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Credit Cards

The best credit cards for building credit of 2021

We analyzed 27 credit cards that are marketed toward consumers with no or poor credit to determine the best cards for building or rebuilding your credit.

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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 may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

If you lack a credit history or have poor credit, opening a credit card can be a smart way to build or rebuild credit — as long as you practice responsible financial behavior.

While there are thousands of credit cards available, most require some sort of credit history in order to qualify. This can make it hard for people with less than stellar credit (typically, a credit score below 580), or no credit at all, to qualify for a card.

Secured credit cards are one of your best chances at qualifying for credit. They're similar to traditional cards (they extend credit, charge interest and may offer rewards) but require you to make a deposit (typically $200) in order to access a credit limit. Whatever amount of money you deposit becomes your credit limit. If you want a higher credit limit, you'll need to deposit more money.

Your security deposit acts as collateral if you fail to make payments. But don't worry about losing that money; your deposit is refundable if you pay your balance in full and close your account.

In addition to secured cards, there are some other credit card options for people with no credit or poor credit who don't want to — or are unable to — put down a deposit. While a credit card can be an easy way to build a strong 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.

Select analyzed 27 credit cards that are marketed toward consumers with no or poor credit to determine the best cards for building or rebuilding your credit. We considered a number of factors, including security deposit minimums, fees, rewards programs and APR. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

Here are Select's picks for the top credit cards for building or rebuilding your credit:

Winner

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

  • Rewards

    1% cash back on eligible purchases right away and up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments; 2% to 10% cash back from select merchants

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    12.99% - 26.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Fair, Good, No Credit

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No credit history required (if you do have a credit history, that does factor into the credit decision)
  • No fees whatsoever
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away and up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments; 2% to 10% cash back from select merchants
  • Credit limits range from $500 to $10,000

Cons

  • Card isn't for rebuilding credit, but it's good for building credit
  • No special financing offers
  • No welcome bonus
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $249
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,577

Who's this for? The Petal 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa Credit Card, issued by WebBank Member FDIC, is a unique card that takes a different approach to the credit card application process. Instead of judging your creditworthiness solely based on credit history, Petal may ask you to link bank accounts during the application process. Then, WebBank uses Petal's technology to analyze your bank statements and other data, such as bill payments and earnings, to determine your eligibility.

This is especially beneficial for applicants who may not have any credit history. However, if you do have a credit history, that does factor into the credit decision.

The Petal 2 card is one of the few cards that charge zero fees: no annual fee, no late payment fee and no foreign transaction fees. And it stands out for consumers trying to build credit because there's no security deposit required.

It also offers a rewards program with 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away, which can increase up to 1.5% cash back after you make 12 on-time monthly payments. This is not only a nice perk, but a great way to encourage responsible behavior. Cardholders also receive 2% to 10% cash back from select merchants.

Runner-Up

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

    22.99% 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

Pros

  • Cash-back program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Discover automatically reviews your credit card account starting at eight months to see if they can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit

Cons

  • Cash-back program limits earnings: 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%
  • Low credit line prevents cardholders from charging high-cost items or many expenses

Who's this for? 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. You must put down a minimum deposit of $200 to open a Discover it® Secured Credit Card, or as much as $2,500. Your credit limit is equal to your deposit.

Cardholders earn 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. This card also comes with a welcome bonus for new cardholders: Discover will match any cash back you earn during the first 12 billing cycles. So, if you have $100 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $100.

What makes this card really stand out is the ease with which cardholders can transition to an unsecured card. Eight months after you open the card, Discover will review your account to see if you can get your security deposit back. This takes the guesswork out of wondering when you can transition to an unsecured card.

Best Low Deposit

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One

Information about the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    This card doesn't offer cash back, points or miles

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • $49, $99 or $200 refundable deposit
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Flexibility to change your payment due date

Cons

  • High 26.99% variable APR
  • No rewards program
  • After you apply and submit your deposit, it takes 2-3 weeks to get your card
  • Capital One periodically reviews your account to see if you can be transitioned to an unsecured card, but unlike the Discover it® Secured Card there’s no clear timeline for when this will occur

Who's this for? If you're looking for a secured card, but can't afford the typical $200 deposit, take a look at the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®. It has no annual fee and varying minimum security deposits of $49, $99 or $200 — based on your creditworthiness.

If you qualify, you can still access a $200 credit limit while only depositing $49 or $99.

In addition to lower security deposits, Capital One gives cardholders access a higher credit limit after you make your first five monthly payments on time. This is a great incentive to practice responsible card management.

Unlike the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, there is no rewards program or welcome bonus. Capital One also doesn't offer a clear timeframe for when secured cardholders can upgrade to an unsecured account.

Best for International Applicants

Deserve Digital First Card™

Information about the Deserve Digital First Card™ has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    Up to 1.5% cash back

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 24.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No prior credit history needed
  • No security deposit required
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Cash-back rates are broken up into tiers that depend on how much you spend every billing cycle

Who's this for? The Deserve Digital First Card™ is good for anyone with zero or limited credit history who doesn't have the means to put down a security deposit.

There's no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. Plus if you're approved for the card, you receive instant access and can add it to Apple Pay.

Cardholders also receive up to 1.5% cash back, based on the amount of money you spend each billing period. Here are the levels:

  • 1% cash back: Purchases up to $500 earn 1% back.
  • 1.25% cash back: After you spend $500 in a billing cycle, you'll earn 1.25% back on purchases until you hit $1,000 in spending.
  • 1.50% cash back: After you spend $1,000 in a billing cycle, you'll earn 1.50% back on remaining purchases that billing period.

You can redeem cash back as a statement credit to offset your bill.

Best for Students

Discover it® Student Cash Back

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 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

    0% for 6 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    12.99% - 21.99% 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

    Fair / New to Credit

Pros

  • Cash-back program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years

Cons

  • Cash-back categories must be activated each quarter
  • Cash-back program limits earnings: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in various categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%
  • You must be a U.S. citizen and college student to apply for this card

Who's this for? Financial experts often stress the importance of building credit at a young age, and opening a credit card while you're a student is one of the easiest ways to establish credit. The Discover it® Student Cash Back is our top pick for students looking to build good credit while attending college. You must be over 18 and a U.S. citizen to apply.

This card provides a cash-back program and student-centric benefits, such as an annual $20 Good Grades Reward statement credit each school year when you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA (valid for up to five consecutive years).

Upon activation, cardholders can earn 5% cash back on rotating categories up to a $1,500 maximum each quarter (then 1%). All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back automatically.

This card also offers the welcome bonus of a dollar-for-dollar match of all cash back earned the first year for new cardholders. So, if you have $50 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $50.

This card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, so you can study abroad or vacation outside the U.S. without worrying about paying the typical 3% fee other cards charge. There's also a 0% introductory APR for the first six months on new purchases, which is perfect for financing textbooks or dorm room essentials. After the intro period, there's a 12.99% to 21.99% variable APR.

Best for Average Credit

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Information about the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Fair

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Travel benefits, such as travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and roadside assistance
  • Access a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly payments on time

Cons

  • 26.99% variable APR
  • No rewards program

Who's this for? If you have average credit and are looking to build up to a good or excellent credit score, it's a good idea to consider a credit card designed for average credit applicants, such as the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card. This card also provides travel benefits that can save you money and protect you against unexpected issues — most notably no foreign transaction fees.

This perk will save you the typical 3% fee many other cards charge on each purchase made outside the U.S. For example, the average American spends $2,154 a year on travel, and depending on how much of that is done abroad, you could potentially save up to $65 with the Platinum Credit Card from Capital One® (and even more depending on your travel spending habits).

This card also offers travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, roadside assistance and 24-hour travel assistance services — all at no extra cost, though third-party service fees apply for roadside assistance. These perks are a great way to make traveling less stressful and provide you with coverage for eligible issues.

This card doesn't offer a rewards program, so you don't have the opportunity to earn cash back, points or miles from your everyday spending. But with no annual fee, it can be a good starter card if you want to eventually upgrade to another card in the Capital One family.

Best credit cards for building credit

Category Credit Card
WinnerPetal 2 Visa® Credit Card
Runner-UpDiscover it® Secured Credit Card
Best Low DepositCapital One® Secured Mastercard®
Best for International ApplicantsDeserve Digital First Card™
Best for StudentsDiscover it® Student Cash Back
Best for Average CreditCapital One® Platinum Credit Card

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value for building or rebuilding credit, Select analyzed 27 of the most popular credit cards available for consumers building or rebuilding their credit.

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 credit cards aimed at consumers looking to build (or rebuild) their credit 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.

Petal 2 Visa Credit Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Student Cash Back, click here.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, click here.

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.