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Best credit cards for no credit

We're busting the myth -- you don't actually need a credit score to get a credit card.

Fortunately for those who don't have a credit score, the three-digit number is no longer the end-all, be-all of credit approval it once was. 

Recently, more banks have been issuing credit cards to those who don't have a credit score, as long as they can demonstrate their financial health in other ways -- providing checking and savings account details, for example. The shift occurred without official acknowledgement from banks, but several recent reports in the Wall Street Journal have confirmed that lenders look beyond credit scores when making credit decisions. 

So, even if you don't have a credit score, it's now easier to avoid the Catch-22 of needing credit to build credit. And if you don't have alternative financial information to provide, there are credit cards specifically tailored for those new to the world of credit, or for those who may have gotten off to a bad start in their credit journey.

Below, we've rounded up the best cards for anyone without a credit score or positive credit history. And further down, see our frequently asked questions and tips on getting a credit card if you've had trouble in the past

Best overall card for those with no credit

Introductory APR: N/A
Standard APR: 12.99% - 26.99% variable APR
Penalty APR: N/A
Welcome bonus: N/A
Rewards: 1% cash-back on eligible purchases; up to 1.5% cash-back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments (and 2% to 10% at select merchants)
Late payment fee: N/A
Standout feature: Alternative means of approval makes it easier for anyone with no credit to apply

The Petal 2 Visa Card* stands out as one of the best cards to begin establishing credit. It's our top pick because it comes with no annual fees, no late fees, no international fees and no returned payment fees -- perfect for someone first handling the reins of managing credit. Petal will use both your credit score -- if you have one -- and its Cash Score, which analyzes how you spend your money, when evaluating your application. If you have no credit, this means you will need to provide some financial details.

Your credit limit will be between $500 and $10,000. You also have the opportunity to earn 2% to 10% cash-back at select merchants, and your cash-back rate of 1% on eligible purchases will increase to up to 1.5% after 12 months of on-time payments. There's also no need to worry about a security deposit.

Best credit card for students with no credit

Introductory APR: Six months of 0% APR on purchases 
Standard APR: 12.99% - 21.99% variable APR
Penalty APR: None
Rewards: 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); 1% cash back on all other purchases
Late payment fee: Up to $40 (no fee for first late payment)
Standout feature: No penalty APR or late fee for first late payment (up to $40 late payment fee thereafter)

The Discover it® Student chrome* offers a winning combination of cash-back and other rewards opportunities, as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won't get dinged by the credit card company for your first late payment (up to $40 thereafter) or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. Plus, you can earn 1% to 2% back in rewards each month (2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined quarterly purchases, then 1%). Discover does offer another similar student credit card, the Discover it® Student Cash Back*, but the rotating bonus categories for earning rewards can make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

For our full review of the Discover it® Student chrome, check out our coverage of the best student credit cards.

Best credit card for students with no credit (runner up)

Introductory APR: None
Standard APR: 18.74% variable APR
Penalty APR: None
Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases
Late payment fee: Up to $25
Standout feature: Specifically for international students and students without any or who have limited credit history. Includes nice perks designed for students (one year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles, cell phone protection up to $600)

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students* positions itself as an alternative to traditional banks and credit card issuers, and specializes in credit cards for students and first-timers. 

The Deserve EDU student credit card checks most of the important boxes -- it offers 1% back on all spending, features a relatively low late-payment fee and comes with a flat 18.74% APR (which will vary depending on the prime rate). While it offers a lower student rewards rate than other cards, its relaxed eligibility requirements are well-suited for students with a brief or nonexistent credit history or other potentially disqualifying limitation -- like not having a Social Security number, if you're an international student. 

For our full review of the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, check out our write-up of best student credit cards.

Best secured credit card for those with no credit

Introductory APR: None
Standard APR: 26.99% variable APR
Penalty APR: None
Late payment fee: Up to $40
Standout feature: Refundable deposit with responsible use and automatic credit line review in as little as 6 months

Secured credit cards work differently than other credit cards. They require an upfront security deposit and your "credit limit" is often equal to the amount you deposit. They work almost like a prepaid card -- you're essentially borrowing against yourself and paying yourself back when you make your monthly payment. The difference is, you establish credit as you pay yourself back. It's an arrangement that's especially useful as a credit builder account for someone who needs to show they can reliably pay a bill each month. 

The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One* may give you up to $200 in credit when you deposit between $49 and $99 -- making it one of the few secured cards to offer actual credit. (Your particular terms depend on your specific application.) And this card checks all of the boxes: $0 annual fee, modest minimum security deposit of $49 -- and the opportunity to earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making on-time payments. Also nice: Capital One will preapprove you with a soft credit check, providing a risk-free peek at eligibility before you submit an official application to the credit card company. 

For our full review of the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One, check out our write-up of the best secured cards.

FAQs

What are my best options for building credit if I don't have a credit score or history?

The best option is to apply for a card that offers "alternative approval criteria." Alternative criteria includes things like your checking and savings account histories, a sign of regular income and evidence of paying bills on time. This avenue is easiest if you already have a relationship with the bank, so start with the bank where you have a checking account. 

Another option is to "co-sign" for a credit card. Co-signing allows two people to be on one credit card account, and both people are on the hook in terms of credit reputation. It's up to both parties to ensure payments are made on time and balances are paid off, otherwise both could be subject to credit dings. The upside is both parties can improve their credit score, too.

It's also possible to be added as an authorized user on another established credit user's account, but you'll have less capabilities than if you were to co-sign.

If you don't have strong alternative approval criteria or a friend who's willing to co-sign or add you as an authorized user, consider a student or a secured credit card.

What do I do if I don't have a checking account?

In most cases, you'll need a checking account and evidence of regular income to be eligible for a credit card. If you don't have one, check out our article on best checking accounts to find the account that best suits your needs. 

What's the fastest way to build credit?

While most of the credit-building process requires time, there are a few things you can do to ensure you're improving your credit score number as quickly as possible. 

  • First, pay all of your bills on time. This will boost the on-time payment calculation in your credit score.
  • Second, work to keep your credit utilization as low as possible. Do that by paying off your entire balance at least once a month, and twice per month if you can. It will also help to have a higher credit limit, so look for cards that offer credit increases periodically -- or call your bank every 5 to 6 months if they don't, and ask for a credit limit increase.
  • Finally, don't open too many new credit accounts all at once, even if you're trying to improve your credit mix. Lenders can get skittish if you've recently applied for multiple credit accounts, as it shows you could be a riskier borrower.

Read more: Best credit cards for fair and average credit

*All information about the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card, Discover it Student chrome, Discover it Student Cash Back, Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students, and Secured Mastercard from Capital One has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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