All About Credit Cards That Help Build Your Credit
Updated: August 1, 2018
When you are just starting out, it can be tough to land the car you want, the apartment you need and even the job you are hoping for. Why? Because so much of our society centers around having good credit. But in a few short months, you can establish credit and be on your way to financial bliss.
We researched and evaluated more than 260 credit card offers that people with a limited credit profile can apply for, using criteria such as: ability to get approved, rewards rate, fees and rates, customer service, ability to improve credit line, benefits/perks, and more. Here, we look at:
Find out more about building credit below!
CreditCards.com's best starter credit cards for no credit in 2018
|Card||Best For…||Annual Fee|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||No Annual Fee||$0|
|Discover it® Secured||Everyday Spending||$0|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Online Shopping||$0|
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard®||Growing Credit Line||$0|
|Discover it® Student chrome||Dining and Gas||$0|
|Citi® Secured Mastercard®||Widely Accepted||$0|
|Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate Rewards||$39|
|USAA® Secured Card American Express® Card||Servicemembers||$35|
|Total VISA&Reg; Unsecured Credit Card||Unsecured||$75 first year, then $48|
|USAA® Secured Card Visa Platinum® Card||Low Interest||$35|
For more credit cards tailored to college students or recent graduates with a short or no credit history, see our student credit cards.
Our research methodology
Credit cards for no credit history analyzed: 264
Criteria used: Annual fee, regular APR, promotional APR (if any), other rates and fees, credit needed, ease of application process, rewards rates, rewards categories, redemption options, ability to improve credit line, tools to track credit score, customer service, security, other features and benefits
How can I get a credit card if I have no credit history?
There are cards out there that serve consumers who are new to credit, such as the Capital One Secured Mastercard. Sometimes, they want you to have a checking account, and they may require a refundable deposit of at least $200. Here is what you need to know about getting a card when you don't have a credit history.
- Make sure your credit reports are complete. Check with the 3 major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and make sure they have files for you. If not, they may be missing basic information, such as your Social Security number. If you don't have a financial account, you shouldn't have a report, but check to make sure, because bad guys can hijack your credit.
- Check your score. If you have a credit file, check your credit score either through MyFICO.com for about $20 for each score or your VantageScore for free at creditcards.com. This is an excellent behavior to get in the habit of. In fact, consumers reported that the more frequently they checked, the better their credit behavior:
Percentage of consumers who said checking their score improved their credit behavior...
- Checked 12 or more times a year
- Checked 7-11 times a year
- Checked 4-6 times a year
- Checked 2-3 times a year
- Checked 1 time a year
- Look into a credit-builder loan. Establish a bank account with your local financial institution, then check on getting a credit-builder loan. These are small loans designed to help you build your credit.
- Consider a secured card. The fastest and easiest way to build credit is with a credit card, and a relatively easy card to land is a secured card. That's because you put down a refundable deposit that is used to secure your credit limit. Just make sure the card issuer is going to send your credit habits to the credit bureaus.
- Research, then apply for one card. With your score handy, look at cards you are likely to get, checking annual fees and any other charges that might be incurred. Only apply for one card so that you don't negatively impact your score with multiple credit pulls.
- See about being an authorized user. If you don't think you will be able to get your own card or you want to take baby steps, see if you can become an authorized user on a responsible consumer's card. Just make sure they pay on time and in full each month, because their good credit habits will go on your file. Not all card issuers report authorized users' information to the credit bureaus, so check. In a few months, you will be able to apply for your own card.
How to build your credit
There's a lot of misinformation out there about building your credit, including how to properly manage your credit card. In fact, your credit card is one of your important tools for building credit, but it's also critical to know how to manage your credit as a whole.
Unfortunately, consumers' understanding of how credit works is on the decline, according to Experian. The credit bureau looked at key elements of credit knowledge and found that consumers' understanding was down 2017 compared to previous years:
Consumer knowledge about credit is down...
- Knew that cellphone companies use scores to price and accept customers...
- Knew that utility companies use scores to price and accept customers...
- Knew that consumers have more than one credit score...
- Knew that credit scores represent the risk of not repaying a loan...
There are a number of tricks to improve your credit, many of which tie to credit cards. By managing your credit card and other bills, you are well on your way to building your credit:
- What's your score? You need a baseline.
- Are your credit reports accurate? Correct any errors with the 3 major credit bureaus. Make sure there aren't any accounts you don't recognize. Also, pay off any outstanding debts you have, or at least come up with a payment plan.
- Do you pay bills on time? If not, start immediately. Keep in mind that even if a creditor, such as a landlord, may not send positive credit patterns, the creditor may send bad credit habits. For that reason, it's important to pay each and every month.
- Have you applied for a credit card? This is the fastest way to build credit. But it's a must that you pay on time or your credit score will drop significantly and quickly.
- Do you make a charge each month? By making a small charge on your card each month, you build your credit month by month.
- Can you pay in full each month? If you pay your card in full each month, you avoid paying interest charges and you build your credit that much faster. That's because your available credit by your balance is factored in. If your available credit is $1,000 and your balance is $100, then your credit utilization ratio is 10% – you want it as close to zero as possible, although 10% is considered good.
- Are you tempted by taking out more credit? Think strategically about taking out credit – don't apply for loans or credit cards without a plan, because applications can affect your credit.
- Do you know what good credit is? There are some times when taking out credit is a good idea. For example, by taking out a credit-builder loan or some other type of installment loan, such as a car loan, you give your credit a little boost.
With hundreds of credit cards in the market, it can be overwhelming to decide which card you should get first. We can help with that.
For example, you'll need to look at which type of card you want (or can get); whether there are fees; and what rewards are offered. We'll walk you through the different types of cards and what you should pay attention to.
- Does the card issuer report to the credit bureaus? This is a deal-breaker, because if the issuer doesn't report to the bureaus, you won't be able to improve your credit with the card.
- Are you clear about the fees? Look at not only the better-known fees in the "Schumer Box," such as late and returned payment fees, but also fees lower in the text, including "billing statement copy fee" and "expedited telephone payment fee." Make sure you won't be nickel and dimed with your new card.
- Do you understand the types of cards there are?
- Secured. This card requires a refundable deposit, typically starting at $200. This is a good card for someone with bad or no credit.
- Unsecured. Most cards are unsecured, which means there is no required deposit. There are some unsecured cards available for consumers just starting out.
- Student. These cards are usually for the beginner consumer, although they don't necessarily vary significantly from other cards.
- Rewards. The ultimate goal for many is to work toward a rewards card, which typically requires good or excellent credit, but some beginner cards include rewards.
- Gas. Gas cards typically require lower credit, and they can have loyalty to specific brands. Some are co-branded, which means they are aligned with a card network, such as Visa or Mastercard, which allows you to use the card anywhere the network is accepted. Of 28 gas cards surveyed recently, 11 were found to be co-branded.
- Do you qualify? Check that you have a high likelihood of landing the card before applying, because every time you apply for a card, it impacts your credit score by about 5 points. You'll need your credit score for this, which you can get for about $20 each through MyFICO.com or you can get your VantageScore for free through creditcards.com.
- Is there an annual fee? While this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, you'll want to pay attention to make sure it's something you can afford and that it's worth your while.
- Are there rewards or benefits? Some starter cards offer rewards, although it can be worth your while to minimize the fees for now and plan to get a rewards card in a year or so.
- What is the APR? While it's usually a bad idea to carry a balance on your credit card, because you'll pay interest charges if you do, you'll want to pay attention to the APR, just in case.
Now that you know what to look for in a card, here are 5 that are worth a look:
Good first credit cards...
|Card||Annual fee||Features||Credit required|
|Capital One Platinum Credit Card||$0||Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time||Fair, average, limited|
|Discover it Student chrome||$0||2% back on gas stations and restaurants up to $1,000 a quarter; double back end of first year; $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years||Fair|
|First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured Credit Card||$49||No processing or application fees; other fees may apply||Bad|
|Credit One Bank Platinum Visa with Cash Back Rewards||$0-$75 first year, then $0-$99||1% back on eligible purchases||Fair|
|American Veterans USAA Rewards Visa Signature Card||$0||2,500 points after first purchase; 1X point on everyday purchases||Excellent, good, fair|
How a limited credit history can affect other life decisions
Unless you live on a plot of land you own free and clear in a tiny house powered by propane, your credit matters.
That's because not only credit card issuers and lenders make decisions based on your credit. Employers, landlords, even utility companies are interested in how you handle credit.
Here are some primary ways credit can affect your world:
- Insurance. Your insurance company looks at your credit when deciding how much your premiums should be.
- Credit card. When you are on the hunt for a credit card, your first stop needs to be a card that will likely accept your credit score – anything above will only set you up for rejection.
- Mortgage or car loan. Perhaps the best-known reason for why credit matters, lenders look at your credit to decide which product, if any, to grant you, as well as product terms. That means the higher your score, the better the terms, usually.
- Job. While potential employers can't check your credit without your approval, companies are increasingly studying job applicants' credit history before making a final decision.
- Apartment. Landlords are increasingly looking at potential renters' credit when making a decision on which renter to accept.
- Utility and cellphone accounts. Utility and cellphone companies check your credit before making a call on whether to require a down payment and in some cases, even whether to accept you as a customer.
Can you get a credit card at 18?
Yes, you can get a credit card when you are 18, but it is complicated.
When polled, consumers said they believed you should get at least one card in your own name by the time you are 22. But until you are 21, it can be difficult. We'll explain more in a bit.
Here's what we learned about when consumers feel you should get your first card:
- You should have a card by the time you are 30.
- You should wait until your 30s to get a card.
- You should wait until you are over 40 to get a card.
- You should never get a card.
Interestingly, 36% of adult consumers under 30 have never had a card, the credicards.com poll shows. Although young consumers feel you should get a card while you are young (58% of consumers feel you should get your first card by the time you are 20), the truth is that it is a little tricky to accomplish that.
That's because the Credit CARD Act of 2009 is designed to make sure young consumers don't take out a financial product before they are financially or emotionally able to handle it. Unfortunately, the easiest and fastest way to build credit is with a credit card.
While it can be frustrating to have to jump through hoops to be able to start building your credit, there are some work-arounds, such as becoming an authorized user on someone else's account.
How to get a credit card when you are under 21
- Do you have credit files? The first thing you should do when you turn 18 is to check your credit files with the 3 major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. You want to make sure that a) you even have a file, and b) that the file is accurate. Have the bureaus correct any incomplete or inaccurate information. You shouldn't have a file if you don't have any credit accounts.
- Do you have income? If you are under 21, you are required by the Credit CARD Act of 2009 to have your own income if you want a credit card of your own.
- What's your score? You'll need this to know which cards you qualify for. Only apply for one so your score doesn't take a hit.
- Could you be an authorized user? If you don't have your own income or your credit file is too thin (not enough credit information), look into being an authorized user on a responsible consumer's credit card account. You are not legally responsible for the bill, but you benefit from their good credit habits. Also, unlike co-signing, it's easy to be taken off an account as an authorized user. A couple of things to know about being an authorized user:
- Make sure the holder of the account pays on time and in full every month.
- Keep track of your credit reports and scores to make sure they are on track.
- Work toward getting your own card, because the benefits from being an authorized user are only as long as you are on that account.
- Not all card issuers report authorized users' credit habits to the 3 major credit bureaus, so check.
Do you have to have a job to apply for a credit card?
If you are over 21 years old, you don't have to have a job to apply for a credit card, provided that you have reasonable access to income, for example that of a partner or spouse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau amended the CARD Act of 2009 in 2013 to allow at-home parents the ability to get a credit card without a job.
However, if you are under 21, it gets trickier, because in an attempt to protect young consumers, the 2009 law requires them to have income of their own when applying for a card. This does not apply if you are applying as an authorized user.
What information is needed to apply for a credit card?
Here are common questions asked when you apply for a credit card. As you can see, you might be asked about whether you own or rent, your monthly housing payment and source of income. If it's a starter card, you may be asked if you have a bank account, and if so, what type.
- Years at address
- Whether you own or rent
- Monthly housing payment
- Income source
- Liquid assets
- Whether you have a bank account
- Type of bank account
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Mother's maiden name
- U.S. citizenship
- Dual citizenship
How to use a credit card responsibly
Once you have a credit card, it behooves you to use it in a responsible manner, partly because if you don't, you can lose the card, end up paying thousands of dollars in interest charges and even see your credit score suffer.
The good news is that if you handle your account correctly, your credit will improve within months. And that means you will qualify for better financial products, including rewards cards that require good or excellent credit. You will also be able to get better lending terms on a mortgage or car loan. Here are a few tips to ensure that your card account is its best:
- Pay on time. The most important thing you can do to take care of your credit card is to pay on time each and every month. In fact, it's 35% of your score.
- Pay in full. By paying in full each month, rather than carrying a balance, you not only keep from paying interest charges, but you also keep your credit utilization ratio low. This ratio is your available credit by your balance – so, if you have $1,000 in available credit and a balance on your card of $100, then your ratio is 10%, which is excellent. This is 30% of your credit score's scoring model, making it the second most important part of your score.
- Pay off debt rather than moving it around. Don't be tempted to move your debt from card to card. Instead, only put on the card what you can afford to pay each month.
- Put a small charge on it each month. By putting a small amount on your card, you are keeping it active and ensuring that the account isn't closed due to inactivity.
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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