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The Best Starter Credit Cards of December 2022

Written by: Jeanine Skowronski | Edited by: Tracy Stewart | Reviewed by: Ana Staples
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November 30, 2022

BEST FOR TRAVEL
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5X
Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
1.25X
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
17.99% - 27.99% variable
BEST FOR DINING
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.9 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

10%
Earn 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats, plus complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
8%
Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases
5%
Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
3%
Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
17.99% - 27.99% variable
BEST FOR EVERYDAY SPENDING
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:3.9 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

580-740 (Fair to Good) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5%
Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Annual fee
$39
Balance transfer intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
28.49% variable
BEST FOR GAS
Discover it® chrome
Our rating:3.9 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

670-850 (Good to Excellent) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2%
Earn cash back on your next road trip with 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
1%
Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
0% for 15 months
Regular APR
15.74% - 26.74% variable
BEST FOR NO ANNUAL FEE
Editor's Pick
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Our rating:4.2 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

(No Credit History) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
28.49% variable
BEST FOR NO CREDIT HISTORY
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Our rating:4.0 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

580-740 (Fair to Good) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
28.49% variable
BEST FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Our rating:2.6 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

(No Credit History) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

1%
Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
22.49% variable
BEST FOR SECURED CARDS WITH REWARDS
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Recommended credit

(No Credit History) CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2%
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
1%
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Annual fee
$0
Balance transfer intro APR
10.99% for 6 months
Regular APR
26.74% variable
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All information about the Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.


A guide to starter credit cards

Working toward excellent credit can open up a world of new opportunities, and a starter card may be your tool to make it possible. Starter credit cards encourage responsible credit card habits, often showing forgiveness on beginners’ mistakes and offering benefits to help cardholders get into a payment routine.


Best starter cards compared

Credit cardBest forAnnual feeReview score
Discover it® Student Cash BackNew users$04.1 / 5
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardTravel$03.4 / 5
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit CardDining$04.4 / 5
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit CardEveryday spending$393.9 / 5
Discover it® chromeGas$03.9 / 5
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit CardNo Annual Fee$03.7 / 5
Capital One Platinum Credit CardNo credit history$04.0 / 5
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for StudentsInternational students$02.6 / 5
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding CreditBad credit$75 first year, then $99 annually ($8.25 per month)2.2 / 5
Discover it® Secured Credit CardSecured card + rewards$04.1 / 5

best starter credit cards of 2022

Starter rewards cards

Best for new users: Discover it® Student Cash Back

Why we picked it: This card has a few features that make it friendly for first-timers: You won’t be charged a late fee the first time you miss a payment due date (after that it’s up to $41), and Discover will never increase your APR if you struggle to pay on time. (Note: Late payments can still affect your credit score.)

Pros: You’ll earn 5% cash back in an array of rotating cash back categories each quarter (upon enrollment, on up to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter, then 1%). This includes spending at places like gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and on online shopping.

Cons: There is a 0% introductory APR on new purchases for the first 6 months, but watch out for the regular APR of 16.74% to 25.74% variable after that.

Who should apply? Anyone looking for a safer card with consumer-friendly terms, that doesn’t want to sacrifice rewards.

Who should skip? Someone that might get carried away with spending while seeking out lucrative rewards.

Read our full Discover it® Student Cash Back review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for travel: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Why we picked it: The VentureOne is a great place to start your travel rewards journey, offering unlimited 1.25X miles on all purchases without charging an annual fee.

Pros: You can also score a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles if you spend $500 in the first 3 months. Even better, your miles never expire and you have flexibility in how you redeem them: You can book travel through the Capital One Travel Center, cover travel booked via an outside site or redeem miles for gift cards or cash back.

Cons: Your miles are worth much less if you opt for a gift card, statement credit or check instead of redeeming for travel. If you aren’t sure whether you want to use your credit card rewards for travel or cash back, you may be better off sticking with a more general rewards credit card.

Who should apply? Cardholders who want to earn travel rewards without paying an annual fee.

Who should skip? Anyone unsure whether they want to opt for travel rewards or cash back.

Read our full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for dining: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why we picked it: Offering 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services, and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), this is a great starter card for foodies.

Pros: You can set up automatic cash back redemptions or redeem manually as a statement credit, check or gift card in any amount, at any time. You’ll also get a $200 bonus if you spend just $500 in the first 3 months.

Cons: It isn’t the most versatile cash back credit card. Unless you spend heavily in the SavorOne’s bonus categories, you’ll likely earn more with a card that offers cash back at a flat rate on all purchases. This card also requires a good or excellent credit score (670 or higher). That may be a reach for someone looking for a starter credit card.

Who should apply? Anyone that frequently dines out and wants to take advantage of the card’s bonus on dining purchases.

Who should skip? Someone that focuses their spending on categories other than those offered by this card and anyone whose credit score falls outside the good-to-excellent range.

Read our full Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for everyday spending: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why we picked it: Cardholders with average or thin credit will appreciate the QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards card, which offers some of the same benefits as its big brother (the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card), but comes with a $39 annual fee.

Pros: You’ll earn consistent and unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, and your cash back never expires. You’ll also enjoy a number of great perks like $0 fraud liability, emergency card services if your card is lost or stolen, and identity theft protection.

Cons: Unlike many rewards cards, it offers no sign-up bonus and charges all cardholders the same very high variable APR of 28.49%, regardless of credit history.

Who should apply? Individuals seeking a straightforward card with a low maintenance rewards program.

Who should skip? Anyone who may not be able to pay off their monthly balance in full, as the card carries a high variable APR (28.49%).

Read our full Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for gas: Discover it® chrome

Why we picked it: You’ll earn 2% cash back on gas station purchases and 2% back at restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter, plus unlimited 1% back on all other purchases.

Pros: This card offers consumer-friendly terms, charging no foreign transaction fee, no penalty APR and no late fee for the first late payment (after that it’s up to $41). It also comes with a free FICO credit score on every statement. When you factor in Discover’s first-year Cashback Match, it offers one of the top cash back rates on gas station purchases available at no annual fee.

Cons: The card’s purchase APR is a variable 15.74% to 26.74%, so depending on your credit, you could end up with an interest rate on the high side. The 2% cash back is capped at $1,000 in combined spending per quarter and the sign-up bonus only boosts those earnings your first year.

Who should apply? People that spend a lot of time driving or eating out and want to capitalize on their spending.

Who should skip? Individuals seeking longer-term bonus value, as this card’s sign-up bonus only boosts cash back earnings in your first year.

Read our full Discover it® chrome review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for no annual fee: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

Why we picked it: The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card charges no annual fee, monitors your credit score and credit information and allows eligible cardholders to graduate to an unsecured credit card.

Pros: Depending on your credit, the required security deposit could be as low as $49 (or as high as $200, which is still reasonable). After six on-time monthly payments, you’ll be considered for a higher credit line, which could boost your credit score. Plus, there’s no annual fee, so you don’t have to worry about that cost derailing your plan for on-time payments.

Cons: You won’t earn rewards with this card, which is fairly common with secured cards. However, some secured cards do offer cash back and other forms of rewards. Also common for secured cards, the ongoing APR is high: 28.49% variable.

Who should apply? Anyone looking to build or rebuild their credit with responsible use and who wants access to a higher credit line after making a handful of timely payments.

Who should skip? Those seeking out a rewards program will need to look elsewhere.

Read our full Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Starter cards for no credit

Best for no credit history: Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Why we picked it: The Capital One Platinum has several features that allow you to beef up your credit history without drowning in fees: It charges no annual fee, foreign transaction fee or penalty APR and includes free credit monitoring.

Pros: You won’t have to tie up any money in a security deposit, and your account will be reviewed for a credit limit increase if you make your first 6 monthly payments on time.

Cons: If you have low or no credit, your credit limit may start out fairly low. Also, the card carries a very high variable APR of 28.49%.

Who should apply? Individuals with average credit looking to boost their credit history and avoid fees.

Who should skip? The high variable APR of 28.49% will give pause to those unsure about making payments on time.

Read our full Capital One Platinum Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for international students: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Why we picked it: You don’t need a traditional credit history to be approved for this card; even international students are able to apply without a Social Security number. The card also charges a lower late fee than most and no penalty APR, making it a safe starter option.

Pros: One extra perk that students may find useful is one year of Amazon Prime Student (after spending $500 within the first 3 billing cycles – lifetime value of $59), with perks like free shipping and Prime Video streaming. It also charges no foreign transaction fee – perfect if you plan to travel or study abroad.

Cons: On the flipside, 1% cash back isn’t a competitive rate. There are starter cards with better cash back rates, which will be valuable for years after graduation.

Who should apply? Students looking for an option with a low barrier for entry and the benefits of an Amazon Prime subscription will enjoy the value that this card provides.

Who should skip? While 1% cash back can help during your college years, there are other options that offer greater long-term value.

Read our full Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for bad credit: Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit

Why we picked it: One of the few credit cards for bad credit with a cash back rewards program, it offers 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases, including gas, groceries and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV. Terms apply.

Pros: The card also comes with free access to your Experian credit score, and you can check if you prequalify online.

Cons: You will have to pay an annual fee of $75 in the first year, then $99 annually ($8.25 per month), which will immediately reduce your credit limit and will be difficult to offset with cash back rewards. The card also carries a standard 3% foreign transaction fee ($1 minimum).

Who should apply? This card is a solid option for people with bad credit who are looking to rebuild their credit while simultaneously earning rewards on popular spending categories.

Who should skip? Anyone wanting to avoid fees should consider other options.

Read our full Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best secured card with rewards: Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Why we picked it: With this card, there’s no need to choose between features that help build credit and the ability to earn rewards. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%), and all of your cash back will be matched at the end of your first year.

Pros: After seven months of having your card, you’ll be automatically considered for an unsecured line of credit and a return of your deposit. With several valuable perks and no annual fee, this is an excellent starter card.

Cons: There’s a required security deposit of at least $200, though it is refundable. (Note: The cash back is subject to a cap, but most secured cards don’t offer rewards, so that’s not truly a drawback in this instance.)

Who should apply? This card offers a competitive rewards rate for this category and the opportunity to be considered for a credit line increase, which are great features for those looking to boost their credit.

Who should skip? Your cash back will only be matched at the end of your first year, which limits the long-term value of this card.

Read our full Discover it® Secured Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.


What is a starter credit card?

A starter credit card is a credit card with low credit requirements and other built-in features for first-time cardholders. Also known as subprime credit cards, they’re an option for students and general applicants with no credit history but can also be an important tool for people with fair-to-bad credit looking to rebuild their credit scores.

Starter credit cards may lack a lot of features and benefits like enhanced rewards, lower APRs and more affordable fees. That’s why they’re not the first choice for people with good-to-excellent credit. But starter credit cards are a great choice for anyone who wants to build credit fast and show creditors their responsible financial habits.

How do starter cards work?

Creditors use credit reports and credit scores to assess whether an applicant is likely to pay back a loan as agreed and if they should approve their application. As a result, you’ll need a credit history to get approved for most types of financing, including mortgages, auto loans and credit cards. Moreover, you need good-to-excellent credit to qualify for competitive interest rates and other favorable financing terms.

Starter credit cards can be a great way to build credit since they have low credit requirements. Plus, you can avoid paying interest on a credit card (as opposed to, say, a personal loan) by paying all your balances off in full each month. You can build credit by making on-time payments, keeping your debt levels low and limiting new credit inquiries. Learn more ways to build credit.

Types of starter credit cards

There are three types of starter credit cards: student credit cards, secured credit cards and unsecured starter credit cards.

Student credit cards

Compared to traditional credit cards, student credit cards have lower credit and income requirements. College students as young as 18 are able to get approved with a limited credit history, as long as they’re able to show some form of income. Depending on the credit card, sources of income on a student credit card application can include a job, leftover financial aid, or money deposited into your bank account (such as an allowance from your family).

As you use your credit card, your spending and payment habits will be reported to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). So when you use a student credit card responsibly, banks and other financial institutions will notice your good credit-building habits. This will eventually give you access to credit cards and other loans with the best terms and benefits. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy many of the benefits that come with having a credit card.

The right student credit card for you will fit your budget and lifestyle. Want to earn rewards? The Discover it® Student Cash Back card is a great option. You’ll earn 5% cash back in a variety of rotating cash back categories each quarter (upon enrollment, on up to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter, then 1%). All other purchases earn 1%.

If you prefer something simpler, a flat-rate credit card may be more to your liking. The Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all of your everyday purchases. But you’ll need to pay your balances in full and on time to avoid this card’s high 16.49 – 26.49% interest rate.

Learn more about how to choose a student credit card.

Secured credit cards

One of the easiest credit cards to qualify for is a secured credit card. That’s because it’s designed for people who would struggle to get approved for a traditional credit card. This includes people with bad credit or a limited credit history.

Secured credit cards require a deposit, which typically acts as your credit limit. The minimum deposit for a lot of secured cards is $200, and you won’t be able to use the card until you’ve paid this minimum amount. This deposit is collateral in case you are unable to pay your balance. But most issuers refund that deposit if you close your account in good standing or upgrade to an unsecured credit card.

On top of the security deposit, secured credit cards may have any number of other limitations you’ll have to watch out for. These include:

  • High interest rates
  • High annual fees
  • Lower credit limits
  • Penalty APR
  • Late payment fees
  • Limited rewards

To get the most out of your secured credit card, find one that fits your finances and needs. If you have a limited income, try the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. You may be able to qualify for a $200 credit limit with a security deposit as low as $49. And after 6 on-time monthly payments, you’ll be considered for a higher credit line, which could boost your credit score. But if you want to earn rewards as you work on building up your credit score, check out the Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card. You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases.

Once you’re approved, try to only use 30% or less of the card’s limit each month, and pay your balance in full each billing period to avoid interest charges. Over time, this type of credit card use will result in your credit score rising, and you’ll be on your way to qualifying for better cards.

Learn more about the difference between secured and unsecured credit cards.

Unsecured starter credit cards

Unsecured starter credit cards don’t require a security deposit. These no-deposit credit cards are also known as unsecured subprime credit cards because they are for people with credit scores that fall outside of the good-to-excellent range:

Compared to traditional credit cards or secured credit cards, unsecured starter credit cards may carry any or all of the following: higher interest rates, increased fees and lower credit limits. That’s because many lenders view borrowers with a lower credit rating as a greater risk to default and fail to pay back the money they owe. Fortunately, some unsecured starter credit cards try to limit these increased rates and fees.

If you have a limited credit history or fair-to-average credit, the Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card (issued by WebBank) makes it easy to focus on building up your credit score. This unsecured credit card charges no annual fee, no late payment fee, and no penalty APR. It also rewards good credit behavior by increasing the amount of cash back you can earn, up to 1.5% after 12 on-time monthly payments. But if you have a history of missed payments or delinquency, your chances of getting approved for this card drop significantly.

For people with bad credit, a better unsecured option is the Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card (issued by WebBank) . It has a higher variable APR (22.99% to 32.49%), as well as a late payment fee (up to $40) and returned payment fee ($29). But there’s no annual fee or security deposit required. And just like the Petal 2, it may use alternative data beyond what’s reported to the credit bureaus to determine your creditworthiness and also offers a chance to earn rewards.

Pros and cons of starter credit cards

Pros

  • Getting your first credit card is an important step toward building credit and can foster healthy financial habits.
  • Paying your credit card bills on time and in full will set you up to qualify for low interest rates in the future.
  • Some starter credit cards offer lucrative rewards on your spending and even travel perks like airport lounge access and free hotel nights.

Cons

  • Some starter credit cards have an annual fee and no rewards program.
  • Interest charges can be expensive if you don’t pay your bill in full and on time.
  • Missing a payment due date can damage your credit score, so look for some of the more forgiving options we recommend.

How to choose a starter credit card

Who should get a starter credit card

  • The student. It’s a good idea to start building credit early. College and graduate students who use a starter credit card responsibly will boost their credit score and show lenders they’ve developed good money habits. That makes it easier to qualify later on for loans and credit cards with the best rates.
  • The credit-builder. Secured cards require you to put down a deposit to become a cardholder, making them much easier to qualify for than traditional, unsecured cards. For this reason, secured cards are great for consumers who are just beginning their credit journey as well as those who are determined to improve bad credit.

Who should skip a starter credit card

  • The rewards chaser. Starter credit cards help people build their credit. Some offer rewards on spending, but not at the level you’ll find when your credit score hits the good-to-excellent range (FICO scores of 670 and above). Until then, you’ll need to focus more on the responsible credit habits that can help you one day maximize the amount of rewards you can earn.
  • The frequent revolver. These cards frequently offer APRs toward the higher end of the scale. Those interest charges can add up if you constantly carry a balance over each month. If you don’t think you will pay your balances in full each month, stick with a debit card for your everyday purchases to save money and avoid credit card debt.

How to get started with your first credit card

When you’re ready to get your first credit card, there are a few things you should do first before hitting the Apply button. Take a look at the following five steps, which can help increase your chances of getting approved for your starter credit card.

1. Have a source of income

Before you’re approved for your first credit card, you’ll need to show that you have a steady income and are able to pay your debts. What counts as income varies and goes beyond money you receive at a current job. If you’re over 21, card issuers consider funds that you have reasonable access to. This includes public assistance, alimony or child support payments, as well as retirement benefits.

2. Get your credit score

Your credit score helps determine what type of starter credit card you qualify for. Apply for a credit card above and beyond your score, and you’ll likely be rejected. Apply for a credit card you’re overqualified for, and you’ll miss out on money-saving features and benefits like lower interest rates and sign-up bonuses. Here’s how to get a credit score.

3. Know what credit card features matter most to you

There are thousands of credit cards on the market but only a few that will meet your needs based on your credit score. To find the right starter credit card, know what features and benefits matter the most to you. Are you looking to build credit? Do you also want to earn rewards? Make interest-free payments for a limited time? All the above? Once you know your main reasons for using a credit card you’ll be ready for the next step.

4. Compare credit cards

Before you apply for your starter credit card, make sure it gives you the most value. To do that, compare the credit cards that fit your credit score and needs. You may find one offers fewer fees and lower rates. Or it may have additional perks that fit your lifestyle, like free cellphone protection, extended warranties on purchases or automatic reviews for credit line increases. Learn more about how to compare credit cards.

The easiest way to compare credit cards is to use a comparison tool like our CardMatch™ service.  Depending on your credit profile, you may get a personalized list of offers – with no impact to your credit score. Just answer a few questions, and within seconds, you could receive a pre-qualified match from one or more of our partners like Discover, which has some of the best starter credit cards around.

5. Apply for one credit card

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to the best credit card for you, you’re ready to apply. This is typically done online, at the card issuer’s website. Just make sure to only apply for one credit card at a time. According to Experian, multiple credit card applications within a six-month period could lead to a potentially significant drop in your credit score and suggest to lenders that you’re not a responsible borrower.

When you apply, you’ll need to provide information like your legal name, birth date, address, Social Security number, annual income, how long you’ve lived at your current address, your monthly housing payment and what type of bank account you have. Knowing this information ahead of time will help make the process a lot easier.

How to make the most of a starter credit card

Once you’re approved for your starter credit card, the real work begins. If you don’t use your card responsibly, you could end up buried in credit card debt or do long-term damage to your credit score. Here are our top tips to help credit card beginners create healthy habits:

  • Don’t charge what you can’t pay back. Avoid a “buy now, pay when I have the money” approach. Stick to small, manageable expenses while you get used to using your card and only charge what you’re positive you can pay off.
  • Pay more than the minimum. If you carry a balance and only make the minimum payment due on your credit card, interest charges will quickly start to pile up, growing your balance each month until you end up buried in debt.
  • Pay on time. Payment history is the biggest factor in credit scoring, and even one late payment can do major damage. To avoid this (and the fees that come with paying late), set up text or email alerts to remind you when your bill is due or set up an automatic credit card payment with your bank.
  • Don’t max out your card. Credit utilization – the amount you owe compared to your available credit – is one of the biggest factors in credit scoring. If you consistently “max out” your card, you seem like more of a risk to lenders. Unsure of your credit utilization ratio? Use our credit utilization calculator to know where you stand

How we picked the best starter credit cards

Research methodology: We analyzed credit cards available to people with no-to-thin credit histories to determine the best starter credit cards on the market. The major factors we considered include:

  • Reasonable costs: Many starter credit cards have some upfront costs, like an annual fee or a refundable security deposit. We considered whether a card’s costs were at least comparable to industry standards and/or justified by other features of the care.
  • Beginner-friendly features: First-time credit cardholders might make some rookie mistakes, so we heavily considered cards that had forgiving features, like a skipped fee for your first missed payment or no penalty APR. (Note: It is still important to avoid these mistakes at all costs, given they are still likely to impact your credit.)
  • Upgrades for responsible card use: On the flip side, we looked for cards that rewarded responsible card use. For instance, can you secure a higher credit limit by making a certain number of on-time payments? Is there an opportunity to upgrade to a non-starter credit card?
  • Rewards: Some starter credit cards offer rewards and, while they shouldn’t necessarily be top of mind for credit-builders (or someone who suspects they may overspend to earn incentives), they can be a boon to certain applicants.

Other criteria we considered include overall value, ancillary benefits, customer service, APRs and security features.

More information on credit cards

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