Financial experts recommend young people start building credit as soon as possible (age 18), but if you're just beginning your credit journey, there is one credit card that you should consider.
The Discover it® Secured is the best credit card for beginners. It is a well-rounded secured card that offers many perks and benefits typically found with unsecured cards. While there are thousands of credit cards to choose from, this one offers you the best chance at qualifying for a credit card without having any credit history. Cardholders can also earn cash back, receive a generous welcome bonus, use the card overseas without incurring added fees and more — all for no annual fee.
Secured credit cards, like the Discover it® Secured, are nearly identical to traditional cards in that you receive a line of credit, can incur interest charges and in some cases can even earn rewards. The big difference is you're required to make a deposit (typically $200, but sometimes as low at $49 or up to $2,500) in order to receive a line of credit. The amount you deposit usually becomes your credit limit. If you want a higher credit limit, you'll need to deposit more money.
This security deposit acts as collateral if you fail to make payments. But don't worry about losing that money; your deposit is completely refundable if you pay your balance in full and close your account or upgrade to an unsecured card. When you use a secured card responsibly (make your payments on time and in full), this information will be sent to the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), which helps raise your credit score and puts you on the path to qualifying for an unsecured card.
With the Discover it® Secured, you are given a timeline for upgrading to an unsecured card, which is one of the reasons it topped the list of CNBC Select's picks for the best secured credit cards. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned
10.99% for the first 6 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases
24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
No credit history
Cardholders have a strong cash-back rewards program, earning a competitive 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%). Plus, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The welcome bonus is also unique: Discover will match any cash back you've earned during the first 12 billing cycles with no minimum spending required. So, if you earn $25 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $25.
The Discover it® Secured card requires a minimum $200 security deposit, which is fairly standard for secured credit cards. It stands out from the crowd because it gives users a clear path to upgrading to an unsecured card (and getting their deposit back). Starting at eight months from account opening, Discover will automatically review your account to see if you can get your security deposit back, which takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured card and allows you to continue enjoying your card benefits.
The intro APR is 10.99% for the first six months on balance transfers (then a relatively high 24.49% variable APR on both balance transfers and purchases). The intro balance transfer fee is 3% and up to 5% on future balance transfers.
There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees (though Discover isn't as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard).
The Discover it® Secured gives cardholders access to many of the perks and benefits available to people with higher credit scores, including a robust cash-back program, no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
But while it's a good way to establish credit and raise your credit score, its low credit limit prevents cardholders from charging high-cost items or many expenses. You also have to have a Social Security number and U.S. bank account to apply for this card.
If you already have established credit, consider rewards cards such as the American Express® Gold Card or Citi® Double Cash Card, or there are many cards for building credit. If you don't have money for a $200 deposit, you could also consider asking a family member with good credit to become an authorized user on their account.
Just remember that while a credit card can be an easy way to build your credit history, you need to make sure you use it responsibly. After you open a credit card, make sure you spend within your means and pay your balance on time and in full.
To determine which secured cards offer the best value for a range of consumers, CNBC Select analyzed the 22 most popular secured credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join.
We compared each card on a range of features, including: annual fee, minimum security deposit, credit limit, rewards program, introductory and standard APR, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also took into account how easy it is to upgrade the card from secured to unsecured and how quickly you can get your security deposit back.
Because it's unusual for secured credit cards to have robust rewards programs, we did not analyze how many rewards points you can earn in the first year. For cardholders who are looking to rebuild credit, it's more important to practice good credit card habits — spending within your means, paying your balance on time and in full — than try to optimize your points balance.