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Best Credit Cards for Beginners for May 2021

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

When it comes to building credit, the earlier the better — and choosing the right starter credit card will help you establish a good credit score. Credit cards for beginners often have few bells and whistles, but when used responsibly, you can upgrade to a better card down the line.

Deciding which starter credit card is the best fit for you can be challenging. Since everyone has a different credit profile and different spending habits, there isn’t a single “best” beginner credit card. However, with various options to choose from, there’s something for everyone.

Based on our research of cards available through LendingTree, as well as top cards offered by major issuers, we put together a list of top cards for someone new to credit.

Know your credit score

Before you choose a card, you need to ask yourself a few questions that can help narrow down your choices — the first of which is to know “what is my credit score?” or “do I even have one?”

By knowing where you stand, you’ll have a better idea of which cards you may qualify for. If you have a bank account, credit card or loan through American Express, Bank of America, Barclays, Chase, Citibank, Discover, PNC Bank or Wells Fargo, for example, you should be able to access your credit score through their online portal. Here is a list of financial institutions that belong to the FICO Score Open Access Program.

You can also check your score for free by just answering a few questions to confirm your identity through My LendingTree. And at Discover.com, you can access your FICO Score for free online with Discover Scorecard, even if you aren’t a Discover customer.

Even if you’ve never had a credit card before, you can still have a credit history if you have had other credit products, such as student or car loans.

However, if you don’t have a credit score, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for a credit card. Secured cards are great starter cards that can help you build a credit history from scratch. They require a deposit, often starting at $200, which serves as your credit line, and once your scores improve from responsible usage, you may be able to apply for an unsecured card.

If you’re a student, there are student cards made just for you — and some may even reward you for maintaining good grades.

Are you ready to take on the responsibility of credit?

Know that you need to be at least 18 years old and have a steady source of income to list on the card application to be approved for a credit card. Once approved, you’ll need to work on building up a solid credit score. Here are the most important things you should do:

  • Don’t max out your credit limit. That means if you’re given a $500 credit limit, don’t charge more than 30% ($150) to your card in any given month.
  • Pay on time every time. Late payments will really knock down your credit score and stay on your credit reports for up to seven years, but their impact will fade over time with responsible usage. If you have difficulty keeping track of payment due dates, set up autopay either through your bank or your card’s online account.
  • Avoid carrying a balance. To avoid racking up debt, charge only what you know you’ll be able to pay off when the bill comes due. If your balance becomes too big to pay off, stop using the card until you have your debt paid off.

Best secured cards for no credit history

A secured card is a good place to start if you’re just beginning your credit journey. It can provide you the basis to establish a solid credit history. They can be used just like unsecured cards — the only difference is that you’re required to make a security deposit that will serve as your credit line. This deposit is refundable if you pay off your balance in full and close your account or if you’re upgraded to an unsecured card.

Here are two top secured cards for those new to credit.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Disclosures |
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
on Discover's secure site
N/A
22.99% Variable APR
$0
2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Using your secured credit card helps build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, prepaid and debit cards can’t do that.
  • Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 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.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
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How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is an all-around great secured card with rewards, a $0 annual fee and typical $200 security deposit. It’s rare to find a secured card with a rewards program, but this card provides 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. After your account has been open for eight months, Discover will automatically begin reviewing your account to see if you qualify for an unsecured card. If approved, you can receive your deposit back minus any fees or balance owed.

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One

Disclosures |
Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
on Capital One's secure site
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Non-rewards Card
  • No annual fee
  • Unlike a prepaid card, there is regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • We will monitor your account, and as you use it responsibly by doing things like making on-time payments, you may be able to earn back your deposit as a statement credit
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
300 599

How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

If you’d like to see if you can qualify for a secured card that may require a smaller security deposit, the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One provides the chance to qualify for a lower $49 or $99 deposit. Just know, there’s no guarantee you’ll qualify for a lower deposit, in which case you’ll need to fork over $200. Regardless of the required minimum deposit, you’ll receive a $200 credit limit. This card doesn’t offer rewards, but does have a $0 annual fee and allows you to receive a higher credit limit after you make your first five monthly payments on time.

Best credit cards for fair credit

If you have “fair” credit (those whose FICO scores are between 580 and 669, according to credit bureau Experian), it can be hard to find cards that aren’t laden with high fees. However, there are some options from major banks, including Capital One, that offer reasonable fees and rewards. When used responsibly, these cards can help you improve your credit, so you can qualify for credit cards for good credit.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Disclosures |
Capital One QuicksilverOne Card
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
on Capital One's secure site
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
1.5% Cash Back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app
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How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

If you have fair/limited credit and want to earn rewards, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good choice. Cardholders earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. There is a $39 annual fee, but you can recoup it in cash back if you spend $2,600 a year on the card.

The card comes with a high APR of 26.99% (variable), so this isn’t a card you’ll want to carry a balance on from month to month. Once approved for the card, Capital One will consider your account for a higher credit line in as little as six months.

Finally, you can redeem any cash back you earn with the card for any amount at any time.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Disclosures |
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
on Capital One's secure site
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Non-rewards Card
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Help build your credit through responsible use of a card like this
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How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a no-frills card for those with average/fair/limited credit that doesn’t offer any rewards, but does have a annual fee.

If you use this card responsibly to build credit, after several months you should see improvements in your credit score and may be able to qualify for no-annual-fee rewards cards. In addition, like the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, your Capital One Platinum Credit Card account may be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months.

Capital One also has a prequalification tool that narrows down which card offers you may qualify for. Knowing whether you have a good chance of being approved for a card can save you from the hassle of applying and then being rejected.

Best student cards

Building a healthy credit score while still in college is key to setting yourself up for future financial success. If you use a credit card responsibly as a student, you can build a good credit score that will help you down the line when trying to get an auto loan, mortgage, cellphone or apartment lease approval.

Below, we highlight two popular student cards:

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Disclosures |
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Discover it® Student Cash Back
on Discover's secure site
0% for 6 months on purchases
12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR
$0
5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
600 850

How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Discover it® Student chrome

Disclosures |
Discover it® Student chrome
Discover it® Student chrome
on Discover's secure site
0% for 6 months
12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR
$0
2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
600 850

How LendingTree Gets Paid

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back and the Discover it® Student chrome both have $0 annual fees and cashback programs, and offer students the chance to earn a $20 statement credit each school year they maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA for up to five consecutive years.

Here are the cashback programs:

Discover it® Student Cash Back: 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.

Discover it® Student chrome: 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.

Not ready for your own card? Become an authorized user

Credit cards have a lot of moving pieces to deal with, from annual fees and interest rates to payment due dates and credit limits. As the primary cardholder, you’re responsible for all this and more. It can be worthwhile, but if you’re not ready to take on the liability for your own credit card, consider asking a family member to add you as an authorized user on their card account.

Becoming an authorized user allows you to piggyback off someone else’s credit, without bearing any responsibility for making payments. Just make sure the account you’re being added to is in good standing, has a low balance and is paid on time all the time.

Once added as an authorized user to the card, the history of that card will appear on your credit reports. While you’re not responsible for paying the bills, your family member is, so if you do use the card (you don’t have to use it to have it appear on your credit reports), repay the primary cardholder for your charges so as not to create any ill will.

Once your credit score has benefited from being an authorized user, you can then apply for a card of your own and then ask to be removed from the authorized user card.

The bottom line

Choosing a starter credit card can seem daunting, but if you answer some important questions that could help narrow down your search, you can find the right card. Whether it’s a secured card, a credit card for fair credit or a student card, there are plenty of options.

If you’re not ready to open your own credit card, you can ask a family member to add you as an authorized user and begin building credit that way. Once you’ve established a fair or good credit score and are comfortable using plastic to pay for purchases, you can open your own card down the road.