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Student credit cards and young credit

Best credit cards for young adults

Building credit is an important part of young adulthood, but the right credit card depends on how you plan to use it – and where you are in your credit journey

Summary

Whether you’re new to credit, seeking to finance a new purchase, pay down some debt or get rewarded on your spending, we have top card recommendations for you.

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Building credit is an important part of adulthood. Establishing good credit when you’re young can set you up for lower interest rates on everything from car loans to mortgages and can even make you a more attractive candidate to both landlords and potential employers . Plus, learning how to use credit responsibly now can save you a lifetime’s worth of money in late fees and interest payments. And, if you have the right credit card, you can get rewarded for your spending.

But which credit card is right for you? We’ve picked six of the best credit cards for young adults, each designed for different types of cardholders. Take a look at our list of credit cards, then learn how to compare card offers and choose the best card for this next phase of your life.

Best card for young adults who are new to credit

Discover it® Secured

Our rating: 4.1 out of 5
Score required: No credit history
Type of card: Secured
Spending categories: Gas, restaurants

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  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Automatically matches all the cash you’ve earned at the end of your first year 

Our take: The Discover it Secured card is one of your best bets for building credit – it doesn’t charge an annual fee, plus you can make a profit in the first year thanks to the card’s cash back program.

If you need a card to help you build your credit, the Discover it Secured card is an excellent choice. Whether you’re new to credit or working to fix some early credit mistakes, this card will provide a secure base from which to establish good credit habits and improve your credit score.

You’ll start by putting down a security deposit between $200 and $2,500 in exchange for a line of credit matching your deposit. After eight months, Discover will review your account and, if you’ve been using your credit card responsibly, will return your security deposit and reward you with a higher credit limit.

This card gets you access to cash back rewards as well, from your very first day as a cardholder – and when you finish your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match all of the cash you’ve earned in rewards. With 2 percent cash back on up to $1,000 in gas station and restaurant purchases every quarter, plus Discover’s famous Cashback Match at the end of your first year, the Discover it Secured card is a great way to learn how to use credit while also earning cash on everyday expenses.

Best card for young adults who travel frequently

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our rating: 3.9 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Travel
Spending categories: Travel, dining

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  • 2X points on travel and dining
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 

Our take: If you’re a frequent traveler and diner, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card can help you rack up a lot flexible points that you can use toward free travel.

If you plan on doing a lot of travel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card will help you reach your destinations. This card rewards travel and restaurant spending, making it an ideal card for people who like to book both airfare and dine out. Plus, it comes with an outstanding sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus points for cardholders who spend $4,000 in their first three months, which is the equivalent of $750 towards travel when you redeem the points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Although there are a number of different ways to redeem your points, including 1:1 transfers to travel loyalty programs at select airlines and hotels, you’ll get the best return on your Chase Sapphire Preferred points if you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Points redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards increase in value by 25 percent, giving you one more reason to use those points to book your next trip.

Unlike some of the other cards on this list, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with a $95 annual fee. In many cases, the value of the rewards you earn will cancel out the cost of the annual fee, but it’s something to be aware of before you apply.

Best card for young adults who love dining out

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our rating: 4.8 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Cash back
Spending categories: Dining, groceries

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  • 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats (through May 2020)
  • 4% cash back on dining and entertainment
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores
  • 1% on all other purchases
  • Statement credit for Postmates Unlimited membership (through December 2019)
  • $300 cash back if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 

Our take: The Capital One Savor card offers a very rewarding cash back program for foodies and frequent restaurant goers.

 

If you’re more of a foodie than a frequent flyer, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card may be the right choice for you. You’ll earn unlimited 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment, plus another 2 percent cash back at grocery stores. That’s a good incentive to try out that new restaurant – or that new recipe.

If you want to take in dinner and a concert, show or sporting event, the Savor Cash Rewards card is offering 8 percent cash back on tickets purchased through Vivid Seats through May 2020. If you spent $200 on tickets, for example, you’d get $16 back. In a world where concert and event tickets are getting more and more expensive, this is a really great deal.

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the Savor Cash Rewards card comes with a $95 annual fee. However, this fee is waived for the first year – so feel free to use that money to buy a few extra rounds of appetizers.

Best card for young adults with credit card debt

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Our rating: 4.5 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Balance transfer
Spending categories: Rotating

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  • 0% intro APR on qualifying balance transfers for 18 months (13.74% – 24.74% variable thereafter)
  • 5% cash back on rotating categories that you must activate each quarter ($1,500 limit on purchases per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Automatically matches all the cash you’ve earned at the end of your first year

Our take: A good value for cardholders who need to transfer a balance but don’t want to give up earning new rewards, the Discover it Balance Transfer card pairs a generous balance transfer promotion with a solid first year bonus.

 

It’s easier to get into credit card debt than many people realize – and it’s hard to get out of it, especially if you’re racking up significant interest every month. That’s where the Discover it Balance Transfer card comes in. Transfer your existing credit card balances to this card, and you’ll get 18 months to pay them off, interest-free. You’ll also get a six-month 0 percent intro APR on new purchases (13.74 percent – 24.74 percent variable thereafter), to give you a chance to get back on track with your finances.

Plus, you’ll earn cash back on all of your purchases, including 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that you enroll in each quarter for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You’ll also receive Discover’s Cashback Match at the end of your first year as a cardholder. If you earn $500 in rewards over the course of your first year, for example, Discover will give you another $500. Spend that money on anything you like – or put it toward the debt you’re trying to pay off.

Best card for young adults who want to finance a new purchase

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Our rating: 4.4 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Balance transfer
Spending categories: N/A

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  • 0% intro APR on qualifying balance transfers for 18 months (17.24%-26.74% variable thereafter)
  • 0% intro APR on new purchases for 18 months (17.24%-26.74% variable thereafter) 

Our take: With the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa, you can finance a large purchase for more than a year without owing any interest on it, thanks to the card’s 18-month 0% introductory period for new purchases.

 

Being a young adult often comes with a lot of start-up costs. You might need money for a new professional wardrobe, for example, or to furnish a new apartment. Maybe you need to cover the costs of a move – or a marriage. If you’re going to put these types of expenses on credit, it’s best to choose a 0 percent intro APR card that gives you time to pay off your balance interest-free. The Wells Fargo Platinum card, with its 18-month 0 percent intro APR on both purchases and qualifying balance transfers (17.24 percent – 26.74 percent variable thereafter), is an excellent choice.

This is also a good choice for people who are trying to pay down debt, by the way. Wells Fargo’s 18-month intro APR on balance transfers matches the Discover it Balance Transfer card. They’re both no-annual-fee credit cards, too. The difference here is that you won’t earn any cash back on the Wells Fargo Platinum card – in fact, it’s the only card on this list that doesn’t offer any rewards at all.

So, if you’re looking to earn rewards on your purchases, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. But if you want to pay off your purchases without paying interest, you’ve come to the right place.

Best card for young adults who are still in school

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Our rating: 4.2 out of 5
Score required: No credit history
Type of card: Student
Spending categories: Rotating

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  • 5% cash back on rotating categories that you must activate each quarter ($1,500 limit on purchases per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Automatically matches all the cash you’ve earned at the end of your first year 

Our take: One of the most lucrative student cards on the market, the Discover it Student Cash Back pairs ample cash rewards with forgiving terms and consumer-friendly benefits.

If you’re working on your degree, why not work on building your credit at the same time? The Discover it Student Cash Back card is designed for students with no credit history, and it offers you an opportunity to learn how to use credit while you complete your college education. Plus, you’ll earn cash back rewards.

The Discover it Student Cash Back card comes with a number of benefits, including no annual fee and no late fee on your first missed payment. (We hope it’ll be your only missed payment, of course.) You can also earn 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that you enroll in each quarter – such as grocery stores and restaurants for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter – so go ahead and buy all the study snacks you can afford. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases, as well as a $20 Good Grade Reward every year you keep your GPA above a 3.0 (for up to 5 years). If it’s your first year as a cardholder, you’ll also get Discover’s famous Cashback Match.

This is one of the best student credit cards on the market, so see if you can fit the credit card application into your class schedule.

How to choose the right credit card

When you’re trying to decide whether a credit card is right for you, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What am I hoping to get out of this credit card?
    A better credit score? Rewards for travel spending? An opportunity to pay down debt? Knowing what you want from a credit card will help you narrow down your options.
  • Is this credit card designed for people who spend like me? If a credit card offers a bonus for cardholders who spend $4,000 in three months, for example, ask yourself if that matches your current spending habits. If a card offers rewards on restaurants, ask yourself how many times you dine out every month. If a card comes with a $95 annual fee, ask yourself whether you can afford that payment.
  • Can I get this card with my current credit score? If you don’t already know your credit score, you might be able to find out through your bank—but you can also use our CardMatch service to learn more about which cards are best for people with your credit history.

How to apply and get approved for your first card

Credit card applications are relatively simple. You’ll need to provide some basic personal information, such as your name, your address, your Social Security Number and your current income level. Once you fill out your application – which should only take a minute or two to complete – the credit card company will take a look at your credit history. This allows them to learn more about your previous credit use and determine whether you are likely to be a good match for their card.

There are a few things you can do to boost your odds of approval:

  • Find a card that matches your credit range – Use a free service to check your score online and then search for cards that match the range that you fall into – you’re much more likely to be approved for these cards.

Credit score ranges

Needs work300-579
Fair580-669
Good670-739
Excellent740-850
  • Consider building your credit before applying – If you don’t fall into the range of your desired card, you might apply for a secured card first to build up your credit history. Or, ask a family member to add you as an authorized user to one of their credit cards to instantly establish your credit history.
  • Ensure that your credit card application is complete – Make sure that all the information that you provide on your application is accurate, and don’t forget to include any of your side income.
  • Don’t apply for too many cards at once – Applying for new credit affects your credit score. Usually it’s a minor, temporary drop, but if you apply for too much credit at once, your score could take a more serious hit.
  • Check for prequalified offers – If you’re worried about your approval odds, you should check the issuer’s website directly to see if they offer a tool for prequalified offers – this can lower your risk of being rejected.

How to make the most of your first card

Once you’ve received your new credit card, it’s time to start using it! Here are a few tips to make the most of your rewards and avoid some common pitfalls:

  • Add the card to your physical or mobile wallet right away, so it’ll be available when you make purchases.
  • If your card comes with a sign-up bonus that’s tied to a certain spending level (like “$300 bonus cash if you spend $3,000 in the first three months”), make sure you spend the money within the time period to earn your bonus – it’s a use it or lose it offer, and you don’t want to lose it.
  • Once you’ve earned the sign-up bonus, consider rotating it with other cards to maximize the card’s bonus categories. If you have both the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards card, for example, you might want to use the Chase card for travel purchases and the Capital One card for restaurant purchases.
  • If you have a credit card that offers quarterly rotating rewards, like the Discover it Balance Transfer or Student Cash Back cards, make sure you activate your rewards every quarter to avoid losing out on cash back.
  • Practice responsible credit card habits. Try to pay your statement on time and in full every month, to avoid interest charges and late fees. If you end up carrying a balance one month, pay it off as soon as possible to avoid getting caught in revolving debt. A history of on-time payments and low credit card balances is great for your credit score.

See related: Tips for getting that first credit card

Final thoughts

Credit cards can be intimidating, but don’t let that put you off from applying for a card that can help you earn rewards, boost your credit or help you cover the costs of young adult life. The more you use credit cards, the more comfortable you’ll feel using them – so why not get started?

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Published: September 13, 2019

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: October 16th, 2019
Business
15.18%
Airline
17.11%
Cash Back
17.25%
Reward
17.13%
Student
17.29%

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