Categorized | Credit Cards

Best First Credit Card: Top 10 Picks

person holding credit cad

Growing up, a credit card may have seemed a magical tool, a small piece of plastic that could get you anything and everything you wanted. Obviously, as a young adult, it loses some of its allure knowing it comes with a fair share of responsibility and drawbacks. Nevertheless, credit cards have become nearly ubiquitous and choosing the best first credit card is accompanied by many choices and concerns.

Credit cards come with a variety of benefits and not all are made equal. It is important to identify the difference between cards and recognize what benefits you are looking for and which company can best provide them. We've done the research and compiled the ten best first credit cards for those just starting out. Whether you are a student looking for financial freedom, just starting your first real job, or maybe looking to begin building your credit, this list will be invaluable in helping you make the right choice for you.    

Best First Credit Card FAQ

person giving credit card to the woman

1. What Makes A Credit Card A “First” Credit Card?

2. What Does A Credit Card Do For You?

3. How Does Your Credit Score Work?

4. Where To Get My First Card?

5. Aren't All Cards Basically The Same?

How We Reviewed

To evaluate these cards, we've analyzed several of the benefits and drawbacks to each. We considered sign up bonuses, cash back rewards, annual fees, and the ease of access for a first-time credit card user. We went to each company to find the nitty-gritty on each plan and what type of person each card was intended for. We have no stake in your choice and have tried to be unbiased and rational about our review.

Expected Benefits Of A First Credit Card

These cards will not come with all the perks you might expect later in life with your credit card. Your actual line of credit is variable depending on your income but you can expect the limit to be in the 1000 - 2000 dollar range. Perks will differ depending on your choice but most will come with cash back incentives and increased bonuses for specific types of spending. There may be sign-up bonuses or there may not; if there are bonuses, they often require meeting a threshold of spending in the first few months. Fees also vary and require that you understand the plan you choose and abide by the rules.  

What We Reviewed

woman counting up here credit cards
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
  • Capital One Platinum Card
  • Citi Double Cash Card
  • Discover it Student Chrome
  • Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
  • Capital One Quicksilver One Rewards Card
  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Deserve Classic Mastercard
  • Discover it Secured Card
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

sapphire credit card

Features

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is an excellent choice and probably the best first credit card for nearly anyone if you qualify. There is a large sign-up bonus of 50,000 points if you can spend $4000 in the first 3 months. These points are even more valuable if used for airfare or hotels as opposed to simple cash back. While there is an annual fee of $95, the fee is waived for the first year. This card is best for someone who knows they can meet the sign-up bonus threshold and is interested in travel.

PROS

  • Big sign-up bonus
  • Easily redeemable points
  • No first-year fee
  • Great for international travel

CONS

  • May be difficult to fulfill the signup bonus
  • Yearly fee after the first year

Rewards

50,000 Ultimate Reward points with sign-up bonus, 2 points per dollar spent on travel and international dining, 1 point on all other purchases, points are redeemable at a 1.25 cent/point for up to the 13 transfer partners directly through Chase.

Capital One Platinum Card

platinum credit card

Features

The Capital One Platinum Card is the best first credit card for someone looking to not have to deal with a lot of hassle. There are no annual fees, fraud coverage, autopay features, and it's easy to increase your line of credit after a few months of making monthly payments. They also have a great app system in place to allow you to quickly check your spending trends, credit updates, and customer support. There are no cash back incentives, which can be a downer for some people looking for that fun surprise every few months, but it requires very little in the way of upkeep or management.  

PROS

  • Easy to increase credit limits
  • Easy to monitor and protect
  • No yearly fees

CONS

  • No sign-up bonuses
  • No cash back rewards
  • No miles or points

Rewards

There really aren't any rewards to speak of in the traditional sense. The biggest benefit is the peace of mind that accompanies a high credit ceiling and little to no work each month.

Citi Double Cash Card

citi double cash credit card

Features

The Citi Double Cash Card is perfect for the responsible spender who is sure they will be making all payments on time. This card gives 2% back on every purchase so long as you make the payments. 1% is earned when you spend and then another 1% when you are all paid up. Unfortunately, that is the only thing this card has going for it. There are no other benefits, though being able to get a 2% discount on every purchase you make is quite a benefit, so long as you remember to pay the bill.

PROS

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fee

CONS

  • No sign-up bonuses
  • No miles or travel incentives
  • Cash back is the only redemption option

Rewards

This card has the most consistent kickback of any first credit card you could hope to qualify for. As long as you are payed up each month, this card is just a discount on the cost of living.

Discover It Student Chrome

discover credit card

Features

This was the first student specific credit card we researched. This one is the best first credit card for any high performing student willing to be smart with their purchases year round. First, Discover will match your cash back value for the first year with no limit. Also, they have a 5% rotating cash back offer for particular purchases which changes each quarter. It varies from gas stations, to Amazon.com, to restaurants and 5% is nothing to scoff at if you're willing to make the most of it. Aside from that, they also have a flat 1% back on all other purchases as well as a $20 credit each school year if you can keep your GPA above 3.0.

PROS

  • First year matching cash back
  • 5% rotating cash back
  • 1% flat cash back
  • GPA incentive
  • No annual fee

CONS

  • Restrictive spending to earn the 5%
  • Not a great choice for non-students

Rewards

5% cash back if you can be smart about your purchases and the first year matching can be extremely lucrative if you're willing to funnel spending onto your card for that year. Also, the little GPA incentive is a nice cherry on top for the high performing student.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

american express credit card

Features

Blue Cash Everyday is the Amex take on a classic rewards card. They offer $150 dollars back after $1000 in purchases in the first 3 months. The  cash back is quite generous with 3% back at supermarkets, 2% cash back at gas stations, and 1% on everything else. There's no annual fee and the cash back is simply that, cash. There are no fancy travel options or reward points. This is the perfect card for everyday living expenses. Use it for gas and groceries and enjoy the Purchase Protection that comes with it. Probably the best first credit card for someone who makes those daily gas and food purchases.

PROS

  • Easy sign-up bonus
  • Cash back is lucrative
  • Purchase protection
  • No annual fee

CONS

  • No added rewards or points
  • No incentive for luxury spending

Rewards

$150 sign-up bonus is practically effortless and the cash back on groceries and gas is something most people can take advantage of and is a competitive percentage compared to other cards.

Capital One Quicksilver One Rewards Card

capital one quicksilver credit card

Features

The Capital One Quicksilver One Rewards Card is like the Citi Double Cash card we reviewed earlier. It has only one upside, and that is the 1.5% cash back on everything, anytime, without limit. It isn't a flashy rewards system, but it rewards the spender who makes diverse purchases and can't take advantage of other, more specific, cash back plans. It does also come with a $39 annual fee but it allows for a raise in credit line after 5 months of on-time payments. This is another hassle-free option for the spender who doesn't want to be micromanaging his or her spending.

PROS

  • 1.5% flat cash back
  • Easy credit line increase

CONS

  • No incentives or points
  • No sign-up bonuses
  • Annual fee
  • Decent prior credit score needed

Rewards

This card is another above average cash back option without frills. Unlike the Citi Double Cash card, there isn't even the responsibility of on time payments to reap the full rewards of the card.

Journey Student Rewards From Capital One

journey credit card

Features

The Journey Student Rewards card is perhaps the paradigm of a first credit card. It has no annual fee, allows you to pick your monthly payment date, gives 1% cash back on everything with a boost to 1.25% if you pay on time, and is a low-risk way to build a credit score. The card's plan encourages good financial responsibility without feeling like a burden. It may not be the best card moving forward, but early into financial life, it is maybe the best first credit card to build discipline moving forward.

PROS

  • 1% cash back
  • 1.25% cash back if payments are on time
  • No annual fee

CONS

  • Simple plan
  • No incentives or rewards
  • Not a long-term card

Rewards

This card has the basic rewards you want to keep you motivated and on top of your finances. It's a great way to build credit without the stress of more nuanced plans.

Deserve Classic Mastercard

deserve platinum credit card

Features

The Deserve Classic Mastercard is probably not the best first credit card for anyone if they can help it. This card is the definition of no frills. There is no sign-up bonus, no rewards of any kind, and an annual fee of $39. This card is really for someone who has no credit history or perhaps even a spotty history. It doesn't require a deposit or co-signer and we would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who could qualify for the other cards on this list. This is a card customized to build credit and prove (again, perhaps) to the credit bureaus you are a trustworthy individual.

PROS

  • Credit building
  • Easy to get approved

CONS

  • No perks
  • Annual fee

Rewards

None. This is a card designed solely to build or rebuild credit.

Discover It Secured Card

discover it credit card

Features

Secured cards are those that require a security deposit, collateral upfront to prove you are positioned to pay your bills. Discover it Secured is one such card and a great place to build credit if you can't get approved for other plans. Like most secured plans, these are a place to build credit if you have no credit history up to this point. As opposed to other pure starter cards, like the Deserve Classic, the Discover it Secured offers 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations up to $1000, 1% unlimited on other purchases, and a 1-year matching cash back program. If you make your payments on time, it's also easy to transition into a different card without the limitations of a secured card.    

PROS

  • Easy to qualify
  • Good cash back program
  • Credit builder

CONS

  • Upfront deposit
  • Limited 2% cash back

Rewards

For a true starter card, the rewards are actually generous with the 2% back on specific purchases up to $1000. Like other starter cards, this is an alternative if you need a place to build credit without any history whatsoever.

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

Features

The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is a great card, so long as you are responsible with your payments. The intro bonus of 2500 points after spending $500 in the first 3 months is easy to claim. After that, you can earn 2 points (essentially 2% back) when dining out or other entertainment purchases. Also, there is no APR for 7 months on purchases. The real drawbacks lay in what happens if you miss payments long term. The APR can rise as high as 26.49% and with all the incentive to be eating out and making extraneous purchases, the penalties could add up before you know it. This is a great card if you have the discipline to not get taken in by all the sign-up bonuses.

PROS

  • Easy sign-up bonus
  • Cash back on luxury purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No APR for 7 months

CONS

  • Requires a decent credit score to qualify
  • APR can shoot up quickly

Rewards

The rewards are immediate and lucrative. The points are easy to redeem with potential gift cards and electronics as rewards and the no APR for 7 months can be helpful if you are careful. Not a card for everyone.

The Verdict

Mastercard Credit cards

Picking the best first credit card for you is something that depends on your circumstances. Consider what you like about the plans. Do you want cash back or travel incentives? Do you trust yourself to make payments on time and keep your spending in check? Do you like the game of chasing rewards for certain purchases or would you rather not have to worry about the card at all? Take a hard look at your spending habits and see what cards you can qualify for. This will probably not be the card you have for the rest of your life, maybe not even for more than a year or two, but it is important that you make a decision you are happy about and find the best first credit card for you.

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