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Picking a credit building card

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How to Spot a Good Credit Building Card


Credit agreements between lender and borrower can be traced back thousands of years to 1792 B.C. in what’s now known as Iraq. First starting with farmers and merchants, the Code of Hammurabi initiated rules on lending, repayment, and interest charges. Credit practices changed with the times. In 1914, Western Union offered “metal money”, one of the first consumer credit cards. From there, a snowball effect took hold evolving credit cards to the modern, no-contact, tap-to-pay conveniences we hold in our purses and wallets today!

As of September 2020, the average American has nearly four credit cards.

It’s clear that credit cards are powerful and versatile tools that afford financial flexibility and freedom. When payments are made on time and card utilization is moderated, users stand to reap rewards, build credit, and achieve their short and long-term goals.

But with over 1,500 credit cards to choose from, how can you make the most informed financial decision? And if you currently have less-than-perfect credit (or are simply new to credit altogether), what kind of card should you choose?

To help make the most informed decision, read on for a brief breakdown of the three categories of credit cards (plus how to spot the cards that actually help you build credit).

First Things First: Check Your Credit

Before you start picking a new credit card, be sure to check your credit report.

It’s a fast process that can be completed through your current credit card issuer or any of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Some companies offer this benefit at no-cost.

To get started, simply click here to visit annualcreditreport.com and request your free credit check. As you’ll see, federal law entitles you to a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major bureaus.

You can dig deeper to find your FICO® score estimate by answering some questions through FICO® score estimator for free.

The base FICO® scores are divided into five groups across their range of 300 to 850:

  • “Exceptional”: 800 - 850
  • “Very Good”: 740 - 799
  • “Good”: 670 - 739
  • “Fair”: 580 - 669
  • “Poor”: 300 - 579

Once you receive your report, carefully review it to ensure there aren’t any glaring errors. If there are, don’t worry!

Over 34% of Americans encounter at least one error on their credit report, and they can quickly be disputed. Just use this sample letter provided by the Federal Trade Commission to expedite the process.

Now that you know your credit score, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what kind of card to pursue.

Types of Credit Cards

Generally speaking, there are three categories of credit cards:

  • Cards designed to help you earn rewards (like air travel miles or cash back on purchases)
  • Cards that help you save money on interest (to help reduce costs when financing big purchases)
  • Cards that help you improve or establish credit (if your credit score is limited or low)

While all three options have merit, be sure to pick the card that can help you achieve your goals.

Though the average American may have nearly four credit cards, try to focus your attention on getting the right one.

For example, if you already have a solid credit score and want to rack up extra miles for an upcoming vacation, you may want to go with a rewards card.

Or, if you already have a solid credit score and you’re about to finance a major purchase (or infrequently revolve a balance on your credit card), a low APR (annual percentage rate) card may be your best bet.

Conversely, if you have less-than-perfect credit and are looking to start (or restart!) your credit journey, you may want to pick a card that can help you get on track to your financial goals.

How to Spot the Right Credit Building Card

A great credit building card doesn’t need to be your “forever” card. It simply needs to help you establish a better credit score so you can accomplish the things you value most.

To that end, there are three fundamental questions to consider when comparing credit building cards:

  • Does this card actually help me build credit? While most credit cards empower you to borrow, they don’t all help you actually build credit.

    As you’re investigating your options, make sure you choose a card that reports your monthly payments to each of the three major credit bureaus. After all, building credit requires accountability, and you deserve to be rewarded for your discipline.

  • What are the costs and fees associated with the card? Great credit building cards should have simple and straightforward fees.

    And since you’re not paying for luxurious rewards, any origination and annual fees should be in service of your financial freedom.

    In other words, you shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to build better credit.

  • Can I graduate to a rewards card in the future? Credit building cards are a means to an end.

    Once your credit is built (or rebuilt), you’ll be in a position to upgrade to a card with more competitive terms (and incentivizing rewards).

Keep Your Eye on the Credit Target

Learning about credit could help you gain helpful information. BUT working on your credit could help you gain strong credit, earn useful rewards, or even buy a house. Credit is a way of life, make yours a healthy one.

Welcome to First Phase: where less-than-perfect is more than enough.


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First Phase Visa® is issued by The Bank of Missouri pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc.

First Phase reports payment history to the three major credit bureaus so it can help build your credit if used responsibly. Building credit is accomplished by keeping your balance low and paying all your bills on time every month. Late payments, missed payments, or other defaults on your account may be reflected in your credit report and may impact your ability to build credit. First Phase begins credit reporting following your first purchase or cash advance using your card.

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This information is presented for educational purposes only. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.