Here are the best starter credit cards in 2020:
- Best student credit card: Discover it® Student Cash Back
- Best secured credit card: Discover it® Secured
- Best for cash back: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best for travel rewards: Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
- Best basic starter card: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
- Best for intro APR: Discover it® Student chrome
- Best for building credit: Petal Visa Card
If your credit isn’t great or you barely have any credit history, it’s likely you’ll need to ease into the world of credit cards. Fortunately, banks and major issuers create new products for credit newcomers, many of which let you get approved with fair credit, bad credit, or no credit at all.
Which starter credit card should you choose? That really depends on your credit score and where you’re at in your credit journey. If you’ve never had a credit card before, it’s likely you’ll have to get started with a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit in order to shore up a small line of credit. If your FICO credit score is at least “fair,” or above 580, on the other hand, you may qualify for a card geared to consumers with average credit.
Our advice: Take a free peak at your credit score using a service like CreditSesame.com or CreditKarma.com. From there, you can figure out which credit card can help you build credit that lasts.
If you already have a decent credit score and are looking for a new credit card to maximize your spending, check out the following guides:
- The best rewards credit cards
- The best cash-back credit cards
- The best travel rewards credit cards
- The best no-annual-fee credit cards
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
Here are the best cards for first-timers and others looking to build their credit:
Best student credit card: Discover it® Student Cash Back
Annual fee: $0
If you’re a student who is hoping to start your adult lifestyle on the right foot, you should consider the Discover it® Student Cash Back. This card is typically available to consumers who don’t have an extensive credit history, plus there’s no annual fee.
Once you’re approved, you can enroll to earn 5% back up to a quarterly maximum limit spent on purchases in categories that rotate each quarter, plus 1% back on everything else. Like other cash-back credit cards from Discover, this card will also double all the rewards you earn the first year, and you can get a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.
This card also lets you see your credit score for free each month, and you’ll get Social Security number monitoring, zero fraud liability, and no late fee on your first late payment. Consider signing up if you want to earn rewards and build credit at the same time without an annual fee.
Best secured credit card: Discover it® Secured
Annual fee: $0
If you have poor credit or no credit history at all, you may need to get started with a secured credit card. Unlike unsecured credit cards that extend a line of credit without collateral, secured cards require a small cash deposit upfront in order to secure an equally small line of credit.
The Discover it® Secured is frequently considered the top secured credit card since, unlike other cards in this niche, it doesn’t charge an annual fee or any hidden fees. You’ll also earn 2% back on up to $1,000 spent each quarter on gas and dining (then 1%), as well as 1% back on all other purchases. Discover will also double all the rewards you earn the first year.
Other top benefits include a free look at your FICO score each month, zero liability for fraudulent purchases, and no late fee on your first late payment.
Best for cash back: Capital One QuicksilverOne card
Annual fee: $39
The Capital One QuicksilverOne is available to consumers with “average” credit according to Capital One, which brings it into reach for individuals with limited credit or anyone who has made credit mistakes in the past. This card does charge a $39 annual fee, but you’ll be able to earn a flat 1.5% back for each dollar you spend. That’s not bad for a rewards credit card, and it’s especially good for cards available to consumers with average credit.
Capital One also promises to reconsider your credit limit and potentially boost it after you’ve made five on-time payments on your credit card. This card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, extended warranties on eligible purchases, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, and 24-hour travel assistance, which is a lot more than many credit cards for average credit offer.
Best for travel rewards: Capital One VentureOne card
Annual fee: $0
The Capital One VentureOne is typically only available to consumers with “good” credit or better, but it’s important to note that a good FICO score typically starts in the 670+ range. If you are able to qualify, this card can serve as a starter travel credit card that can help you get accustomed to earning this type of rewards.
Once you sign up, you’ll earn a flat 1.25 miles for each dollar you spend. You can also earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on your card within three months of account opening.
On the redemption side of the equation, you can cash in your points for any type of travel at a rate of 1 cent per point, or for transfers to a handful of select airlines. This card also comes with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
Best basic starter card: Capital One Platinum card
Annual fee: $0
If you have average credit and want to learn good credit habits without worrying about rewards, consider the Capital One Platinum Card. This card will likely start you out with a low credit limit, but Capital One says it will consider boosting your limit after you make five on-time payments on your card. This card also comes with no annual fee.
Another benefit of this card is the fact you can get prequalified online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. Other cardholder perks include travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, 24-hour travel assistance, and no foreign transaction fees.
Best for intro APR: Discover it Student chrome
Annual fee: $0
If you want to save money with 0% APR for a limited time, look into the Discover it® Student Chrome. This card starts you off with 0% APR on purchases for six months, followed by a variable APR of 19.49%. You’ll also secure a variable APR of 10.99% on balance transfers for six months if you transfer by April 10, 2020, followed by a variable APR of 19.49%.
You won’t pay an annual fee, and you’ll earn 2% back on up to $1,000 spent on gas and dining each quarter (then 1%), plus 1% back on everything else you buy. Discover will also double all the rewards you earn after the first year, and you can secure a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.
Read more: The best credit card intro APR offers
Best for building credit: Petal Visa Card
Finally, the Petal Visa Card is a newcomer on the scene, yet it could be ideal for anyone who wants to build good credit that lasts. This card comes with a minimum credit limit of $500, although there’s no annual fee and no fees on late payments. You’ll earn a flat 1% back on all your purchases for the first year, but you have the opportunity to graduate to 1.5% back after you’ve made 12 on-time payments on your credit card.
This card also reports to all three credit bureaus like the other cards on our list, so it can help you build credit as your purchases and payments are reported. You’ll also get access to the powerful Petal Visa Card app, which can help you manage your money better, track your spending, and stay on top of all your bills.
Read more: Petal Visa card review
Frequently Asked Questions
When you’re ready to start building credit for the first time, it’s smart to have a basic understanding of how credit cards can help. The following questions and answers provide some basic guidelines to follow.
What are the easiest cards to get approved for?
When you’re first starting out, secured credit cards are the easiest to get approved for. This type of credit card requires an initial cash deposit to secure a line of credit that is typically for the same amount. For example, you may put down a cash deposit of $500 in order to secure a $500 line of credit.
With the requirement for collateral in place, almost anyone can get approved for a secured credit card regardless of their credit score. Also note that, once you use your secured credit card to establish a reasonable amount of credit history, you can cancel or upgrade your card provided your account is in good standing. At that point, your initial security deposit would be refunded to you.
How do I build credit with a credit card?
Building credit with a credit card isn’t overly difficult, but you may have a better initial experience if you start the process off slowly. Use your credit card for regular purchases you can afford to pay off each month. When your bill comes due, make sure to pay at least the minimum payment and hopefully your entire credit card balance.
As you make payments each month, those payments will be reported to the three credit bureaus. Over time, you’ll build a history of responsible credit use that can help boost your credit score.
How many credit cards should I have?
You can have one credit card or several. It’s totally up to you.
When you’re first building credit, however, it makes sense to limit yourself to a single card. This way, you can spend time building responsible credit habits before you add more cards and complicate your finances.
How quickly can I raise my credit score?
How quickly you’ll raise your credit score depends on a whole host of factors including whether you have any credit history at all, whether you have negative marks on your credit report, and the way you handle credit in the short-term.
Your best bet is signing up for a credit card that can aid you in building credit, then using it for regular purchases that you pay in full each month. This will help you build a history of on-time payments while keeping your credit utilization low.
What card should I get when I have excellent credit?
If you have excellent credit, or any FICO score above 740, it’s likely you can qualify for the best rewards and travel credit cards. Make sure to compare the top credit card offers of 2020 in terms of their rewards and cardholder perks.