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Best credit cards for young adults in 2021

Building credit is an important part of young adulthood, but the right credit card depends on how you plan to use it

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 content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

My colleague recently shared with me a question he’d received from our reader, Diana:

“Can you give me a clue of which credit card would be best for me? I am trying to build my credit to buy a home in the future. My score went up 34 points, I’m happy about that. My score’s at 654 right now. I would like a credit card with a low interest rate if possible. What would you recommend? I only have one credit card with a $300 credit limit. I’m almost finished paying it off. I only have a $100 left to pay.”

As for the best card for you, I often get this kind of question from my friends – especially those in their twenties, who are either just starting out to build their credit or working on improving it after a few mistakes they’ve made. Since I’m a big credit card nerd, I love helping them out – and I’ll gladly help you out too.

In this article, I’m going to share the best credit cards for young adults, whether they’ve reached the good credit threshold or, like Diana, are only just getting there.

Ask Ana a question.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Best for young adults with low credit scores

Why we picked it

Many young people may find it hard to qualify for many credit cards when they’re just starting their credit journey or if their credit scores are on the low side. In this case, a secured credit card is a good option. It’s called “secured” because you need to secure it with a deposit to get approved. Typically, the deposit becomes your credit line.

My recommendation here is the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. I may be a bit biased because this was the secured credit card I’d chosen, but I couldn’t be happier with it. The initial security deposit is low (up to $200, depending on your credit), and you get a $200 credit line to start.

Pros

Cons

  • This card offers no rewards program.

Who should apply?

Who should skip?

  • If your credit is already in good shape you could probably benefit from another card that offers rewards.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for students

Why we picked it

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 a starter credit card 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.  In addition, the card comes with a six-month 0% intro APR for purchases, then a variable APR of 12.99% – 21.99% will apply. Plus, you’ll earn cash back rewards.

Pros

  • It comes with no annual fee and no late fee on your first missed payment.
  • You’ll get a six-month 0% intro APR on purchases.
  • You’ll also earn 5% cash back on rotating categories that you enroll in each quarter – for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1%. You’ll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • If it’s your first year as a cardholder, you’ll also get Discover’s famous Cashback Match.
  • You will have access to your free FICO score.

Cons

  • The rewards program is rather complicated.

Who should apply?

Who should skip?

Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for flat-rate cash back

Why we picked it

When you’re in good credit territory, more credit card possibilities become open to you, including cash back credit cards.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited can help you enter the world of Chase Ultimate Rewards, one of the most valuable reward currencies in the credit card market. This means that you can use your cash back as points that can take you far if you love traveling. Further down the road, as your scores improve, you can get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve and get even more value out of your rewards, as well as some amazing travel perks.

Pros

  • You’ll get 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022), 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and 1.5% cash back on everything else. You’ll also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • You’ll get a sign-up bonus of $200 when you spend $500 within the first three months.
  • The card comes with a 0% intro APR on new purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (14.99% to 24.74% variable thereafter).

Cons

  • You’ll pay a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Who should apply?

  • Good candidates for this card include frequent Lyft users, those who are looking for a good all-purpose cash back card and those who want to earn Ultimate Rewards without paying an annual fee.

Who should skip?

Discover it® Cash Back: Best for bonus cash back

Why we picked it

If you are in the fair credit territory, I’d like to also recommend Discover it Cash Back. Technically, it requires a good credit score, but I was able to get it with a FICO score of 660 based on Experian data. Although that might have something to do with the fact that I also have a savings account with Discover, it’s still proof that you may have a chance to get approved with fair credit (in this case, a score of 670+).

Like the student version of the card, the Discover it Cash Back earns 5% back in rotating categories after activation (up to $1,500 in spend per quarter, then 1%). The Discover cash back calendar stays rather consistent, but the issuer may change things occasionally.

Pros

  • You’ll earn 5% back in rotating categories after activation (up to $1,500 in spend per quarter, then 1%).
  • Discover matches the cash back you’ve earned at the end of the year.
  • You won’t pay an annual fee.

Cons

  • The 5% cash back is limited to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter.

Who should apply?

Who should skip?

  • Those who don’t like keeping track of and enrolling in bonus categories should probably choose another card.

American Express® Green Card: Best for young professionals who travel for work

Why we picked it

When you reach a good credit score, it can be a good time to consider a travel credit card.

The American Express Green Card can be a good entry-level travel card. It offers bonus points on travel, restaurant and transit spending (including ride-share services like Uber and Lyft), making it a great choice if you enjoy going out after a long day at work.

Pros

  • It also comes with a welcome bonus of 45,000 points for cardholders who spend $2,000 on purchases in their first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to several travel loyalty programs at select airlines and hotels at a 1:1 rate.
  • There is no limit on the number of points you can earn, and points don’t expire.

Cons

  • It comes with a $150 annual fee.

Who should apply?

  • This card is good for those who travel frequently for work and cardholders who travel but want to earn points while sticking to a budget.

Who should skip?

Wells Fargo Platinum card: Best for financing a new purchase (no longer available)

Why we picked it

Let me tell you something: Being in your twenties is expensive. 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.

Luckily, for this kind of expense, there’s a 0% introductory APR card that gives you time to pay off your balance interest-free. You’ll get 18 months of no interest from account opening on both purchases and qualifying balance transfers, with an APR of 16.49% to 24.49% variable thereafter.

Pros

Cons

  • There is no rewards program on offer.
  • You must have good to excellent credit to qualify.

Who should apply?

  • Those looking for a long period to pay down debt will get it with this card.

Who should skip?

  • If you’re looking to earn rewards on your purchases, look elsewhere.

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for young adults paying down credit card debt

Why we picked it

One of the biggest credit card fears is that of credit card debt. It’s easier to get into credit card debt than many people realize. And given how high credit card interest rates can get, it can be very hard to get out of. That’s where the Citi Double Cash Card comes in. Transfer your existing credit card balances to this card, and you’ll get 18 months to pay them off, interest-free (variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% thereafter).

Pros

  • It comes with an 18-month balance transfer intro offer.
  • You’ll get up to 2% cash back: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay off those purchases, with no need to track spending or enroll in rotating bonus categories.
  • There is no annual fee.

Cons

  • It charges an intro balance transfer fee of 3% (or $5, whichever is higher) for balance transfers completed within the first four months of account opening. After that, the fee is 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
  • Rewards expire if you don’t use the card in more than 12 months.
  • Rewards require a $25 minimum redemption.

Who should apply?

  • Those who have good to excellent credit will likely get approved.
  • If you need some more time to pay off a large balance transfer, this could be the card for you.

Who should skip?

  • If your credit score has already taken a hit due to late payments or maxed-out cards, you may want to consider another option.
  • Those who don’t like waiting for rewards until purchases are paid off might not love the rewards structure.

How to choose the right credit card

When you’re trying to decide whether a credit card is right for you, ask yourself these 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 the CardMatch tool to see cards that are a good fit based on your credit profile. Additionally, you may be able to take advantage of preapproval or prequalification via an issuer’s website to see if you have a good chance of being approved for a specific credit card.

Bottom line

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 a large purchase. The more you use credit cards, the more comfortable you’ll feel about them.

*All information about the American Express Green Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Wells Fargo Platinum card is no longer available.

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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Credit Card Rate Report
Business
14.16%
Airline
15.46%
Cash Back
16.08%
Reward
15.88%
Student
16.78%

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