Finding the best individual offer is a bit trickier. But don’t worry; we did the legwork for you. WalletHub’s editors compared more than 1,000 credit card offers, and here are their picks for the best starter credit cards:
2017’s Best Starter Credit Cards
|Best For…||Card Name||Annual Fee||Editors’ Rating|
|College Students||Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®||None||5.0 / 5|
|Light Spenders||Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||None||5.0 / 5|
|Heavy Spenders||Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card||$39||4.7 / 5|
|High Approval Odds||OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card||$35||4.0 / 5|
If you’d rather do the search yourself, the following tips will definitely come in handy.
7 Tips for Finding the Best Starter Credit Card
- Start with a student credit card if you have an EDU email address.
Banks offer college students more attractive terms because they prize their above-average earning potential and the potential that exists for them to become lifelong customers. Students can expect to get a card that does not charge an annual fee yet offers either a rewards earning rate of least a 1% or a 0% introductory APR.
- Non-students should consider three types of cards.
A secured card is your best bet for approval, as you are essentially guaranteed to get one if you can place a security deposit of at least $200. That deposit will also serve as your credit line, thereby preventing overspending.
Store credit cards can only be used at the particular retail chain they are affiliated with. For example, the Target REDcard can only be used to make purchases at Target. The appeal of store cards is that they tend to have fairly lenient approval standards as well as great rewards. The stores want more people spending more money at their locations, after all.
Unsecured credit cards for limited credit, on the other hand, may offer the most spending power…and charge the highest fees.
- Remember that travel rewards aren’t for everyone.
Airline miles and hotel points are flashy, and they may even draw your eye when shopping for your first credit card. What most people will learn, however, is that cash back rewards are far more reliable and transparent. It’s far easier to understand their value, and cash cannot be devalued. You don’t need to be a frequent traveler to maximize your earnings either.
- When in doubt, get the cheapest secured card.
This will enable you to begin building credit as soon as possible. And it will allow you to do so in a relatively low-risk environment, where you can practice responsible habits without the temptation to overspend.
Opting for a secured card will also help you avoid unnecessary credit-score damage. Too many applications (3+) within too short of a timeframe (three months) will drag down your score, as repeated hard inquiries signal a worrisome desperation for added spending power.
Besides, secured credit cards are indistinguishable from unsecured cards. Physically, there’s no difference in their appearance. Same thing when it comes to credit building. They look exactly the same on your credit report. And information about both types of cards gets reported to the credit bureaus on a monthly basis.
- Get a boost from a store card.
If you want to boost your credit building and rewards earning capabilities, you may also want to get a store card associated with one of your favorite retailers, as they are typically free to use.
- Try to compare apples to apples.
One reason comparing credit cards is so difficult is that they all list account information differently. But if you put things in dollar terms, it will be much easier to find the offer that’s right for you.
In other words, convert points and miles into cash back percentages by determining how many points/miles you’ll need for a certain gift card, flight, hotel room, etc. You can also compare rewards cards with different annual fees based on the net amount each would save you, considering both what you’d earn and what you’d have to spend. You could even factor in interest rates if you plan on carrying a balance from month to month.
- Don’t worry about looks.
Long ago, you learned not to judge a book by its cover, and it’s the same story with credit cards. What your card looks like isn’t important. Hardly anyone is going to see it, and even fewer will care.
What matters is getting a good deal and saving money. That’s why the coolest credit cards are the ones with the best value proposition.
With all of that being said, it’s not which starter credit card you choose that really matters, but rather how you use it. Whether it’s your first credit card ever or the first card of a new beginning, you’ll do just fine as long as you make sure to:
- Always Pay Your Bill on Time – Payment history accounts for more than a third of 35% of your overall credit score. And because paying your account’s monthly minimum is all that’s required to make sure this score component stays positive, there’s really no excuse for tripping up in this regard.
The best way to take forgetfulness out of the equation is to set up automatic monthly payments from a bank account. You can do so through your online account or by calling customer service. And you’ll be able to choose between paying the monthly minimum, your full balance or a custom amount.
- Avoid Unnecessary Debt – Debt is one luxury that many folks have turned into an everyday necessity. But debt should only be used for emergencies and extremely special cases, such as buying a house.
Failing to follow this rule is akin to playing with fire. Small, manageable balances can quickly snowball into large, unsustainable ones — leading to missed payments, credit score damage, delinquency, default or even bankruptcy. Credit card debt in particular is also very expensive.
Credit cards charge the highest interest rates of any financial instrument available to consumers, other than payday loans. That’s why the average household pays hundreds of dollars in interest each year on their $8,000+ credit card balance. Such costs can have debilitating long-term effects on one’s retirement savings, which is why you should avoid them whenever possible.
After all, even mistakes made with your first credit card can haunt you for years. Negative records about things like missed payments, default, bankruptcy, tax liens and unpaid child support or alimony will remain on your major credit reports for 7 to 10 years. There’s no way around that, either.