Best First Credit Cards

With so many options out there, how should you choose your first credit card? It depends. Some cards offer cash back benefits, while others are tailored to help travelers boost their reward miles earnings. There are student cards designed to help manage credit and secured options to build (or rebuild) your credit score. There are great first-time options for tech-savvy spenders or those just starting a small business.

Our experts have compiled a list of the “best first” credit cards to help you find the ideal fit for your wallet.

Best first credit card for students who love to plan: Discover it Student Cash Back

Why it’s the best

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card lets you earn 5% back on everyday purchases across specific categories that change each quarter. As a result, it’s ideal for students who don’t mind keeping track of category spending. From January to March, for example, you earn 5% cash back  (up to $1,500) at grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS. In April, the category changes to gas stations, Uber, Lyft and wholesale clubs. To activate your category, call Discover directly or use its online portal.

Bonus points:

  • Earn a $20 statement credit each school year if your GPA is 3.0 or higher.
  • Even after you’ve maxed out your category bonus, you’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • At the end of your first year, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned.

Best first credit card for travelers looking to earn miles: Capital One VentureOne Rewards

Why it’s the best

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards card makes it easy to earn miles with no annual fee and no restrictions. Earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. Combined with the ability to book travel directly through Capital One or transfer points to other travel partners, this is a great card for first-time travelers looking to start building their miles balance while keeping things simple.

Bonus points:

  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 or more on purchases in the first three months.
  • Enjoy 0% APR for the first 12 months to help pay down big purchases.
  • Redeem your miles for statement credit or book flights, hotels and travel experiences with your card.

Best first credit card for savvy spenders looking for cash back: Chase Freedom Unlimited

Why it’s the best

If you’re looking for cash back rewards that are easy to earn and simple to redeem, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is a great first choice. This card features unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and has no annual fee — in addition, rewards don’t expire for the life of the card, meaning you can spend and cash in quickly or hold on to cash back for bigger purchases.

Bonus points:

  • There’s no minimum amount you need to redeem rewards.
  • Get $200 cash back when you spend $500 in the first three months after account opening.
  • Redeem your cash back to pay directly with Amazon.com, purchase gift cards or book travel directly with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Best first credit card for earning rewards on entertainment and dining: Wells Fargo Propel American Express

Why it’s the best

If your spending centers around the good things in life — eating, traveling and entertainment — then the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card may be your best fit. Cardholders get 3x points on dining out or ordering in, purchases at gas stations, rideshares, flights and streaming services. The result? No matter how you spend your leisure time — from dining out to taking off to ordering in and watching a movie — you’ll earn rewards.

Bonus points:

  • Get 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • There are no travel restrictions when you book with Go Far Rewards, and you can use a combination of cash and points.
  • Get automatic device protection when you pay your phone bill with your Wells Fargo credit card so you’re always ready to order in, book a flight or call a ride.

Best first credit card for building better credit: Discover it Secured

Why it’s the best

Building credit is essential for a stable financial future. The Discover it® Secured card makes it easy with a refundable security deposit and no annual fee — you choose the size of your deposit and get a credit limit to match. That way, you’ll keep your finances in control while you work toward improving your credit score.

Bonus points:

  • Cardholders get 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, up to $1,000 per quarter, plus unlimited 1% cash back.
  • At the end of your first year, Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned.
  •  Get your FICO credit score free every month to track your credit-building progress.

Best first credit card for tech-savvy credit builders: The Petal Card

Why it’s the best

Petal was designed by a technology company to help cardholders build credit — and makes it easier with the help of a full-featured, easy-to-use app. Quickly check your balance, set up spending alerts and connect bank accounts to make sure payments are always on time.

Bonus points:

  • Get 1% cash back right away, 1.25% cash back after six on-time monthly payments and 1.5% cash back after 12 on-time payments.
  • No annual fees, no late fees and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Petal uses advanced algorithms to determine card approval, rather than credit scores.

Best first credit card for slowly increasing your credit limit: Capital One Journey Student Rewards

Why it’s the best

This is a great card for students looking to slowly and sensibly build their credit limit. With unlimited access to your credit score and CreditWise tools to monitor spending combined with no annual fee, the Capital One Journey Student Rewards card helps pave the way to better credit.

Bonus points:

  • Get 1% cash back on all purchases, and boost this to 1.25% after making on-time payments.
  • After making your first five monthly payments on time, get access to a higher credit limit.
  • Capital One’s virtual assistant Eno provides on-demand card balances, recent transaction data and payment options.

Best first credit card for small business earning cash back: Chase Ink Business Cash

Why it’s the best

If you’re just getting your small business off the ground, the Chase Ink Business Cash card makes it easy to get cash back. Get 5% cash back on all office supply stores and Internet, cable and phone purchases up to $25,000 per year, along with 2% cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases up to $25,000 per year, plus 1% cash back on everything else.

Bonus points:

  • Add employee cards at no cost to earn more cash back, more quickly.
  • Personalized account alerts help control spending and monitor for potential fraud.
  • Get $500 cash back when you spend $3,000 or more in the first three months after account opening.

Doug Bonderud

An award-winning finance, technology and security writer, Doug has a knack for distilling complex concepts down into actionable, readable copy that generates interest and drives engagement