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Applying for your first credit card is a big decision. Because there are so many different cards to choose from, figuring out which one is the best first credit card for you can feel a little overwhelming. Add to that the many different credit realities of people who need a first card—from being a student, having to real credit history and on and on. So what should you look for in your first credit card? You can narrow down your options by looking at your credit reality and at cards you’re most likely to qualify for (more on that in a minute).
Cut to the Best First Credit Cards of 2019
For now, to make choosing the best first card for you a bit easier, here are the favorite credit cards for first-time cardholders selected by the Credit.com team.
- Discover it® Cash Back: A great card available to a range of credit ratings that offers a nice rewards program and good variable interest rates.
- Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Card: a good solid first card for anyone with a fair credit history.
- Capital One Platinum Mastercard: a good option for those with fair credit who can pay off the bulk of the card’s debt each month.
- Discover it® Secured: a great secured credit card for te with poor credit histories in need of building credit.
- Just for students, the Discover it® Student Cash Back: a great credit card for students, regardless of credit standing.
Benefits: If you want to earn rewards with your first credit card, this card is a great choice. It’s available to those with fair, good or excellent credit. It lets you earn 5% cash back on purchases in select categories that change each quarter and include gas stations, restaurants, Amazon.com and the like. And it pays a solid 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee. And this card has a standard variable APR of 14.24% to 25.24%.
Drawbacks: To earn the higher 5% cash back, you have to register to earn rewards in that quarter’s categories. If you forget to register, you’ll still earn 1%, but will lose out on the higher cash back.
Discover it® Cash Back
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
- Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
- Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
- Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
- Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
- Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
- No annual fee.
Card Details +
Benefits: If you’re just starting to build credit, have only a fair credit rating and one of your priorities is earning rewards for the purchases you make, you’ll like the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards card. This card lets you earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. And there are no foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: You pay a $39 annual fee for the chance to earn cash back, which is a bit high. This card also comes with a steeper 26.96% (Variable) APR, which makes it important to pay your balance in full each month. Before you venture here, make sure you have the discipline to do that, so you don’t end up with excessive credit card debt at a high interest rate.
Benefits: If building a solid credit history is important to you and rewards can wait, consider the Capital One Platinum Mastercard. This card is made for individuals with just fair credit scores. And it’s a great way to build your credit. It typically offers cardholders a small initial credit limit of $200 to $500. However when you pay your first five bills on time, you may get a higher credit line. This card also has no annual fee.
Drawbacks: This card does have a somewhat steep variable APR of 26.96%. So, like our other picks, don’t get one of these cards and rack up a lot of debt on it. Get it as a way to build credit and enjoy the freedom a credit card offers while paying it down or off each month.
If you’re carrying a bad credit ratings or have no real credit history, having a good place to start is with a secured card. These cards act like a standard credit card, but require a refundable security deposit of $200 to $500. Your deposit acts as your credit limit.
Benefits: The Discover it Secured combines the benefit of a secured card with a great rewards program. It pays 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in purchases from select categories each quarter. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. This card also has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. You won’t pay a late fee the first time you make a late payment—but we recommend not taking advantage of this perk. The APR is 25.24% variable on purchases, which is fairly standard, and Discover offers a 10.99% introductory APR for your first 6 months.
After eight months, Discover reviews your account each month to assess if it can refund your deposit and/or move you to an unsecured card that offers added benefits.
Drawbacks: Because it’s a secured card, you have to put down a deposit of $200 or more. You’ll want to consider your spending habits and budget to decide what deposit amount is right for you.
Just for Students—Discover it® Student Cash Back
Benefits: If you’re a student who’s looking to start building your credit, the Discover it® Student Cash Back is a good option. This is one of the most rewarding student credit cards available. It pays 5% cash back on purchases within rotating categories each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You also get an introductory APR of 0% for 6 months. After that the standard purchase APR of 15.24% to 24.24% variable applies. The amount of your APR will depend on your credit rating.
As an added incentive, each year you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, you get a $20 statement credit for up to five consecutive years from the time you open the account. This card comes has no annual fee, no late fee on your first late payment and no foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: You have to be a student to qualify for this card. So if you’re after your first card and not in school, this card isn’t an option for you. The introductory 0% APR can make it tempting to charge without paying down the card regularly. If you end up at the end of 6 months with a lot of debt on the card, you’ll pay interest on that debt.
Find more student credit card options.
Which Cards You Can Qualify For
Your credit score plays a big role in the cards you can qualify for. Because you’ve never had a credit card, there’s a good chance you have a limited credit history or no history at all. If you’ve graduated from college and are paying student loans, or if you have a car loan, you might have already starting building a credit profile. Either way, knowing your credit score is an important part of the process.
You can get your free credit score here on Credit.com. And with your score, you’ll get a free personalized credit report card and action plan that shows you which areas of your credit can be improved and how. Your report will show you whether your credit is bad, excellent and anywhere in between. You can use that “rating” to see which cards are available to those with similar ratings. For example, if your rating is poor, you’re not likely to quality for a credit card targeted at people with excellent credit.
Once you have an idea of what cards you can qualify for, you can start looking at some of the specific offers of each card. Some of the most important things to pay attention to are:
- Annual fees
- Interest rates or APR
- Additional card benefits
Variable APR and Your Credit Score
Note that interest rates for people with poor to fair credit tend to be higher than for those who have established good or excellent credit. When you see “variable” interest rate. Those with poor or fair credit will pay the higher end of the range, while whose with good and excellent credit will pay the lower APRs. For example, if you’re a student and have good credit and qualify for the Discover it® Student Cash Back card, you’ll pay an APR in the 15.24% side of the range.
Regardless of which first credit card you choose, whether it’s one listed here or another one, charge wisely. Know your credit score and know how to maintain it if it’s good and improve it if it’s not so good.
A Final Note
Interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products change frequently. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
This article was previously published October 2, 2017, and has since been updated by another author.