Best credit cards for young adults
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Many young adults — especially college students and recent graduates — often face some challenges when building credit. For starters, banks and lenders may be uncomfortable extending lines of credit to young people who haven’t yet proven their creditworthiness. Not only that, but credit products geared to consumers with a thin credit profile or lower credit score tend to be lackluster and don’t always offer the best rates and terms.
With this in mind, young people should look into credit products that aren’t overly difficult to get approved for, yet allow them the chance to build credit and even score some perks along the way. The credit cards we’ve profiled below can be a good option for young people due to their credit requirements, rewards programs and added benefits.
|Young adult credit card||Top Rewards highlight||Welcome Offer||Annual fee||Bankrate review score|
|Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card||8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases||$50 cash bonus after spending $100 in the first three months||$0||4.6|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel||75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening||$95||4.9|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||5% cash back on each quarter’s activated rotating categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1 percent)||Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year||$0||4.3|
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card||2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1 percent)||Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year||$0||5.0|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases||N/A||$39||4.1|
|Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card||N/A||N/A||$0||4.2|
Best for added consumer protections: Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards
Why we picked it: It’s hard to find a credit card geared towards young adults that lets you earn cash back while also offering a decent range of member perks. But the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card does just that. For starters, its generous cash back program allows cardmembers to earn up to 10 percent on Uber purchases and three percent cash back on dining, entertainment, streaming services and grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®)— all of which are generally the most popular categories among young adults. You also have multiple other benefits, including no foreign transaction fees, warranty extension, 24-hour Travel Assistance Services and even Travel Accident Insurance.
- Generous cash back opportunities among student-centric categories, including streaming and dining
- Cash welcome bonus of $50 if you spend $100 with your card in the first three months of membership
- No annual fee
- No zero-percent introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers
- The APR can be high when compared to other cards
- The card requires a fair or good credit score
Who should apply? Any student with a fair credit score who wants to build their credit and take advantage of cash back and consumer protections.
Who should skip? Anyone planning to make a large purchase or transfer a balance will be better served by a card that offers a zero-percent introductory APR.
Best for young adults who travel: Capital One Venture Rewards
Why we picked it: If you have plans to travel anytime soon or in the future, the Capital One Venture Rewards card deserves serious consideration. Benefits including no foreign transaction fees and up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee help offset the $95 annual fee. Plus, you earn 2X miles on all purchases and 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
- Solid travel benefits, such as no foreign transaction fees and up to $100 in credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee
- Impressive welcome offer of 75,000 miles after $4,000 in purchases within first three months
- Earns miles for all purchases, not only travel-related ones
- Must have a good or excellent credit rating, which may be difficult for some young adults to obtain
- $95 annual fee
- No introductory zero percent APR on purchases or balance transfer offer
Who should apply? Globetrotters hoping to bulk up on travel rewards will find a lot to like about this card.
Who should skip? Those trying to rebuild or establish their credit profile may be tempted to overspend to earn the bonus.
Best for young adult students: Discover it® Student Cash Back
Why we picked it: The Discover it Student Cash Back is geared to young professionals who want to earn rewards while they build a positive credit history. This means you may be able to qualify for this card with a limited credit history or fair credit score, yet you’ll get all the cardholder bells and whistles regardless. Not only will you earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in qualifying purchases each quarter on rotating categories that often includes grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants (enrollment required, then 1 percent), but you’ll earn 1 percent back on all other purchases and Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. Meanwhile, you’ll access important benefits like a free FICO score access on your monthly statement, zero fraud liability and Social Security number alerts. You can also redeem your rewards for cash back in any amount, and your rewards will never expire.
- Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year
- No annual fee
- Must enroll in rotating categories to earn maximum cash back
- No purchase or travel benefits
- Shorter introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers
Who should apply? Students trying to establish a positive credit profile while earning cash back rewards.
Who should skip? Those who don’t want to keep up with rotating categories for rewards should look elsewhere.
Best for young adults with no credit: Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Why we picked it: The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a secured credit card, meaning that, unlike a typical unsecured credit card, it requires collateral. With a secured credit card, you’re required to put down an initial deposit that is typically equal to your line of credit. With a $500 cash deposit, for example, you could secure a line of credit in that amount, then use your credit card to help build up your credit history over time. It’s also important to note that you’ll get your deposit back when you close or upgrade your card in good standing. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is valuable as a rewards credit card, but it’s also a brilliant card option for young adults who need help building credit from scratch. The fact that there’s no annual fee is another big benefit you don’t find with all secured credit cards.
- Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year
- No annual fee
- Minimum $200 initial security deposit required
- No added consumer protections for travel
Who should apply? Any young adult who is brand new to building credit.
Who should skip? If the $200 minimum security deposit feels out of reach, a cheaper option may be a better fit. Likewise, if you need a credit card for travel, its lack of travel benefits is probably a dealbreaker.
Best for young adults with average credit: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why we picked it: If you have average credit, which typically means having a FICO score of 580 to 669 or even slightly higher, you may want to look into the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card as a means for building credit with responsible use. This card may make it easier to get approved when other cards are difficult to attain, and although you’ll have to pay a $39 annual fee, you’ll earn 1.5 percent back for each dollar you spend. You can always upgrade to a card with better benefits and rewards over time, and this card will help you get there since you get unlimited access to valuable credit tools through the CreditWise from Capital One® program.
- Available to those with a fair credit score
- Potential to qualify for a higher line of credit within six months
- No foreign transaction fees
- $39 annual fee
- Higher purchase APR
- No introductory offers for purchases or balance transfers
Who should apply? This card is a great fit for anyone hoping to improve their credit score while earning rewards.
Who should skip? Those who want to avoid an annual fee or need a 0 percent APR introductory offer for larger purchases or balance transfers should consider another card.
Best for low security deposit: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Why we picked it: The Capital One Platinum Secured credit card is a solid option offering a chance for young adults to build their credit, without the financial stress of using a large security deposit. The minimum amount required for a security deposit is $49, which is much lower than most other secured credit card options, and gives you a $200 credit limit to start.
- Low security deposit required
- No credit history needed
- Build your credit score since it reports payment activity to the credit bureaus
- No rewards, welcome offer or introductory 0 percent APR on purchases or balance transfers
- Higher ongoing APR
Who should apply? Credit builders who are less interested in rewards programs and can meet the $49 minimum security requirement will appreciate this card.
Who should skip? Someone looking to earn rewards or take advantage of special introductory offers should look elsewhere.
How to choose the best credit card for a young adult
If you’re a young adult who is ready to get a credit card but not sure which one to go for, there are several factors you should consider before you apply. These tips can help you choose the right card for your needs and long-term credit goals.
- Know your credit score. Young adults with minimal credit history may need to apply for a secured credit card at first, while others with a basic credit history can potentially get approved for a traditional credit card. Either way, knowing your credit score ahead of time can help you narrow down your options.
- Determine if you want to earn rewards. Many of the top card options for young adults make it possible to earn rewards based on your spending, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants this kind of incentive to spend more. If you truly don’t want to earn rewards, there are plenty of credit cards for good credit that don’t dole out points based on spending.
- See which cards have perks you prefer. Make sure to check whether the cards you’re considering come with perks you value, which may include travel insurance, extended warranties, price protection and more.
- Remember that your starter credit card doesn’t have to be forever. If you’re unimpressed with the card options you can actually qualify for as a young adult, try to avoid getting discouraged! If you use credit responsibly, avoid racking up extensive debt and always pay your credit card bills before your due date, you should be able to upgrade to a better rewards or travel credit card in time.
What credit score do young adults need for a credit card?
Each credit card issuer has its own requirements concerning what credit score is needed for approval. As a young adult, it’s unlikely you have a full credit profile but you still have options. There are plenty of credit cards tailored to those who are just starting out. There are also credit cards for those who have established a credit score but still fall somewhere in the fair credit range. No matter where you fit on the spectrum of credit scores, there’s surely a card — or several — that can set you up for financial success.
Should all young adults have a credit card?
It’s certainly not a requirement for a young person to have a credit card, but there are benefits that come with owning a credit card. For starters, building credit as a young adult is an important step in your overall financial life. Having good credit is essential throughout your life as it opens the door to better interest rates. With a good credit score, you’re more likely to get approved for a car loan, mortgage and even landing a job.
A credit card with a low initial limit can help teach positive credit habits while building credit. A credit card also provides many consumer protections like fraud protection, purchase protection and insurance. Many credit cards also make it easy for young adults to earn rewards on all their spending, and some come with perks.
Since payment history is the most important factor used to determine FICO scores, using a credit card for small purchases and paying your bill early or on time each month can positively affect your credit score in a hurry. Your credit utilization is the second most important factor that makes up your FICO score, so this is another area where you can use a credit card to your advantage. Strive to keep your credit utilization rate below 30% of your total available credit, and you’ll have the best results in the long run.
What are the most important factors to consider for your first credit card?
Young adults looking for a first credit card should look to apply for cards with better approval odds. The best credit cards for young adults will often offer decent interest rates, rewards for spending, no or low annual fees and considerable perks and protections.
We suggest comparing flexible credit cards that help earn rewards without an annual fee. With that being said, it can be difficult to get approved for the top rewards credit cards when you’re first starting out. For those without a credit history, a secured credit card is often the only option. Don’t see the card for you? Our CardMatch feature can help you find a card that best fits your needs.
What type of credit card is best to help build credit fast?
Any credit card can help you build a credit history, provided the issuer reports your credit movements to the three credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. To build credit fast, we suggest signing up for a credit card then using it for small purchases you can afford to pay off. From there, make sure your payments are made early or on-time and keep your utilization as low as you can.