Money.com has partnered with CardRatings.com for our coverage of credit card products. Money and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Our site does not include all card companies or all available card offers.
Getting approved for a credit card when you have bad credit or no credit at all can be extremely challenging; however, it’s not impossible.
Although most of the best credit cards and best travel cards in the market are aimed at those with good to excellent credit, there are some that are specifically tailored to borrowers with poor or limited credit — that is, FICO scores below 580 or even no score at all.
These starter cards will typically require a security deposit ranging between $100 and $300, and this amount will most likely be your credit limit. You can also give a larger deposit so you can enjoy a higher credit limit, although most starter cards do place a cap on how much that can be.
Read on to see Money’s picks for the best credit cards to build credit and our guide on what they are, how they work and how you can best make use of them.
Our Top Picks for the Best Credit Cards To Build Credit
- Capital One Quicksilver Secured Credit Card - Best Credit-Building Card for Travel Rewards
- First Latitude Platinum Mastercard® — Best Credit-Building Card for Borrowers With No Credit Score
- Applied Bank Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Card- Credit-Building Card with Lowest APR
- Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card - Credit-Building Card with Lowest Initial Deposit
- Tomo Card - Best Charge Card to Build Credit
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured — Best Credit-Building Card for Everyday Rewards
- Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards® Secured Credit Card — Best Credit-Building Card for Military
7 Best Credit Cards To Build Credit Reviews
- 1.5% cash back on every eligible purchase
- 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (Terms apply)
- Could qualify for a higher credit limit in six months
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- Refundable $200 minimum deposit is higher than some competitors
- Travel rewards are limited to hotels and rental cars, not flights
Why we chose it: The card_name gives more travel-related rewards than most other credit-building cards, with 5% cash-back on hotels and ren
The card_name offers cardholders an unlimited 5% cash back rewards on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, as well as 1.5% cash back on all other qualifying purchases. Adding to its travel reward perks, it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. (Many cards charge up to 3% on transactions made in non-U.S. currency.)
Unlike some other cards that offer cash back only in the form of statement credits, Capital One provides plenty of flexibility in how you redeem that cash back — you can use it as statement credits to reduce the amount you owe, use it for specific purchases or even redeem it for gift cards.
Another one of its perks is membership into CreditWise, a credit monitoring service that can help you track how your credit score is coming along and alert you to any suspicious activities in your accounts.
This card requires a minimum deposit of $200, which will also be your initial credit limit, but you can also make a larger deposit in order to increase that limit. Additionally, Capital One will review your account after you make on-time payments for at least six months and potentially raise your credit limit.
- No credit score required
- Low initial security deposit ($100)
- 1% back (as statement credits) on payments made to the card
- Annual fee is low compared to some competitors
- One-time program enrollment fee of $19.95
- Annual fee of $25.00 for first year, $35.00 thereafter
Click here for rates and fees.
Why we chose it: The First Latitude Platinum Mastercard® considers applicants without a credit history and offers a cash-back program, an unusual perk among credit-builder cards.
Borrowers with no credit history at all can find it nearly impossible to qualify for a card. The First Latitude Platinum, on the other hand, will consider applicants without a credit score and will even include some extra perks — in the form of statement credits — as well.
Its First Latitude Rewards program gives you 1% back on payments made to the card. As you pay your bill every month, your payments are converted into reward points on a roughly 1:1 basis. Once you accrue 500 points — which would mean you’ve paid around $500 to the card — you’re able to redeem those points for statement credits. (Statement credits are applied to your bill, reducing the total amount you owe.)
There are some caveats, however. First, to get approved, you must open and maintain a non-interest bearing deposit account with Synovus Bank and keep a security deposit of at least $100. Additionally, the card requires a $19.95 sign-up fee for enrolling in the program and has an annual fee of $25 the first year, $35 thereafter. (Note that the statement credits cannot be used to reduce the annual fee or the program enrollment fee.)
Still, its benefits and the fact that they report your payments to the main credit bureaus which can help you build (or repair) your credit, make it certainly worth considering.
- Low APR of reg_apr,reg_apr_type
- No penalty APR
- Credit limit can be as high as $5,000 (security deposit for the same amount required)
- Annual fee of annual_fees charged immediately upon account opening, counting against credit limit
- 3% foreign transaction fee
- Requires a $200 deposit and account with Applied Bank to qualify
Why we chose it: While most credit-building cards charge variable APRs that can be as high as 30%, the Applied Bank Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® charges only reg_apr,reg_apr_type APR.
It’s a well-established rule that lenders charge customers with bad or no credit the highest interest rates. This is also the case for most credit-building cards — with the exception of the card_name.
While most cards have variable APRs that fluctuate with the Prime Rate and some credit-building cards can charge as much as 30%, this card features a low reg_apr,reg_apr_type APR. And, while it charges an annual fee of annual_fees, this is considerably less than many comparable cards.
Note that you need to open an account with Applied Bank and deposit an amount between $200 and $1,000 in order to qualify for the card. The amount you deposit will be considered your credit limit. Once your account is open, you can keep making deposits to increase your credit limit up to a maximum of $5,000.
The low APR does come at a cost though. While most cards offer an interest grace period of around a month before interest starts accruing, the card_name doesn’t. This means that whatever you purchase will start accruing interest on the day the transaction is completed. Additionally, the card’s annual fee is charged as soon as you open the account and counts against your credit limit.
- Minimum deposit can be as low as $49
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- Low maximum credit line ($1,000)
- Does not offer rewards
Why we chose it: Unlike most secured credit cards, the card_name could potentially give you a credit limit that’s higher than the deposit required — depending on your creditworthiness, you could get access to a $200 credit line with a deposit as low as $49.
The card_name requires one of the lowest security deposits on the market — you can open an account with as little as $49 but, depending on your credit, you could still get a credit line of $200. You can increase that credit limit by making additional deposits before the account opens, raising it to a maximum of $1,000.
This secured card includes many of the benefits offered by other Capital One cards, such as virtual credit card numbers that can protect your identity while shopping online, enrollment in a credit monitoring service and, of course, reporting to all three credit bureaus so you can start building your credit history.
Additionally, much like the card_name, you could be considered for a higher credit limit after six months of on-time payments.
This card does have some drawbacks. Its $1,000 maximum credit limit is low compared to other starter cards and it offers few perks or rewards; however, its low minimum opening deposit makes it a valuable card for those who just want to focus on building (or rebuilding) their credit.
- No fees and no security deposit required
- Accepts applicants with no credit history
- High credit limit (up to $30,000) for those who qualify
- Offers rewards on DoorDash, Lyft, Fandango, among others
- Concierge service
- Must be paid in full every billing cycle
- Automatically sets up Autopay for every 7 days
- Charges a $2.99 monthly participation fee
Why we chose it: The Tomo Card is a different and potentially fast way to build credit. You pay the card off weekly, which doesn’t allow for interest to accrue and makes for more frequent reporting to credit bureaus.
Tomo is technically a charge card, not a credit card; however, if you’re looking for ways to build credit fast, it’s certainly an alternative worth considering.
Charge cards like Tomo don’t let you carry a balance, which means you must pay whatever you charged in full at the end of the billing period. In Tomo’s case, this means every seven days. The company then reports all those payments to the three credit bureaus which, the company states, could potentially help you build credit history faster.
If you fail to pay at the end of the billing cycle, Tomo will freeze your account but will not penalize you with a late fee.
You don’t need a credit score or a security deposit to be approved for a Tomo card. Instead of checking your credit report, Tomo will ask for access to your banking accounts and use a proprietary algorithm to determine approval and establish a credit line. Credit lines can range between $100 and $30,000, depending on that assessment.
(To improve your chances of a higher credit limit, the company recommends you link multiple bank accounts or the account with the highest amount, though not all financial institutions can be easily linked to the Tomo system.)
Even with these advantages, Tomo might not work for everyone. The fast pace of repayment might be difficult to maintain if you’re already struggling financially. Further, if you’re looking for a card to use in case of emergency and that you can then pay in installments, Tomo might not fulfill that need.
- 3% cash back in chosen category and 2% cash back at grocery stores including wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 combined, 1% thereafter)
- 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases
- High maximum deposit amount ($5,000)
- Not all customers will qualify
- Minimum $200 security deposit required
- No annual fee
Why we chose it: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card offers significantly more rewards than most secured cards on the market, including 3% cash back in the category of your choice (from a provided list), 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
This Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured offers pretty much the same rewards and flexibility as the unsecured version. It offers:
- 3% cash back in a category of your choice among gas and EV charging stations; online shopping, including cable, internet, phone plans and streaming; dining; travel; drug stores and pharmacies; or home improvement and furnishings
- 2% on groceries/wholesale stores
- Up to the first $2,500 per quarter combined between the two categories, 1% after that
- 1% in all other eligible purchases
The category possibilities include gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings. You can choose a different category every month, which can help you save money on what you actually spend the most. So, for example, you can choose gas as your category just in time for that summer road trip, or pick travel if you’re planning on flying.
Bank of America® asks for a $200 minimum security deposit, but you can deposit as much as $5,000 to obtain a higher credit limit. Like most other secured cards, it will review your account periodically and, after a period of “responsible borrowing behavior” (typically that means staying within the credit limit and paying on time every time), it could return your security deposit and upgrade you to the unsecured version of the card. Not all borrowers will qualify for this, however.
Note that, unlike some other cards in this list, Bank of America® doesn’t specify how long it takes to be upgraded to a non-secured version or higher credit limit.
- Could be eligible for higher credit limit after just 3 months
- Rental car coverage
- Accrues 1 point per dollar, which can be redeemed for cash, statement credits, gift cards and/or merchandise
- No annual, balance transfer or foreign transaction fees
- Membership is limited to military and their families
- Rewards expire after 4 years
- Reward rate lower than some competitors
Why we chose it: Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards® Secured Credit Card offers military members and their families benefits that most secured cards don’t offer, including point rewards and rental car coverage.
Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards® Secured Credit Card stands out for offering rewards that very few secured cards offer, all while charging almost no fees.
The card offers rental car coverage and 1X point per dollar spent on eligible purchases. Those points can then be redeemed for cash back, statement credits (which can reduce what you owe on the card) or merchandise. While this rate is low compared to traditional credit cards, it’s a good perk to have on a secured card.
Navy Federal also offers a clear path for upgrading to an unsecured version of its card. At three months from opening the account, Navy Federal will assess whether you qualify for a higher credit limit. At six months, it will review the account monthly and determine whether it can be upgraded to an unsecured version.
It’s important to remember that membership to Navy Federal is restricted to military members and Department of Justice employees and their families. If you qualify, the card’s benefits — and the fact that it consistently offers lower APR than similar companies — make it a suitable choice to start building your credit history.
Other credit cards we considered
We evaluated more than a dozen cards in order to compile our list of the best credit cards to build credit. The ones below, while they offer some benefits, did not quite make the cut.
- Doesn't require a deposit
- Accounts get periodically reviewed for credit limit increases
- $300 minimum credit limit
- Higher maximum APR than others on this list
- Annual fee ranges between $39 and $59
- No cash back rewards or welcome bonus
- Individuals with poor or no credit may not qualify
Avant offers some benefits, including a minimum $300 credit limit without the need for a security deposit.
Why it didn’t make the cut: Its maximum APR runs much higher than other cards on this list and it doesn’t offer enough benefits to offset this rather significant drawback.
Petal® 1 Visa Credit Card
- No annual fee
- No deposit required
- Earn cash back rewards on qualifying merchants
- Little information provided about cash-back offers
The Petal® 1 Visa is one of the few cards that consider applicants with no credit scores. Instead of a credit report, Petal will ask for access to your bank accounts and, using a proprietary algorithm, assigns you a score based on how much you earn and the bills you regularly pay. Credit limits range between $300 and $5,000.
Why it didn’t make the cut: While Petal offers a hefty rate of cash back, from 2% to 10% at qualifying merchants, it offers little information as to which merchants qualify and states that not all the offers might be available for all applicants.
Best Credit Cards To Build Credit Guide
Whether you’re just joining the labor force or are coming out of a period of financial hardship, a starter card could help you build a solid credit history.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of credit-building cards, how they work and how to choose the right one for you.
What is a credit card to build credit?
A credit-building card, or a starter card, is aimed at applicants with low FICO scores or little credit history that are unable to qualify for most traditional credit cards.
Starter cards typically have more lenient underwriting than traditional cards do and, unlike those cards, most will ask for a security deposit as a type of collateral. In most cases (although not all), this deposit will also serve as your credit limit. For instance, if you put down $250 as your security deposit, this will also be your credit limit.
Some issuers do offer credit-building cards that don’t require a security deposit. That means, however, that they will perform a more traditional risk assessment — for instance, they’ll ask for bank account information to ensure you have sufficient income to make payments. Some issuers might also accept alternative means of proving financial stability such as rental history records or utility bill payments.
How do credit cards that build credit work?
Starter cards to build credit work in much the same way as traditional cards, except for the fact that they will ask for an initial deposit and that this, in most cases, will become your credit limit.
While credit limits might be low compared to traditional cards, these starter cards can help you build credit because they report your payments to the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Transunion and Equifax. This means your credit history will reflect a higher amount of available credit and a record of on-time payments, which can help increase your score.
Many of these cards also give you the opportunity of upgrading to an unsecured card (one that doesn’t require a deposit and offers a higher credit limit) after you make on-time payments for a certain period, usually between six months to a year.
If you do qualify for an unsecured card, some credit card issuers will automatically make the switch for you. Others might require that you apply for a new card and, if so, you’ll have to cancel the secured card in order to get your deposit back.
Note, however, that closing a secured card — much like closing any other type of credit card — can have a negative impact on your credit as it decreases both your average credit age and the amount of credit you have available.
How to choose a credit card to build credit
When shopping around for a credit-building card, it's important to keep the following factors in mind.
Lenders, regardless of their industry, will invariably offer borrowers with poor credit scores their highest interest rates. Starter cards meant for building credit are no exception — their interest rates are on the higher end of the typical credit card range, typically 24% and more. (It’s worth noting, however, that this is comparable to what traditional credit cards will offer people with fair credit.)
While you can expect starter cards’ interest rates to be on the higher end of the scale, you should avoid starter cards that charge an exorbitant amount of interest, for example, 35% or more. Make sure to read the rates and fees page for any credit card you plan on applying for so you know exactly what you’ll be charged down the line.
Rewards and perks
Starter cards meant to build credit do not typically provide the same level of rewards traditional cards will. However, some — like the Bank of America® Custom Cash Rewards Secured Card or the Capital One Quicksilver Secured — do offer the opportunity to earn cash back or rewards.
Some of these cards also feature other benefits that can help you build your credit, such as monthly access to your credit score so you can see your progress.
All credit cards will charge some fees, whether it’s an annual fee or fees for balance transfers, foreign transactions or making late payments.
Starter cards tend to have lower fees than some traditional cards. For example, while a traditional card might charge a $95 annual fee, many starter cards might charge $49. Nonetheless, many starter cards don’t even charge annual fees and some on our list don’t charge for foreign transactions either.
Note that almost all credit cards will charge a fee if you fail to pay on time, usually up to around $40.
Credit Cards To Build Credit FAQ
How do you start building credit?
At what age can you start building credit?
Why is building credit important?
How We Chose the Best Credit Cards To Build Credit
We focused on the following factors when picking the best credit cards to build credit.
Interest rates and fees. We favored cards that offered lower APRs and charged the least amount of fees. While we chose some cards with an annual fee, we considered that their benefits more than made up for it.
Reward programs and perks. While starter cards aren’t traditionally known for generous perks, we gave preference to those that offered some rewards, whether in the form of cash back, statement credits or points.
Low security deposits, if any. We favored cards that required low minimum security deposits or, better yet, none at all.
Three-credit bureau reporting. In order to build your credit, you need to choose a card that reports your payment history to all three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Because of this, we chose cards that reported to all three credit agencies. Provided you pay your balance on time and keep your credit utilization low, this will help you build (or restore) great credit. Because of this, we picked cards that reported to all three bureaus.
Summary of Money's Best Credit Cards To Build Credit in 2023
- Capital One Quicksilver Secured Credit Card - Best for Travel Rewards
- First Latitude Platinum Mastercard® — Best for Borrowers With No Credit Score
- Applied Bank Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Card- Lowest APR
- Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card - Lowest Initial Deposit
- Tomo Card - Best Charge Card to Build Credit
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured — Best for Everyday Rewards
- Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards® Secured Credit Card — Best for Military
Money has partnered with CardRatings.com for our coverage of credit card products. Money and CardRatings.com may receive a commission from card issuers.