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Credit Cards

5 best starter credit cards for people with limited or no credit history

Select analyzes the credit card options available to consumers whose credit history is lacking.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers, but not all offers on Select are from affiliate partners.

While the most valuable credit cards available tend to be created for consumers with good or excellent credit scores, there are still plenty of options for those with a limited history — or even no credit history — who want to earn solid rewards for their purchases.

Below, Select reviews the best credit cards for people whose credit history is lacking, and the types of rewards and benefits they can expect to earn from each card.

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Best credit cards for those with a limited credit history

Best for card benefits

Who's this for? The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card, issued by WebBank, is ideal for those with limited or no credit history since it takes into account a range of other factors such as bank statements and earnings to determine eligibility. If approved, you'll receive a credit limit of at least $300.

As its name suggests, this card doesn't charge you extra fees — you won't find any annual fees, late payment fees, foreign transaction fees or fees for going over your limit here.

This card is also quite rewarding for its category, offering 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away — that amount can also increase to up to 1.5% cash back after you make 12 monthly payments on time. As an added perk, you can also earn 2% to 10% in bonus cash back by shopping with certain merchants.

Best for travel and dining

U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card

Information about the U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    4X points per dollar spent on dining, 2X points per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations and streaming services and 1X points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. Cardmembers are also eligible for a $15 credit for annual streaming service purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    None

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    28.24% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Poor/None

Who's this for? The U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card stands out for being one of the most rewarding secured credit cards on the market. Cardholders can earn 4X points per dollar on dining, 2X points per dollar on purchases made at grocery stores, gas stations and with certain streaming services and 1X point per dollar for everything else. When redeemed, points are valued at 1 cent each, providing you with virtually 1% to 4% back on your purchases.

Cardmembers are also eligible for a $15 credit when they purchase annual streaming services such as Peacock and Spotify. This card doesn't come with an annual fee or any foreign transaction fees, and you can choose the due date that works best for you when it comes to paying your bill.

Note that while you're signing up for the card, you must put down a deposit of between $300 and $5,000, which essentially acts as your credit line. As long as you spend within your credit limit and pay your bill on time, there's a chance U.S. Bank could eventually upgrade you to the U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card, which would allow you to earn bonus points and redeem them for travel, retail merchandise, gift cards, cash back and more.

Best for international students

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

On Deserve's secure site
  • Rewards

    1% cash back on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A, balance transfers are not available

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

Terms apply.

Who's this for? Those just starting out will love the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students since it does not require a co-signer or a security deposit in order to sign up — it's an especially great option for international students because you do not need to have a social security number or a credit history to qualify. There are only three requirements: Applicants need to be over 18, enrolled in college and have a U.S. bank account.

This card offers a very straightforward rewards structure, allowing you to earn 1% cash back for all eligible purchases. As one of its best benefits, cardholders can receive up to one year of Amazon Prime Student membership after spending $500 within the first three months of opening their account, a perk that's worth a value of $59. Cardholders also receive cell phone coverage when using it to pay for an eligible phone bill. There are also no annual fees or foreign transaction fees.

Best for building credit

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A on purchases

  • Regular APR

    24.49% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    New / Rebuilding

*See rates and fees, terms apply.

Who's this for? The Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers a solid cash-back program as well as a generous welcome bonus — during the first year of card membership, new cardholders automatically get all the cash back they've earned during the first year matched by Discover. For example, if you earned $100 cash back at the end of your first year, Discover will match this and give you an additional $100.

Cardholders can also earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 worth of purchases each quarter — after that point, you'll earn 1% in cash back — as well as unlimited 1% cash back for all other purchases made with the card.

Note that because this is a secured credit card, you must put down a deposit of $200 to $2,500 in order to open your account and your credit limit is equal to this deposit amount. Then, starting with your seventh month of card membership, Discover will automatically review your account to see if you've paid all your bills on time each month. At this point, you may be able to transition to an unsecured line of credit and your deposit will be returned. Note that there are no annual fees or foreign transaction fees for this card, and no credit score is necessary to apply for it.

Best for secured cards

Who's this for? The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card is perfect for those who are looking for a secured card but don't want to put down a high deposit. There are no annual fees or foreign transaction fees, while the minimum security deposit amount you'll need to make varies at either $49, $99 or $200 based on your creditworthiness. Note that regardless of which deposit amount you qualify for, you'll still have access to a $200 credit limit.

In addition to lower security deposits, Capital One automatically considers cardholders for a higher credit line within six months after you make your first five monthly payments on time. The only downsides to having this card: It doesn't provide any rewards-earning opportunities or additional cardholder benefits.

Frequently asked questions about starter credit cards

Below, Select takes a closer look at some of the questions that are typically asked by consumers regarding recommendations for starter credit cards.

Can I still get a credit card with a limited or no credit history?

Yes, it's still possible to sign up for a credit card without having much of a credit history, but you need to know which ones to apply for. It's generally easier to get approved for secured credit cards or starter credit cards, which are designed especially for those who are beginning to build their credit.

What credit score do you start with?

There's not just one single credit score that everyone starts out with — you only receive a credit score after you've opened your first line of credit, and it's determined by how you use that account. Although 300 is the lowest possible FICO score, you'll generally start higher than that if you have good credit habits.

What factors influence your credit score?

Credit scores are calculated differently depending on the credit scoring model. Here are the key factors the two scoring models, FICO® Score and VantageScore, take into account when computing your credit score.

FICO® Score

  1. Payment history (35% of your score): Whether you've paid past credit accounts on time.
  2. Amounts owed (30%): The total amount of credit and loans you're using compared to your total credit limit — this is also known as your credit utilization rate.
  3. Length of credit history (15%): The length of time you've had credit.
  4. New credit (10%): How often you apply for and open new accounts.
  5. Credit mix (10%): The variety of installment loans and revolving credit accounts you have, including credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and personal loans.

VantageScore

  1. Extremely influential: Your payment history.
  2. Highly influential: The type of credit, its duration and the percent of your credit limit used.
  3. Moderately influential: Your total balances and debt.
  4. Less influential: Any available credit amount, as well as recent credit behavior and inquiries.

Keep in mind that there may be additional factors besides your credit score that issuers might consider when determining your eligibility for a new card.

How do I improve my credit score?

Building good credit takes time and requires you to consistently practice responsible credit behavior, such as paying your bills on time and limiting your credit utilization ratio. It's also a good idea to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card if they have good or excellent credit, as you'll benefit from this association — though you could also be connected to that person's credit card turmoil should things end up taking a turn for the worst.

Bottom line

It is possible for those with limited or even no credit history to open credit cards and earn rewards for their purchases. In general, it is easiest to qualify for secured credit cards, which require you to make a deposit in order to access a credit limit. Though they don't always offer rewards, these types of cards do provide a path to an unsecured line of credit. There are also other starter credit card options that don't require putting down a deposit or adding a co-signer to sign up.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offered the best value for people with limited or no credit, Select analyzed the most popular options offered by banks, financial companies and credit unions that had requirements for low credit scores.

We compared each card's range of features, including the annual fee, rewards programs, introductory and standard APRs, balance transfer fees, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as other factors such as required credit scores and customer reviews, when available.

Select then worked with the location intelligence firm, Esri, whose data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953), which included items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, as well as other vehicle expenses.

When analyzing these cards, we did not calculate the estimated rewards a cardholder could earn. If you're a student or currently in the process of building (or rebuilding) your credit history, your focus should be on developing good financial habits — such as paying your balance on time and in full — and not optimizing the points you can earn.

Petal 2 Visa Credit Card issued by WebBank.

Information about the U.S. Bank Go Visa Secured and Capital One Platinum has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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