App version: 0.1.0

Top Credit Building Cards

Top Credit Building Cards
Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Updated September 30, 2021
Share this article:
Editor’s note: At Lantern, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, we occasionally feature content that includes information about our partners and their products or services. We do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendations—and our opinions are our own.
Credit cards can be a great way to build credit. That’s because using a credit card responsibly can help improve your credit score over time. However, when you have poor or fair credit or no credit at all, it can be difficult to get approved for new credit card accounts with attractive terms. To choose the top cards in this category, we looked for issuers that are marketing their cards to people who have poor or fair credit (While there may be different standards for these categories, credit bureau Experian defines poor credit as a FICO® score between 300 and 579 and fair credit as a score between 580 and 669.) We then looked for certain features that would help improve your credit score even further, including reporting your balance and payment history to all three major consumer credit bureaus and the opportunity to increase your credit limit over time. And when available, we also looked for cards that offer additional features such as cash back rewards, low fees, and valuable benefits. 

How We Chose the Top Credit Building Cards

To find the top credit building cards, we first divided the market into the following five categories.
  • Top secured card for building credit
  • Top credit cards for those with a limited credit history
  • Credit building student cards
  • Fair credit cards for building credit
  • Cards for building credit if you don’t want a credit check
  • Credit building cards for applicants with bad credit who don’t want to make a deposit
Then we looked at more than a dozen major credit card issuers and credit unions to find the top cards in each of these subcategories. We included only cards that anyone can apply for, leaving out products provided by credit unions that not everyone can join.And for each category, we looked at the most relevant factors. For example, the top credit building student cards should offer student-specific benefits but still be available to applicants with fair credit. While credit card terms may change from time to time, the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in September 2021. Recommended: Credit Card Terminology Explained

Top Secured Cards for Building Credit

Secured credit cards can be a helpful way to build or rebuild credit while offering a secure and convenient method of payment. Secured cards require the cardholder to make a refundable security deposit, which typically becomes the amount of the card’s credit limit. Otherwise, secured credit cards work essentially the same as any other credit card. Since most secured card issuers report your balance and payment history to all three major consumer credit bureaus, secured cards can help build your credit if you make regular, timely payments. 

If You Want a Secured Card for Credit Building: Capital One Secured Mastercard

The Capital One Secured Mastercard is a unique secured card in that it allows you to put down a refundable security deposit starting at only $49 or $99 and still get a $200 initial credit line. Keep in mind that the security deposit amount depends on your credit score, so you may still have to make a $200 deposit.After making on-time payments for a period of time, cardholders can earn back their security deposit as a statement credit. Cardholders will also be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months without an additional deposit. The variable APR for this card is 26.99%.  There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees for this card.  

Pros

  • The security deposit is flexible and can be relatively low.
  • You can earn back your security deposit after making on-time payments.
  • You can be automatically considered for a higher credit line in six months.

Cons

  • The maximum credit line for this card is $200, making it relatively useless for large purchases.
  • There are no rewards with this card.
  • Late fees are charged if you don’t pay on time.

Credit Building Cards for Limited Credit History

Applicants with limited credit history shouldn’t have to forgo a card that offers cash back rewards, if that’s what they want. When we were looking at cards for people with limited credit history, we made it a priority to find a card that offers valuable cash back rewards without an annual fee. 

If You Want a Credit Building Card and Have a Limited Credit History: Petal 1

Although issued from a lesser-known bank, the Petal 1 card offers an opportunity to earn cash back for those with a limited credit history. The card is issued from WebBank, which is a Member FDIC and participates in the Visa network. With this card, you earn from 2% to 10% cash back at select merchants. The variable APR for this card is between 19.99% and 29.49%.Cardholders are eligible for a credit limit between $500 and $5,000, depending on their creditworthiness. However, you can earn a credit line increase in six months by making qualifying on-time payments and keeping your credit score within a personalized range. There is no security deposit required, unlike many other cards available to applicants with poor credit. This card also reports to all three major credit bureaus, which will help build your credit if you use the card responsibly. As an added bonus, this card doesn’t have many of the fees that can be charged by other cards for applicants with a limited credit history. There are no foreign transaction fees, activation fees, or annual fees associated with this card.

Pros

  • You can earn up to 10% cash back at select merchants, which is unusual for a card of this level.
  • Make qualifying on-time payments for six months and you can be eligible for a credit line increase.
  • This card doesn’t require a security deposit.

Cons

  • Unlike the Petal 2, you can still incur late fees.
  • This card will only earn cash back only at select merchants, not on all purchases.
  • WebBank only has a few products, so it may be difficult to upgrade or downgrade your card in the future.

Credit Building Student Cards

Due to their age and income (or lack of it), students usually need to build their credit. Most student cards don’t offer rewards, but thankfully, a few do. To find the top credit building student cards, we looked for a card with low fees, good benefits, and even some cash back rewards.

If You’re a Student Who Wants a Credit Building Card: Discover it Student Cash Back

The Discover it Student Cash Back card offers valuable cash back for a no-fee student card. With this card, earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at rotating quarterly categories like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more. The 5% bonus cash back is limited to $1,500 per quarter in spending, but you’ll earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases beyond that. Discover will also automatically match every dollar you earn at the end of your first year. The card also provides extra incentives for students to do well in school. Every school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher, Discover will give you a $20 statement credit. This offer is eligible for the five years following account opening.There is a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first six months of account opening. After that, the standard variable APR of 12.99% to 21.99% applies. This card also reports to all three major credit bureaus, which will help build your credit if you use the card responsibly. As an added bonus, there are no late fees for your first late payment on this card.There’s also no annual fee for this card.

Pros

  • The card has a good earning structure with bonus categories for cash back.
  • There are incentives for students to do well in school.
  • No late fees are charged for your first late payment on this card. 

Cons

  • The quarterly cash back bonus categories may be difficult for students to keep track of.
  • Bonus categories must be activated quarterly.
  • The 5% bonus cash back is limited to $1,500 per quarter in spending.

Fair Credit Cards for Building Credit

It can be difficult to get approved for new credit card accounts with attractive terms if you have fair credit. Thankfully, many credit card issuers do have products specifically available to applicants with fair credit who are looking to build their credit. To choose the top cards in this category, we looked for issuers that are specifically marketing their cards to people who have credit between poor and good, without any special bells and whistles.

If You Want a Credit Building Card and Already Have Fair Credit: Capital One Platinum

The Capital One Platinum card is a fairly straightforward card for those with fair credit who are looking for opportunities to improve it. Applicants will automatically be considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months. This card has a relatively high variable APR of 26.99%.  And while this card doesn’t offer any rewards, there are no foreign transaction fees or annual fees either.  

Pros

  • There are no foreign transaction fees for this card.
  • Applicants are automatically considered for a higher credit line in six months.
  • This is a simple credit card that is eligible for those with fair credit.

Cons

  • There are no rewards for this card.
  • The variable APR is relatively high at 26.99%
  • There are few other benefits for this card.

Cards for Building Credit If You Don’t Want a Credit Check

For people with poor credit or no credit, it may be difficult or nearly impossible to get approved for a credit card through a credit check. If you want a credit card to build credit but are having trouble getting approved for one, a credit card that doesn't require a credit check may be the best option for you. 

If You Want a Credit Building Card but Don’t Want a Credit Check: Self Visa

The Self Visa credit card is one of the few cards available without a credit check, which can be helpful for those with poor credit or no credit. To be eligible for this card, applicants must open a Credit Builder Account and make three monthly payments on time, have $100 or more in savings progress, and have an account in good standing. Once you’re approved, you choose what portion of your savings ($100 or more) is used to secure your card and set your limit. This card is slightly different from a secured card in that there is no additional money required up front; Your Credit Builder Account savings progress secures your Self credit card and sets your limit.  Accounts in good standing may have opportunities to increase the credit limit over time. To help improve your credit score, this card also reports to all three major credit bureaus. The variable APR is 23.99%. There is a $25 annual fee for this card.

Pros

  • You don’t need a credit check to apply for this card.
  • Applicants with poor credit or no credit can be approved for this credit card.
  • Accounts in good standing may have opportunities to increase the credit limit over time.

Cons

  • You have to open a Credit Builder Account and meet the eligibility criteria.
  • The variable APR is high.
  • There is an annual fee.

Credit Building Cards for Applicants with Bad Credit Who Don’t Want to Make a Deposit

For people with bad credit, secured credit cards that require a security deposit can often be the only option for a credit card. However, not everyone wants to make a deposit, since that is money that you won’t be able to access any longer. To find the top credit building cards for applicants with bad credit who don’t want to make a deposit, we looked at cards that were available with bad credit but still offered some benefits.

If You Have Bad Credit but Don’t Want to Make a Deposit: Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit

The Credit One Bank Platinum Visa card for rebuilding credit offers those with bad credit a chance to rebuild it without making a deposit. Credit One charges an annual fee of $75 the first year, and then $99 annually (billed at $8.25 per month). And while this is a significant fee, it’s not unusual for cards marketed to people with bad credit. However, this card offers 1% cash back rewards on gas and groceries as well as your monthly mobile phone, internet, cable, and satellite TV services. And with responsible use, Credit One will review your account for a possible credit line increase. The variable APR for this card is 23.99%. There is a $95 annual fee for this card.

Pros

  • The card is available to applicants with bad credit.
  • It doesn’t require a security deposit.
  • There are cash back rewards. 

Cons

  • The variable APR is relatively high.
  • There is an annual fee for this card.
  • Cash back is only offered on select purchases. 

The Takeaway

Typically, you can build credit by having the right credit card and managing it responsibly. When you find the right credit card for you, you may be able to watch your credit score improve more quickly than you might have imagined. Want to explore more options for credit building credit cards? Lantern by SoFi can help. Fill out one simple form to see offers from multiple credit card issuers in our network. 
Photo credit: iStock/GrapeImages
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website on credit (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans)The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0921190

About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
Share this article: