Best Credit Cards to Build Your Credit History and Score
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
This page includes information about the Discover products that are not currently available on Million Mile Secrets and may be out of date.
Miles and points can open a world of travel for folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it! But you’ll need good credit to get into this hobby. Because the fastest way to miles and points is by earning credit card sign-up bonuses.
If you’re new to this country, are a recent graduate, or have never signed-up for a credit card in your name, the lack of payment history can bring down your credit score. But there are ways you can start showing the banks you know how to handle credit responsibly.
I have tips to help you build your credit history and boost your credit score so you can start traveling!
How to Build a Strong Credit History & Score
Here are the steps to building excellent credit so you can earn miles and points.
1. Become an Authorized User
You can potentially give your credit a boost by having a friend or family member add you as an authorized user on their account.
Just make sure the primary cardholder is someone who pays their bills on time and won’t max out their line of credit. Because their entire history on that card will show up on your credit report for as long as you have the card.
You can also help them meet minimum spending requirements and earn bonus points. Then once your credit improves, you can get the same card on your own and you’re typically still eligible to earn the sign-up bonus!
2. Sign-up for a Secured Card
When you open a secured credit card, you put down a deposit. This is your credit limit. So the bank isn’t taking a risk and you get the opportunity to show you can pay your bills on time.
Here are some secured cards that will also give you miles or cash back:
|Discover it® Secured
|• 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in spending each quarter
• 1% cash back on all other purchases
• All cash back DOUBLED at the end of your 1st year
|US Bank AeroMexico Visa Secured
|$25 waived for the 1st year
|5,000 AeroMexico miles after your 1st purchase
|• 2 miles per $1 you spend on gas and groceries
• 1 mile per $1 you spend on all other purchases
• One $99 Companion Ticket at sign-up, and again every year
• Complimentary checked bag on certain flights when you present your card at check-in
|US Bank Avianca Secured Visa
|$25 waived for the 1st year
|5,000 Avianca miles after your 1st purchase
|• 1 LifeMile per $1 you spend
• 15% discount on Avianca excess baggage fees
• $500,000 travel accident insurance
|US Bank LAN Secured Visa
|$25 waived for the 1st year
|5,000 LAN miles after your 1st purchase
|• 1 LANPASS mile per $1 spent
• 10% discount on LAN purchase (once a year)
|US Bank Korean Air Secured Visa
|5,000 Korean Air miles after your 1st purchase
|• 1 mile per $1 you spend
• 1,000 miles each year you renew the card
• $250,000 in Travel Accident Insurance
Just be sure you pay your bill on-time and in full each month, because paying the high interest rates and fees on these cards negates any value from the miles and cash back. And you don’t want to wind up in debt!
After a few months, your spending and on-time payments should post to your credit report and you can start applying for other cards.
3. Apply for Entry Level Credit Cards
Next, you can apply for credit cards targeted to folks without an excellent credit score.
Note: Some of these stores offer more than 1 credit card. The cards that can only be used in-store are more lenient.
Other cards you may qualify for without excellent credit include:
- Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card – 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
- Chase Slate – You won’t earn cash back for this card. But it’s a great way to establish a good relationship with Chase, which has some of my favorite cards!
- Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard – 2X points at gas stations, grocery stores, and on utilities, 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Discover it® Student Cash Back – 5% cash back on rotating categories like gas stations, restaurants, and home improvement (on up to $1,500 in spending) each quarter and bonuses for good grades. 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, your cash back is doubled at the end of your 1st year
- Discover it® Student chrome – 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in purchases each quarter. 1% cash back on all other purchases. And your cash back is doubled at the end of your 1st year.
Most of these cards have no annual fee so you never have to cancel. This is a great way to build a long-term history with the banks.
After ~6 months of using these entry-level cards responsibly, you should be ready to start earning miles and points!
4. Earn Miles & Points
Cards with big sign-up bonuses require excellent credit. But with a short credit history, you can still get cards such as:
You can earn miles, points, and cash back with these cards while you continue building a credit history and establishing relationships with the banks.
With an improved credit score and history, you can earn big sign-up bonuses on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card, Citi Prestige, or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard!
Keep in mind, credit score isn’t the only factor banks consider when evaluating credit card applications. They also look at income, financial stability, and more when considering your application.
You’ll need a solid credit score to enjoy all of the benefits of this hobby.
So immigrants, students, and other folks who have little or no credit history or a low score should start by working to build their credit score.
Secured cards like the Discover it® Secured can get your foot in the door. You put a deposit down to cover your credit limit, so the bank doesn’t have to take a risk.
Store cards and entry-level cards like the Capital One QuicksilverOne are good options.
Then you’ll soon be on your way to Big Travel with Small Money by earning big sign-up bonuses on cards including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase British Airways, Citi Prestige, or Barclaycard Arrival Plus.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)