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Best credit cards for college graduates

College graduates don't always know where to start when looking to establish strong credit and avoid debt, but this guide will help them on their way


Just graduated from college? This guide offers options to help you build a good credit score and avoid debt.

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Just finished school? Congrats! It wasn’t always easy, but you made it. As you get started on your credit journey, here are some of the best credit cards for college graduates, whether you’re starting a new job or are gearing up for more in grad school.

It is worth noting that, since the CARD Act went into effect in 2010, it has become difficult to get a credit card before turning 21. While it’s technically possible to get a credit card in your own name as long as you’re at least 18 years old and have proof of income, lenders are much stricter now.

New high school grads who aren’t yet 18 and have no income should go for a secured credit card or become an authorized user on a parent’s (or any trustworthy adult’s) credit card. This can jump-start credit history and teach valuable lessons in good credit habits.

New college graduates, on the other hand, have more options because many are at least 21. For those with no credit history, opting for a student credit card can help establish healthy credit habits and steadily increase credit scores. New college graduates with some credit history will benefit from even more options.

Whichever credit history pool you fall into, check out our picks for the best credit cards for college graduates to narrow down the possible choices.

Petal 2 ‘Cash Back, No Fees’ Visa Credit Card: Best for limited credit

Why we picked it: Perhaps you don’t have a credit score or it’s still relatively low because your credit profile is slim. In that case, we recommend the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card. The Petal 2 Credit Card offers a rewards structure that incentivizes responsible card usage, which can train you to become a responsible cardholder.

To start, the card earns 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases. This rate will increase to 1.25 percent cash back on eligible purchases after you make six monthly payments on time, then again to 1.5 percent on eligible purchases after 12 on-time, monthly payments.


  • Petal uses an algorithm to analyze income and payment history when deciding whether to approve applicants with no credit history
  • Up to 1.5 percent cash back on eligible purchases
  • No fees, including no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR and more
  • Up to $10,000 credit limit


  • High regular APR of 18.24 percent to 32.24 percent variable
  • Unsecured credit card could foster bad credit habits

Who should apply: Students or new grads who have no credit history or a lower score should consider this card. It’s also a great first unsecured credit card for someone who spends modestly but would like to earn some rewards.

Who should skip: Anyone with a fair credit score could qualify for a card with better rewards and more perks. Those who still need to build good credit habits should opt for a secured card instead.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best secured card

Why we picked it: Secured cards that offer rewards aren’t that common, but recently, more products of this type have been coming to the market. One such product is the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, which has long been one of the best secured credit cards out there. With the Discover it Secured Card in your wallet, you can earn 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1 percent) and 1 percent cash back on other purchases.

After the first seven months, Discover will review your account monthly to determine whether you qualify for graduation to an unsecured card. If you do upgrade, you will get your deposit back.


  • Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of the first year
  • Earns cash back rewards even as a secured card
  • No annual fee, foreign transaction fees or penalty APR
  • $200 minimum security deposit


  • High APR at 28.24 percent variable
  • Cash back on 2 percent categories capped at $1,000 per quarter
  • Initial credit limit is capped at $2,500

Who should apply: Cardholders with absolutely no experience with credit cards should start with a secured card to build positive payment habits, such as paying off their bills in full, on time and every month.

Who should skip: Young people who already have some experience with credit and prefer higher credit limits to bring down their credit utilization ratio should consider a different card.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best student card

Why we picked it: The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card is perfect for anyone continuing their education as a graduate student. Like other student cards, it has more relaxed approval requirements and generally accepts those with no credit. This card is best for people continuing their education because it will ask for proof of enrollment in an educational institution.

Its main attraction is its generous rewards structure which provides 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery store purchases (excludes superstores such as Target and Walmart) and 1 percent cash back on other purchases. The Capital One SavorOne can also serve as a travel card, thanks to its 5 percent cash back on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel, and is a decent entertainment card, earning 8 percent cash back on tickets purchased in the Capital One Entertainment portal.


  • Unlimited 3 percent cash back on everyday categories perfect for students
  • $50 cash bonus if you spend $100 within three months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees, penalty APR or annual fee
  • Flexible cash back redemption options


  • APR at 19.99 percent to 29.99 percent variable
  • Grocery store category excludes superstores such as Target and Walmart

Who should apply: Grad students with some credit experience but not enough to have good or higher credit scores should apply. The Capital One SavorOne is also great for those wanting to earn solid cash back on everyday spending without having to pay attention to rotating categories.

Who should skip: New grads with no credit history and those who may be tempted to overspend due to the card’s rewards should avoid this card.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for fair credit

Why we picked it: Young adults with fair credit should check out the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. This card offers unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases and 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel. This simple rewards structure is great for those just starting their credit card journey. Capital One will also consider you for a credit limit increase after the first six months of on-time payments.

The only caveat is the card’s $39 annual fee, which could eat into your cash back rewards. Still, if you put most, or all, of your spending on the Capital One QuicksilverOne, your rewards could eclipse that annual fee.


  • Unlimited cash back
  • Automatic review for a higher credit limit after six months of timely payments
  • Access and monitor your credit score with CreditWise


  • $39 annual fee
  • High APR at 30.74 percent variable

Who should apply: Anyone with fair credit or who needs to improve their credit and doesn’t have the time to pay too much attention to rewards.

Who should skip: Those with good or higher credit scores could earn more rewards per dollar with a different card. If you have poor credit, you shouldn’t apply either. The hard pull will only hurt your score, and your chances of approval are slim.

Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best starter travel card

Why we picked it: New grads usually have two goals on their minds: earning money and paying off student debt. However, those who graduated not only with a degree but also with a good credit score may think about getting a travel credit card. In that case, the Chase Freedom Unlimited* is a great card.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 5 percent cash back on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel, 5 percent cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2025), 3 percent cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases. It also has a sign-up bonus of $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.



  • 3 percent foreign transaction fees

Who should apply: Young, working adults with good credit should apply for this card. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is perfect for people looking for a gateway into Chase Ultimate Rewards without paying an annual fee.

Who should skip: If you’re still struggling to establish healthy credit habits, you should go for a different card.

Comparing the best credit cards for college graduates

Unsecured or secured? Cash back or points? To young adults who’ve never had a credit card, all the options can feel overwhelming. See how all our recommended cards compete in the table below.

CardCredit score neededRewards rateAnnual fee
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit CardNo credit history
  • N/A
Discover it® Secured Credit CardNo credit history
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit CardNo credit history
  • 8% cash back on tickets at the Capital One Entertainment portal
  • 5% cash back on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel
  • 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores such as Walmart and Target)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit CardFair credit
  • 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 1.5% cash back on every purchase
Chase Freedom UnlimitedGood credit
  • 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2025)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases

How to choose a credit card as a college graduate

Before we talk about picking a card, it’s crucial to highlight the importance of paying your credit card bills in full and on time. With the average credit card interest rate north of 20 percent (at the time of writing), it’s more expensive than ever to carry a balance.

Many young adults shy away from credit cards for this reason. They generally prefer debit cards and often use “buy now pay later” services such as Affirm and Afterpay when needing a little more time to pay off a purchase (hopefully without interest). However, credit cards offer better buyer protection, and there’s tremendous rewards potential.

Before applying for one of the above credit cards, ask yourself the following questions so that your credit card matches your current lifestyle.

  • What is your credit score? Some students may be authorized users and not even know. Some have no credit history at all and don’t know how to start. The first step is to find out what your credit score is with a credit card issuer that offers free credit scores. You should also check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Should you get an unsecured card? For students with no credit history, we encourage you to choose a secured credit card to establish healthy credit habits and to get used to paying bills on time and in full. As for young cardholders who already have experience with credit, you should choose a card targeted toward your credit score range.
  • Cash back or points? Most cards for poor or fair scores offer either no rewards or only cash back. If your score falls in those ranges, there’s no shame in going for one of those cards. However, if you have a good score and want to explore travel rewards, you should opt for points.
  • Is the annual fee worth it? For those new to credit, an annual fee can be difficult to fit into your budget. However, if the rewards are generous enough, sometimes the annual fee is worth the initial expense. Calculate how many rewards you’d earn in a year, based on the card’s rewards structure and your estimated yearly expenditure. If you can easily recoup the annual fee, then the card is worth adding to your wallet.

Bottom line

You won’t get rich off the rewards on most of these cards, but that’s not the point. When you’re new to credit, it’s all about establishing a strong track record of on-time payments while avoiding too much debt. Even if you just put an occasional small purchase on the card and pay it off right away, you’re making progress toward a good credit score, which will serve you well in the future.

The best card for you is one that earns you rewards in categories that you already spend in and doesn’t tempt you into overspending. If you stay focused on staying within your budget and paying off your purchases in full and on time, you will set your financial health up for success.

*Information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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