whatsoever.
Anyone who wants to improve their credit score (after making on-time payments) and greater financial responsibility, should consider one of these starter credit cards. As your credit improves, it’ll increase the likelihood of you being able to expand your credit one day.
The bottom line
Starter credit cards don’t have to be limited to low credit lines and high-interest rates. As you can see, many of these credit cards offer competitive interest rates and a chance to earn additional rewards. As you’re looking for ways to become more financially responsible, a starter credit card may be the first step in the right direction for making better financial decisions.