One common belief is that you can’t get a credit card without a credit history. But the truth is, people with no or little credit history get credit cards all the time.

The first thing you need to do is to evaluate your current credit situation. Start by checking your FICO® Credit Score; you may already have a decent credit score without knowing it, and if not, you may still have options. Qualifying for a starter credit card may be easier than you think.

Check Your Credit Score

Checking your credit score is easy. You can sign up for one of the numerous online services offering credit monitoring and get access to your credit file in no time. Credit Scorecard from Discover, for example, provides free access to your FICO® Credit Score, even if you’re not a Discover customer.* Plus, 90 percent of top lenders consider a FICO® Credit Score in their lending decisions.

If You’re a Student, You May Be Eligible for a Card

Many banking institutions issue credit cards geared toward full-time college students. So, if you are a student, getting your starter credit card may be possible. But credit card issuers also must consider an applicant’s income and expenses to calculate the ability to repay the loan.

Decide What’s Important in a Starter Credit Card

Before choosing a starter credit card, you’ll want to decide what your personal finance priorities are: rewards, APR, benefits and beyond.

If you pay your credit card bill in full every month, which is a highly recommend approach, then you might be interested in a solid rewards program. If you can’t avoid carrying a balance, then rewards might not be your priority — you want to look for a card with a low APR.

Conversely, if you are eyeing a big purchase and need to stretch out your payments for a few months, you might want a card with a 0 percent introductory APR. Whatever your goals and situation are, there is probably a credit card that fits.

Do Not Apply for a Card for Which You’re Not Qualified

You can’t predict with certainty whether you are going to be approved for a card, but you can make some educated decisions about how to move forward. If you are about to apply for a starter credit card and do not have a credit history, avoid a card that requires an excellent credit score. It’s less likely that you’ll be approved and your credit score may be slightly penalized for the hard credit inquiry. Also, there are other reasons your application might be declined, as many factors affect lending decisions, so keep that in mind as well.

Secured Credit Cards

Even if you can’t get a regular credit card, it doesn’t mean you should give up. Secured credit cards are specifically designed to help people build a credit history.

The idea behind a secured credit card is to limit the risk for the lender, while granting you access to the advantages of using a credit card. You are asked to put down a security deposit, and your credit limit will usually equal the amount of your deposit. The bank will hold on to your deposit as collateral, and use it only if your account is in default because you haven’t paid the bill.

A secured credit card can be a great starter credit card to establish and hone good credit habits. Generally, debit cards and prepaid cards won’t help you build credit with major bureaus the way a secured or traditional credit card will.

“For the rewards alone, you really can’t top this solid offering from Discover, says For the Discover it® Secured Card, Discover will match all of the cash back earned by new cardmembers at the end of their first year.**


Originally published February 8, 2017.

Updated August 12, 2019.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

Credit Scorecard is provided by Discover Bank, and includes a FICO® Credit Score and other credit information. Credit Scorecard information is based on data from Experian and may differ from credit scores and credit information provided by other credit bureaus. This information is provided to you at no cost and with your consent. You must be 18 years old and a U.S. resident or a resident of America Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. Your Credit Scorecard will be refreshed the later of every 30-days or the next time you log in to Credit Scorecard. Discover and other lenders may use different inputs, such as a FICO® Credit Score, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. This product may change or end in the future. FICO is a registered trademark of the Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

Cashback Match: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods. You’ve earned cash back rewards only when they’re processed, which may be after the transaction date. We will not match: rewards that are processed after your match period ends; statement credits; rewards transfers from Discover checking or other deposit accounts; or rewards for accounts that are closed. This promotional offer may not be available in the future and is exclusively for new cardmembers. No purchase minimums.