What’s the Best First Credit Card for a Beginner?

Discover has one of the best first time credit cards

The best first credit card for anyone looking to begin their credit history and build their credit score is one that you will not use and abuse and one that you will pay off in full every single month. Many young men and women ask about the best first credit card for new applicants once they reach the tender age of 18, but that’s not the most important question to ask. The most important question to ask is, “What do I need to look for in the best first credit card for someone with minimal, limited or no credit history?” because that’s where the real answers come from.

There are some cards that might be considered the best first credit card for young men and women, but that doesn’t mean that particular card is right for you. For example, if you have no job or disposable income, a credit card probably is not right for you at this point at all. If you plan on paying back more than the minimum amount due every month, but not the full balance, there might be some best first credit cards that are better for you than others. If you are willing and able to pay the balance on your card in full every single month, most of the considerations that many first time cardholders might consider are not really all that relevant to you. It all depends on your wants, your needs and your own financial situation.

What is factual, however, is that learning to use your first credit card is the best thing you will do for your financial future. What you do now develops the habits you work with later, and they do have an effect on your overall credit. Before we discuss the best first credit card for you, let’s discuss what to look for in a credit card, how to use a card the right way and which cards are the best first credit cards for people with similar credit history (limited to none).

How to Use Your First Credit Card

There are so many ways that a first time cardholder can use a credit card. You can use it to book travel home to see your family for the holidays, to purchase your books for class, to pay your expenses each month or to buy gas for your car. It is your card, but it is also your decision how you use it. At the end of the day, you can buy whatever you want with your new credit card, but you do need to know that the best first credit card is always the one that you do not become indebted to or over.

Using a credit card is something that many young people are never taught to do. Since the subject of money is so often considered taboo and tacky to discuss, many families fail to adequately teach their children and prepare them for the realities of their future finances. Balancing a checkbook, understanding the importance of a good credit score and learning to properly use a credit card are such imperative lessons for all kids to learn, but they’re not often taught. Many young people assume that credit cards are like ‘free money’ that they can spend and then pay back a little at a time.

“Hey! I can book that trip to Cancun with all my friends for spring break using my credit card and then pay the bill off $15 at a time! Score!” is the mentality that far too many young people have when it comes to their first credit card, and it’s not the best attitude to have when viewing finances. For that reason, we make it our mission to teach you how to use the best first credit card for you so that you don’t end up in debt and living with regret.

  1. Pay it off in full every single month
  2. Don’t spend money you cannot afford to pay back
  3. Don’t look at your credit card as free money
  4. Don’t apply for multiple cards all at once
  5. Don’t spend and then ‘assume’ you can pay back later
  6. Buy only what you can afford
  7. Keep the balance below 30% at all times

One good rule of thumb when you are using a credit card for the first time is to create a budget. Young people need to know how to do this, too, if they want to have any chance at a healthy financial future. See what you can afford and then spend only what is within your budget. Even if you only use your new credit card to pay for your gas once a month, that’s good. This is a purchase you can afford to pay off at the end of the month, you are using your credit card so that you can establish a good repayment history and you are increasing your credit score at the same time. It’s a win-win situation each time.

What to Look for in the Best First Credit Card

We say best first credit card very loosely around here, because not all credit cards are created equal and not all the cards we consider among the best first credit cards are going to be the best for you. However, there are a few basics that you should look for when you do apply for that first credit card.

  1. Interest rate
    1. This is important because it is additional money you will owe to the credit card company anytime you do not pay a balance in full. Typically, the lower the APR the better, but it might not matter if you know you will pay the card in full each month.
  2. Fees
    1. Does the card you are applying for charge an annual fee? Is the fee waived the first year? Is it a reasonable fee or is it too much? Many firs time cardholders will find that they are charged anywhere from $29 to $59 per year for the best first credit cards on the market, but anything higher than this is a bit too much for a first timer and should be ignored completely.
  3. Credit limit
    1. We know that you want a large credit limit, but we want you to have a smaller one. The best first credit card is the one with a low limit that makes it nearly impossible for you to go into debt. A $500 limit is just fine – and less would be better. This helps you learn to use your card responsibly and it helps you to learn how to best manage your card when you are a first time cardholder.
  4. Whether or not the card reports to the credit bureau
    1. Did you know that not all cards are created equal in that they don’t report to all the same credit bureaus or even to the good ones? You want a card that does report your payments to Experian, TransUnion or Equifax – possibly a few others, but at least one or more of these.
  5. Whether the card is secured or unsecured
    1. Sometimes cards are only available to first time users when they offer a secured balance. What this means is that you pay a deposit for the card and that is the credit limit you are given. After a year or so of making on time payments, your card company might refund you your deposit and turn your card into an unsecure card. Either way, the card activity is being reported to the major credit bureaus.

There are other things that we might advise others to look for when choosing the best credit card, but first time cardholders are not going to need to know about rewards, balance transfers and foreign transactions fees as these typically do not even apply to most of the best first credit cards for beginners. Now that you have an idea how to use the best first credit cards for beginners, allow us to help you choose one of the five best first credit cards available at the moment.

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Card

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Card

Here is another of the cards that makes the list as the best first time credit cards for beginners. This is a card that is generally available to those who have a limited credit history, which means that it’s going to prove useful and beneficial to you when you need it. It’s the kind of card that offers some rewards and some bonuses, but it’s basically a no-frills card with a low limit that’s going to get you on your way to establishing a good credit history so that you can one day buy a home and a car and apply for that job you’ve always wanted.

  1. 8% APR
  2. Available for anyone with limited credit history
  3. Rewards for on-time bill pay
  4. 25% bonuses on all cash back earned throughout the month
  5. No annual fee

Chase Freedom Credit Card

This is a card that is very much an option for those who have very little to no credit available. This card is a really good one, too. This is a real credit card that typically offers great rates, great bonuses and great points to those who qualify, and there is little difference for first time card holders. We consider this card one of the best first time credit cards for beginners because it’s a great card family to get started with establishing credit history.

  1. No annual fee for one year
  2. Zero percent APR for 15 months
  3. 5% cash back on all restaurant, gas and grocery purchases
  4. Ability to have your credit limit increased as you use and pay off the card responsibly

Discover Student Card

Discover Student Card

There are several benefits associated with this credit card, which is why it is one of the best first time credit cards on the market. The only drawback to this card is that it’s not always easy for someone with absolutely no credit to get this card approved. Additionally, you do have to prove that you are a student to qualify for this particular credit card. Your best bet is to have been an authorized user on a parent’s card or to have a car loan in your name at some point in the past few years. A little credit is needed to apply for this card.

Once you have this card, you will enjoy several amazing perks and benefits.

  1. No annual fee
  2. Zero percent APR for nine months
  3. Rewards such as 5% cash back on gas, groceries and restaurants and 1 percent cash back on everything else

Citi Forward for College Students Card

Citi Forward for College Students Card

What’s great about this card is that it is a rewards card, which is not all that common for students with limited credit history. You stand a good chance of being approved for this card without a credit history of any kind, and that is what we’re looking for when choosing the best first time credit cards.

  1. No APR for 7 months
  2. No annual fee
  3. Earn 1 point for every dollar spent on music, movies, books and restaurants


Orchard Bank Secure Mastercard

This is a secure card, which means a deposit is required. This card is going to provide you with everything that you need in terms of your credit establishment plan, and it’s going to do it without putting you in debt. You are required to place a specific amount of money into a linked savings account, and that amount determines your available credit. You are given the opportunity to learn to use a credit card by applying for this one, and everyone is approved. All you need is a deposit and the card is yours to use at any point.

  1. 99% APR
  2. No annual fee for one year, $35 per year afterward
  3. Reports to major credit bureaus
  4. Chance of deposit refund after one year of on-time payments and responsible card usage

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