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Drawing of hand holding a credit card

While approximately three quarters of consumers have a credit card, there are still plenty of people who want to get their first card. This includes everyone from students and other young adults to recent immigrants and even those who have just wanted to avoid credit cards up until now. Here are the top 5 starter cards to consider for those who are ready to begin using credit.

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back Card. Best card for students.
  • Platinum Mastercard® from Capital One. Best starter card for adults who are new to credit.
  • Citi® Double Cash. Best starter card for those with excellent credit.
  • Platinum Secured from Capital One. Best starter card for people with credit problems.

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The Discover it® Student Cash Back Card is a great way for students to get started using credit.


  • 5% cash back on purchases from select merchants and merchant categories that change each quarter
  • Excellent reputation for customer service
  • No annual fee


  • Discover offers few cardholder benefits
  • Discover isn't widely accepted in some countries

The Discover it® Student Cash Back Card is a great choice for a student getting his or her first credit card. That's because it's a low fee card that comes from a company with a reputation for customer friendly policies and service. It has no annual fee, no penalty interest rate and your first late fee is waived automatically.

This card also offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on purchases from specific merchants and merchant categories, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Discover it® Card will even match the cash back you earn during your account's first year.

Capital One offers its simple Platinum Mastercard® to adults who are new to credit. It's a simple card that offers strong benefits.


  • Available to those with fair credit.
  • Capital One offers automatic credit line reviews so you can be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee


  • No rewards offered.
  • High standard interest rate

Here's a simple card from an established card issuer that you can qualify for without any credit history. And while you'll likely receive a small line of credit, Capital One will automatically evaluate you for a larger line of credit in as little as six months. It doesn't offer rewards, but then again there's no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees either.

The Citi® Double Cash is a strong but simple rewards card that's an ideal first card for adults who have already established their credit history by paying back other loans such as home mortgages, car loans and student loans.


  • Earn cash back twice on all purchases, with no limits
  • Cash back is easy to redeem as a statement credit, direct deposit, check or points
  • No annual fee


  • You need an established credit history to be approved
  • 3% foreign transaction fee

This card is a smart choice for those who are new to credit, plan on paying their balance in full and want an easy way to earn cash back. It offers 1% cash back at the time of purchase and another 1% cash back when you pay for your purchases, for a total of up to 2% cash back on all purchases with no limits. There's no annual fee for this card.

You'll need to start with a secured credit card if you have serious credit problems. Capital One's offering is unique in that it can offer you a credit limit greater than your deposit.


  • A $49, $99 or $200 refundable minimum security deposit gives you an initial credit line of up to $200
  • Automatically considered for a higher credit line as soon as six months in
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee


  • You must submit a refundable deposit from an authorized bank account
  • High standard interest rate

If you have bad credit, you can still receive a secured card like this one that requires a refundable deposit. But after that, you can use the card just like any other credit card. Capital One's product is unique in that you could receive a credit limit that's greater than the amount of your deposit. Plus you'll enjoy many of the same features and benefits that Capital One offers to all of its cardholders.

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Frequently asked questions about starter back credit cards:

Q. What should I look for in a starter credit card? Your first credit card should be simple, with few fees. You'll want a card from an established card issuer with a reputation for good customer service. When you're looking for your first credit card, there's no need to get involved in the complex reward programs offered by airline and hotel credit cards.

Q. Should I pay an annual fee with my first credit card? No, there's plenty of great no-fee cards available so there's no reason to pay an annual fee. Premium cards that charge annual fees tend to have complex rewards programs and ironically, higher interest rates too.

Q. Can I qualify for a credit card? Many people can qualify for a credit card with little or no credit history. However, if you have poor credit history you'll need to apply for a secured card, which is one that requires the payment of a refundable security deposit before you can open an account.

Q. What's the best way to use a starter credit card to build credit? To build credit, you should only use a small portion of your credit line at any time. Many people believe you should use less than 30% of your available credit, but that's not a magic number. You can save money by paying your monthly statement balance in full, which will allow you to avoid debt and interest charges. Most importantly, always make your payments on-time. To simplify this process, consider enabling autopay.

How we chose the best starter cards

To find the best starter cards, we first divided the market into the five most popular types of cards. Then we looked at the starter credit cards offered by all of the major card issuers. Each of their starter credit card offers were examined and compared to other starter cards. We looked at how easy it was to be approved for the card, how simple the terms and conditions were and how valuable the benefits were.

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