10 Best First Credit Cards: Travel, Students

Best First Credit Cards
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Getting your first credit card can help you learn how to manage credit and become financially successful.

We looked at dozens of credit cards available to people who never had a credit line before and found the best cards for every credit score.

When you think of credit cards, you may think about buying things and paying bills. But a credit card is so much more than that. Unlike a debit card or checking account, having a credit card is one of the first steps to building a good credit score.

Try the CardMatch Tool!

Use the CardMatch Tool to find the best first credit card for you! The tool uses a soft credit check, so it won’t affect your credit score at all.

Even some landlords check credit scores for rental applications. Without credit, you wouldn’t be able to rent in some places, buy a new car, or even get approved for a cell phone line. You are starting off your financial life on the right foot by building great credit — starting with your first credit card.

The best way to be approved for one of these cards is to have some form of credit history, such as being an authorized user on a parent or family member’s account. Having a co-signer also helps your approval odds. However, with just a security deposit, you can get approved for a secured credit card without anyone’s help. 

Building excellent credit is a long process, but here are the 10 best first credit cards for you to check out so you can start.

The First Credit Cards We RAVE About

Best First Step
CardMatch Tool
Best for No Credit
Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card
Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card
Best for Poor to Average Credit
Capital One Journey Student Rewards
Capital One Journey Student Rewards
Best for Excellent Credit
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards
Best for Travel Rewards
Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students
Best for Students
Citi Rewards+ Student Card
Citi Rewards Student Card

About Credit Cards

Like all things in life, credit cards can be used for good, or they can hurt. Learning how to manage your first credit card is imperative to financial success.

Credit gives you the ability to buy goods or services before making any monetary payment, based on the trust that you will pay it back in the future. Having a line of credit means your lender feels you are likely to pay back your balance.

Credit almost always comes at a cost, which is known as the interest rate. On your credit card bill, your interest rate is called the “annual percentage rate” or APR. That is the extra percentage of money you will have to pay to use that line of credit, based on your total balance. This means that every month your bill is due, you can either pay your bill completely and avoid an interest charge, or you pay a minimum amount required by the bank, including the interest charge to carry a balance forward and pay over time. 

Nothing in Life is Free

Watch out for that fee! Financial companies make a lot of money from unsuspecting customers through fees and charges.

Some credit cards have annual fees, and almost all have a late payment fee. If you forget to pay your bill by the due date, you’re likely to get hit with a late fee that can vary from $25 to $35. Put a calendar reminder in your phone to pay your bill, or have it set up to be paid automatically to avoid late fees.

Over-the-limit fees are charged if you buy something that throws your balance over your credit limit. Avoid those fees by keeping a low balance, which helps your credit score.

If you’re traveling abroad, foreign transaction fees can cost you a fortune, or typically 3% of your total purchase.

Credit Cards for Good

All reputable lenders check your credit report with one or more credit agencies before approving you for a credit line. But what do you do if there’s no history in your credit report? You have to start somewhere!

Here is what your first credit card tells lenders about how responsible and financially trustworthy you are: 

  • Payment history: Paying your credit card bills on time every month end up being 35% of your credit score. Having several late payments hurt it.
  • Credit utilization rate: How much of a balance you carry across your total credit line. This part of your financial history is 30% of your credit score.
  • Length of credit history: Building credit takes time, and you can’t make time pass faster. The longer you have a credit card or line of credit open with a good payment history, the more your score rises in this area, which makes up 15% of your total credit score.
  • Types of accounts in use: A credit card is just one type of account and the easiest way to build credit. Student loans, car loans, and mortgages are other types of credit that show lenders you know how to manage payments from different financial products. This makes up 10% of your total credit score.
  • New credit: Every time you click on that apply button when asking for a credit card or credit line, lenders make a hard inquiry on your credit report. Hard inquiries tend to lower your score, and they make up 10% of your total credit score. Soft inquiries, like a landlord or insurance company checking your credit, do not affect your score.

Add up all these factors, and you come up with a credit score range from 300 to 850. Then, you can determine how high your interest rate will be. 

Tips for Getting Approved for Your First Credit Card

Become an authorized user. The easiest way to get approved for a credit card is having an existing credit history thanks to being an authorized user on mom or dad’s credit card. Being an authorized user means the card holder is responsible for payments.

Get a co-signer with great credit. You are responsible for all payments, and if you can no longer pay, the co-signer becomes liable for those payments.

Don’t apply for a million credit cards at once. Every time you apply, a hard inquiry shows up on your credit report and can lower your score.

Methodology

With dozens of banks offering you credit cards with so many different terms, it’s hard to narrow it down to one for which you’re actually eligible. We looked at all the credit cards geared towards first-time borrowers and came up with this top 10 list.

We created a robust scoring system based on value, perks, and ease of acquisition. Our methodology was based on a weighted score of these factors:

  1. Value for interest rate charge
  2. Secured vs. unsecured
  3. Size of security deposit
  4. Ease of access to credit
  5. Rewards

Then we took an average of those scores for a final metascore and built our ranking from there.

The Best First Credit Cards

Capital One Journey Student Rewards

Capital One Journey Student Rewards

The Journey Capital One Card is a great starter if you have a limited credit history. You don’t even need to be a student to apply. Starter cards don’t usually have rewards, but the Journey card gives you 1% cash back on all purchases, boosting it to 1.25% if you pay your bill on time every month. There’s no annual fee and you don’t have to put down a security deposit.

One disadvantage is that the interest rate is nosebleed-level high. Typical interest on the Journey card is 26.99% variable APR on purchases — that’s over a quarter you have to pay extra on your total balance if you don’t pay it entirely by the due date.

This is a great first credit card to have a low balance and limit, because the 26.99% purchase APR rate will eat up your credit fast if you don’t pay the bill before it’s due.

Pros

  • No security deposit
  • 1% to 1.25% cash back
  • Not restricted to students

Cons

  • Very high APR

Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students

The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students card is a very good first credit card thanks to it having a solid sign up bonus, no annual fee, and generous rewards earning. Because it is a card for students, you can still be approved without much credit history.

You will earn 25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening, which is worth $250. Every dollar you spend on the card will earn 1.5 points, which is great for a beginner type card. All of your rewards can be used for travel statement credit, making your next summer break trip easier on the wallet. Hotels, flights, rental cars, and many other travel costs count as travel, so you could potentially cover your entire trip with this card.

The card also has a 0% APR intro offer for 12 billings cycles on purchases and no foreign transaction fees for when you are out of the country. You will also be able to stay on track with a free monthly FICO score. Just make sure you know when the 12 billing cycles will end for the intro APR offer as your interest rate will jump up to 16.74% to 24.74% based upon your creditworthiness. You should really consider this card for your first credit card!

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Generous sign up bonus
  • 0% APR for 12 billing cycles

Cons

  • No bonus category rewards
  • No travel protections

Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card

Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card

The Wells Fargo Secured Card is another secured card, which means you have to provide the bank with a collateral deposit. This card is available to nonresident aliens, which is great if you’ve immigrated to the U.S. and need to establish a credit history.

There are no promotional introductory rates, but the interest on this card is lower than the Discover it Secured at 21.24% APR on purchases and balance transfers. With responsible use, you may become eligible to upgrade to an unsecured Wells Fargo credit card. If approved, your deposit is refunded.

The downside to this card is that it has a $25 annual fee, but it’s very small for a typically lower 21.24% APR compared to other cards.

Pros

  • Lower APR than some others
  • Deposit refunded with upgrade
  • Available to nonresident aliens

Cons

  • Requires a deposit
  • Annual fee ($25)
  • No promotional intro rates

The BankAmericard Secured credit card is a great secured credit card, which means you will need to put some cash down as a deposit to get this card. The amount you put down as a deposit will then be equivalent to your credit line. You will be required to put down a minimum of $300, but can put down up to $4,900.

If you are responsible and make your payments on time for 12 months, you could potentially be eligible to have your deposit returned and the card changed to an unsecured credit card. This card has no annual fees, but it does have a quite high variable APR. The card does have a 24.74% variable interest rate so you won’t want to carry a balance from month to month.

Pros

  • Low minimum deposit
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Requires a security deposit
  • High variable APR

Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card

Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card

This Visa secured credit card issued by Green Dot made the top 10 list for an incredible feature: It has a 9.99% fixed interest rate on purchases! For a first credit card, an APR this low is typically unheard of. As a secured credit card, your credit line is the amount of collateral deposited into a Green Dot savings account, which can be as low as $200 and as high as $5,000.

Another perk is that your collateral deposit sits in an interest-bearing savings account which currently yields 0.15% annually. Green Dot does not apply penalty interest rates for late payments and there is no minimum credit score required to apply.

There are minimal downsides to this card, one being a $49 annual fee. The company can also impose limitations on the use of your account for security reasons, like limits on the total number of all transactions, types of transactions such as purchases or cash advances, the total dollar amount of transactions, or the nature of the transaction like an online purchase, even if you have credit available.

Pros

  • Really low APR!
  • No minimum credit score
  • Deposit earns interest

Cons

  • Annual fee ($49)
  • Requires collateral
  • May have restrictive limits

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards

The Capital One QuicksilverOne card is another version of the famous Quicksilver card that caters to people with no credit or bad credit. It’s a great first card if you are new to the U.S., a student, or if you have defaulted on a loan before.

A major pro of this card is definitely the unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Also, since it’s a starter card, the bank may give you access to a higher credit line after you’ve made your first five payments on time. Another perk for a great starter card: no security deposit required.

The downsides to this card are a low annual fee of $39, a high 26.99% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers, and no introductory offers.

Pros

  • Ideal for those new to the US
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back
  • No security deposit needed

Cons

  • Sky-high APR
  • No intro offers
  • Annual fee ($39)

OpenSky Secured Credit Visa Credit Card

OpenSky Secured Credit Visa Card

Capital Bank’s OpenSky Secured Visa card made our top 10 best first cards list because they don’t even need to check your credit to approve you! As a secured credit card, your credit limit is defined by your refundable deposit, which can be as low as $200 and as high as $3,000. A great perk of this card is the relatively low purchase APR of 19.14%.

The downsides to this card are minimal, like a small $35 annual fee and no access to balance transfers. You also don’t need a checking account to fund your security deposit. You can pay the security deposit to the bank through other methods like Western Union or money order.

Pros

  • No credit check required
  • Relatively low APR
  • Limit can be as high as $3,000

Cons

  • Requires a deposit
  • Annual fee ($35)
  • No balance transfers

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

The Capital One Platinum card is a great first credit card that does not require a security deposit. It’s geared towards people with no credit, those new to the U.S., students, and for those who hurt their credit already.

This is a no-gimmick first credit card with a few pros, like no annual fees and access to a higher credit line after making the first five payments on time.

There are a few cons to this card, but none make or break the deal. First, at 26.99%, the interest rate is high for purchases and transfers. As an unsecured credit card, the bank checks your credit report to approve or deny your application, but Capital One gives you the option to pre-qualify for one of their cards without checking your credit report first. Lastly, this card unfortunately does not provide any rewards or introductory offers.

Pros

  • No deposit needed
  • No annual fees
  • Credit line increases possible

Cons

  • Very high APR
  • No rewards or intro offers
  • May require a credit check

Citi Rewards+ Student Card

Citi Rewards Student Card

The Citi Rewards+ Student Card is the best first credit card specifically for students, but it will probably be your second card. Due to terms, Citi doesn’t specify the required minimum credit score to be approved, but it’s likely geared toward people with good to excellent credit. And we know how tough it is for students to establish good credit in the first place (which is why you’re here).

It has tons of rewards, and rounds up points nearest 10 on every purchase. It allows you to earn 2,500 bonus points redeemable for a $25 gift card after spending $500 in the first three months after opening your account. You can also earn one ThankYou Point on all purchases, and twice the points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year, then 1 point thereafter.

But wait, there’s more! You can get 10% points back for the first 100,000 ThankYou Points redeemed per year. And yes, there’s a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first seven months, then you’re switched over to a variable APR between 15.99% and 25.99%, based on creditworthiness. Finally, there are no annual fees.

The major setback of this card is obvious: It’s only available to college and graduate students, and you must be over 18 years old. Also, it’s an unsecured credit card, so you need existing credit to be approved.

Pros

  • No annual fees
  • Lots of great rewards
  • 0% intro APR for 7 months

Cons

  • Requires good to excellent credit
  • Restricted to students
  • Not as likely to be a first card

Credit One Bank Visa Credit Card

Credit One Bank Visa Credit Card

The Credit One Bank Visa credit card tops off our 10 best first credit cards list. This credit card is a little gimmicky, but beggars can’t be choosers when you have no credit or hurt your credit already. They do give you automatic account reviews for credit line increase opportunities, but one strange feature is that you don’t know the annual fee amount until you apply for the card.

The pros of this card are 1% cash back rewards on select purchases, according to the company’s terms, and free access to your monthly Experian credit score.

The downside is the gimmicky rewards feature. For example, you qualify for one of Credit One’s six cash back rewards programs based on your creditworthiness after you submit a pre-qualification request. Another downside is the typically high APR rate for starter cards, between 19.74% and 25.74%, based on creditworthiness. Finally, the biggest downside is that according to Credit One’s terms, the annual fee for their Visa credit card is $0 to $75 for the first year, then $0 to $99 after that.

Pros

  • 1% cash back on some purchases
  • Access to credit line increases
  • May qualify for other rewards

Cons

  • Variable annual fee
  • Relatively high APR
  • Inconsistent rewards

Why Should I Get a Credit Card?

There are many reasons why getting a credit card can help you. It helps you build a credit history, which is the first step to becoming financially independent. By using a credit card, you learn how to manage your finances and better budget for bills. By using a rewards credit card like you would a debit card and paying the bill prior to its due date, you will earn tons of rewards and pay nothing in interest. It’s basically like getting free money from the bank just for using your card. A debit card can’t do that. But make sure to pay the full bill before it’s due or you’ll get hit with a finance charge.

Am I going to drown in debt by getting a credit card?

You can easily fall into a debt trap by having a credit card, but it’s important to have one to learn how to avoid falling into that trap. You can stay away from the debt trap by having a low first credit card limit, like $300. It’s not a lot of money, but first credit cards tend to come with high interest rates above 20%. If you don’t pay your bill in full before the due date, interest can build up and you’ll end up paying more in interest to the bank than the actual purchase you made.

Paying only the minimum payment is the easiest way to fall into the debt trap, so try to avoid it unless you’re super tight on cash for the month. It’s a myth that carrying a balance on your credit card is good for your credit — it’s not. In fact, having a balance of 30% or more of your credit line hurts your credit score. Try to pay the full bill or at least double the minimum payment every month to pay down your credit card sooner and pay less in interest.

What’s the difference between a secured and unsecured credit card?

secured credit card is backed by collateral, meaning your credit line is the amount you pay the card issuer to give you a credit card. It’s the best way to go if you don’t have a credit history, because if you can’t pay it back for any reason, the bank has that amount to avoid a loss. Lenders don’t know if you will be able to pay your bills on time or at all, so a secured credit card gives them less to worry about. And just like a regular, unsecured credit card, you still have to pay your bill every month or get hit with an interest charge. 

Why shouldn’t I apply for many credit cards to get one?

Every time you apply for a credit card, you get a hard inquiry on your credit report because lenders need to check your score to see how risky of a borrower you are. A higher credit score means you’re a low-risk borrower. A low credit score means you either have a limited credit history or you don’t manage your money well, making you a risky borrower.

These hard inquiries make up 10% of your total credit score. If you apply for five credit cards and get one, your credit ratio rises and your credit score lowers temporarily. However, if you apply for those five cards and don’t get one, it really hurts your score. That means you now have five hard inquiries on your credit report that will stay there for two years until they fall off. The best thing to do is search for a card for which you have the best chance of being approved and apply for it. If you’re seriously scared of being denied a credit card, go for a secured credit card on your first try.

What are the best first credit cards?

The Green Dot primor Visa Gold Secured Credit Card has a fixed interest rate of 9.99%, which is the lowest APR available for people with no credit. This card is highly recommended for a first-time credit card holder because if you stumble in managing your balance and payments, the low interest rate won’t bankrupt you. It’s also a secured credit card, so you have collateral to pay your balance if an unforeseeable emergency doesn’t allow you to pay your credit card bill.

The Capital One Journey Student Rewards is another great first credit card and, despite the name, you don’t have to be a student to get it. This card has a high interest rate of 26.99%, which means if you forget to pay your bill, your total balance will rise by 26.96%! If you know how to manage your credit balance, this card is a great starter card because it has rewards. Get 1% cash back and even boost it to 1.25% if you pay your bill on time every month.

RAVE Recommends

Now that we’ve got you thinking about your financial future, take a moment to check out if one of these credit cards would be a great first step for you:

Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.