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 Credit Card 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.
Below, CNBC Select breaks down what is a secured card, and why the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is the best first credit card.
Secured credit cards, such as the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, 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 security deposit in order to receive a line of credit. Minimum security deposits are typically $200 (like with the Discover it® Secured Credit Card), but other cards can range from $49 to $2,500. 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 Credit Card, 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.)
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 automatically.
The welcome bonus is also unique: For new card members in the first year only, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. 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 Credit 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 credit card account to see if they can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit. This takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured credit card and allows you to continue enjoying your card benefits.
The regular variable APR rate is 22.99% 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.
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card 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. (Learn what's the minimum age to be an authorized user on a credit card.)
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.
For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, click here.