Best first credit card
Starting out with credit can be tricky because some of the best miles and points credit cards are reserved for those with an excellent credit score. But it is possible to get a great rewards card even if you are at the beginning of this journey.
We’ve compiled a list of the best first credit cards for a variety of situations. Whether you have a good credit score but are new to cards, have no credit history or have a limited credit history, there will be a card for you.
In fact, one of my first credit cards was the Chase Freedom, which I got with only one year of credit history. To this day it is still one of the top rewards cards in my wallet.
Best credit cards for beginners
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for biggest cash welcome bonus
- Chase Freedom: Best for rotating bonus categories
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for everyday purchases
- Discover it® Cash Back: Best for maximizing cash back the first year
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Simplest cash-back earning structure
- Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for no foreign transaction fees
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for excellent credit
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for simple travel rewards
|Card name||Bonus||Annual fee|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of card opening||$0|
|Chase Freedom||$150 cash back (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening||$0|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||$150 (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||The card doesn’t have a specific sign-up bonus, instead, Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first card year.||$0|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||No welcome bonus but the card offers a total of up to 2% cash back — you’ll receive 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill.||$0|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||$150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account||$0|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening||$95|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening||$95, waived the first year|
Best for biggest cash bonus
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card comes with 20,000 bonus points (worth $200 in cash back, travel, gift cards or other rewards) after you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card opening.
If you’re looking for a card with a valuable welcome bonus and easy-to-use rewards, this is a good option.
You’ll also get 3x points on travel purchases (flights, hotels, and car rentals), eating out and ordering in, gas stations, rideshares, transit and on eligible streaming services. You’ll earn one point per dollar for all other purchases. Plus, you’ll get cell phone insurance when you pay you cellular service provider with your Propel card (up to $600 per claim with a $25 deductible).
If you spend a lot in the bonus categories, earning 3% back in rewards is a good deal, especially for a card with no annual fee.
Here’s our review of the Wells Fargo Propel Amex card.
Best for rotating bonus categories
A good option for folks with a limited credit history is the Chase Freedom.
You’ll also get:
- 5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on up to $1,500 in combined spending in rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus
- 1% cash back (1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on all other purchases
Keep in mind, the Chase Freedom charges foreign transaction fees, so it’s not a good card to use overseas.
One of my favorite things about this card is that it earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Because of the flexibility of these points, as your credit card portfolio grows, you can pool these points with another eligible Chase card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Ink Business Preferred. Doing so will further increase the value of your points because you could then either transfer points directly to Chase travel partners or redeem them at a higher value through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and more.
Just note that, as with most Chase cards, if you’ve opened five or more credit cards from any bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards), it’s unlikely you’ll be approved for the Chase Freedom.
Here’s our review of the Chase Freedom.
Best for everyday purchases
Folks looking for a simpler cash-back card without having to keep track of rotating bonus categories should consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
The card also has no annual fee, and a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Additionally, you’ll get 1.5% cash back (1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on all purchases with no limit.
According to reports online, this card has roughly the same approval criteria as the Chase Freedom. Readers suggest you have a good chance of being approved with a credit score of at least ~680.
Keep in mind, this card is also subject to the Chase 5/24 rule. You’ll find our review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited here.
Best for maximizing cash back the first year
The Discover it Cash Back is another great choice for beginners, especially because it has no annual fee. Generally speaking, Discover cards can be easier to be approved for than cards from other banks like Chase.
The card doesn’t have a specific sign-up bonus. Instead, Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first card year. The card also offers 5% bonus cash back in rotating categories (up to $1,500 after enrollment) each quarter and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.
In the past, bonus categories have included popular spending categories like gas stations, wholesale clubs, grocery stores and mobile payments.
In reality, the Freedom and Discover it Cash Back are very similar, but the Freedom likely the better choice unless you can spend a lot on your Discover it® Cash Back in the first 12 months of opening your account.
Simplest cash-back earning structure
Currently, the Citi Double Cash comes with no bonus, but the card has offered one in the past. This is still one of the best cash-back cards on the market.
The Citi Double Cash earns the easiest reward to use — cash. You won’t have to worry about award seats or blackout dates, and you don’t need to pay attention to complicated rotating bonus categories, either.
The card offers a total of up to 2% cash back. You’ll receive 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill. For example, if you use your card to buy a $500 couch, you would earn $5 cash back for swiping your card at the store. When you pay off your $500 balance, you’d earn another $5 cash back.
Best for no foreign transaction fees
For those who meet Capital One’s definition of excellent credit, the Capital One Quicksilver card is another good cash-back credit card to consider, with a very straightforward earning rate. You’ll have a decent chance of approval if you have more than three years of credit history, no bankruptcies and haven’t been late more than 60 days on any loan in the past year.
The card also offers the following benefits:
- 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Extended warranty on eligible items purchased with the card
- Secondary rental car insurance, which covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car
It’s very easy and convenient to redeem cash back with the Capital One Quicksilver. You can request it in the form of a check or statement credit at any time, with no minimums. Here’s our review of the Capital One Quicksilver.
Taking your credit card strategy to the next level
If you’re willing to dive headfirst into earning and redeeming credit card rewards, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture cards.
Best for excellent credit
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the #1 card we recommend for anyone starting out the miles and points hobby. According to reports online and from readers, you’ll have the best chance of approval if your credit score is ~720 or more. If you already have a good credit score (perhaps because you’ve had student loans, car loans, or a mortgage) but are new to credit cards, this is an excellent pick.
The card also comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. That’s worth $600 in cash back, $750 when you book paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and potentially much more when you transfer your points to airline and hotel partners like Southwest, United Airlines and Hyatt.
You’ll also get:
- 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining worldwide
- 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on other purchases
- Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car if you pay for the rental with your card
- Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
- No foreign transaction fees
The card has a $95 annual fee. You’ll find our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred here.
Best for simple travel rewards
With the Capital One Venture card, you can earn 50,000 Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) by applying for the Capital One Venture card and spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.
This is a great travel credit card. The miles are easy to use and I love that it reimburses you with a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. I’ve saved so much time at airports with this perk.
You’ll also get:
- 2 Venture miles per $1 you spend on all purchases
- Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100)
- No foreign transaction fees
This card has a $95 annual fee, but that’s waived the first year.
Here’s our Capital One Venture Rewards credit card review.
Tips for those new to credit cards
It’s important to remember to always pay your credit cards in full and on time. This will help build a good credit score and make it easier for you to get approved for other types of credit, such as a mortgage or car loan. Having a good credit score can also get you a lower interest rate when you do borrow money, saving you thousands of dollars over the life of that loan.
You can use sites like MyBankrate to check your credit. Just remember each bank has different approval criteria. While a bank does look at more than just your credit score, that score is generally a good indicator of your chances of approval.
For folks who are just getting started, we recommend getting one or two cards and taking it slow until you feel comfortable. Make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements so you don’t miss out on the bonus. We have some tricks that will make it easy.
If you’re just starting out with credit, have a limited credit history or already have good credit but are new to credit cards, there’s a rewards card that’ll fit your spending habits and travel or savings goals.
Do you have a favorite card that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below!