8 Tips for Choosing the Best First Credit Card

8 Tips for Choosing the Best First Credit Card

Ready to apply for your first credit card but don't know where to start? Well, you're not alone.

With so many options, choosing the best first credit card can seem overwhelming.

With the dozens of different cards offered by the major banks, smaller banks and credit unions, it's easy to get overwhelmed when trying to select the best first credit card for you.

The incredibly large selection of credit cards available to you is a sign of a healthy, competitive market. But that may not seem like such a good thing when you have no experience shopping for the right card.

Here’s what you need to know when selecting the best first time credit card:

What should your goals be for getting the best first credit card for your needs?

Experienced credit card users may select the best card to earn rewards, enjoy valuable benefits, or to help pay off their existing debts. But in order to find the best first credit card for you, your goals should be a bit different.

The point of your first credit card should be to help you learn how to manage your own account, while giving you the opportunity to build your credit history and your credit score.

This means paying your bills on-time, and carrying very little, if any debt.

Having a credit card will also offer you one of the most secure methods of payment possible. Unlike other forms of payment, including debit cards, your credit card account is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.

This powerful Federal law says that you will never be responsible for more than $50 in case of a fraudulent charge, or a merchant failing to deliver what it promised.

In practice, every credit card has a zero liability guarantee that means that you won’t ever lose a penny.

You’ll also want to take advantage of a credit card’s unique benefits. For example, most credit cards come with rental car insurance, so you don’t have to pay for the expensive coverage offered by the rental car companies.

Many credit cards also come with shopping protections such as damage and theft protection, price protection, and extended warranty coverage.

Finally, many credit cards also offer purchase rewards. However, when you are looking for your first credit card, earning rewards should be the lowest priority, far behind learning to handle your account responsibly and building your credit.

1) Features to look for in your first credit card:

First, you’ll want to apply for a credit card that you can be approved for. These are credit cards designed for applicants with a limited credit history.

If you’re a student, there are some credit cards that are specifically marketed towards full-time students with a modest income and a limited credit history.

Next, you’ll want to look for a credit card with low rates and fees.

When you have a limited credit history, you can’t expect to be approved for a credit card with the most competitive interest rates, but you can still avoid paying an annual fee.

You’ll also want to look for a credit card that’s easy to use. First time credit card users should avoid cards with complicated reward schemes and try to find a card issued by a company with a reputation for good customer service.

2) Where to start:

Now that you know what you’re looking for, where should you begin? One place to start is with the bank or credit union where you currently have a checking or savings account.

Opening a credit card account where you already bank has the advantage of building on your existing banking relationship while keeping all of your accounts in one place.

Also, you’ll only have to remember one login, and learn how to use a single bank’s website.

And when you have to make a payment from your checking or savings account to your credit card, it’s simply a matter of transferring funds between accounts, not between separate institutions.

Another good place to start is with some of the major credit card issuers. For example, Capital One, Discover, Bank of America, and US Bank all offer credit cards for students as well as anyone with a limited credit history

3) Choosing a card when you’ve had credit problems:

Even if you’ve never had a credit card before, you may have had credit problems in the past.

For example, if you’ve had trouble repaying a student loan or a vehicle loan in the recent past, then you’ve might have fair or poor credit.

But if you can’t qualify for a standard credit card, don't lose hope yet.

Secured cards work much like standard, unsecured cards, except that you must submit a refundable security deposit before you can open an account.

The size of your deposit becomes the amount of your card’s credit limit. But once your account is opened, a secured card is treated just like any other credit card.

You’ll get a monthly statement, and will have to make a minimum payment each month. However, any store where you use your card will not know that it’s a secured card.

Some secured cards come with the same benefits of any other card, such as rental car insurance, extended warranty coverage, and damage and theft protection.

With at least a year of on-time payments, your credit score should rise enough to allow you to be approved for a standard, unsecured card.

Once you open your unsecured card account, you can close your secured card account and receive a refund of your security deposit.

What's the bottom line?

Applying for a credit card is an important financial decision, especially when it’s your first time. You should take the time to research all of your best options before choosing the right card for your needs.

Just remember that using your first card responsibly will be more important than which card you choose.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

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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.

This article was last updated September 3, 2019 but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

8 Tips for Choosing the Best First Credit Card

  • 8. Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
  • 7. Discover it® Secured Card
  • 6. Deserve Edu Mastercard
  • 5. Discover it® for Students
  • 4. Capital One Savor Card
  • 3. Chase Freedom Unlimited®
  • 2. Chase Freedom®
  • 1. Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card

Best Unsecured for Bad Credit

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Best Unsecured for Bad Credit: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Get from C.cullr
512 Clicks
Variable APR
19.99% - 28.99%
Cash Advance APR
28.99%
Rewards Rate
n/a
Annual Fee
n/a
Intro APR
n/a
Bonus Offers
n/a
76 % Editor Score
97 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • Credit limit can increase after 5 months of on-time payments
  • Pick your monthly due date
  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees

  • Helps you build credit without distractions
  • Can qualify with average credit
  • Card offers no rewards or any other major benefits
  • High APR
Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds.

Rewards: None.

Bonus Offers: None.

Annual Fee: None.

Details:Capital One® Platinum Credit Card »

Best Secured Credit Card if You Want Bonus Offers

Discover it® Secured Card

Best Secured Credit Card if You Want Bonus Offers: Discover it® Secured Card
Variable APR
24.49%
Cash Advance APR
26.49%
Rewards Rate
Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
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.
96 % Editor Score
91 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • Offers cash-back rewards, plus a bonus the first yaer
  • Refundable security deposit, potentially before you close your account
  • No annual fee

 

  • Get up to 2% cash back on everyday spending
  • You can get your deposit back as soon as eight months after you open the account
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Requires a security deposit to open an account
  • Discover is widely accepted overseas
Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds

Rewards: The card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

Bonus Offers: Discover matches the cash-back rewards you accumulate during your first year, with no limits.  

Annual Fee: None.

Details:Discover it® Secured Card »

Best Credit Card for International Students

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Best Credit Card for International Students: Deserve Edu Mastercard
Get from Selfscore
193 Clicks
Variable APR
20.24%
Cash Advance APR
n/a
Rewards Rate
1%
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
n/a
Bonus Offers
Get up to $49 in Amazon Prime Student subscription fees credited back to your account.
82 % Editor Score
86 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • International students don't need a Social Security number to apply
  • No annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a flat rate of 1% cash back on all purchases, plus get an Amazon Prime Student subscription offer

  • The card charges a relatively high APR
  • You need a U.S. bank account, which can be tough if you have no Social Security number
  • Its rewards don't stack up against some other student credit cards

 

Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds. A Social Security number isn't required, but you will need:

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

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

Bonus Offers: Use your Deserve Edu card to sign up for an Amazon Prime Student subscription and get reimbursed up to a lifetime total of $49.

Annual Fee: None.

Details:Deserve Edu Mastercard »

Best First Time Credit Card for Students

Discover it® for Students

Best First Time Credit Card for Students: Discover it® for Students
Get from Discover
355 Clicks
Variable APR
14.49% - 23.49%
Cash Advance APR
26.49%
Rewards Rate
5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in categories that rotate; 1% cash back everywhere else.
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
0% on purchases for six months and 10.99% on balance transfers for six 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. Earn $20 for each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years
90 % Editor Score
80 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • Earn 5% cash back everyday spending categories that change every three months
  • Get a $20 statement credit every year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, plus Discover will double all the cash back you earn in your first year
  • No annual or foreign transaction fees

  • You need to activate the bonus categories each quarter to qualify for the 5% rewards rate
  • The card charges a high APR
  • Discover isn't widely accepted overseas
Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online and get a response in 60 seconds.

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.

Bonus Offers: Discover will match all the cash back you earn in your first year dollar for dollar. You'll also get $20 cash back each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for the next five years.

Annual Fee: None.

Details:Discover it® for Students »

Capital One Savor Card

Capital One Savor Card
Get from
56 Clicks
80 % Editor Score
86 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • 3% cash back on restaurants
  • No annual fee
  • $150 cash sign up bonus

  • "Everywhere else" cash back only 1%
  • No miles or points for travel

This is a high earning cashback rewards card perfect for people who love dining out. Earn 3% at restaurants and 2% on groceries with no annual fee.

Details:Capital One Savor Card »

Best Overall Cash Back Credit Card

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Best Overall Cash Back Credit Card: Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Get from Z.zenaw
313 Clicks
Variable APR
16.24% - 24.99%
Cash Advance APR
26.24%
Rewards Rate
1.50%
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months
Bonus Offers
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
86 % Editor Score
87 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • If you have more than one Chase credit card, you can earn more by transferring points and splitting your spending between the two cards
  • Freedom and flexibility: the flat 1.5% cash back rate isn't limited to a specific category
  • The bonus offers are easily attainable and include a $150 bonus after spending $500 within 3 months after opening. Plus, you'll earn a $25 bonus after you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the same period.

There's a lot to love about the Chase Freedom Unlimited cash back credit card. It provides a high rewards rate with no nonsense in terms of rotating spending categories - just a flat 1.5% back on every purchase you make with the card. With responsible use, you won't have to pay a penny to use this card, as there's no annual fee. 

As far as actually getting the cash back you've earned, there's no minimum required for redemption, and cash back earnings can be redeemed for any amount (unlike the Chase Freedom card, which requires a minimum $20). On top of that, there's a relatively small minimum spend required to earn the lucrative account opening bonus.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card doesn't offer any specific bonus categories, due to its nature as a flat-rate cash back credit card. So those who know their high-spending categories (like groceries, for example) may want to opt instead for a cash back credit card that caters to their spending habits.

While going through this list, you'll also notice that it's not the highest flat-rate cash back card around. There's also a foreign transaction fee, so if you want a credit card specifically for international travel you should look into opening a credit card that caters specifically to travelers. 

Expert Ratings

Application Process: Online, over the phone, or at a branch. Online is the easiest method, but it's nice to know that you have options!

Annual Fee: No annual fee! How's that for maximizing the money in your pocket? Balance transfer fees are $5 or 5% of the transferred amount (whichever is greater).

APR: 0% for the first 15 months, then a variable APR of 16.24% to 24.99%. 

RewardsYou can redeem your rewards as cash back in the form of:

  • Bank account deposits
  • Statement credits

Or, you can also redeem rewards using the Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1 cent each and may be claimed through the Ultimate Rewards portal for:

  • General merchandise purchases made through the portal, or third-party retailers (such as Amazon)
  • Travel purchases 

Bonus Offers: Earn a $150 bonus after spending $500, within 3 months after opening a new account. Additionally, you can also earn $25 if you opt to add an authorized user of the card, and that person makes their first purchase within the 3 month period.

Details:Chase Freedom Unlimited® »

Best Promotional APR Credit Card for Cash Back Rewards

Chase Freedom®

Best Promotional APR Credit Card for Cash Back Rewards: Chase Freedom®
Get from G.glopm
318 Clicks
Variable APR
16.24% - 24.99%
Cash Advance APR
26.24%
Rewards Rate
1.5%
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
Bonus Offers
Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
85 % Editor Score
97 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • Unlimited cash-back rewards for qualifying purchases
  • Promotional APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

  • Earn up to 5% cash back on everyday purchases
  • Offers a decent sign-up bonus
  • Charges a high balance transfer fee
  • The card's rewards program is somewhat complex
Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds.

Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate; unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Bonus Offers: Score a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases during your first 3 months as a cardholder. Get $25 more when an authorized user makes their first purchase in the same 3 month period.

Annual fee: None.

Details:Chase Freedom® »

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back: Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card
Get from G.glopm
304 Clicks
Variable APR
24.99%
Cash Advance APR
24.99%
Rewards Rate
1.50%
Annual Fee
$39
Intro APR
n/a
Bonus Offers
n/a
82 % Editor Score
93 % User Score

Why People Love it

  • Unlimited flat 1.5% cash back rate on all purchases
  • Easily obtainable bonus of $150 when you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening
  • Value Penguin calls it one of the best cashback cards for low spenders

Travelers will appreciate that there are no foreign transaction fees associated with this credit card. Everyone will appreciate that you don’t have to be purposeful to collect your rewards, as the Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card offers a flat, unlimited 1.5% cash back rate on all purchases.

If you’re new to the world of credit cards, this card might be your perfect match. But if you’re a little more of an experienced user, you can certainly find higher percent cash back credit cards for a small annual fee that will likely be more than justified. A related example? The Capital One Spark Cash for Business credit card. Additionally, you may be interested in using one of the best Capital One credit cards for balance transfers... until you find out that it comes with a 3% balance transfer fee.

Expert Ratings

Application Process: Apply online just as you would with the other best Capital One credit cards on this list.

Annual Fee: Absolutely no annual fees! Definitely a perk of this credit card.

Rewards and Redemption Options: It’s very simple: earn an unlimited flat rate of 1.5% cash back, which does not expire. You can redeem this cash back as a statement credit or cheque.

Bonus Offers: Just about anyone using this credit card will earn a $150 bonus after spending $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening.

Details:Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card »

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Article Staff

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, and Business Insider. Jason’s also well known within the community of travel rewards enthusiasts as the Senior Points and Miles Contributor for The Points Guy and other outlets on the subjects of airline rewards and family travel. Using this expertise in earning and spending points and miles, Jason and his family travel around the country and across the world, consuming an estimated $100,000 worth of award travel in 2013 alone. Finally, Jason’s writing on the subject of travel is further enhanced by the fact that he holds a commercial pilot’s license. Jason lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and three children.

Editor Jenna Holtz
Researcher Ronnie Langston
Art Director Cherry Barbacena

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