Best First Credit Card for 2021

Now is a great time to be shopping for your first credit card. The best starter credit card is the one offering some benefits, has low fees, and allows you to access your account and make payments online. If you use it responsibly, paying the balance in full and on time each month, your best first credit card can be a gateway to bigger rewards and sign up bonuses.

Ready to start looking? We’ve narrowed down the field to four proven winners.

In this article

    Best First Credit Cards of 2021

    Discover it® Student Cash Back — Best for students

    Who should get it: The Discover it® Student Cash Back is an ideal card for college students looking to start their credit journey. College students don’t need a credit score to be approved for this starter credit card.

    How to use it: You have to remember to activate the rotating categories each quarter to get 5% cash back.

    Why you’ll love it: Get 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. Discover it® Student Cash Back will also match all your cash back earnings in the first year, automatically.

    Things to consider:

    • Discover cards aren’t accepted by as many merchants as other credit cards.
    • You can’t have a parent co-sign on your account.

    Pro tip: The Good Grade reward gives students $20 a year your GPA is 3.0 or higher and is valid for up to five years.

    Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express — Best for bonus cash back

    Who should get it

    If you have verified income and identification, you can be approved for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express with no credit history. It’s great for recent graduates entering the job market.

    How to use it

    You’ll receive 3% cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases, up to $6,000 a year and then 1%, and 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. Every other purchase gives you 1% unlimited cash back.

    Things to consider

    • There’s a 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars. foreign transaction fee ( See Rates & Fees ).
    • American Express is not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard.
    • The APR rate can be high, which makes it an expensive card to own if you carry a balance.

    Why you’ll love it

    For a no annual fee card ( See Rates & Fees ), Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is loaded with perks. Earn 20% back on purchases at Amazon.com on the Card in the first 6 months, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

    Pro tip: Because American Express isn’t accepted at all grocery stores, make sure this is a card you can use at the place you regularly shop before applying.

    Discover it® Secured — Best for rewards

    Who should get it: If you can’t qualify for a student card, Discover it® Secured is one of the best secured credit cards on the market today. It offers 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (capped at $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter) and an unlimited 1% on every other purchase.

    How to use it: Discover it® Secured is a secured credit card, meaning you make a refundable deposit in the same amount as your initial credit line. You can deposit as little as $200 to open the card, but with a credit line this small, you’ll need to be diligent about making payments.

    Why you’ll love it: Discover it® Secured matches all your cash back awards at the end of your first year automatically, which is a nice bonus. Plus, you’ll be able to view your FICO score for free each month, and if you use the card wisely, you may qualify for an unsecured Discover card in time.

    Things to consider:

    • You have to make a refundable deposit in the same amount as your initial credit line.
    • Your credit line is limited to the amount of cash you deposit.

    Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card — Best for average credit

    Who should get it: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great card for people who don’t have excellent credit. It offers unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on every purchase.

    How to use it: Because the cash back reward rate applies to all purchases, you don’t need to activate categories or remember to use this card to buy groceries in April, not October.

    Why you’ll love it: Unlike credit cards for people with bad credit, this card lets you earn solid cash back rewards. It offers travel accident insurance and doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, making it the perfect card to take with you on your travels.

    Things to consider:

    • It’s got a very high standard variable APR rate
    • There is no introductory 0% APR rate for either purchases or balance transfers.

    Pro tip: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card lets you pay for Amazon.com purchases using your cash back rewards.

    FAQs

    Credit cards are one of the easiest ways to boost your FICO score, which is the main thing lenders use to determine whether you are a good credit risk. People with very good to excellent credit can get auto and mortgage loans more easily as well as loans with lower interest rates. Because of that, they will save thousands of dollars in interest payments over people with worse credit.

    If you have no credit history, the lender can use your monthly income to determine whether you are a safe credit risk. Students also qualify for first credit cards when they begin college, whether their parents can co-sign for them. Another route you can take is to apply for a secured credit card, where you deposit a set amount into an account to establish a line of credit.

    The best first credit card should have as few fees as possible, so you don’t have to pay money to own the card. Other things to look for are cash back rewards in categories you use regularly — like grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. Those perks are good for morale and a good incentive to start improving your FICO score so you’ll get even better offers. Free access to your credit score and tips for building credit are also good things to have in a starter card.

    In addition to finding cards with benefits that work for you, you’ll want to get savvy about how credit works. You can order one free copy of your credit report each year, and you should just in case there’s some erroneous information that could affect your score. Another tip: Apply for one card at a time. Every time you apply, it shows up on your credit report and potentially lowers your score.

    Please Note: Information about the Discover it® Secured, Discover it® Student Cash Back, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express and Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card have been collected independently by TheSimpleDollar.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

    For rates and fees of Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here .

    Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view our disclosures, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser’s page for terms & conditions.

    Valerie Fulton

    Contributing Writer

    Valerie Fulton is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, real estate, higher education, home improvement and business copy.
    Her work has been published at Veros Real Estate Solutions, Bluehost, Sears, UPS, Movoto, Peak Communications and the University of Tennessee. Every summer, she travels from Austin, Texas to the coast of Maine with her two standard poodles in order to manage the vacation property she bought for a steal several years ago.