Best First Credit Card and Tips to Build Credit

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Updated: 1 day ago

Getting your first credit card can be a daunting task. Maybe you’re a student looking to maximize their everyday spending, or maybe you’ve been using a debit card for years and want to take the leap into the world of credit card rewards. Each offer you’ve stumbled upon may come with confusing benefits and features that you’re not familiar with. Before you try to make sense of all that, it’s important to ensure you know how to use your first card responsibly. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best offers out there, and also some tips to help navigate your first venture into credit cards.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to work to repair your credit, you know it can be a difficult path. We have a complete guide on repairing and diversifying your credit, but to sum up, we recommend looking at secured credit cards, installment loans, becoming an authorized user, and a program called Self Lender as ways to demonstrate financial responsibility. It does take time to build your credit to a point where some of the best travel credit cards out there are available to you, but some of these tactics can help accelerate that timeline.

But, that doesn’t mean your first credit card can’t be rewarding as a first time credit card user! If you have even a bit of a credit established, you may be eligible for a more rewarding card — and American Express especially is often more willing to approve someone with a shorter credit history than other issuers. There are also credit cards specifically focused on creating or building your credit profile, so there are a few options. Here are the best first credit cards of 2020:

There are multiple cards that make sense for each of these situations, so one of the first steps in deciding the best first credit card for you should be to analyze where you spend the most amount of money.

Another factor to consider is to start building a relationship with the card issuer you aim to focus on long-term. Each issuer has different rewards structures and “currencies” so getting to know how each one works could give you a head-start towards some of their more premium offerings.

There are an endless number of credit cards available, and each is valuable in its own way for a certain type of user. Here are the best first credit cards available today:

Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay

Citi® Double Cash Card

Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%
Annual Fee: $0
on Citi's secure site
Why we like this card

There are no limits to the amount of cash back you can earn. For a card with no annual fee, that’s a return which is tough to beat.

Read our Review

Current Offer
• Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
• To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
• Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
• Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
• If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
• There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
• The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.

on Citi's secure site

Our Pick: Best First Credit Card (2020)

We all use credit cards for a variety of reasons. A lot of us aspire to have a number of cards that will allow us to take a major dream trip, make everyday travel more affordable or simply reward us for our everyday spending. That’s what makes transferable points so attractive. These types of points allow you to pool your earnings, and then transfer them to any number of worldwide airline or hotel programs.

That’s what makes the Citi Double Cash our top pick for the best first credit card. This card is rewarding in it’s own right by offering 1% back on every purchase, and an additional 1% back when you pay your bill. Additionally, the cashback you earn on this card can be converted into ThankYou points. With no annual fee and comparative ease of approval, the Citi Double Cash is a great first credit card. But, it’s the ability to take your first step into earning a transferable points currency that make this our pick for the best first credit card available today:

Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay

Citi® Double Cash Card

Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%
Annual Fee: $0
on Citi's secure site
Why we like this card

There are no limits to the amount of cash back you can earn. For a card with no annual fee, that’s a return which is tough to beat.

Read our Review

Current Offer
• Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
• To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
• Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
• Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
• If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
• There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
• The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.

on Citi's secure site

First Credit Card Tips

As someone who has 20+ credit cards, responsibly managing my credit card use has become somewhat second nature to me. But, we were all first time credit card users once, so I’ve tried to take a step back and outline some of what I’ve learned. Here are my top first credit card tips:

  1. Understand the lingo – If you’ve started researching your first credit card, you’ve probably come across several new terms that you may not have been previously familiar with. We’re dealing with your hard-earned money here, so make sure you can talk the talk!
    • Welcome Bonus – Sometimes referred to as introductory offers or sign-up bonuses, these are limited-time offers available to new applicants. Depending on the credit card, they can range from a statement credit to bonus rewards points to free hotel nights. The bonus almost always comes with an initial spend requirement
    • Annual Fee – In order to justify some of the rewards structures on their cards, banks will charge users an annual fee. Some welcome offers will waive this fee.
    • Bonus Categories – Any merchant you use your credit card will be classified into a certain category on the back-end. This is important since some credit cards offer bonus points or cash-back for spending in a specific category (such as grocery stores or gas stations).
    • APR – Simply, annual percentage rate. This is the interest rate you risk being charged if you carry a balance on your card.
    • 5/24 – If you’re researching any Chase credit cards, you’ve probably come across this term online. While not explicitly published by Chase, this is the unofficial approval criteria for Chase cards.
  2. Understand & monitor your credit report – There are many tools to help you monitor your credit report, but a basic understanding of how credit works and how your credit score is calculated can go a long way.
  3. Pay your bill on time & in full – Even the most basic rewards earned from any credit card will quickly be wiped out if you don’t pay your bill on time. Late fees and interest payments will rapidly add up, and put you in a dire financial situation. You should only be considering your first credit card if you are confident you’ll be able to pay it off each month.
  4. Use your card regularly – Of course we’d advise you to maximize every purchase, but also consistent activity will help generate data that can positively impact your credit score
  5. Understand foreign transaction fees – If you plan to use your card outside of the US, foreign transaction fees will quickly outweigh and rewards you may earn. There are many entry-level credit cards available that will waive these fees.
  6. Learn the value of chip & contactless technology – If you travel internationally, you’ve probably seen Chip + Pin technology, which has widespread use overseas. Here in the US, Chip + Signature is more common, and provides extra protection on your card. You can also link your card to ApplePay or GooglePay, which provides additional security when using your card at unknown merchants.

By choosing the right option for your situation and using your card responsibly, you should quickly see the benefits start to add up. Whether your goal is to travel the world in luxury or just maximize your everyday spending, choosing the best first credit card is a necessary first step to seeing these long-term rewards.

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