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Best first credit card September 2022

Enter the world of credit cards with the right choice.

The best first credit card is one that can help you build credit while fulfilling a specific financial need, such as earning rewards on purchases or helping you save on interest. To serve you the best first credit cards, Finder’s credit card experts spent hundreds of hours comparing more than 400 options.

We selected the top five cards that stood out with features such as no credit check, alternative credit card approval criteria, low fees and rewards. Finder provides unbiased reviews of all credit cards, including those from providers that aren’t our partners.

Best for established credit

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Finder rating 4.7 / 5 ★★★★★

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Those who have been authorized users on someone else’s credit cards are likely to have a good credit score of 670 or higher. This can allow access to the Freedom Unlimited card, which is one of the best cashback cards currently on the market. Think of it as skipping ahead in line: Even consumers who already have credit cards aim to eventually get one of the Freedom cards in their wallet.

Best first credit card for no credit history

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

Finder rating 3.1 / 5 ★★★★★

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If you have no prior credit history but a good financial track record, you have good chance of qualifying for this generous card. It comes with cashback rewards, no fees and a potentially high credit limit. The lack of fees is especially helpful if you're just starting off and worry you might slip up before getting your credit legs.

Best first credit card for professionals

Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®

Finder rating 4.5 / 5 ★★★★★

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Professionals fresh out of college or those relocating to the US may find this card to be an excellent first choice. It doesn't require a credit history or a credit score to apply for it, and helps you build your credit score. What's more, there's no annual fee and you get to earn rewards on all your purchases.

Best first credit card for college students

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students

Finder rating 4.4 / 5 ★★★★★

Most student credit cards come with lower rewards rates and shorter or no 0% intro APR period compared to standard credit cards. However, the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students is a unicorn. It's almost identical to the nonstudent version, with the same rewards rate, signup bonus and intro APR period.

Best secured card

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured

Finder rating 4.2 / 5 ★★★★★

If you have a poor credit score resulting from other types of financial missteps, getting a secured card is often the first step to rebuilding your credit. For this type of card, you have to make a deposit of between $300 and $4,900, which will act as your credit limit. You can get your deposit back if you upgrade to an unsecured card or decide to close your account without any debt. What separates this card from competition is that you get to earn the same rewards as you would with the unsecured card.

4 types of first credit cards

It may seem counterintuitive but first-timers have access to a variety of credit cards to help build credit and even earn rewards. Here are the most common options for starter credit cards:

  1. Credit cards for those with no credit. This type of card is worth considering for anyone who’s not a student and anyone who has no credit history but has a steady income and low or no debt. To determine your eligibility, providers of this type of card will typically check your income and bill payments, among other financial checks.
  2. Secured credit cards for those wanting to safely build credit. Secured cards can be a great choice for anyone who has a bad credit score or no credit history. For this type of card, your finances aren’t generally an issue. That’s because you must make a secured deposit of $200 or more, which acts as your credit limit. This is basically a guarantee that you’ll pay off your balance.
  3. Student credit cards for those still in school. This is a great option for students because there’s rarely a credit score requirement to apply for the card, and you can often earn rewards on your purchases. What’s more, student cards often report to all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — which can help build credit with responsible card use.
  4. Standard credit cards for those who want rewards. There are two options to get access to standard credit cards — you either become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card or you get one by yourself if you were already an authorized user and have built a credit score. This gives you access to some of the best cashback rewards credit cards, travel rewards cards and more. These are often hard to get if you don’t have at least a good credit score of 670 or higher.

3 factors to consider when choosing your first credit card

With no credit history, your credit card options are limited. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep an eye out for particular perks and benefits, and you’ll get the right card.

  1. Rewards potential Some cards reward all your purchases, while others reward you more on specific categories. Consider which card will earn you the most rewards based on your spending.
  2. Your credit score. Unless you were an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, chances are you won’t have any credit score to begin with. Students can go right ahead and apply for student cards, which are one of the best credit-building cards. Anyone else would have to go for secured credit cards, cards that don’t check your credit score or cards that take other factors into consideration aside from your credit score, as the Petal cards do.
  3. Fees. The best credit cards won’t have an annual fee, a foreign transaction fee or late payment fees. If you rarely travel abroad or shop online with foreign merchants, it’s likely you won’t mind the foreign transaction fees. But if you do spend money online or use your card internationally, consider a card with no foreign transaction fees.
Finder pro tip: Apply for one card at a time. When you apply for a credit card, the card provider checks your credit score. This is known as a hard pull, which knocks a few points off your score. A hard pull isn’t a big deal as it’s easily reversible with good repayment habits. But applying for multiple cards simultaneously can have a huge negative impact on your credit score.

What makes for a best first credit card

The best starter credit cards should report your card activity to all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. That way you can easily build your credit with responsible use and get a better card down the line.

If your first credit card also comes with rewards, a signup bonus and even a 0% intro APR period, all the better.

CreditSage CEO Nicholas Fernandes tells Finder: “There are several factors to credit cards that make it ‘the best.’ There isn’t a straight answer to it because it varies on what the individual wants from their credit card. If they’re looking for rewards, then credit cards beat debit cards any day. If they want to build credit, again credit cards are the best way to do so.

Credit cards are good protection for your money. Let’s say you used your debit card at an online store and that store gets hacked and the hackers get your card details and make transactions.

It’s almost impossible for you to get your money back because it’s not the bank’s money. But if you use a credit card, you can dispute a charge in seconds and the bank fights for the money because it’s their money and if anything it’s covered by insurance.

Credit cards have a lot of utility to them and you can use credit card points for groceries, gas, purchasing something outside your budget, etc. — all while building credit and protecting your money at the same time.”

Nermeen Ghneim, financial expert and owner of personal finance blog Savvy Dollar, tells Finder:

“A great first credit card would be one that has no annual fee, low interest rates, and low balance transfer fees. I also prefer to have a card with rewards points. Does the card have a 0% fee on balance transfers for 18 months? If not, consider that.

Having to pay interest while transferring your debt can be costly. Does the card you’re looking into offer cash back options? If it doesn’t, consider other cards like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers up to 2% cashback [1% on purchases and an additional 1% when you pay for those purchases].

What is the annual fee associated with this card? Is there a yearly fee or any other hidden fees? Compare this with other cards without any yearly fees.”

Bottom line

When used responsibly, credit cards can become a convenient, practical and valuable part of your adult finances. If you play your cards right, they may even help you get approved for a home loan or other financial products in the future. And once you’ve become comfortable handling your credit card, consider scoping out a top-rated secondary card that perfectly complements your first.

If you haven’t found the best credit card for your needs, compare other credit card options until you do.

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