Which Credit Card Best For A Beginner, Best For An Intermediate Seriously Thinking About His Options?

“I had this thought a few days ago, I have 2 credit cards (that I keep paid off, woo!) and my woman who just graduated college is thinking about getting one. Now the question I had was, I got my cards without too much thought involved as to what would be the best option for me, they are OK cards, maybe the best, but i don’t know this. When I read your “10 commandments of credit“, I realized that consumerist would be the perfect place to ask the question: what credit card is best for a first time CC? Are there other cards that are more fitting for someone with more established credit history? What is the consumerist card of choice?!”

It really depends on what your goals are with your credit card – low interest vs reward points vs cashback rewards, etc.

I would think, in general, that a beginner would want a low-APR, no-fee, credit card. That way, if you get behind on your payments, the punishments are minimal.

Someone more comfortable with paying off their credit cards in full every month might opt for a card with more cashback and “points” rewards. Still, keep in mind that these reward programs will incentivize spending, and you might find yourself being more liberal with the plastic than if you paid everything on a debit card, so stay disciplined.

As far as our “favorite” credit card, we like our USAA AmEx card. USAA is only for people in the armed forces, or their family, but you get one of the most amazing customer service experiences from a financial institution. We get all the usual AmEx perks, plus 5% cashback on gas, grocery and dining (GGD). What we don’t like about it is that the GGD program only lasts for 6 months, so that’s something we’ll have to look into soon.

In searching for a credit card to suit your needs and wants, Bankrate offers a comprehensive and searchable online database to help get you started.

(Photo: mojojornjorn)


Edit Your Comment

  1. wikkit says:

    I’ve had a UPromise CitiBank card for 3 years now that I’m very happy with. The customer service has been good, and I earn 1-10% cashback depending on the merchant, and the cashback is directly connected to my student loan, so that I end up making an extra student loan payment each quarter. The Upromise affiliation is nice because many merchants (Coca-Cola, ExxonMobile, et cetera) set up extra rewards beyond the base 1%.

  2. loudguitars says:

    Amex Blue Cash. No annual fee, decent rate, unlimited cash back. 5% back on Gas/Groceries/Dining and 1% on everything else after the first…I think $6500 (you get 1.5% and .5% respectively for the first $6500).

    Had one for years, still my main credit card. I use it to pay all my bills then pay one big bill at the end of the month. Only works well if you pay it off monthly though, otherwise any cashback reward gets offset by interest.

  3. dariaclone says:

    Someone who doesn’t know that women aren’t possessions, “my woman”, isn’t mature enough to have a credit credit.

  4. nweaver says:

    Cosco Amex: Free fro members, 3% resteraunts, 2% travel, 1% everything else.

  5. Brie says:

    I love that I can make an online payment to my Amex card and it’ll post within a few hours. They do have a funny way of reporting your balance, but a calendar and a calculator help with that.

    Bank of America Visa has the “disposable number” feature that I like, but for some reason there’s a huge delay between them and my bank – my bank doesn’t show posted payments to B of A until several days after the fact.

    Discover pissed us off by telemarketing constantly.

    State Farm has a Visa card. You earn cash back that you can apply toward your insurance premiums = good. Customer service via rep, via phonebot and via website = bad, VERY bad. Stay the hell away from them.

    Someone always brings up credit unions during these discussions. Ours is only open during business hours, so I wouldn’t want them as my backup plan if my car died in the middle of the night and I needed a sudden credit increase.

  6. aviationwiz says:

    I just turned 18, and I’ve got a US Bank Visa card co-signed with my mom that I’ve had for the past 2 years that I got just to get my credit history going. However, I don’t get any rewards from the card, so when I turned 18, I signed up for the American Express Clear card, because I like the automatic rewards (despite not being quite as nice as the Blue Sky card, this will be easier for me to see my actual reward sooner.)

    Plus, I get a credit report from them every year, with my score, in addition to not having any weird fees, and a full month grace period.

  7. levenhopper says:

    @aviationwiz: Is them US Bank, or Amex?

  8. MissKissLock says:

    You’re thinking of letting your *woman* get a credit card? Are you high? Next she’ll be wanting to drive cars and vote!

  9. CyGuy says:

    @nweaver: I second the CosCo AmEx – though I pretty much only use it for Restaurants to get the 3% back, and at CosCo itself where they do not take VISA/MC. I had a BLUE card from AmEx prior to the CosCo card as that too had no Annual Fee, but I never could figure out their cash back policy.

  10. endless says:


    And someone who doesn’t recognize that “my woman” is a figure of speech probably is not ready to be on the internet.

  11. NYC says:

    A beginner should first have a Debit Card, then later on a Credit Card when they prove responsibility

  12. tcp100 says:

    @endless: Endless, everything is serious on the internet.

    I’m really surprised nobody mentioned a secured / collateralized credit card. They’re a good way to build credit and not get you in trouble, and they’re not only for people who have gone bankrupt. You can get them from responsible banks who aren’t predatory, as well.

    I’d highly suggest a $500 secured credit card to build your credit if you’ve never made a foray into the realm of unsecured borrowing before.

  13. FLConsumer says:

    The debt card isn’t a bad idea if you’re unfamiliar with credit cards.

    Not sure which credit union MissedTheExit uses, but I know my credit union’s credit card department (most likely farmed out to a 3rd party) is available 24/7, from what I’ve seen with my friend’s card.

    Personally, I still have 2 Wachovia (now 1 of ’em is FIA instead of MNBA) cards. Visa’s Signature handles everything I want it to, just like Amex’s best cards, but no annual fee, 1.5% cash back on ALL purchases (no limit on rewards), no limit on the card, and an excellent concierge service. Not exactly for the beginner, but something to keep in mind for down the road.

  14. Optimistic Prime says:

    I’d get a secured card through a credit union. You may not get perks or what not, but you won’t get penalized for not paying in full each month. My credit union has 5.99% interest, you can’t beat that. All of the banks want 29% or greater, even though they are making money off of your money they’re holding already. What’s really nice about a secured is it should get you in the habit of paying off your debt each month, and after a year or so, they start giving you actual credit and your money back plus interest.

  15. mewyn dyner says:

    My recommendation would be to train yourself on a debit card first, then move to a credit card. I did that and I never keep a balance on my cards. I will admit that there are fewer protections on a debit card, but at the same time it keeps you from spending money you don’t have. I have heard that the protections are getting there with debit cards, but I don’t know as mine’s strictly an ATM card now. :)

  16. JustAGuy2 says:


    I second the Fidelity Visa – 1.5% cash back on everything is a very nice perk, no annual fee, and the concierge really is quite good, and free.

  17. j-o-h-n says:

    @dariaclone: “Someone who doesn’t know that women aren’t possessions, “my woman”, isn’t mature enough to have a credit credit.”

    Would anyone have given “my girlfriend”, “my significant other”, “my fiance” or “my wife” a second thought? So why is “my woman” causing irritation? I’m guessing “the female person with whom I have a relationship, the details of which are no business of the internet at large” would be a little cumbersome for general use…

  18. jeffj-nj says:

    FWIW, I have no issues with the phrase “my woman” and deem myself mature enough to have not one, but several credit cards. In fact, I may even be so bold as to venture a guess that my credit rating is higher than yours. Then again, since I’m entirely sure how these two topics are even related, I won’t.

    That aside…

    Your first credit card should absolutely, positively, hands down, be a green American Express card. They’re easy to get, and you’re required to pay the balance off in full every month. As best I can tell, it shouldn’t even be possible to rack up unmanagable debt with such a card.

    Oh, and the best part, there’s no “PRE-SET” spending limit.

    What’s that? No spending limit? Woo-hoo!

    No. There’s no “PRE-SET” spending limit. What that means, in practice, is that there IS a spending limit; it’s just not determined ahead of time. But, if you try to make a single purchase for $2,000 and your financial records don’t indicate that you’re actually earning $2,000 a month, the charge won’t go through.

    In conclusion, AmEx green. It’s like a credit card with training wheels.

    And tell your woman that mine said hi.

  19. tvh2k says:

    I too

  20. not_seth_brundle says:

    @j-o-h-n: “girlfriend,” “significant other,” “fiancee,” and “wife” all describe a person’s relationship to someone else, just like “my brother” or “his son” do. I think that is the difference. “Woman” doesn’t describe a relationship; it describes an identity, so using the possessive is a little creepy.

  21. wezelboy says:

    WaMu has a card that allows you to keep tabs on your FICO score, which is a very nice feature. I got mine as a Providian Paypal card, then WaMu bought Providian. There is no fee with this card.

    If you shop at Costco, by all means get a Costco AMEX card. It makes shopping at Costco much more convenient.

    The cashback you get from Discover makes it great for most purchases.

    And lastly, if you succumb to your desire to have more stuff than you really need, or have an emergency that puts you under financial pressure and you cannot pay your balance in full, it is a good idea to have a Chase and/or a Citibank card (preferably both). Chase and Citibank give the best long term interest rates on credit card debt. However, you must pay the minimum payment without fail or you are screwed. You can bounce your debt between them and get your interest rate down, but be wary of balance transfer fees.

  22. AcidReign says:

    &nbsp &nbsp My three thoughts to remember on credit cards: First, there must NEVER be an annual fee. Secondly, pay that sucker off every month, no matter what. Finally, get as high a limit as possible.

    &nbsp &nbsp I’ve never cared what the interest rate was. For me, it’s zero. I have a Chase Visa based on those principles. Basically, it’s a great convenience and a free 30-day loan deal, with the cost of a stamp a month. All those “rewards” deals and such, run ’em through the shredder. They all cost something extra, even if they say FREE on the headline…

    &nbsp &nbsp That Chase card, also, is essentially an application-free $18,000 instant loan if something catastrophic were to happen in my life…

  23. acambras says:


    What about that commercial where the women say, “My man takes Levitra” ? Or the Paula Abdul song, “Forever Your Girl.”

    My boyfriend sometimes refers to me as “his girl.” As a woman and a feminist, I’m not offended. “My bitch,” or “My ho” ? Yeah, that might be over the line.

  24. FLConsumer says:

    I just thought about this one: Both my credit union and ING Direct offer debit cards with 1% cash back on purchases… Not a bad deal if you’re just starting out.

  25. not_seth_brundle says:

    @acambras: “My man” creeps me out a little bit, too, frankly. But that’s just me. I’m not saying you or anyone else should be offended, just pointing out the difference between “my wife” and “my woman.”

  26. acambras says:

    How about “my baby daddy” or “my baby mama” ? ;-)

  27. aviationwiz says:

    @LEVENHOPPER: Sorry for any confusion. “Them” is Amex with their Clear card on the free credit report and score.

  28. not_seth_brundle says:

    lol @acambras. Now that’s just silly.