The best first credit cards for 2020

Dec 9, 2019

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You know what they say: You never forget your first time…signing up for a credit card. We’re willing to bet you were probably a little nervous — yet definitely excited — but above all, totally and completely confused. And if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, don’t worry; that’s why we’re here. These cards are great options for newcomers to the world of points and miles who are looking to start earning rewards for their purchases.

Related: New to TPG? See our Beginner’s Guide

The Best First Credit Cards For 2020

Comparing the Best First Credit Cards

Credit Card Bonus Rewards Rates Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. 2x points on travel

2x points on dining

$95
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card 50,000-mile bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months 2x miles on all purchases $95, waived the first year
American Express Gold Card 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in first three months. Terms apply. 4x on global dining and U.S. supermarkets (the 4x on up to $25,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year; then 1x)

3x on airfare, either booked directly with the airline or through amextravel.com

1x points on everything else

$250 (see rates and fees)
Chase Freedom Unlimited $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. 1.5% cash back on all purchases $0
The Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in first three months. Terms apply. 2x points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)

1x points on all other purchases

$0
American Express Green Card 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months 3x on dining worldwide, travel and transit

1x on all other purchases

$150 (see rates and fees)

 

Best First Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. TPG values this bonus at $1,200, depending on how you redeem them — either by transferring them to an airline or hotel, or directly through Chase’s travel portal.

Annual fee: $95

Rewards:

  • 2x points on travel (flights, Uber, etc.) and restaurants
  • 1x points on everything else

Who should get this card: If you’re an avid TPG reader, you know we recommend this card a lot. After all, it is one of the best credit cards on the market for anyone looking to up their points game. In fact, it’s also what we recommend to people just starting to earn consistent rewards with a tried and true rewards credit card. Those 2x points on dining and travel add up quickly — travel especially is a broad category, and includes everything from Uber, to public transit, and of course, flights. The points you’ll earn are known as transferable points, which is a fancy way of saying these are points you can use for free flights or hotels from Chase’s various partners, which include Hyatt, JetBlue, Marriott and Southwest, to name a few. It’s the perfect middle ground for people who travel a few times a year, or who want to travel a few times a year.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred Review for more details.

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: 50,000-mile bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

Rewards:

  • 2x miles on all purchases

Who should get this card: This is another buzzy card, thanks to the addition of 15 airline transfer partners — a benefit that Capital One cards lacked for a long time. It’s currently offering a 50,000-mile bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The perks include 2x miles on purchases, an up to $100 credit to cover Global Entry/TSA PreCheck enrollment fees, travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and an extended warranty. It also has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and no foreign transaction fees.

Read our full Capital One Venture Review here.

APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Welcome Offer: 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $700 based on our latest valuations.

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

Rewards:

  • 4x on global dining and U.S. supermarkets (the 4x on up to $25,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year; then 1x)
  • 3x on airfare, either booked directly with the airline or through amextravel.com
  • 1x points on everything else
  • Terms apply

Who should get this card: In a word: People who live to eat (present!). The Amex Gold Card came back with a splash in 2019, thanks to its significant dining perks (not to mention a limited-edition rose-gold version that’s no longer available). It currently has a welcome offer of 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months — worth $700 based on TPG’s latest valuations. It’s not the most impressive bonus out there, but the earning potential of the card makes up for it. That is, it will pay you 4x on dining worldwide, 3x on travel booked directly through airlines or amextravel.com and 1x on everything else.

Oh, and those transferable points we mentioned with the Chase Sapphire card? Amex has them, too. You’ll be able to use your Amex Membership Rewards points on 19 airline and three hotel partners, including Aeroplan, Delta, and Marriott, plus many more. The card has a $250 annual fee, but that is offset by the up to $100 airline statement credit and the up to $120 yearly dining statement credit. Bottom line: If you like to eat, you need this card.

Read our full Amex Gold Review here.

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

Chase Freedom Unlimited

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:

Who should get this card: If you like to use one card for everything and are looking to earn cash back, this might be the perfect card for you. Unlike many cash-back cards, the Freedom Unlimited also allows you to earn Ultimate Rewards points. This might not sound too exciting now, especially if you’re a beginner, but that’s a really nice perk because if you get the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred — you can pair these three with the Freedom Unlimited, transfer the points you earn on it and redeem them in the Chase portal. Additionally, Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable points when it comes to redeeming for travel and who doesn’t love free travel?

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited Review here.

APPLY HERE: Chase Freedom Unlimited

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Welcome offer: 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. These points are valued at $200 based on TPG valuations. However, be sure to check CardMatch to see if you’re targeted for a higher bonus offer. Many readers often are.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:

  • 2x points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 1x points on all other purchases

Who should get this card: This is a credit card for points-and-miles beginners. It has no annual fee and earns 2x at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $6,000 spent each year) and 1x on everything else — plus you get a 20% bonus if you swipe it 20 times or more in a billing cycle. In fact, it’s actually the first credit card I got to boost my credit score before I took the jump into more premium cards.

You’ll get 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first three months, which isn’t anything groundbreaking. But then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? On the flip side, consider the fact that you can transfer your Amex points to Delta, and that Delta frequently has flash sales to the Caribbean starting at just 12,000 miles round-trip, you’re looking at an easy way to jump-start your free travels. You can also transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points to 19 airline and three hotel programs, including JetBlue and Marriott, to really get a lot of value out of them.

The information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

American Express Green Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Welcome offer: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months. That’s worth about $600 in value, according to TPG’s latest valuations.

Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees)

Rewards:

  • 3x on dining worldwide, travel and transit
  • 1x on all other purchases

Who should get this card? If you’re looking for a mid-tier travel rewards card, this is an excellent place to start. In addition to the points you’ll earn on dining and travel, you’ll also get an up to $100 Clear annual statement credit and up to $100 LoungeBuddy annual credit. Right off the bat, that makes up for the $150 annual fee.

Those 30,000 points you’ll earn from the welcome bonus are a significant chunk of points. While you won’t be flying in, say, Lufthansa first class with that alone, it will get you one step closer. That said, though, you can use them for things such as Delta Air Lines flash sales as well as 19 hotel and airline programs.

Why You Should Get a Credit Card

Using your debit card has virtually no point — pun intended. You’re spending money and not getting anything back in return. For all the money you spend on food, clothing, skincare, workout classes, transportation, etc., you could be earning valuable points or miles toward your next vacation. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we promise the points really do add up. Plus, one day you’re going to want to get a house or a car and we guarantee some people in suits will be asking you for your credit score.

Applying for your first real credit card is a big step towards financial freedom, not to mention a way for you to start racking up valuable points and miles that you can use to start traveling the world for free. But before we get into that, let’s set a few ground rules.

How Credit Cards Work

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
The Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Travel credit cards can help you earn points and miles — a.k.a. pieces of plastic (or metal) that are putting you one step closer to being on the beach in Bora Bora.

How do you get these elusive points and miles? We’re glad you asked. You can get them a few different ways, from actually flying on airlines to going through online shopping portals. But the biggest and the best way is through sign-up bonuses/welcome offers. This is a fancy way of saying “if you spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time, you’ll earn a certain amount of points.” It varies from card to card, which we’ll break down shortly. Nothing happens if you don’t hit the sign-up bonus, you just won’t get those bonus points; you will, though, get points for whatever spending you do put on it. Again, this varies from card to card.

A lot of credit cards will also offer bonus points for spending on certain categories of purchases. For example, if you get 3x points on dining and your dinner cost you $15 dollars, you’d earn 45 points. 45 points won’t get you anywhere, really, but they do add up over time.

If you take nothing else away from this article (or really, any article on the site) it’s this: Pay your bills on time and in full every single month. Having a credit card is not Monopoly money in your pocket, and by not paying off your credit card in full, you’re negating the value of any points you earn. In short: Spend what you can afford. Period.

Related: Ten commandments for travel rewards credit cards

Now once you get your new credit card, understand that the points or miles you’ll earn are valuable — and they’re not all created equal. TPG’s monthly valuations are a good resource to figuring out how much each of yours are worth. At the end of the day, you never want to pay more for a flight in points or miles than if you just booked it outright using your credit card.

Just remember that you’ll want to put them to use to pay for your next vacation, not your Amazon or food-delivery order. Also, the value of points and miles varies from program to program, so check out TPG’s monthly valuations guide to determine if you’re getting a good deal.

Bottom Line

We know there are a lot of options out there, and it can be hard to find your Cinderella slipper. But no matter how you start your points and miles journey, these cards will help you get started without getting overwhelmed; there’s no need to go straight to the big leagues with a premium travel credit card just yet. Start off small and build your credit, and we promise these points will add up fast than you can say, “Award redemption.”

Additional reporting by Nick Ewen and Liz Hund.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DashPass subscription from DoorDash -over a $100 value. Activate with your Chase Sapphire card by December 31, 2021.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.