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.
Discover it® Student Chrome: Best for Student cards: Simplicity and value
Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for Student cards: Bonus category cash-back rewards
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for No-deposit starter card: Foreign credit histories
Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best for Secured cards: Rewards and upgrading
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Best for Secured cards: Low deposit
Brex Card: Best for Small-business card: Startups
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Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
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 Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card 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 starting at $49. 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 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.
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 — 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, the United Kingdom, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, South Korea, the Philippines, Spain and Switzerland.)
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express pays elevated rewards at U.S. supermarkets, at U.S. gas stations and on U.S. online retail purchases. The rewards might not be as rich as on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, but this card doesn't charge an annual fee either. New cardholders get a decent welcome offer and an introductory 0% APR period. Read our review.
Our pick for: Startups
Unlike most cards designed for entrepreneurs, the Brex Card 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. Learn more and apply.
By Melissa Lambarena, NerdWallet
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, see this page.
Last updated on September 21, 2023
NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best credit 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 as among the "best" in multiple categories. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.
While you can apply for a credit card with no income, you’re not likely to get approved. Credit cards that ask for no income don’t exist. Even secured credit cards that require a deposit to qualify still request your income in the application process. Income is a key factor in getting approved for a credit card, as card issuers are required by federal law to evaluate your ability to pay.
That said, simply being unemployed won’t necessarily disqualify you, because the definition of “income” is broad. For instance, if you're at least 21, federal law allows you to list income from your spouse, partner or other household members on a credit card application, so long as you have access to that income. (Things like retirement distributions and Social Security income can also be considered.)
If you're under 21, credit card issuers must look at your own income or assets. Can’t meet these requirements? You can still build credit with no income by getting a co-signer or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.
One of the easiest ways to build credit with no credit history is with a credit card. You can get a credit card without credit, but your options are mostly limited to alternative credit cards and secured credit cards. Credit cards outside of these options typically require good credit (FICO scores of 690 or higher), and some will accept only excellent credit (720 or higher). Understand that “no credit” doesn’t mean that you have “good credit.” And “no credit” is not worse than “bad credit,” though, you may experience similar obstacles in getting a credit card application approved. No credit means that you don’t have a credit score at the moment. You’re “credit invisible” for the time being until a lender approves you for credit and gives you the chance to prove you can manage credit responsibly.
The best credit cards for new or limited credit histories include the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card credit card. They have all of the ideal features you want in a starter credit card such as being light on certain fees and reporting to all three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). Be aware that both of these cards require a security deposit. If you want to avoid a security deposit, the $0*-annual-fee Jasper Mastercard® is a good alternative. Students can look to other credit card options that offer features better-suited for their lifestyle.
You cannot get a credit card without a credit limit. Federal law prohibits credit card issuers from offering credit cards without a credit limit. They have to evaluate your ability to pay and offer credit accordingly. Otherwise, it would be like someone writing you a blank check. Credit limits are speed bumps that force you to slow down when you might be spending more than you can afford. Credit limits are determined by your issuer, and they take into account factors like your credit scores, payment history, income, credit utilization and large expenses.
Newcomers to the U.S. may not qualify for a credit card through the traditional underwriting process. That’s because traditional credit cards tend to require a U.S. credit history and a U.S. Social Security number, neither of which is likely for new immigrants. But newcomers to the U.S. might be eligible for alternative credit cards that evaluate creditworthiness using nontraditional underwriting standard such as income, employment and/or bank account information. The best credit card for immigrants in the U.S. will have a low or no annual fee, no credit history requirement and a grace period for the Social Security number requirement.
No credit check credit cards are hard to come by, but there are some out there, like the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card. These cards are better suited for applicants with bad credit who don’t want to further ding their credit score with a “hard inquiry” on their credit report. The drawback to these credit cards is that they generally charge annual fees. There’s no point in paying an annual fee for a credit card if you have no credit because there are plenty of other starter cards for no credit that don’t charge it. (Many credit cards offer a preapproval process that doesn’t involve an hard pull, though once you officially apply, your credit report will be pulled.)
It’s not necessarily bad to get denied a credit card due to insufficient credit history. It just means you have some work to do to establish a credit history. One option that can help you: secured credit cards for no credit. These cards typically require that you put down a security deposit of several hundred dollars, though some options are cheaper or more flexible than others. If that’s not in your budget, you might consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card or getting a co-signer. When those options aren’t available, you can still build credit if you can’t get a credit card by having your rent payments or other bills reported to credit bureaus. If you’ve been denied a credit card, you’ll want to wait about six months until your next application.
You can open a credit card online, or in person at a bank branch. Even if it’s your first time submitting a credit card application, the requirements are the same for everyone. When you apply for a credit card, you have to list your income, Social Security number, housing expenses, occupation, phone number, address and other details. When you apply online, the decision process typically takes a few seconds, unless the issuer requires further review.
The fastest and easiest way to build credit when you have none is with a credit card. A credit card issuer reports your payments to the credit bureaus about once in the ballpark of a month or longer, depending on the issuer. Once you activate your card and start using it, you’ll be on the path to building credit. By practicing healthy habits, you can have a positive impact on your credit score over time.
The ideal starter card has no annual fee, a path to a better credit card with the same issuer and a report to all three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). The best credit cards for establishing credit vary depending on the applicant. Generally, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card are among the best starter cards for most because they meet most of these requirements. For domestic students, the Discover it® Student Chrome is a low-maintenance credit card that’s easy to manage for beginners. Some international students will fare better with the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, which skips the Social Security number requirement for some applicants. Other U.S. newcomers will need a different credit card depending on whether they have a credit history and a Social Security number. The best alternative options for new immigrants may include the Jasper Mastercard® or American Express credit cards that allow applicants to transfer their credit histories over from qualifying countries.
Some store credit cards can help you build credit, but it’s not always clear which ones accept no credit or limited credit. Retail credit cards typically offer lower credit limits, and many are "closed-loop" products, meaning you can use them only at one specific store or chain, or within only that retailer's brand. But still, even if you use such a card sparingly, it can help you build credit until you can qualify for better options. The best store credit cards also offer discounts and rewards you can use within the brand, and if your card is “open-loop," it can be used outside of that specific retailer, too.
The best Discover credit card for those without a credit history is the Discover it® Secured Credit Card. It has a $0 annual fee and reports payments to all three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It also offers a path to upgrade to an unsecured credit card, which is optimal for maintaining the length of your credit history, a factor in your credit scores. As a plus, the card also earns rewards — a rare find among secured credit cards. Cardholders get 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% on everything else.
American Express doesn’t offer many credit card options for those without a credit history. The exception is for newcomers to the U.S. from Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Through a partnership with Nova Credit, an international credit-reporting startup, immigrants and expats in the U.S. may be able translate credit reports from these countries when applying for American Express consumer credit cards. For beginners, the best AmEx card would be the $0-annual-fee American Express Cash Magnet® Card because it pays a straightforward 1.5% cash-back rate on all purchases, making it easy to manage when you’re just getting started.
The best Capital One credit card for those with no credit is the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. It has a $0 annual fee and reports payments to all three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It may also offer more flexibility on the security deposit. Qualifying applicants can get a $200 credit line with a deposit of $49, $99 or $200, depending on creditworthiness. And if you can’t pay the full deposit upfront, the issuer allows installments of at least $20 as long as you finish paying it off within 35 days of approval. Cardholders who make their first five payments on time may also qualify for access to a higher credit limit with no additional deposit required.
The best credit cards for students with no credit may differ for domestic and international students. The $0-annual-fee Discover it® Student Chrome is an excellent credit card for students who want an easy-to-manage credit card with incentives. It earns 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter and 1% on all other purchases. Students who are willing to put in a bit of extra effort to activate and keep track of rotating bonus rewards categories might enjoy the elevated rewards they can get with the Discover it® Student Cash Back, also for a $0 annual fee. It earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in qualifying categories per quarter and 1% on everything else. Previous bonus categories have included things like restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and Amazon.com.
For international students who don’t have a Social Security number, the $0-annual-fee Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is probably the best choice. It reports only to TransUnion and Experian, but you’ll start building credit. Plus, it offers 1% on all purchases.
The credit history requirement is a key obstacle students may encounter when applying for a credit card. It’s not usually possible to apply for a student credit card with no credit check, but these cards may not require you to have credit to qualify.
There isn’t a Chase credit card for those with no credit history. Chase doesn’t offer any secured credit cards, and its other cards require you to have some established credit.
The best secured credit cards for those with no credit are the $0-annual-fee Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the $0-annual-fee Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers a path to upgrade to an unsecured credit card with Discover. It also offers 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter at restaurants and gas stations, and 1% on all other purchases. It has a $200 minimum deposit. The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card may have a more flexible deposit. Some qualifying applicants can get a $200 credit line with a deposit of $49 or $99. And if you make your first five payments on time, you can potentially get access to a higher credit limit without having to put extra money down for a deposit.