Applying for your first credit card can be exciting—_but also intimidating_. If you’ve never used credit before, there’s a chance you might not get approved. Secured cards are often a popular choice for first-time cardholders because you could be accepted with limited credit or poor credit, but that’s not your only option.
Companies like Petal have popped up on the scene with unsecured cards for people who don’t yet have credit history. For young adults on the hunt for a first card, there are also student cards to consider. In this review, we highlight seven of the best first cards to think about adding to your wallet.
Here are the best first credit cards we evaluated:
In a nutshell: Unsecured cards do not require an upfront security deposit, while secured cards do. Your deposit on a secured card minimizes risk for the creditor and can make it easier to qualify for.
Creditors assume more risk when offering unsecured cards, so they tend to have stricter eligibility criteria. That said, going the secured route isn’t the only way to dip your toes into the credit card pond. Our list below highlights both unsecured and secured cards that could be a good choice for your first card.
How We Evaluated
We searched for unsecured and secured cards available to people with limited or fair credit. After reviewing the APRs and fees, we pulled the ones that offer the best terms. We also looked at the benefits and focused on helpful first-time cardholders perks, like free credit scores, payment reporting to all bureaus to help you build credit, and rewards opportunities. Finally, we tailored recommendations based on different situations.
Best unsecured card for students
Discover it Student Cash Back
The Discover it Student Cash Back card is an unsecured card that offers perks galore for college students. Each quarter, cardholders earn 5% cash back in revolving categories including Amazon, streaming services, groceries, and more.
Plus, you can earn 1% cash back on eligible purchases outside of the category, and Discover will double your cash back the first year. For example, rack up $200 in cash back, and the issuer will add $200 on top of that.
Got good grades? There’s a reward for that too. You can earn a $20 statement credit for each year your GPA is above 3.0 (up to five years).
Fees and APR: This card has no annual fee, and a low variable interest rate compared to other cards, but watch out: The APR is higher if you decide to take out a cash advance.
Perks: Thanks to the six-month 0% APR intro offer, you could buy books or a new laptop and make interest-free payments for half the year before a variable rate applies. Discover also waives your first late fee, but remember that on-time payments help build your credit history.
Let’s face it—things happen. Maybe you missed a payment on a student loan or car loan; this might not mean a major credit card is out of reach. While the Platinum Mastercard® from Capital One doesn’t come with a lot of frills, it could be a solid first card for people with fair credit.
According to the issuer, people who’ve defaulted on a loan within five years or have a limited credit history may fall into the “fair credit” category. Not sure if you qualify? No problem. You can get preapproved without doing a full credit check.
Fees and APR: This card has no annual fee and a variable interest rate on the higher side, but you can avoid paying interest by paying off your balance in full each month.
Perks: Capital One will automatically consider you for a higher credit limit as you make on-time payments, so your buying power can increase as you get more credit experience. Capital One also offers free credit scores and credit report updates through CreditWise.
Petal is a credit card company that aims to provide tools that help borrowers build credit history. While the company offers two cards—the Petal 1 and Petal 2—the Petal 1 card is the one getting the shine here because it could be a good first card for people with less-than-stellar credit. Credit limits on the Petal 1 range from $500 to $5,000, and because it’s an unsecured card, you don’t need a deposit.
To approve applicants, the company looks beyond credit scores and checks your banking history to determine your creditworthiness. You’re also able to get preapproved without a credit check to see if you qualify before submitting a full application.
On the flip side, if you’re looking for a first card and you have decent credit, the Petal 2 comes with a higher credit limit (up to $10,000) and 1.5% cash back on all purchases. When you submit your preapproval, the company will determine which product you qualify for.
Fees and APR: Both the Petal 1 and Petal 2 cards have no annual fee or international fees. However, the Petal 1 card has a higher APR, and charges late fees and returned payment fees. The Petal 2 offers a lower APR and has no late fees or returned payment fees.
Perks: Both Petal cards come with cash-back opportunities and a mobile app that has budgeting and payment calculator tools. For instance, you can see how much interest you’ll rack up depending on the payment you make, which may encourage you to chip in a little more. Importantly, Petal reports to four major credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, Experian, and SageStream—so that you can bulk up your credit history.
The Discover it Secured Credit Card is one of our favorite secured cards for first-timers because you can get an automatic refund and “graduate” to an unsecured card after proving you can manage the card responsibly. How’s that for convenience?
Your first late fee is also waived, and there’s a rewards opportunity. You can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants up to $1,000 per quarter, and then an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.
Fees and APR: This card has no annual fee and a variable APR that’s average compared to other secured cards.
Perks: Discover will automatically match cash back earned the first year. You also get monthly FICO scores that come for free with the monthly statement. Plus, payments are reported to all three credit bureaus, which can help you build credit.
With a secured card, your credit line is typically up to the amount of your deposit, but that’s not the case with the Secured Mastercard from Capital One. You could be asked to put down as little as $49 or $99 and still get a credit line of $200. Capital One will also regularly monitor your account. If you keep up with payments, you may be able to get a higher credit line and your deposit back.
Fees and APR: This card has no annual fee, but the interest rate is on the high side. Remember, if you pay your credit card on time and in full every billing cycle, interest won’t accumulate.
Perks: You can get preapproved for the Secured Mastercard from Capital One without a hard inquiry. Accounts come with CreditWise, a tool that can help you keep tabs on your credit score.
With the Chime Credit Builder Visa Credit Card, you can swipe without ever worrying about interest charges. Your credit limit is equal to the amount you deposit into your Credit Builder account, and you get the flexibility to decide how much to transfer. If you don’t already have a Chime Spending Account, you will need to open one and set up a direct deposit of at least $200 to qualify.
It’s unclear how Chime makes money from the Credit Builder account specifically since there’s no interest or fees. However, according to the company website, Chime takes a cut of the surcharge when you use the Chime debit card. So, rather than making money from you, Chime could be making the bulk of its money from merchant fees.
Fees and APR: This card has no interest rate and no annual fee.
Perks: Chime reports payments to all three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Applying for the card doesn’t involve a credit check; the main condition is that you need to have a Chime Spending Account with a direct deposit of at least $200 to qualify.
The money securing your credit card isn’t locked away as is the case with other secured cards. In fact, you can use it to pay for monthly account charges, though you’ll have to move funds over.
This card gives you a bit more bang for your buck in the rewards area compared to other secured cards. The Bank of America Cash Rewards Secured card offers up to 3% cash back in a category of your choosing, such as gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings.
There are reward rates for other categories, too: You can earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, a rarity with secured credit cards. The 3% and 2% categories have a $2,500 combined quarterly cap, and you earn 1% on everything else.
Fees and APR: This card has no annual fee and has a variable interest rate that’s about average for a secured card.
Perks: Cardholders get free FICO scores and reports that show factors affecting your credit score. Bank of America will monitor your account to see if you qualify to have your deposit returned.
This is a solid starter credit card, as it comes with FICO score updates and reports to all bureaus. But cards like the Discover it Secured have a few extra bells and whistles, including one waived late fee and cash back, which could make it more appealing as long as you don’t get distracted by the promise of rewards. Learn more
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
This card offers an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases with the opportunity to earn 1.25% in some cases—a great offer for a first-time card—but the Discover it Student has more incentives overall. That said, this card has no foreign transaction fee, so it could still be worth checking out for those planning to study abroad. Learn more
U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card
This secured card has no annual fee and offers credit score updates, but it doesn’t boast some of the other perks and rewards opportunities that come with a few secured cards selected above. Learn more
BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card
While cardholders receive free FICO scores, this offer doesn’t come with cash back. The Bank of America Cash Rewards Secured card, on the other hand, could be better for shoppers. Learn more
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
This unsecured card marketed for applicants with fair credit offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back, but the fee is $39 per year. You would need to spend $2,600 per year or $216 per month to earn enough rewards to break even. That could be a high threshold to meet for a young adult, college student, or someone who’s trying to build credit while keeping a very low balance. Learn more
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
The OpenSky Secured Card has a low APR, but there’s a $35 annual fee. Cardholder perks should outweigh any costs out of your pocket, plus many other cards we reviewed have no fee at all. Learn more
First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard® Secured
Similarly, this card has a low APR, but there’s a $49 fee, and others above have no fee. Learn more
Please note: The offers mentioned above are subject to change at any time and some may no longer be available.
Reviewed has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Reviewed and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
Things to Know About Credit Cards
Always review card terms and multiple offers to find the best card for you. For example, do you really need a card with gas perks when you don’t own a car? And how do the late fees compare from one card to the next? We also have a rundown of the credit card lingo you'll come across.
Remember that late payments, even on a small balance, can have a lasting effect on your credit history. You may not be planning to buy a home anytime soon, but your credit goes beyond securing a mortgage. It can come up when you purchase a car, sign up for utilities at an apartment, and apply for a job. So make sure you’re ready to keep up with payments before borrowing money against your first credit line.
APR rates, credit limits, and deposit requirements vary based on your individual credit. APRs tend to be higher for borrowers with limited or poor credit, but you will not be charged interest if you pay your bill off in full every month.
Banks have the final say on who they accept for a credit card. Although the cards below are geared to first-time borrowers with limited credit, not everyone may be approved.
While there may not be age restrictions for authorized users on credit card accounts, you usually need to be 18 years or older to apply for a credit card on your own. U.S. citizenship may not be necessary, but the credit card issuer may ask for a Social Security number during the application. Some issuers, including Petal, accept tax identification numbers.
How to Apply for a Credit Card
Before applying for a credit card, consider checking your credit to see where you stand. This can help you determine which credit cards you have the best shot at getting approved for. Pulling your own credit doesn’t hurt your score, and you can do it for free at one of several sites, such as Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, or CreditWise.
When you’re ready to apply, here are the steps:
Fill out the online form: The beginning of the process is usually as easy as filling out an online form that asks for your name, address, monthly income, and other personal information. The full application often requires a hard credit check that will show up on your credit report and temporarily ding your score. However, in some instances, such as with the Chime Credit Builder Visa Secured Credit Card (more on it below), there may be no credit check at all.
Get approved or submit additional information: Credit card approvals can sometimes happen instantly. However, in some cases, the credit card issuer may ask for additional information before giving you the stamp of approval.
Get your card and activate it: If approved, congratulations! The credit card issuer will send your card in the mail with instructions on how to activate it.
Taylor Medine is a personal finance writer with over five years of experience writing about credit, credit cards, personal loans, and money management. She's written for Credit Karma, CompareCards, LendingTree, MagnifyMoney, Student Loan Hero, and more.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.