Best starter credit cards of 2019: Our picks

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In a Nutshell

If you’re new to credit, your credit card options can be limited. These cards, many of which don’t require a security deposit, can help you build credit from scratch. Some even offer rewards and incentives for developing good credit behaviors.

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This offer is no longer available on our site: Deserve® Edu Mastercard

Whether you’re a college student, a young professional or someone else who hasn’t yet had a chance to build credit, these starter credit cards can help make it happen with little in the way of fuss or fees.



Best for college students: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Here’s why: The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® offers college students a flat rewards rate on all purchases and also provides extra rewards and more access to credit if you use your card responsibly.

You’ll earn 1% cash back on all the purchases you make plus an extra 0.25% back if you pay your bill on time for that month, for a total of 1.25%. You’ll also have the chance to earn a credit limit increase once you’ve made your first five monthly payments on time.

The card’s annual fee is $0, and it also doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, making it an excellent choice if you’re planning to study or do a gap year abroad. The typical foreign transaction fee is around 3% of every international purchase you make, so it could potentially save you a lot over time.

Read our review of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® to find out more.

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Best for international students: Deserve® Edu Mastercard

Here’s why: International students don’t need a Social Security number to qualify for the Deserve® Edu Mastercard.

It’s also open to U.S. citizens and, if you do have a credit history, the card issuer will consider it in addition to looking at how you manage your money now and look at factors like on-time payment history to help determine your future credit potential.

New cardholders will receive a one-year membership to Amazon Prime Student plus 1% cash back on every purchase. And when you use your card to pay your cellphone bill, you’ll get up to $600 in insurance coverage against phone damage or theft.

The card charges no annual fee or foreign transaction fees. And depending on your creditworthiness, you could qualify for a credit limit of up to $5,000.

If you like what you see so far, read our review of the Deserve® Edu Mastercard to get the full details.

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Deserve® Edu Mastercard

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Best for a limited credit history: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Here’s why: If you’ve already started building credit, like through an authorized user account or student loans, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers solid value.

The card offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make, plus you may be eligible for a higher credit line after you make your first five monthly payments on time. The card also has no foreign transaction fees, making it a good choice for people planning a trip abroad.

The card’s annual fee is $39, but you can make up for that by spending just $2,600 per year. Also, try to avoid carrying a balance on the card, so you don’t have to pay the 26.98% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers.

If you’re on the fence, read our review of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card to find out more.

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Best for a security deposit: Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Here’s why: If you’re having a hard time getting approved for an unsecured credit card, this one is a solid choice with a low security deposit requirement, a rewards program and the chance to convert your account to an unsecured card.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 spent in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, you’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases. What’s more, the bank will match all the rewards you earn during your first year with the account.

The minimum security deposit is just $200 and depending on how you use the account and your other credit accounts, you may get your deposit back in as little as eight months.

The card doesn’t charge an annual fee, and also doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee. Keep in mind, though, that Discover isn’t widely accepted internationally. So if you’re heading abroad, have a backup payment method.

Read our review of the Discover it® Secured Card to see if it fits your needs.

Best for no fees: Petal Visa Credit Card

Here’s why: It’s uncommon to find a credit card with no fees whatsoever, let alone one designed for people without a credit history. But that’s exactly what you’ll get with the Petal Visa Credit Card. But remember, there is still a variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 26.24%.

The card’s issuer decides whether you’re a good fit for the card based on how you manage your finances. The issuer can do this by having you connect your bank accounts, which can show it how you make, save and spend money.

The card also offers the possibility of a high credit limit, with options ranging from $500 to $10,000, based on your creditworthiness.

For more details, read our review of the Petal Visa Credit Card.

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Petal Visa Credit Card

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How we picked these cards

There are plenty of credit cards out there that can help you build credit from scratch. But if you’re not careful, you could end up paying high fees or be unable to use them everywhere you go. To help you avoid these pitfalls, we focused on cards that can help you establish a credit history without costing you an arm and a leg.

Specifically, we focused mostly on unsecured credit cards with low or no annual fees, or rewards programs that can help make up for them. We also added a secured credit card that provides a path to getting your deposit back.

How to make the most of the best starter credit cards

While many of the best starter credit cards we’ve covered offer rewards programs, they’re not as impressive as some of the cards you might qualify for once your credit is in better shape. To get there, it’s important to use your starter credit card responsibly.

What does responsible mean? Make sure you pay your bill on time every month. Set up automatic payments or at least a reminder to ensure you don’t forget. If possible, pay the bill in full to avoid interest charges.

Also, keep your balance low relative to the card’s credit limit. Your credit utilization rate, which is the percentage of your limit you’re using at any given time, is an important factor in your credit health, and the lower it is, the better.