How to Build a Strong Credit Foundation Using Cash Back Credit Cards

We've talked about the best grocery and gas cards in the previous posts, and one common question we get is, "which cash back card is best if you don't travel?"

Here's how to build a 5 card base if you don't have plans to travel in the future.

As a disclaimer, only take this route if you don't have travel plans in the next 1-2 years, or else you might not be eligible for premium travel cards due to restrictions from credit issuers

If you're looking for strictly cash back cards, this post will assume the following:

  • You're not optimizing for travel
  • You're looking for no annual fee credit cards
  • You have an average income, and don't have a high net worth (there's a different card set up for that)

You can view credit card offers by going to the "Credit Card Offers" tab. Find offers for the respective cards in "Cash Back Credit Cards." You don't have to use our links, but we're grateful when you do. Thank you for supporting AskSebby!

Step 1: Student or secured credit cards

When you first start your credit journey, you'll want to get a student credit card or a secured credit card to build credit.

I recommend getting the Discover It Student card or the Citi Secured Mastercard so you can easily product change to a more useful card in 6-12 months.

Learn more about secured credit cards in this post. 

Step 2: Starter credit cards

Depending on if your student or secured card was a Discover or Citi card, I recommend applying to the opposite credit issuer for the starter card.

For example, if you got the Discover It Student, then go for the Citi Double Cash. If you applied for the Citi Secured Mastercard, then go for the Discover It card.

Both cards are valuable to have because the Citi Double Cash earns 2% on everything, and the Discover It has rotating 5% cash back categories each quarter.

Learn more about starter credit cards in this post. 

Step 3: Wait and build credit until you have 12 months of credit


  • Month 1 = Get a student/secured card (Card #1)
  • Month 6 to 12 = Starter card (Card #2)
  • Month 13 = Card #1 should be graduated to unsecured*
  • Month 13 to 18 = Chase Freedom (Card #3)^
  • Month 13 to 18 = US Bank Cash+ (Card #4)^

* picking the right card matters for graduating to unsecured purposes

^ skippable if you have an aversion to the specific issuer

The example cards in the timeline above optimize for 5% cash back categories. If you want to choose your own adventure and get cards that optimize for specific categories, there are some good options below.

Choose your own adventure:

  • Gas 5% = Ducks Unlimited
  • Groceries 3% = Amex Blue Cash Everyday (BCE)
  • Dining 4% = Uber (perks: no FTF, phone protection etc.)