BEST OF

Best Starter Credit Cards for No Credit of April 2021

NerdWalletApril 16, 2021
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The best starter credit cards are easy to get, have no annual fee and report your payments to the three major credit bureaus. (Find out how to apply for a credit card online.)

The right card for you depends on your situation. Options include secured credit cards — which require refundable upfront deposits — student credit cards and alternative credit cards from smaller issuers that evaluate applicants' creditworthiness on factors other than FICO credit scores.

NerdWallet's Best Starter Credit Cards for No Credit of April 2021

Best Starter Credit Cards for No Credit From Our Partners

Our pick for

Secured cards: Rewards and upgrading

Secured credit cards can be a good option for those with no credit who want a starter card from a major issuer. These cards require an upfront refundable deposit, usually equal to the card's limit. That cash collateral is returned to you if the card is upgraded to an unsecured account or closed in good standing.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

22.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

With the Discover it® Secured Credit Card you have the chance to get automatically upgraded to an unsecured card and get your deposit back without having to close your account. It also earns rewards, nearly unheard-of for a secured card. Like almost all secured cards, you can qualify with no credit.

Pros

  • You earn 2% cash-back on up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter at restaurants and gas stations, and 1% on all other spending. INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match. The annual fee is $0. And after eight months, Discover automatically begins evaluating your account to see if you qualify for getting your security deposit refunded.

Cons

  • For some, the $200 minimum deposit might be hard to pull together — especially since you need to have the funds ready upfront when you apply.

  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Using your secured credit card helps build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, prepaid and debit cards can’t do that.
  • Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 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.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.

Our pick for

Secured cards: Low deposit

Capital One Secured Mastercard Credit Card

on Capital One's website

4.9

NerdWallet rating 

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

26.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

With most secured credit cards, your deposit equals your credit limit. That’s not necessarily the case with the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One. The deposit may be $49, $99 or $200 for a $200 credit line, depending on what you qualify for. Plus, you can automatically be considered for a higher credit limit, without having to deposit more money, in as little as six months. The deposit can also be paid in installments.

Pros

  • The card's deposit requirements — and the possibility of qualifying for a higher credit line — makes this card a valuable choice. The annual fee is $0. No credit history is required, as is generally the case with secured cards.

Cons

  • You won’t qualify for this card if your monthly income doesn't exceed your rent or mortgage payment by at least $425.

  • No annual fee
  • Unlike a prepaid card, there is regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • We will monitor your account, and as you use it responsibly by doing things like making on-time payments, you may be able to earn back your deposit as a statement credit
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app

Our pick for

Student cards: Simplicity and value

Student credit cards are ideal for working college students. Unlike secured cards, they don't require upfront deposits. If you're under 21, however, you have to have an independent income to qualify.

Discover it® Student chrome

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

The Discover it® Student chrome is a standout student credit card due to its no-frills rewards structure and student-friendly features. And, according to Discover, you don't need a FICO history to qualify.

Pros

  • This card features simple rewards: You earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter. All other purchases earn 1%. The annual fee is $0. It comes with a potentially generous sign-up offer: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match. If you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, you also get a $20 statement credit every year for up to five years.

Cons

  • Discover isn’t the most ideal payment method abroad, so this card isn't the best one to take on a study abroad trip. The network isn’t as widely accepted internationally by merchants as Visa or Mastercards.

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.

Our pick for

Student cards: Bonus category cash-back rewards

Discover it® Student Cash Back

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

4.9

NerdWallet rating 

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers a generous rewards rate on quarterly bonus categories upon activation. Discover says there is no FICO history requirement to qualify.

Pros

  • This card offers 5% cash back in rotating categories on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. Activation is required. All other spending earns 1% cash back. It has a $0 annual fee, no late fee on the first late payment and an annual $20 statement credit (for up to five years) when you earn good grades. It also has a potentially rewarding sign-up bonus: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for- dollar match.

Cons

  • Bonus categories may not match your spending at all times and you'll have to activate them every three months to get the higher rewards rate. It can be a lot to manage when you’re just starting out with credit. Discover also isn’t as widely accepted abroad as Visa or Mastercard.

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.

Our pick for

Student cards: International students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

on Deserve's website

4.6

NerdWallet rating 

on Deserve's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

18.74% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is an excellent starter card for students who lack a U.S. credit history, a Social Security number or both. The card's issuer has its own underwriting process that evaluates applications based on alternative factors.

Pros

  • This $0-annual-fee card may be the exception for students who can’t qualify for other credit cards — international students included. Deserve uses its own underwriting process to evaluate applications based on alternative factors like your U.S. bank account and contact information. If you’re an international student, you don’t need a Social Security number to qualify. Cardholders get 1% cash back on all purchases and a statement credit for a 12-month Amazon Prime Student subscription after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles.

Cons

  • Other student credit cards offer higher rewards rates, but in some cases, come with stricter requirements. Rewards only redeem for a statement credit and you have to wait until you’ve earned $25 before they automatically redeem.

  • Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles with your EDU card (Lifetime Value of $59).
  • Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard. Once approved, you'll automatically start earning cash back on all purchases.
  • Feel secure with cell phone protection up to $600.
  • No deposit required. No annual fees.
  • No international transaction fees on purchases abroad so you can travel with confidence.
  • No Social Security Number required for international students to apply.
  • Refer A Friend Program: Refer anyone to Deserve using your personal referral code. Upon approval, card activation and use, you'll receive $30 and so will your referral. Referral bonuses are unlimited!
  • Manage and track your spending, set automatic payments and securely freeze your card all through one easy to use app.
  • See if you prequalify with no impact to your credit score in minutes.
  • Deserve Mastercards are issued by Celtic Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Enjoy Mastercard Platinum Benefits intended to make your life easier like Mastercard ID Theft Prevention™ and Master Rental®.

Our pick for

No-deposit starter card: No fees

Petal 2 Credit Card

on Petal's website

4.4

NerdWallet rating 

on Petal's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.99% - 26.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Without annual fees, late fees, foreign transaction fees or any fees at all, the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card is a unicorn among credit cards. Plus, it offers decent rewards on all purchases and it doesn't require a credit history.

Pros

  • Petal doesn’t only rely on credit scores to determine eligibility. Instead, it assesses your creditworthiness based on your income, expenses, savings and debts. You can earn a decent rate of up to 1.5% cash back, depending on your on-time payments. And, you don’t have to pay late fees or foreign transaction fees. It has a $0 annual fee.

Cons

  • Unlike some other issuers, Petal doesn’t currently accept requests for credit limit increases. This may be a drawback for people that can maintain a good payment history.

  • No fees whatsoever. No late fee, international fee, annual fee, or any-other-kind-of-fee, fee
  • Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away
  • 2% - 10% cash back from select merchants
  • $500 - $10,000 credit limits
  • Variable APRs 12.99% - 26.99%
  • Build credit alongside tens of thousands of Petal Card members
  • Cash flow technology may help applicants without credit history get approved
  • Petal's mobile app makes it easy to manage your money, track your spending, and automate payments
  • See if you're pre-approved within minutes without impacting your credit score
  • Petal reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • No deposits required
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Our pick for

No-deposit starter card: Foreign credit histories

Through a partnership between American Express and the international credit-reporting startup Nova Credit, immigrants and expats in the U.S. can instantly translate credit reports from certain countries to U.S.-equivalent credit reports when applying for AmEx consumer cards. This feature is integrated into AmEx's online applications. Currently, it can access credit histories from bureaus located in the following countries: Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

American Express Cash Magnet℠ Card

on American Express's website

4.8

NerdWallet rating 

on American Express's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

For those who can use the AmEx and Nova Credit partnership to translate their credit reports from different countries, the American Express Cash Magnet® Card is a good first credit card. Its annual fee is $0 and it comes with simple flat-rate cash-back rewards. It also offers a welcome offer and an introductory 0% APR offer. Terms apply.

Pros

  • Because it’s not necessarily a “starter card,” it has a decent welcome offer: Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. The lengthy introductory offer can also offer time to pay down a large purchase. Get a 0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. And, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on anything you buy. It has a $0 annual fee.

Cons

  • Your cash back can’t actually be redeemed as “cash” into a bank account. You can only redeem rewards for statement credit, gift cards or merchandise. Plus, you’ll need to have earned at least $25 to redeem them. Outside of the U.S., this card likely won’t be a good payment method. American Express is not as broadly accepted internationally as Visa or Mastercard.

  • Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, currently 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Amex Offers rewards you at places you like to shop, dine, travel, and more. You can add as many Offers as you'd like to your Card, then just use that Card to pay, and enjoy rewards directly on your statement.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Our pick for

Newcomers to the U.S.

Jasper Mastercard®

on Jasper's website

3.4

NerdWallet rating 

on Jasper's website

Annual Fee

$0*

Regular APR

15.49% - 24.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

The Jasper Mastercard® is a solid choice for U.S. newcomers who lack a credit history, a Social Security number or both. The issuer can look at other data points to evaluate creditworthiness based on factors like debt-to-income ratio, an applicant’s online presence and whether they’ve secured a job offer from an employer. The card also earns rewards.

Pros

  • The $0*-annual-fee Jasper Mastercard® eliminates some obstacles on the path to credit for U.S. newcomers. Applicants relocating to the U.S. can be approved up to 60 days before starting a new job. They aren’t required to have a Social Security number to apply, (though they must report one to Jasper within 60 days of activating their card). Jasper’s technology looks beyond traditional FICO scores, exploring over 360 data points to help the issuing bank determine eligibility. The card also offers a potentially generous credit limit of up to $5,000, and you'll earn at least 1% cash back on all purchases.

Cons

  • Applicants may experience a longer wait to get a decision. And Jasper reports payments to only two of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax and TransUnion. The ideal starter card should also report to Experian, so that activity on the account will be reflected in credit scores or reports pulled from that credit bureau.

  • Get up to 6% cash back by referring friends!
  • Start with 1% and get an extra 0.5% for a full year for every friend you bring on board
  • Up to $5,000 credit limit
  • No annual fee, no security deposit, no foreign transaction fees
  • Simple, intuitive app to manage your account
  • Unique auto payment options that help you build and maintain your credit score
  • Receive cash back automatically every month as a statement credit after three on time payments
  • Earn cash back as long as your account is in good standing. If your account is past due, cash back will be locked.
  • Your cash back maximum varies based on your credit limit.
  • Cash back not limited to certain categories, earn on almost all everyday purchases
  • Issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Our pick for

Small-business card: Startups

Brex

on Brex's website

4.4

NerdWallet rating 

on Brex's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

The Brex Card for Startups is ideal for business owners with no credit history and plenty of cash in the bank. It's one of the very few small-business cards that doesn't require a personal guarantee, meaning you're not personally on the hook for outstanding balances if your business fails. Brex evaluates creditworthiness by looking at a company’s cash balance, spending patterns and investors.

Pros

  • This $0-annual-fee card packs a lot of opportunities to earn rewards and discounts on business expenses. You'll get 1 point per $1 spent on purchases, or more points if you make the Brex Card for Startups your only company card for expenses. If you do, you'll get 7 points per dollar on rideshares, 4 points per dollar on travel booked through Brex, 3 points per dollar at restaurants and on Apple products, and 2 points per dollar on recurring software expenses. There's also a sign-up bonus: Get 30,000 points after spending $3,500, or 50,000 points after spending $9,000 in the first 30 days..

Cons

  • You need $100,000 in your bank account to qualify for this card. And, since it’s a charge card, you’ll have to pay the full balance at every billing cycle.

  • Get 30,000 points after spending $3,500, or 50,000 points after spending $9,000 in the first 30 days.
  • No personal guarantee needed - we do not ask for a personal credit check or security deposit during the application.
  • Credit limits 10-20x higher than traditional small business corporate cards.
  • $100,000 bank balance required to qualify for Brex.
  • Exclusive signup offers from the best products and tools for your business (e.g. AWS, Google Ads, WeWork, Salesforce) worth over $50,000 in value.
  • Earn points on every dollar spent with industry-leading multipliers: 7x on rideshare, 4x on Brex travel, 3x on restaurants, 3x on Apple products, 2x on software subscriptions and 1x on all other transactions.
  • Miles transfer program to 6 airlines (including Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, and more) and their loyalty programs, giving Brex customers access to book travel across all of the major global airline alliances - Star Alliance, Oneword, and SkyTeam.
  • 30-day charge card running on the Mastercard network. Enjoy global acceptance with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Build business credit: Brex partners with Dun & Bradstreet and Experian to report your on-time payments.
  • Make employee expenses seamless - automated receipt-capture and expense matching and reconciliation via text and email. Instantly add new users and set spending limits.
  • Simplify reconciliation with built-in integrations with Quickbooks, Xero and more.

FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS: BEST STARTER CARDS FOR NO CREDIT

Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.

» SECURED CREDIT CARDS 

Secured credit cards can be a good option for those with no credit who want a starter card from a major issuer. These cards require an upfront refundable deposit, usually equal to the card's limit. That cash collateral is returned to you if the card is upgraded to an unsecured account or closed in good standing.

Our pick for: Secured card — low deposit

The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One requires a security deposit, as do all secured credit cards. But while most cards require you to put down a deposit equal to your credit line, this one allows some qualifying applicants to get a $200 credit line with a deposit of $49 or $99. Further, you can be automatically considered for a higher credit line with no additional deposit in as little as six months. Read our review.

Our pick for: Secured card — rewards and upgrading

Like other secured credit cards for people building or rebuilding credit, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires a cash security deposit. Unlike most others, it offers rewards. But what really makes it stand out from the competition is its upgrade possibilities. The issuer has a process in place for automatically reviewing accounts for possible transition to an unsecured card. Read our review. 

» STUDENT CREDIT CARDS  Student credit cards are ideal for working college students. Unlike secured cards, they don't require upfront deposits. If you're under 21, however, you have to have an independent income to qualify.

Our pick for: Student card — simplicity and value

Simplicity makes the Discover it® Student chrome a standout for students searching for their first credit card. You'll earn bonus cash back at restaurants and gas stations with no activation required and no rotating categories to keep track of. Read our review.

Our pick for: Student card — bonus category cash-back rewards

The Discover it® Student Cash Back gives students the same excellent rewards as the regular Discover it® Cash Back — notably, bonus cash back in rotating categories that you must activate. Activating and tracking categories might be too much of a hassle for some students brand new to credit cards, but if you're up for a little work, the rewards can be handsome. Read our review.

Our pick for: Student card — international students

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students doesn’t require applicants to have a co-signer or security deposit, and international students don't need a Social Security number. That makes it a little easier to get approved — even for students with limited credit histories. Plus, it comes with a solid 1% back on all purchases. Read our review.

» NO-DEPOSIT STARTER CARDS

It's possible to qualify for these cards without a U.S. credit history if you meet other criteria.

Our pick for: No-deposit starter card — newcomers to the U.S.

It's not easy to establish credit as an immigrant in the U.S., even if you had a good credit history in your home country. The Deserve® Pro Mastercard uses an underwriting process that also takes employment and income into consideration. There's a rewards program, too. Read our review.

Our pick for: No-deposit starter card — no fees 

The issuer of the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card doesn’t only rely on credit scores to determine eligibility. Instead, it assesses your creditworthiness based on your income, expenses, savings and debts. You can earn a decent rate of up to 1.5% cash back, depending on your on-time payments. And there's no annual fee, late fees or foreign transaction fees. Read our review.

Our pick for: No-deposit starter card — foreign credit histories

(Through a partnership between American Express and the international credit-reporting startup Nova Credit, immigrants and expats in the U.S. can instantly translate credit reports from certain countries to U.S.-equivalent credit reports when applying for AmEx consumer cards. This feature is integrated into AmEx's online applications. Currently, it can access credit histories from bureaus located in the following countries: Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.)

The American Express Cash Magnet® Card pays a simple, flat cash-back rate on all purchases, with no limit to how much cash back you can earn. Plus, get a decent bonus offer and an introductory 0% APR period. If you want an AmEx card with a no-hassle rewards structure, this is your card. Read our review.

» BUSINESS CREDIT CARD  

Our pick for: Startups 

Unlike most cards designed for entrepreneurs, the Brex Card for Startups doesn't require the cardholder to personally guarantee the debt on the card. Instead, Brex determines creditworthiness by evaluating a company's cash balance, spending patterns and investors. It's a good option when a business owner has a thin credit file but is well-capitalized. The card earns rewards, too. Read our review.

What do you need to get a credit card without credit?

You don't need a credit history to get a starter card. In some cases, you won't need a Social Security number. But generally, you'll need:

  • A U.S. mailing address.

  • Income.

  • A checking or savings account.

Depending on your age, you might have to meet stricter income requirements to qualify:

If you’re under 21: To qualify for a credit card, you'll need to show that you can make payments on the account independently or get a co-signer, someone 21 or older who assumes the responsibility of your debt if you can’t pay the bill.

If you’re over 21: You’re still required to report your income if you’re over 21, but you have the option to list any income to which you have “reasonable expectation of access.”

Other requirements can vary depending on the type of starter card. Some examples:

  • Secured cards for no credit. These require a cash deposit as collateral to reduce the risk to the issuer, which may present an obstacle for some applicants. The amount deposited usually determines your credit limit. With a good payment history, you eventually get your deposit back when you close the account or upgrade to a regular credit card.

  • Student cards for no credit. These may require you to be an enrolled college student. You might have to provide information like the name of your school, your major and your expected graduation year.

  • No-deposit starter cards for no credit. Applications for these cards may require government-issued documents, bank account information, employment verification requirements and other details. That's because they assess creditworthiness in alternative ways, such as looking at employment, income, spending, savings or your credit history from a different country.

  • Small-business cards for no credit. At least one issuer offers small-business cards without taking personal credit history into account, but to qualify, you'll have to have plenty of cash in the bank.

How can a credit card help me build credit fast?

A credit card can help you build credit when you have none.

As you’re making payments on your credit card, that history is being recorded in your credit report, which compiles the information used to calculate your credit scores.

As long as you make on-time payments and stay well below your credit limit, you can work your way up to a good credit score of 690 or higher. Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO credit score; the amount of available credit used will account for 30% of it. Those are the two most important factors, but there are others.

How long you keep the account open also impacts your credit. Once you work your way up to good credit, it's helpful to keep the starter credit card open or maintain the original line of credit by upgrading to a regular credit card with the same issuer. This way, you preserve the length of your credit history, which accounts for 15% of your credit score. Closing your account could have negative consequences.

What to look for in a starter credit card

When you’re new to credit, you generally can't qualify for the best credit card offers. Among starter cards, ongoing interest rates are often steep and credit limits are low.

Don’t waste time looking for a credit card without a credit limit because issuers are required by federal law to determine your ability to pay. As a result, they offer a credit limit within your means. You also don’t need to look for credit cards that don’t run a credit check. These cards typically target those with bad credit, and they often come with an annual fee. There are plenty of starter cards that spare you that cost.

In some cases, you can be choosy. Here are a few things to look for in a starter credit card:

No annual fee. A starter credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee makes it easier to preserve the length of your credit history and your credit score because you can keep it open for a long time at no cost.

A path to a better credit card with the same issuer. Look for this option during your initial search. Once you establish a good credit history, you could upgrade to a better credit card with the same issuer and keep your original line of credit. This way, you're not stuck with the lower credit limits and lower rewards rates typically found on starter cards.

A report to all three credit bureaus. The ideal starter credit should report payments to all three credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. These companies record your payment history, which again is a key factor in your credit scores. If your card reports to all three bureaus, then all your possible bases will be covered when a lender pulls your credit report. The lender will have all of the information it needs to make a decision.

Here are some features that are less important but could still prove valuable:

Travel-friendly features. If travel is in your future, consider getting a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees — a percentage assessed on every international purchase, typically between 1% and 3% of the amount charged. You can also choose a credit card that belongs to a Visa or Mastercard network, which has broad international merchant acceptance.

Rewards. On a starter card, these aren't a top priority, but many cards offer them. If you're deciding among multiple rewards cards, consider your spending habits and how well they match up with the bonus categories.

Making the most of your starter credit card

With a starter card, your goal should be to hit or exceed the 690 credit score target necessary to establish good credit. Here's what you can do to work toward that:

  • Pay on time and in full every month to avoid interest (or at least pay more than the minimum).

  • Aim to use less than 30% of your available credit limit at all times. The lower your balance, the better.

  • Keep the account open and active.

  • Check your statement for mistakes.

  • Monitor your credit score through your issuer’s app.

  • Get your free annual credit report.

You can track your credit score for free through NerdWallet, certain banks and other third-party apps.

To view rates and fees of the American Express Cash Magnet® Card, see this page.

Last updated on April 16, 2021

Methodology

NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.

Frequently asked questions