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NerdWallet’s Best Unsecured Cards for Short Credit Histories of 2017

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NerdWallet's Best Unsecured Cards for Short Credit Histories

A short credit history is better than none, especially when it comes to getting approved for an unsecured credit card. With an unsecured card — that is, a card that doesn’t require cash collateral — you can get higher credit limits, lower fees and more valuable rewards than you would with a secured one.

Among unsecured cards for fair or average credit profiles (FICO scores of 630-689), these topped NerdWallet’s list:

If you’re starting with no credit history, though, getting a secured credit card — a card that requires a refundable security deposit — is still your best bet. After six months to a year of on-time payments and responsible credit use, you might be able to qualify for a better offer. NerdWallet recommends these secured cards:

Unsecured cards

Best for rewards

https://www.nerdwallet.com/lib/redirect.php?name=Capital-One-Cash-Credit-Card-Rewards-Average-Credit&uv=qOMKqdKb%2BH3CiUHHHaNvw5eaDx3Skcpmlh0YK66yI2SQqj0Otyi110ilr1wmACd9frfI4Mdi&clickHeader_category=Credit%20Card&clickHeader_productId=11720

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 630
    689
    Average
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Qualify with average credit
    • High rewards rate
    • No foreign transaction fee

    Cons

    • Has annual fee
    • High APR

    Annual Fees

    $39

    APR

    • APR: 24.99% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 24.99%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

    Intro APR

    • N/A
  • Additional Information
    • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
    • No rotating categories or sign ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back doesn’t expire and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
    • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
    • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
    • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
    • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use

Earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The ongoing APR is 24.99% Variable APR.

Benefits of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Strong rewards rate, and you can redeem rewards in any amount.
  • No foreign-transaction fees.

Drawbacks of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee is $39. You’d have to put at least $2,600 on this card annually to break even on rewards.
  • No sign-up bonus.
  • High APR makes carrying a balance expensive.

The bottom line

When you’re relatively new to credit, a 1.5% rewards rate can be hard to find. That’s what makes the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card such an outstanding deal — as long as you earn enough in rewards to make up for the annual fee and you pay your balance in full each month, therefore avoiding interest.

Best 0% APR offer

https://www.nerdwallet.com/lib/redirect.php?name=Chase-Slate-Elite&uv=qOMKqdKb%2BH3CiUHHHaNvw5eaDx3Skcpmlh0YK66yI2SQqj0Otyi110ilr1wmACd9frfI4Mdi&clickHeader_category=Credit%20Card&clickHeader_productId=3058

Chase Slate®

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 690
    850
    Good - Excellent
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • No annual fee
    • $0 Intro on balance transfer fees made within 60 days of Account Opening
    • Long 0% Intro APR Period

    Cons

    • No Rewards
    • Can't transfer debt from another Chase account

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 15.49% - 24.24% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

    Intro APR

    • 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months
  • Additional Information
    • $0 Introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made during the first 60 days of account opening
    • 0% Introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
    • Monthly FICO® Score and Credit Dashboard for free
    • No Penalty APR - Paying late won't raise your interest rate (APR). All other account pricing and terms apply
    • $0 Annual Fee

Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.49% - 24.24% Variable APR. Introductory balance transfer fee of $0 in the first 60 days after account opening.

Benefits of the  Chase Slate®

  • A $0 introductory balance-transfer fee, a $0 annual fee, and a long 0% APR balance-transfer period.
  • Free FICO score.

Drawbacks of the  Chase Slate®

  • A high ongoing APR after the promotional period.
  • No rewards or sign-up bonus.

The bottom line

The  Chase Slate® is one of the best 0% APR cards on NerdWallet, period. It’s also available to people with fair or average credit, which means that you have a decent chance of getting approved with a thin credit profile. 

Secured cards

Best secured card for rewards and upgrading

https://www.nerdwallet.com/lib/redirect.php?name=discover-it-secured&uv=qOMKqdKb%2BH3CiUHHHaNvw5eaDx3Skcpmlh0YK66yI2SQqj0Otyi110ilr1wmACd9frfI4Mdi&clickHeader_category=Credit%20Card&clickHeader_productId=6054

Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 350
    689
    Poor - Average
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • No annual fee
    • 10.99% on balance transfers for 6 months

    Cons

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 23.49% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

    Intro APR

    • 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months
  • Additional Information
    • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
    • A security deposit of $200 or more will establish your credit line (up to the amount we can approve). Automatic monthly reviews starting at 7 months to see if we can transition you to an account with no security deposit.
    • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Tools to assist you; email alerts, text reminders and 24/7 customer service. Plus get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements and online.
    • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
    • No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won’t raise your APR.
    • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to a combined $1,000 in purchases each quarter, and 1% on everything else. New cardmember bonus. Requires a deposit of $200 or more; your deposit is equal to your credit limit. 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 23.49% Variable APR.

Benefits of the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

  • Annual fee is $0.
  • Rare among secured cards, it pays decent rewards and offers a generous bonus: Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • A free FICO score.
  • Offers a way to upgrade to an unsecured card after seven months of responsible credit use and on-time payments.

Drawbacks of the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

  • Requires a deposit.
  • A high ongoing APR. It’s not a good card for carrying debt.

The bottom line

Unlike most secured credit cards, the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee offers rewards and a fast way to graduate to an unsecured account. That makes it a top-notch choice if you’re building your credit from scratch.

Best secured card for low deposit:
Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

Requires a security deposit of $49, $99 or $200, for a credit line of $200. The ongoing APR is 24.99% Variable APR.

Benefits of the Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

  • Offers the opportunity to qualify for a security deposit lower than your credit limit, based on creditworthiness.
  • An annual fee of $0.
  • Gives you 80 days to pay your security deposit in full.
  • After making your first five monthly payments on time, Capital One may give you access to a higher credit line without depositing additional funds.

Drawbacks of the Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

  • No sign-up bonus or rewards.
  • No option for graduating to an unsecured card while keeping the same account information.
  • A high APR. Avoid carrying a balance on this card.

The bottom line

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® is your go-to if you’re trying to build credit on a budget. If you qualify for a low security deposit, you can use the money you save on collateral to plump up your emergency fund.

To recap our selections:

NerdWallet’s best unsecured credit cards for people with a short credit history

Best for … Card
Rewards Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
0% APR offer Chase Slate®
No credit history? Consider these secured cards
Best for … Card
Rewards and upgrading Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee
Low deposit Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

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.

Last updated Dec. 31, 2016.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @ideclaire7 and on Google+.