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The 7 best starter credit cards of March 2021

This article is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. It has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the issuers listed. Some of the offers you see on the page are from our partners like Citi and American Express, but our coverage is always independent. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

This page includes information about the Discover it® Student chrome, Discover it® Secured and Discover it® Student Cash Back products, which are currently not available on Business Insider and may be out of date.

The best starter credit cards in 2021:

CategoryStarter credit card
Best student credit card:Discover it® Student Cash Back
Best secured credit card:Discover it® Secured
Best for cash back:Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for travel rewards: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Best basic starter card:Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Best for intro APR:Discover it® Student chrome
Best for building credit:Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

If your credit score isn't great or you barely have any credit history, you'll need to ease into the world of credit cards. Fortunately, there are cards specifically made for credit newcomers, many of which let you get approved with fair credit, bad credit, or no credit at all.

You can check your credit score online for free. From there, you can figure out which credit card can help you build credit that lasts.

Annual Fee
See Terms
Regular APR
See Terms
Credit Score
No Credit History
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Annual Fee
See Terms
Regular APR
See Terms
Credit Score
No Credit History
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Intro APR
0% intro APR for 6 months from date of account opening
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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
    • The information related to the Discover it® Student Cash Back has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
    • Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
    • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% after that.
    • $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
    • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
    • 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.
    Pros
    • Earns 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories
    • $20 statement credit each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher
    • Discover matches your cash back after the first year
    Cons
    • Not the most rewarding cash-back card for non-bonus purchases

    Best student credit card: Discover it® Student Cash Back

    Students should consider the Discover it® Student Cash Back, which is typically available to consumers who don't have an extensive credit history.

    Once you're approved, you can enroll to earn 5% cash back up to a quarterly maximum limit spent on purchases in categories that rotate each quarter, plus 1% back on everything else. Like other cash-back credit cards from Discover, this card will also match all the rewards you earn the first year, and you can get a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.

    This card also lets you see your credit score for free each month, and you'll get Social Security Number monitoring, zero fraud liability, and no late fee on your first late payment. Consider signing up if you want to earn rewards and build credit at the same time without an annual fee (see terms for up to date info on late fees and annual fees).

    Annual Fee
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    See Terms
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    No Credit History
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  • Pros & Cons
    • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
    • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
    • 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.
    • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
    • Intro Offer: We automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.
    • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
    Pros
    • Offers cash-back rewards, which isn't a given for secured credit cards
    • Discover matches cash back after your first account year
    Cons
    • Other secured cards let you start with lower minimum security deposits
    • You must fund the security deposit from a bank account

    Best secured credit card: Discover it® Secured

    If you have poor credit or no credit history at all, you may need to get started with a secured credit card. Unlike unsecured credit cards that extend a line of credit without collateral, secured cards require a small cash deposit upfront in order to secure an equally small line of credit.

    The Discover it® Secured is widely considered the top secured credit card since, unlike other cards in this niche, it doesn't charge an annual fee or any hidden fees (see terms for details). You'll also earn 2% back on up to $1,000 spent each quarter on gas and dining after activation (then 1%), as well as 1% back on all other purchases. Discover will also match all the rewards you earn the first year. 

    Other top benefits include a free look at your FICO score each month, zero liability for fraudulent purchases, and no late fee on your first late payment (see terms for details).

    Annual Fee
    $39
    Regular APR
    26.99% variable APR
    Credit Score
    Fair
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    Annual Fee
    $39
    Regular APR
    26.99% variable APR
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    Fair
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  • Pros & Cons
    • Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on every purchase
    • Automatic credit line reviews
    • $0 Fraud Liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
    • Tap to pay
    Pros
    • No bonus categories to keep track of; you earn 1.5% back on everything
    • Intro APR offer
    Cons
    • Other cards offer higher cash-back rates

    Best for cash back: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

    The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is available to consumers with "average" credit according to Capital One, which brings it into reach for individuals with limited credit or anyone who has made credit mistakes in the past. This card does charge a $39 annual fee, but you'll be able to earn a flat 1.5% back for each dollar you spend. That's not bad for a rewards credit card, and it's especially good for cards available to consumers with average credit.

    Capital One also promises to reconsider your credit limit and potentially boost it after you've made five on-time payments on your credit card. This card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, extended warranties on eligible purchases, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, and 24-hour travel assistance, which is a lot more than many credit cards for average credit offer.

    Annual Fee
    $0
    Regular APR
    15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
    Credit Score
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    Annual Fee
    $0
    Regular APR
    15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
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    Featured Reward
    20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
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    Pros
    Cons

    Best for travel rewards: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

    The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is typically only available to consumers with "good" credit or better, but it's important to note that a good FICO score typically starts in the 670+ range. If you are able to qualify, this card can serve as a starter travel credit card that can help you get accustomed to earning this type of rewards.

    Once you sign up, you'll earn a flat 1.25 miles for each dollar you spend. You can also earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on your card within three months of account opening.

    On the redemption side of the equation, you can cash in your points for any type of travel at a rate of 1 cent per point, or for transfers to a handful of select airlines. This card also comes with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

    Annual Fee
    $0
    Regular APR
    26.99% variable APR
    Credit Score
    Average
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    Annual Fee
    $0
    Regular APR
    26.99% variable APR
    Credit Score
    Average
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  • Pros & Cons
    • Access to a higher credit line with Credit Steps after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
    • Unlimited access to your credit score and tools to help you monitor your credit profile with CreditWise from Capital One®
    • Add an authorized user to your account, and track spending by user
    • Personalized email or text reminders to help you stay on top of your account
    Pros
    • Access to a higher credit line after you make your first five monthly payments on time
    • No annual fee
    Cons
    • No extra benefits and no rewards

    Best basic starter card: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

    If you have average credit and want to learn good credit habits without worrying about rewards, consider the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card. This card will likely start you out with a low credit limit, but Capital One says it will consider boosting your limit after you make five on-time payments on your card. This card also comes with no annual fee.

    Another benefit of this card is the fact you can get prequalified online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. Other cardholder perks include travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, 24-hour travel assistance, and no foreign transaction fees.

    Annual Fee
    See Terms
    Regular APR
    See Terms
    Credit Score
    No Credit History
    A five pointed star A five pointed star A five pointed star A five pointed star A five pointed star
    4 out of 5 Stars
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    Annual Fee
    See Terms
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    See Terms
    Credit Score
    No Credit History
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    Intro APR
    0% intro APR for 6 months from date of account opening
    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.
  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
    • - Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
    • - 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.
    • - No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
    • - Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
    • - 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.
    • - 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 23.49% applies.
    Pros
    • Earns 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants
    • Discover matches cash back after your first account year
    • Get a $20 statement credit every year your GPA is 3.0 or higher
    Cons
    • Low cap for earning 2% cash back (up to $1,000 per quarter in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants)
    • Other cards offer better cash-back rates

    Best for intro APR: Discover it® Student chrome

    If you want to save money with low interest for a limited time, look into the Discover it® Student chrome. This card starts you off with no interest on purchases for six months (see terms for the interest rate details).

    You'll also earn 2% back on up to $1,000 spent on gas and dining each quarter after activation(then 1%), plus 1% back on everything else you buy. Discover will also match all the rewards you earn after the first year, and you can secure a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.

    Annual Fee
    N/A
    Regular APR
    12.99% – 26.99% variable APR
    Credit Score
    Excellent, Good, Limited History, No History, Limited, No Credit
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    Annual Fee
    N/A
    Regular APR
    12.99% – 26.99% variable APR
    Credit Score
    Excellent, Good, Limited History, No History, Limited, No Credit
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  • Pros & Cons
    • 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
    Pros
    • No fees
    • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, and 1.5% cash back after 12 on-time monthly payments
    • Helps you build or repair credit
    Cons
    • Currently only available to those with an offer code

    Best for building credit: Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

    Finally, the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card Card is a newcomer on the scene, yet it could be ideal for anyone who wants to build good credit that lasts. This card comes with a minimum credit limit of $500, although there's no annual fee and no fees on late payments. You'll earn a flat 1% back on all your purchases for the first year, but you have the opportunity to graduate to 1.5% back after you've made 12 on-time payments on your credit card.

    This card also reports to all three credit bureaus like the other cards on our list, so it can help you build credit as your purchases and payments are reported. You'll also get access to the powerful Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card Card app, which can help you manage your money better, track your spending, and stay on top of all your bills.

    Other credit card guides to read

    If you already have a decent credit score and are looking for a new credit card to maximize your spending, check out the following guides:

    Frequently asked questions — starter credit cards

    When you're ready to start building credit for the first time, it's smart to have a basic understanding of how credit cards can help. The following questions and answers provide some basic guidelines to follow.

    How do I choose the right starter card?

    It really depends on your credit score and where you're at in your credit journey. If you've never had a credit card before, it's likely you'll have to get started with a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit in order to shore up a small line of credit. If your FICO credit score is at least "fair," or above 580, on the other hand, you may qualify for a card geared to consumers with average credit.

    What are the easiest cards to get approved for?

    When you're first starting out, secured credit cards are the easiest to get approved for. This type of credit card requires an initial cash deposit to secure a line of credit that is typically for the same amount. For example, you may put down a cash deposit of $500 in order to secure a $500 line of credit.

    With the requirement for collateral in place, almost anyone can get approved for a secured credit card regardless of their credit score. Also note that, once you use your secured credit card to establish a reasonable amount of credit history, you can cancel or upgrade your card provided your account is in good standing. At that point, your initial security deposit would be refunded to you.

    How do I build credit with a credit card?

    Building credit with a credit card isn't overly difficult, but you may have a better initial experience if you start the process off slowly. Use your credit card for regular purchases you can afford to pay off each month. When your bill comes due, make sure to pay at least the minimum payment and hopefully your entire credit card balance.

    As you make payments each month, those payments will be reported to the three credit bureaus. Over time, you'll build a history of responsible credit use that can help boost your credit score.

    How many credit cards should I have?

    You can have one credit card or several. It's totally up to you.

    When you're first building credit, however, it makes sense to limit yourself to a single card. This way, you can spend time building responsible credit habits before you add more cards and complicate your finances.

    How quickly can I raise my credit score?

    How quickly you'll raise your credit score depends on a whole host of factors including whether you have any credit history at all, whether you have negative marks on your credit report, and the way you handle credit in the short-term.

    Your best bet is signing up for a credit card that can aid you in building credit, then using it for regular purchases that you pay in full each month. This will help you build a history of on-time payments while keeping your credit utilization low.

    What card should I get when I have excellent credit?

    If you have excellent credit, or any FICO score above 740, it's likely you can qualify for the best rewards and travel credit cards. Make sure to compare the top credit card offers of 2021 in terms of their rewards and cardholder perks. See our best rewards credit cards guide for more info.

    Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

    Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

    Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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