Money at 30: The Top Credit Cards I’d Recommend to Beginners
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Over the past five years or so, I’ve written a lot about credit cards. This includes covering new and interesting credit card products, showcasing the best options in a given category, and of course highlighting what’s in my wallet. But, today, I wanted to go back to basics and talk about what credit cards I’d recommend to newbies.
Below are a few credit cards that I find myself repeatedly recommending to those who ask me where to start with their credit card journey. That said, be aware that these cards may have different approval requirements, so “excellent” credit may be needed. But, if you’re looking to earn rewards on your purchases and want to start things off simply, here’s where I’d personally advise you to look.
Capital One SavorOne
Starting off my list is a card that I actually have myself: the Capital One SavorOne card. What I like most about this pick is its mix of practical and “splurge” categories. What’s more, it has one relatively unique category that I think further elevates it.
Here’s a rundown of the rewards:
- 3% back on dining
- 3% back on entertainment
- 3% on popular streaming services
- 3% on grocery store purchases (excluding superstores like Target and Walmart)
- 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- 8% back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats
- 1% back on all other purchases
As you can see, the SavorOne offers a number of 3% back categories, making it easy to take advantage of. Yet, the star for me is the broadly-defined “entertainment” category, which covers everything from theme parks and movie theatres to museums and tourist attractions. That’s why, whenever there’s a question about whether or not a purchase might qualify as entertainment, this is my go-to.
Another reason why I think this is a good card for beginners is because it’s a cashback card that allows you to redeem rewards for statement credits or a check. Oddly, there isn’t an option to simply have a deposit made to a linked bank account, but I think the other options are suitable enough. Oh, and the card has no annual fee to worry about, which also helps sell the card to those who may just be getting into the credit card game.
Overall, the Capital One SavorOne is a solid, well-rounded, cashback rewards card — which is why it’s one that I recommend to friends and family most often.
Citi Double Cash Card
If you’re going to start with just a single credit card, is it better to go for one that emphasizes a certain category of spending or stick with a card that will reward you the same way for all of your purchases? For those who said the latter, then the Citi Double Cash Card is for you.
The effective structure of the Citi Double Cash card is simple: cardholders earn a total of 2% back on everything. However, this total includes the 1% earned when making purchases and the 1% earned when paying off said purchase. Of course, it’s highly advised that consumers pay off their full credit card balance each month to avoid paying interest (and more than offsetting any rewards earned), so this nuanced structure shouldn’t affect you too much.
What’s great about starting with a card such as the Citi Double Cash is that it provides a great base on which to build out a rewards portfolio. As you may have noticed, most other cards offer 1% back on “all other purchases,” meaning that consumers have plenty of opportunity to still use their Double Cash card in order to earn 2% back, even when they’ve added other cards to their wallets.
On that note, while the Double Cash card has long been a favorite of beginners and experts alike, there are now other flat 2% back cards that may be worth a look depending on your preference of issuer. For example, one relatively recent addition is the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card. Ultimately, you may want to take a closer look at each of these 2% flat rate cards, compare welcome bonuses, and assess other pros and cons to make your choice between these similar products.
Chase Freedom Flex
For those willing to put a bit more thought into their credit card usage in order to increase their rewards, the Chase Freedom Flex could be a great pick. Unlike the above two cards, which largely stay the same (aside from any product updates that are always possible), the Freedom Flex changes every three months thanks to its rotating bonus category feature. Basically, each quarter, Chase announces a new set of special categories that will earn cardholders up to 5% cashback.
On top of that, the Chase Freedom Flex offers other rewards as well:
- 5% back on rotating quarterly categories
- 5% back on travel booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal
- 3% back on dining (including eligible delivery services)
- 3% back at drugstores
- 1% back on everything else
As for what those rotating quarterly categories include, Chase keeps them quiet until a couple of weeks before they go live. However, here’s a look at what was offered during the first three months of this year and what categories are currently being featured:
- Q1 2023 (January through March): Grocery stores, fitness clubs and gym memberships, and Target
- Q2 2023 (April through June): Lowe’s (in-store or online) and Amazon.com
It should be noted that the 5% bonus category is limited to a combined total of $1,500 each quarter. In other words, this perk tops out at $75 cashback per quarter.
Overall, I think the Chase Freedom Flex has a lot to offer. While the 5% bonus categories are the star, the additional 3% categories and even the 5% Chase Ulitmate Rewards travel portal perk give cardholders other ways to earn rewards. Thus, while it might not be quite as simple as a flat rate or fixed category card, it could definitely still be worth it for beginners.
Honorable Mention: Bilt Card
Finally, I wanted to give a shout-out to a newer credit card option that’s fascinated me ever since I added it to my wallet: the Bilt Card. Not only does this card offer some decent multipliers on a couple of common categories but also allows cardholders to earn rewards on rent payments – something that’s quite unique and could be a big benefit for certain customers.
Here’s what Bilt’s rewards include:
- 1x on rent payments (up to 50,000 points per calendar year)
- 3x on dining
- 2x on select travel (direct purchases from airlines, hotels, etc. – or using the Bilt Travel portal)
- 1x on all other purchases
So, why did I make this card an honorable mention instead of a full-fledged list member? There are a couple of reasons for that. First, while the card does have benefits for non-renters, I think the appeal is definitely diminished for this cohort. Secondly, Bilt’s reward redemptions are a bit more complicated than the straightforward cashback cards on this list. For example, while cardholders can redeem points for future rent payments, this option values the points at just 0.55¢ each (compared to a flat 1¢ for most other cards). Instead, in order to get the most value for your points, you’ll want to transfer them to travel partners, book travel via the Bilt portal, or redeem them toward a down payment on a house. By doing this, you could see value that even exceeds other cards… but, given the number of factors and limitations at play here, it’d say the BIlt Card is a more advanced pick, putting it just outside of the “beginner” label.
As exciting as the concept of rewards credit cards can be, getting started can also be intimidating. Navigating the worlds of points/miles on top of weighing pros and cons of different rewards categories can honestly be exhausting — and that’s even before considering annual fees. Luckily, for those who just want straightforward cashback rewards, there are some solid options that I’d personally recommend to beginners. Plus, while I think any of the above cards would be great to start with, they can also be a strong part of any rewards credit card mix. So good luck and enjoy your new rewards card (whatever you pick)!
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