Best First Credit Cards To Build Credit of 2023

Written by Jason Steele / December 23, 2022
Reviewed by Robin Saks Frankel

When you are trying to build your credit, it can feel like a “chicken and the egg” scenario, where you can’t build credit until you’re approved for a credit card, but you can’t be approved for many credit cards until you’ve built your credit. 

Thankfully, there are credit cards that are designed exactly for the purpose of building credit. The best first credit cards to build credit are designed for new credit card users who don’t have much of a credit history, good or bad. Among these cards are several student cards, which can be ideal for young adults who are full-time students. 

The top credit cards in this category will have no annual fee, and some will even offer cash-back rewards for spending. But like all credit cards, you’ll need to find the right card that meets your needs. We analyzed a broad swath of credit cards in this category, from a variety of issuers, to curate a list of the very best. Here are our selections.

Inside this article

  1. Best first credit cards of 2023 to build credit
  2. Best for earning 5% bonus cash back: Discover it Student Cash Back Card
  3. Best for earning cashback with a secured card: Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card
  4. Best student card for gas and restaurants: Discover it Student Chrome
  5. Best for building credit with no fees: Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card
  6. Best for instant access to credit: Deserve Digital First Card
  7. Best for practical card benefits: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
  8. Best for looking beyond traditional credit scores: Petal 1 Card
  9. Best for newcomers to the United States: Tomo Card
  10. Best for bad credit: OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
  11. Best unsecured card for fair credit: Avant Credit Card
  12. Compare the best first credit cards to build credit:
  13. Should you get one of these first credit cards to build credit?
  14. Guide to first credit cards to build credit
  15. Methodology
  16. Frequently Asked Questions

Best first credit cards of 2023 to build credit

  • Best first credit card overall: Discover it Student Cash Back Card

  • Best first credit card for earning cash back with a secured card: Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Best first credit card for students for gas and restaurants: Discover it Student Chrome

  • Best first credit card for building credit with no fees: Petal® 2 “cash-back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

  • Best first credit card for instant access to credit: Deserve Digital First Card

  • Best first credit card for practical card benefits: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

  • Best first credit card for looking beyond traditional credit scores: Petal 1 Card

  • Best first credit card for newcomers to the U.S.: Tomo Card

  • Best first credit card for bad credit: OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

  • Best first credit card unsecured card for fair credit: Avant Credit Card

Best for earning 5% bonus cash back: Discover it Student Cash Back Card

Why it’s the best

This card allows students to earn 5% cash back on select categories of purchases (after activation) that change each quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. That’s a great way to earn rewards while building credit. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in select categories.

  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

  • Receive a cash-back match that automatically doubles the rewards you earn in your account’s first year. 

Cons:

  • No purchase protection or travel insurance included.

  • Discover cards aren't as widely accepted as cards on the Visa and Mastercard payment networks, particularly when traveling outside the United States.

  • Earning 5% cash back requires registering each quarter. 

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in select categories when you activate, and 1% cash-back on all other purchases. Receive a cash-back match that automatically doubles the rewards you earn in your account’s first year. 

  • Intro APR: Six months of 0% APR for new purchases and six months of 10.99% APR for balance transfers, with an intro 3% balance transfer fee. 

  • Standard APR: 16.74% - 25.74% 

  • Perks and benefits: Free Social Security number alerts, Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced without reporting it lost or stolen.

Best for earning cashback with a secured card: Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best

Secured credit cards—which require a security deposit in the amount of your desired credit limit—can help you build credit, even if you have bad credit. The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards is one of the few secured cards that offers a competitive rate of cashback and a path to upgrading to an unsecured card with responsible payment behavior.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. 

  • Receive an automatic credit line review after six months.

  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. 

Cons:

  • Requires the payment of a refundable $200 deposit. 

  • High standard interest rate.

  • No travel insurance or purchase protection policies. 

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

  • Standard APR: 28.49% variable

  • Perks and benefits: Capital One Entertainment offers exclusive access to dining, sports, and entertainment events. 

Best student card for gas and restaurants: Discover it Student Chrome

Why it’s the best

With this card, students can buy gas and eat out while building their credit. The Discover it Student Chrome Card offers 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter at gas stations and at restaurants, 1% on other spending.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter at gas stations and at restaurants. 

  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

  • Receive a cash-back match that automatically doubles the rewards you earn in your account’s first year. 

Cons:

  • No purchase protection or travel insurance included.

  • Discover cards aren't as widely accepted as cards on the Visa and Mastercard payment networks, particularly when traveling outside the United States.

  • It’s possible to find cards that earn a higher rate on gas or dining purchases.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter at gas stations and at restaurants, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

  • Introductory APR: 0% for six months on purchases, 10.99% for six months on balance transfers. An intro 3% balance transfer fee applies.

  • Standard APR: 16.74% to 25.74% variable 

  • Perks and benefits: Free Social Security number alerts, Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced without reporting it lost or stolen.

Best for building credit with no fees: Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

Why it’s the best

There are very few credit cards for building credit that are light on fees, but the Petal 2 Visa is one of them. The card also offers a competitive rate of cash back and the ability to earn a higher credit limit after six months of on-time purchases. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Pay no annual fees, foreign transaction fees or returned payment fees. 

  • Earn up to 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. 

  • Receive approval based on both your banking history and your credit score. 

Cons:

  • Not affiliated with a major bank.

  • No travel insurance or purchase protection.

  • No balance transfer option.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn 1% cash back, and up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments.

  • Standard APR: 16.74% – 30.74% variable

  • Perks and benefits: Approval based on your banking history and overall financial picture with no credit score required, Visa benefits including access to roadside dispatch and secondary auto rental coverage. 

Best for instant access to credit: Deserve Digital First Card

Why it’s the best

The Deserve Digital First Card is a no-annual-fee virtual card that can be loaded on Apple Pay immediately upon approval. It’s great for building credit and it offers up to 1.5% cash-back. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Instant approval and use with Apple Pay. 

  • Earn cash back on all purchases.

  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees.

Cons:

  • Physical cards aren’t currently available.

  • Doesn’t earn a flat cash-back rate, but a different rate per spending tier.

  • Google Pay compatibility isn’t currently available. 

  • No balance transfers allowed.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards rate: 1% cash back on spending of up to $500 in a billing period, 1.25% back on purchases after spending more than $500 and 1.5% back on purchases after spending more than $1,000. 

  • Standard APR: 19.24% to 29.24%

  • Perks and benefits: World Mastercard benefits including ID theft protection and Mastercard Global Services

Best for practical card benefits: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Why it’s the best

Student credit cards are typically very basic, with few cardholder benefits. But the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students offers a unique perk: A free year of Amazon Prime Student after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Earn up to 1% cash back. 

  • One free year of Amazon Prime Student after meeting the spend requirement.

  • International students can apply without a Social Security number. 

Cons:

  • Cash-back rewards are limited to 1%

  • No balance transfers allowed.

  • Amazon Prime Student benefit only covers one year. 

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases

  • Standard APR: 22.99% variable

  • Perks and benefits: One year of Amazon Prime Student, a first late fee waiver and international students don’t need a Social Security number to apply

Best for looking beyond traditional credit scores: Petal 1 Card

Why it’s the best

While most credit card issuers focus on your credit history and credit scores, the Petal 1 Card looks at your overall financial picture, making the card accessible to those with limited or no credit. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Credit limit based on your overall financial situation, not just your credit score. 

  • Consistent on-time payment behavior may qualify you for a credit line increase.

  • Earn cash back on purchases from select merchants.

Cons:

  • Some applicants may only qualify for the Petal 1 Rise, which has a $59 annual fee. 

  • No new account bonus.

  • No balance transfers allowed. 

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn 2% - 10% cash back at select merchants. 

  • Standard APR: 23.74% – 33.24% variable

  • Perks and benefits: Basic Visa benefits such as roadside dispatch and theft protection

Best for newcomers to the United States: Tomo Card

Why it’s the best

Tomo is an innovative card that can help those with no or little credit history—like newcomers to the U.S. or recent grads—gain access to credit. The issuer looks at a more complete financial picture rather than just your credit score.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Receive benefits from numerous popular merchants such as Doordash, HelloFresh and Lyft

  • Be approved with no credit score, based on alternative financial data

  • Receive World Elite Mastercard benefits such as up to $1,000 in cell phone protection

Cons:

  • Cardholders are expected to pay their entire statement balance each month, so you can’t finance purchases. 

  • No balance transfers permitted

  • Your card will be frozen if you don’t pay in full each billing cycle

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: None

  • Standard APR: N/A

  • Perks and benefits: Receive credits from DoorDash, Lyft and HelloFresh, ShopRunner membership and World Elite MasterCard benefits including up to $1,000 of cell phone protection 

Best for bad credit: OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

Why it’s the best

If you have bad credit, but still need a first credit card to build credit, the OpenSky Secured Visa could be right for you. There’s no credit check for approval and your deposit will equal the credit line you receive. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • No credit check required to apply

  • Reports to all three credit bureaus

  • Relatively low APR for a “bad credit” card

Cons:

  • Requires a minimum deposit of $200

  • $35 annual fee

  • 3% foreign transaction fee

More details

  • Annual fee: $35

  • Rewards rate: None

  • Standard APR: 21.14% variable

  • Perks and benefits: Roadside dispatch service access, identity theft protection

Best unsecured card for fair credit: Avant Credit Card

Why it’s the best

When you have credit problems, and you don’t want to pay a security deposit, the Avant Card is an attractive option. Start with a modest credit limit of at least $300, and build credit as Avant reports your spending and payment history to the three major consumer credit bureaus.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • You don’t have to pay a security deposit. 

  • Check if you’re pre-qualified without undergoing a hard credit check.

  • Ideal for those who had credit problems but still have fair credit. 

Cons:

  • Annual fee can be as high as $59

  • No balance transfers allowed. 

  • No rewards or significant cardholder benefits.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0-$59

  • Rewards: None

  • Standard APR: 28.74% - 29.99% variable APR

  • Perks and benefits: Mastercard ID theft protection and Mastercard Global services which includes stolen card replacement

Compare the best first credit cards to build credit:

Annual FeeRewardsStandard APRPerks and benefits
Discover it Student Cash Back$05% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in select categories when you activate. 1% cash back on all other purchases. Cash-back match on all rewards earned in your account’s first year.16.74% - 25.74% variable Free Social Security number alerts when you enroll. Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced.
Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card$01.5% cash back on all purchases. 28.49% variableCapital One Entertainment offers exclusive access to dining, sports and entertainment events.
Discover it Student Chrome$02% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter at gas stations and at restaurants. Unlimited 1% cash-back on all other purchases. 16.74% to 25.74% variableFree Social Security number alerts when you activate. Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced.
Petal® 2 “cash-back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card$0Earn 1% cash back, and up to 1.5% cash-back after making 12 on-time monthly payments.16.74% - 30.74% variable APRYour account can be frozen if your card is misplaced.
Deserve Digital First Card $0Earn 1%, 1.25% or 1.5% back on purchases, depending on what spending tier you’ve hit in the current billing cycle. 19.24% - 29.24% variableInstant approval and use with Apple Pay.
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students$0Earn 1% cash back on all purchases.22.99% variable APRUp to $600 of cell phone coverage. One year of Amazon Prime Student after hitting spending requirement. First late fee waiver.
Petal 1 Card$0Earn 2% - 10% cash back at select merchants.23.74% – 33.24% variable APRBasic Visa benefits such as roadside dispatch access and theft protection.
Tomo Card$0None.N/AReceive credits from DoorDash,Lyft and HelloFresh. ShopRunner membership.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card$35None.21.14% variable APRRoadside dispatch access. Identity theft protection.
Avant Credit Card$0-$59None.28.74% - 29.99% variable APRMastercard ID theft protection and Mastercard Global Services.

Discover it Student Cash Back

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in select categories when you activate and 1% cash back on all other purchases

Welcome bonus: 100% cash-back match of rewards earned during your account’s first year

Foreign transaction fee:  None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The Discover it Student Cash Back Card offers you free Social Security number alerts, so you can help keep your identity safe. The Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced. However, the Discover card isn’t as widely accepted around the world as cards that are part of the Visa or Mastercard payment networks

Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all purchases

Welcome bonus: None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This card features Capital One Entertainment, which offers exclusive access to dining, sports, and entertainment events. But keep in mind that this is a secured card, which requires the payment of a refundable security deposit

Discover it Student Chrome

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: Earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter at gas stations and at restaurants and an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

Welcome bonus: 100% cash-back match of rewards earned during your account’s first year

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks:  This card offers you free Social Security number alerts, so you can help keep your identity safe. The Freeze it feature allows you to freeze your account if your card is misplaced. However, the Discover card isn’t as widely accepted around the world as cards that are part of the Visa or Mastercard payment networks.

Petal® 2 “cash-back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: Earn 1% cash back, and up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments

Welcome bonus: None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This card rewards you for making on-time payments by offering additional cash back. Petal also allows your account to be frozen if your card is misplaced

Deserve Digital First Card

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: Earn 1%, 1.25%, or 1.5% back on purchases, depending on what spending tier you’ve hit in the current billing cycle

Welcome bonus:  None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This is a radically different card than most, as it offers instant approval and use with Apple Pay. However, it doesn’t yet offer a physical card or compatibility with other mobile payment systems

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases

Welcome bonus: One year of Amazon Prime Student after you spend $500 on purchases within three months

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: Students are likely to appreciate that this card features up to $600 of cell phone protection, as well as a one-year Prime membership reimbursement

Petal 1 Card

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:  2% - 10% cash-back at select merchants

Welcome bonus: None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This is a very basic card that comes with some targeted cash-back offers that can be useful. Expect a modest credit limit of as little as $300, but it offers a path to credit limit increases

Tomo Card

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: None

Welcome bonus: None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This card offers numerous credits from companies like DoorDash, Lyft, and HelloFresh. A ShopRunner membership is also included. But this isn’t a true credit card because you aren’t able to finance purchases by carrying a balance 

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee: $35

Rewards: None

Welcome bonus: None

Foreign transaction fee: 3%

Other benefits and drawbacks: This is a fairly basic secured card designed for people with poor credit. It does offer a few basic benefits such as access to roadside dispatch and identity theft protection 

Avant Credit Card

Annual fee: $0-$59

Rewards: None

Welcome bonus:  None

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks:  This is a basic credit card for those who have had credit missteps. Although it offers proactive credit line increases, depending on your credit profile, you may have an annual fee

Should you get one of these first credit cards to build credit?

When used responsibly, credit cards are a great way to build credit while enjoying a secure and convenient method of payment. These credit cards are ideal for users who have scant or no credit history and are looking for an additional way to build up their credit profile. 

Many of these credit cards offer rewards for spending, which can be a valuable feature—but shouldn’t be your main focus when starting out. Some also provide benefits such as cell phone protection, access to roadside dispatch, and rental car collision and damage coverage. 

But most importantly, these cards exist to help you build your credit. Cardholders should use these products sparingly and always try to avoid interest by paying their monthly statement balances in full. Pay your bills on time and avoid racking up debt, and you will build a strong credit history and, in time, enjoy a high credit score. 

Guide to first credit cards to build credit

These first credit cards to build credit can be a valuable way to add to your credit history and increase your credit score. But it’s critical to understand when to get a credit card, how to apply, and how best to use one. 

When should you get a credit card?

To open a new credit card account, you must be 18 years of age or older. However, the best time for a person to get their first credit card is when they are able to manage it responsibly. Some parents choose to teach their children to use a credit card responsibly before they are 18 years old by making them authorized cardholders on their account. 

But once children reach the age of 18, and legally become adults, then they may choose to open a credit card in their own name. Doing so offers a secure and convenient method of payment, and helps them to learn personal finance skills. However, young adults ages 18, 19 and 20 are required to show the ability to make payments before they can open a new account.

How to apply for a credit card

Applying for a credit card is, in most cases, pretty easy. After you identify the card that you would like to apply for, many consumers will fill out the application online. Others chose to do so at a bank branch—and credit card applications may occasionally be submitted in the mail. 

The form will start off with basic personal information, such as the applicant’s legal name, birth date, address, and Social Security number. If you already have an account with the credit card issuer, then you may be able to supply this information by logging in first. The application will also ask for financial details such as employment status and income. It’s also likely that you’ll be asked if you own or rent your home and how much your monthly housing payment is. 

If you submit the application online, you will be notified of the status of the card issuer’s decision within a few seconds. You may either be approved or rejected for the card immediately, or you may be told that a decision is pending and that you’ll receive a letter in the mail—typically in seven to 10 days. If that happens, you may still be approved, or you may be denied. If your application is denied, the law states that credit card issuers must provide a reason.

How to get a credit card with little or no credit

When you are new to credit, the most important factor in being approved for a new account will be choosing the right card. Thankfully, there are some cards that are designed for those with little or no credit. These cards will offer fewer rewards and benefits compared to products intended for those with an established credit history. So long as you choose a card that’s designed for applicants with your credit profile, you’ll have the best chance of being approved. 

Next, you’ll want to make sure that you fill out the application accurately. If you make a mistake with an important biographical detail, such as your birth date or Social Security number, then your application could be denied. You’ll also want to include all the sources of income that you’re eligible to list. By law, you’re able to include the income of your spouse or domestic partner, so long as you have a reasonable expectation of access to the income, for the purpose of repaying a loan. This means if you aren’t currently employed, you can still include the income of your spouse or domestic partner. You can also include other sources of income such as child support, alimony, Social Security, and investment income.

Finally, you shouldn’t take a denial as final. You can always contact the card issuer and see if there’s anything that you can do to have your application reconsidered. Sometimes it’s as simple as correcting a mistake in the application. Other times, you might be offered a different product, like a secured card. Secured cards work just like other credit cards, except that they require the payment of a refundable security deposit before an account can be opened. 


Tips for building credit for beginners

Once you’ve successfully opened a credit card account, your top priority should be making your payments on time and avoiding debt. To start off with, use your credit card just for small charges that you can easily pay off. The easiest way to ensure that you make your payments on time is to set up autopay. Thankfully, nearly all credit card issuers offer this option. 

The other important thing for beginning credit card users to do is to closely monitor their accounts. Install the mobile app offered by your card issuer, and carefully review your monthly statements. Look for unauthorized charges or charges made in error. But most crucially, be careful not to let your spending get out of control. You should only make purchases on your card that you’ve budgeted for, and could still afford to make if you were using cash. 

Best types of credit cards to build credit

When you are new to credit, your goal should be to add to your positive credit history and to increase your credit score. There are several types of credit cards that can help you achieve this goal. 

First there are standard, unsecured credit cards that are designed specifically for those who are new to credit. These cards have limited features and benefits, but they don’t require a security deposit. Cards in this category include:

  • Petal 1 Card

  • Petal® 2 “cash-back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

  • Deserve Digital First Card

  • Avant Credit Card

  • Tomo Card

Then there are secured cards that require the payment of a refundable security deposit before you can open your account. These cards make the most sense for those who may not qualify for unsecured cards due to past credit problems. The secured cards on our list include:

  • Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

Finally, there are student credit cards that are designed for applicants who are enrolled full-time in a college or university. These cards can be easier to qualify for if you have a limited credit history and can provide some of the features and benefits you would expect in a card for those with more established credit. Student cards on our list include:

  • Discover it Student Cash Back Card

  • Discover it Student Chrome

  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Methodology

Sound Dollar’s credit cards team has spent hours analyzing hundreds of credit cards. We took a deep dive into the details of each product and that analysis, combined with our years of experience covering credit cards, informed us as we developed these credit card rankings. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many credit cards should I have to build credit?

You should never have more credit cards than you can manage responsibly. Managing your cards responsibly means always making your payments on time and avoiding debt. 

If you can comfortably manage multiple credit cards responsibly, having two or three can help maximize rewards, by using cards that earn elevated rates on different types of spending. But this is a strategy for down the road—a good rule of thumb is to hold your first card for six months to a year, showing good spending and payment behavior, before opening another.

Can authorized credit card users build credit?
Which type of credit card is best for beginners when starting credit?
Can I apply for a credit card without an income?
Can U.S. newcomers apply for a credit card?

About the Authors

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a freelance writer specializing in credit cards and award travel. Since 2008, Jason's work has appeared in over 100 outlets and he's been widely quoted in the mainstream media. Jason also produces CardCon, which is The Conference for Credit Card Media.

Full bio
Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards and personal finance writer and editor for Sound Dollar. Previously, she covered credit cards and related content at other national web publications including Forbes Advisor, NerdWallet, Bankrate and HerMoney. She's been featured as a personal finance expert in outlets including CNBC, Business Insider, CBS Marketplace, and has appeared on or contributed to The New York Times, Fox News, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, NPR, International Business Times and NBC, ABC and CBS TV affiliates nationwide.

Full bio

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