Advertiser Disclosure

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

With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we spend literally 1,000s of hours researching partner offers and following strict editorial integrity to match you with the perfect choice. We even share how we make money so you can enjoy our expert advice and researched recommendations with total clarity and confidence.
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), one card stands out:

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:

Not sure which card is right for you? Let's find the one. Tell us what you most want your new card to do.

Unsecured card

Best for rewards

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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

    None

    Intro APR

    • N/A
  • Additional Information
    • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
    • Use your QuicksilverOne card and get 50% back as a statement credit on your monthly Spotify Premium subscription, now through April 2018
    • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account 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.

Secured cards

Best secured card for rewards and upgrading

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 300
    629
    Poor
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • No annual fee
    • Reports to the three major credit bureaus
    • Offers rewards and a sign-up bonus
    • Chance to upgrade to unsecured account after 8 months

    Cons

    • Requires minimum deposit of $200
    • Discover cards not widely accepted outside the U.S.

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 23.99% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 25.99%, 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.
    • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
    • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
    • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
    • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
    • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
    • 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 23.99% 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 eight 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
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+.