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Many young adults — and especially college students and recent graduates — often face some challenges when it comes to 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.
Best for young adults who dine out
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Earn a $300 cash bonus when you spend $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Redeem rewards for cash back in any amount
- $95 annual fee (waived the first year)
The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is geared to consumers with good or excellent credit, which is why it works best for young professionals who have already had a chance to build a credit history and decent credit score. This card is also ideal for anyone who dines out a lot, or spends a lot of money on entertainment. While the 4 percent cash back you’ll earn on dining is easy to understand since it applies to restaurants worldwide, entertainment purchases may surprise you with its inclusion of a ton of categories young people tend to spend money in — for example, movie theaters, professional sports events, amusement parks, dance halls, pool halls and bowling alleys. The initial signup bonus and lack of annual fee the first year are just icing on the cake with this card.
Best for young adults who travel
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Earn 20,000 points worth $200 in cash redemption value when you spend $1,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Use your card to earn 3x points on dining, gas stations, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals and popular streaming services, as well as 1x points on other purchases
- Redeem rewards for travel, cash back, gift cards and more
- No annual fee
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card was created with millennials and other young adults in mind, although this card could work for anyone who wants to earn rewards for travel without paying an annual fee. Not only will you earn 3x points in categories young people tend to spend a lot in, but you’ll have the potential to earn a substantial initial bonus and score important travel protections like emergency and roadside assistance, lost or damaged luggage protection, secondary auto rental coverage and travel accident insurance. This card also comes with cell phone protection good for up to $600 per claim and up to $1,200 in coverage per 12-month period, although a $25 deductible per claim applies. There’s no annual fee with this card either, so you can enjoy important consumer protections and earn rewards without paying for the privilege.
Best for young adult students
Discover it® Student Cash Back
- Earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly rotating categories (enrollment required, then 1%) plus 1% back on all other purchases
- Discover will double all your rewards after the first 12 months
- Qualify for a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, good for five subsequent years
- No annual fee
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 include grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants (enrollment required), but you’ll earn 1 percent back on all other purchases and Discover will double all your rewards earned in the first 12 months. Meanwhile, you’ll access important benefits like a free FICO score 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.
Best for young adults with no credit
Discover it® Secured
- Earn 2% back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases spent at gas stations and restaurants each quarter
- Earn 1% back on other purchases
- Discover will double all your rewards after the first year
- Initial security deposit required
- No annual fee
The Discover it® Secured 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 would be able to secure a line of credit in that amount, then use your credit card to 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 is valuable as a rewards credit card, but it’s also an incredibly smart 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.
Best for young adults with average credit
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Earn an unlimited 1.5% back on all your spending
- Average credit required
- Redeem rewards for cash back, statement credits and gift cards
- $39 annual fee
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. 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.
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.
FAQ about young adults managing credit cards
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.
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.