7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit

7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit

Best First Time Credit Card for Students
#1
Discover It for Students
  • Track your progress with a free FICO score delivered to you on a monthly basis
  • Don't sweat the small stuff—there's forgiveness when it comes to late payments
  • Earn rewards without dealing with hefty fees as a given and no annual fee
Best for Responsible Students
#2
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Students, new US residents, and people who've defaulted on a loan can build credit while earning rewards
  • Establish good habits with an on-time payment bonus on top of the flat rewards rate
  • Studying abroad? There are no foreign transaction fees when you use this first time credit card!
Best No-Fee Credit Card with Perks
#3
Discover It Cashback Match
  • An impressive first-year bonus that allows you to earn a dollar-for-dollar cash back match for your first year of spending
  • No interest for 14 months while you're learning how to use your credit card responsibly
  • Get rewarded for your spending with 5% cash back on rotating categories
Best Credit Card for Rebuilding Credit History
#4
Capital One Secured Mastercard
  • Perfect for anyone with poor credit looking to rebuild
  • Increase your credit limit after 5 months of on-time payments
  • No annual fees or foreign transaction fees

After 20 hours of research evaluating 65 products, we picked Discover It for Students as our top choice.

It can be overwhelming to apply for your first credit card. Responsible credit use is difficult for most, including those that have been using them for a long time. According to NerdWallet, the average household in 2016 has $16,883 in credit card debt, with U.S. households owing a total debt of $784 billion.

Applying for your first credit card will set the tone for credit card use over your entire life. For best results, choose a credit card that rewards good behavior, and forgives first-time instances of bad behavior while you get use to the idea of using a credit card.

Here’s the deal:

The best first credit card will help you to build your credit score, which is important when you want to apply for a mortgage, an apartment, or even car financing.

How to Get a Credit Card with No Credit

Established credit card users have tons of options when it comes to cash back credit cards, travel rewards credit cards, and more. But for those just starting to build credit, the options are a lot more limited. You'll want to pay attention specifically to starter credit cards if you can classify yourself as such:

  • College students, young adults, immigrants, and anyone else with “thin files” regarding responsible purchasing.
  • Those that have been avoiding credit cards their whole life because they're afraid of debt. Similarly, those that want a basic credit card to help build up their credit so that they can take out a mortgage or car loan.
  • Those trying to rebuild bad credit history, who may only qualify for a secured credit card at this point. A secured credit card is like a normal credit card, but it requires a (refundable) security deposit before being approved and receiving your card.

Responsible Credit Card Use When Opening a Starter Credit Card Account

If you're opening a credit card for the very first time, it's important to think about responsible credit card use. A failure to follow these important credit card money mantras will hurt your ability to build a great credit score:

  • A credit card is NOT free money. A credit card is like a bank loan and should be paid back in a timely manner to build up your credit score.
  • Get a starter credit card that has little to no annual fees and a small APR (annual percentage rate) so that if you accidentally miss a payment, it won't crush you. Usually, starter credit cards have high APRs (20-30%) and no frills or rewards. That said, if you're good about paying off your balance each month, you can lower your APR and eventually apply for a credit card that offers better rewards.
  • Try to pay in full every month. Only paying the minimum is how credit card debt starts.
  • Don't buy anything you don't need or you can't afford, based on your budget.
  • Resist the temptation of new credit card offers, at least until you've built up a great credit score and want to trade up from your starter credit cards.

Here's the Bottom Line:

There are 200+ choices in the market today, so it can be confusing to choose the perfect one for your situation. Luckily, we've already done the research for you with regards to top cards and their major pros and cons.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

Quick Look: 7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit
Total Visa Card
  • Doesn’t require good - or even fair - credit
  • Great for building or repairing credit
  • Reports payment history to 3 major credit bureaus
Check on Ct.buyright
First Access Visa Card
  • Shares your payment history with 3 major credit bureaus
  • Easy approval process
  • Accepted worldwide at participating locations
Check on Ct.buyright
SelfScore Achieve Mastercard
  • No social security number required to apply
  • No annual fees and foreign transaction fees if you decide to use this credit card back home, or when traveling
  • Earn a flat rate of 1% cash back on all purchases
Check on Selfscore
Capital One Secured Mastercard
  • Perfect for anyone with poor credit looking to rebuild
  • Increase your credit limit after 5 months of on-time payments
  • No annual fees or foreign transaction fees
Check on Capitalone
Discover It Cashback Match
  • An impressive first-year bonus that allows you to earn a dollar-for-dollar cash back match for your first year of spending
  • No interest for 14 months while you're learning how to use your credit card responsibly
  • Get rewarded for your spending with 5% cash back on rotating categories
Check on Discover
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Students, new US residents, and people who've defaulted on a loan can build credit while earning rewards
  • Establish good habits with an on-time payment bonus on top of the flat rewards rate
  • Studying abroad? There are no foreign transaction fees when you use this first time credit card!
Check on Capitalone
Discover It for Students
  • Track your progress with a free FICO score delivered to you on a monthly basis
  • Don't sweat the small stuff—there's forgiveness when it comes to late payments
  • Earn rewards without dealing with hefty fees as a given and no annual fee
Check on Discover
7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit

7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit

Read Video Infographic Tips

After 20 hours of research evaluating 65 products, we picked Discover It for Students as our top choice.

It can be overwhelming to apply for your first credit card. Responsible credit use is difficult for most, including those that have been using them for a long time. According to NerdWallet, the average household in 2016 has $16,883 in credit card debt, with U.S. households owing a total debt of $784 billion.

Applying for your first credit card will set the tone for credit card use over your entire life. For best results, choose a credit card that rewards good behavior, and forgives first-time instances of bad behavior while you get use to the idea of using a credit card.

Here’s the deal:

The best first credit card will help you to build your credit score, which is important when you want to apply for a mortgage, an apartment, or even car financing.

How to Get a Credit Card with No Credit

Established credit card users have tons of options when it comes to cash back credit cards, travel rewards credit cards, and more. But for those just starting to build credit, the options are a lot more limited. You'll want to pay attention specifically to starter credit cards if you can classify yourself as such:

  • College students, young adults, immigrants, and anyone else with “thin files” regarding responsible purchasing.
  • Those that have been avoiding credit cards their whole life because they're afraid of debt. Similarly, those that want a basic credit card to help build up their credit so that they can take out a mortgage or car loan.
  • Those trying to rebuild bad credit history, who may only qualify for a secured credit card at this point. A secured credit card is like a normal credit card, but it requires a (refundable) security deposit before being approved and receiving your card.

Responsible Credit Card Use When Opening a Starter Credit Card Account

If you're opening a credit card for the very first time, it's important to think about responsible credit card use. A failure to follow these important credit card money mantras will hurt your ability to build a great credit score:

  • A credit card is NOT free money. A credit card is like a bank loan and should be paid back in a timely manner to build up your credit score.
  • Get a starter credit card that has little to no annual fees and a small APR (annual percentage rate) so that if you accidentally miss a payment, it won't crush you. Usually, starter credit cards have high APRs (20-30%) and no frills or rewards. That said, if you're good about paying off your balance each month, you can lower your APR and eventually apply for a credit card that offers better rewards.
  • Try to pay in full every month. Only paying the minimum is how credit card debt starts.
  • Don't buy anything you don't need or you can't afford, based on your budget.
  • Resist the temptation of new credit card offers, at least until you've built up a great credit score and want to trade up from your starter credit cards.

Here's the Bottom Line:

There are 200+ choices in the market today, so it can be confusing to choose the perfect one for your situation. Luckily, we've already done the research for you with regards to top cards and their major pros and cons.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

Quick Look: 7 Best Credit Cards When You Have No Credit
Total Visa Card
  • Doesn’t require good - or even fair - credit
  • Great for building or repairing credit
  • Reports payment history to 3 major credit bureaus
Check on Ct.buyright
First Access Visa Card
  • Shares your payment history with 3 major credit bureaus
  • Easy approval process
  • Accepted worldwide at participating locations
Check on Ct.buyright
SelfScore Achieve Mastercard
  • No social security number required to apply
  • No annual fees and foreign transaction fees if you decide to use this credit card back home, or when traveling
  • Earn a flat rate of 1% cash back on all purchases
Check on Selfscore
Capital One Secured Mastercard
  • Perfect for anyone with poor credit looking to rebuild
  • Increase your credit limit after 5 months of on-time payments
  • No annual fees or foreign transaction fees
Check on Capitalone
Discover It Cashback Match
  • An impressive first-year bonus that allows you to earn a dollar-for-dollar cash back match for your first year of spending
  • No interest for 14 months while you're learning how to use your credit card responsibly
  • Get rewarded for your spending with 5% cash back on rotating categories
Check on Discover
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Students, new US residents, and people who've defaulted on a loan can build credit while earning rewards
  • Establish good habits with an on-time payment bonus on top of the flat rewards rate
  • Studying abroad? There are no foreign transaction fees when you use this first time credit card!
Check on Capitalone
Discover It for Students
  • Track your progress with a free FICO score delivered to you on a monthly basis
  • Don't sweat the small stuff—there's forgiveness when it comes to late payments
  • Earn rewards without dealing with hefty fees as a given and no annual fee
Check on Discover

Best Credit Card for People With Low FICO Scores

Best Credit Card for People With Low FICO Scores: Total Visa Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    See terms.
  • Cash Advance APR
    See terms.
  • Rewards Rate
    n/a
  • Annual Fee
    See terms.
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    n/a

Pros

  • Doesn’t require good - or even fair - credit
  • Great for building or repairing credit
  • Reports payment history to 3 major credit bureaus

Cons

You have to pay a hefty activation fee and an annual fee to use this card. There’s a high interest rate, and payments often take weeks to clear.

Details

Application Process: Apply online and get an immediate response. If you’re approved, you may have to shell out an account activation fee. Everybody pays the same amount regardless of creditworthiness, and all applicants start out with a $300 credit line.

You must have a checking account to get approved, but you can pay the activation fee with a debit card or money order if you prefer. You can pay monthly statements with a debit card, which is a feature many credit cards lack.

Bonus Offers: There are no bonus offers, but this is normal for cards tailored toward folks with bad credit.

Rewards: This is a no-frills card, so the only potential reward is an improved FICO score after responsible use. This card reports your balance and payment history to 3 major credit bureaus.  

APR: See terms.

Fees: See terms.

Best Visa Card for Very Poor Credit

Best Visa Card for Very Poor Credit: First Access Visa Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    See terms.
  • Cash Advance APR
    See terms.
  • Rewards Rate
    n/a
  • Annual Fee
    See terms.
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    n/a

Pros

  • Shares your payment history with 3 major credit bureaus
  • Easy approval process
  • Accepted worldwide at participating locations

Cons

High fees for everything, including an annual fee and an activation fee. No bonuses or special features.

Details

Application Process: The usual: Input some basic info in an online form and wait for a decision. Many applicants get a response in less than 60 seconds.

If you get approved, you may have to pay an activation fee before you can access your credit limit.

Bonus Offers: None. Sorry!

Rewards: This is a card for people with very poor credit, so it doesn't offer any rewards. It’s basically a last-ditch resort for people who can’t get approved for anything else.

APR: See terms.

Fees: See terms.

Best Credit Card for International Students

Best Credit Card for International Students: SelfScore Achieve Mastercard
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    19.99%
  • Cash Advance APR
    n/a
  • Rewards Rate
    1% cashback on all purchases.
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    n/a

Pros

  • No social security number required to apply
  • No annual fees and foreign transaction fees if you decide to use this credit card back home, or when traveling
  • Earn a flat rate of 1% cash back on all purchases

Cons

Two major perks of normal credit card use are missing with the SelfScore Achieve Mastercard: there are no balance transfers or cash advances available. If these things are important to you, ValuePenguin suggests using this credit card to build credit, then applying for another credit card with these options when your credit score is high enough.

 

 

Details

Application Process: Online. You won't need a social security number, but you will need:

  • Proof of a U.S. bank account balance
  • Passport ID and Student Visa
  • I-20 form

Annual Fee: Mercifully, none.

APR: A variable APR of 19.74% and a $5,000 credit limit.

Rewards: A flat rate of 1% cash back on all purchases.

Bonus Offers: Enjoy 0% interest for the first 6 months of using this card. If you have friends in the same situation, recommend this credit card to them and receive a $30 referral bonus if your referral's account gets approved.

Best Credit Card for Rebuilding Credit History

Best Credit Card for Rebuilding Credit History: Capital One Secured Mastercard
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    24.99%
  • Cash Advance APR
    24.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    n/a
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    n/a

Pros

  • Perfect for anyone with poor credit looking to rebuild
  • Increase your credit limit after 5 months of on-time payments
  • No annual fees or foreign transaction fees

Cons

The cons in no way outway the perks of being able to have a credit card when you have bad credit, but know that you won't earn rewards like many of the others on this list of the best credit cards for people with no credit. There's also a high APR and a low starter credit limit to deal with ($49, $99, or $200). You'll have to be careful not to fall back into bad habits, but luckily this card offers several safeguards against yourself.

Details

  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide

Application Process: Apply online. If approved, you'll need to make a deposit before receiving your card.

Annual Fee: None, but be prepared for a security deposit based on credit worthiness. You're looking at a refundable $49, $99, or $200. Magnify Money notes that this can't be used towards minimum payments, as its real purpose is collateral for your account. 

APR: A 24.99% variable APR, with no transfer fees.

Rewards: None, but this shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given the nature of this type of credit card. Once you build up your credit score, you'll be eligible to apply for other credit cards with awesome rewards!

Bonus Offers: Again, none—there isn't a lot of glory in rebuilding credit, but the rewards come over time after building good habits.

Best No-Fee Credit Card with Perks

Best No-Fee Credit Card with Perks: Discover It Cashback Match
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    13.24% - 24.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.24%
  • Rewards Rate
    1.0%
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months.
  • Bonus Offers
    Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Pros

  • An impressive first-year bonus that allows you to earn a dollar-for-dollar cash back match for your first year of spending
  • No interest for 14 months while you're learning how to use your credit card responsibly
  • Get rewarded for your spending with 5% cash back on rotating categories

Cons

If you're not very organized or responsible when it comes to using credit cards, it may be hard to remember the specific bonus category of the month, on top of remembering to opt in to get your 5% cash back! Of course, your main focus when using starter credit cards should be on building credit and establishing good habits, so this is relatively minor when it comes to credit card cons.

Details

  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • No annual fee.

Application Process: A simple online form.

Annual Fee: None! Perfect for beginners.

APR: A variable rate between 11.99% to 23.99%, with no interest for 14 months.

RewardsCash back can be exchanged for charity donations, statement credit, gift cards, or eDeposits.

Bonus OffersCash back you've earned the first year is matched dollar-for-dollar once the year is up. Additionally, you can refer a friend and get $50 additional cash back after their account has been approved.

Best for Responsible Students

Best for Responsible Students: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    24.99%
  • Cash Advance APR
    24.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    1.0%
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time.

Pros

  • Students, new US residents, and people who've defaulted on a loan can build credit while earning rewards
  • Establish good habits with an on-time payment bonus on top of the flat rewards rate
  • Studying abroad? There are no foreign transaction fees when you use this first time credit card!

Cons

The rewards are nothing to get excited about, topping out between 1% and 1.25% as a flat rate. Additionally, this credit card carries a high APR, so make sure to pay it off on time, as completely as possible, to avoid dealing with interest payments. Of course, these are all relatively small things to deal with when it comes to a starter credit card.

Details

  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you

Application Process: Online—your first-time credit card is just a few form fields away!

Annual Fee: None, which is perfect for its target audience of students.

APR: A flat rate of 24.99%.

Rewards: Nothing to write home about, but you'll earn 1% cash back on all purchases. Million Mile Secrets calls out the fact that you'll earn an additional 0.25% when payments are made early/on time. Get rewarded for establishing good habits!

Bonus OffersMake your first 5 payments on time, and you can get access to a higher credit line. By keeping your credit use low and expanding your access to credit, you'll build up your credit score in no time!

Best First Time Credit Card for Students

Best First Time Credit Card for Students: Discover It for Students
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    14.24% - 23.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.24%
  • Rewards Rate
    1.0%
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months.
  • Bonus Offers
    Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Pros

  • Track your progress with a free FICO score delivered to you on a monthly basis
  • Don't sweat the small stuff—there's forgiveness when it comes to late payments
  • Earn rewards without dealing with hefty fees as a given and no annual fee

Cons

Here's where things get a bit groan-worthy: you have to activate the bonus categories for every quarter in order to cash in on the bonuses. Additionally, Discover isn't as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard. A final consideration when it comes to picking your first-time credit card? If you spend a large proportion of your money on gas and dining, the Discover It Student Chrome Card would probably be better suited to you.

Details

  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 23.49%.

Application Process: Apply in minutes online.

Annual Fee: None, which is practically a necessity for a best first credit card.

APR: A variable rate between 13.99% to 22.99%.

Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on rotating categories such as Amazon.com, transportation, restaurants and more, for up to $1,500 spending per quarter with 1% cash back on all other categories. Rewards can be redeemed as an account credit, a donation to charities, e-gift cheques, and can also be used to pay for purchases at Amazon.com.

Bonus Offers: The Discover It for Students credit card offers a number of useful bonus offers, including:

  • A dollar for dollar match on all the cash back you’ve earned in the first year
  • Good grades reward: Get $20 cash back every time your yearly GPA is 3.0 or higher for the next 5 years
  • No increase in APR as a result of late payments
  • No late fee on your first late payment (though Money Under 30 reminds users that a late payment will still negatively affect your credit score, so avoid them as a general rule)

Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, www.The-Blogsmith.com and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman.

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