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.
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 seven 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
Our rating: 4.1 out of 5
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 matching a credit limit. Having a chance at such a high credit limit makes this card especially appealing for credit builders, as it will make it easier to keep your credit utilization – the ratio of your card balances to your credit limits – in check.
Plus, after eight months, Discover will review your account and, if you’ve been using your credit card responsibly, you may be able to “graduate” to an unsecured credit card. You’ll get your security deposit back and may be rewarded 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% 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 rewards on everyday expenses.
Best card for young adults who travel frequently
Our rating: 3.9 out of 5
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 toward 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%, 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 make the annual fee worth it, but it’s something to be aware of before you apply. You’ll also need good credit or better to qualify for this card, so it’s not the best choice if you’re just starting out with credit or working to repair your score.
See related: What is a good credit score?
Best card for young adults who travel for work
Our rating: 3.0 out of 5
Our take: If you’re after a taste of luxury travel and want the chance to earn points for both business and pleasure spending, the American Express Green card is worth a look.
A solid entry-level travel card, the American Express Green Card 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. It also comes with a great welcome bonus of 30,000 points for cardholders who spend $2,000 in their first three months, worth about $300 in travel booked through the American Express travel portal. You can also transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to a number of travel loyalty programs at select airlines and hotels at a 1:1 rate.
The card also stands out for its luxury travel perks, including annual credits of up to $100 for CLEAR biometric security screening and up to $100 for LoungeBuddy, which allows you to purchase day passes to airport lounges. Such perks should help young professionals breeze through security, escape the chaos of the airport and stay connected and productive on the go.
Along with requiring good to excellent credit to qualify, the American Express Green Card carries a $150 annual fee. If you don’t do much traveling or eating out or if you use transit services only rarely, it will be tough to make up the cost of the annual fee.
Best card for young adults who love dining out
Our rating: 4.8 out of 5
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% cash back on dining and entertainment, plus another 2% 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% cash back on tickets purchased through Vivid Seats through January 2022. 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 and requires a good to excellent credit score.
Best card for young adults with credit card debt
Our rating: 3.8 out of 5
Our take: One of the best cash back cards on the market, the Citi Double Cash card also offers one of the longest 0-percent balance transfer deals around.
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 debt. 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.
Not only can you use this card to chip away at debt, but you can also enjoy lasting value thanks to its terrific ongoing cash back rewards program. 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. This makes the Double Cash Card one of the best flat-rate cash back cards on the market and a smart long-term choice, even after you’ve taken advantage of its balance transfer offer.
Unfortunately, as with many balance transfer cards, the Citi Double Cash Card charges a balance transfer fee of 3% (or $5, whichever is higher). Be sure to use a balance transfer calculator and crunch the numbers to see if this makes financial sense for you.
You’ll also need excellent credit to qualify for the Citi Double Cash Card, so if your credit score has already taken a hit due to late payments or maxed-out cards, you may want to consider another option like a debt consolidation loan.
See related: How to consolidate credit card debt
Best card for young adults who want to finance a new purchase
Our rating: 4.4 out of 5
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 startup 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% introductory APR card that gives you time to pay off your balance interest-free.
If you have the good to excellent credit needed to qualify, the Wells Fargo Platinum card is an excellent choice, thanks to its 18-month 0% intro APR on both purchases and qualifying balance transfers, with an APR of 16.49% to 24.49% variable thereafter.
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. Just do your best to pay off your new purchases or transferred balance in full before the end of the promotion period to minimize interest charges, and make sure you pay at least the minimum due every month to avoid damaging your credit score.
Best card for young adults who are still in school
Our rating: 4.2 out of 5
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 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. 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% cash back on rotating categories that you enroll in each quarter – for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1% – so go ahead and buy all the study snacks you can afford. You’ll earn 1% 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. Just make sure you’re ready to use your card responsibly by paying on time and keeping your spending in check; otherwise, you could go from no credit score to a bad credit score.
See related: How to build credit as a college student
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 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.
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
- 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 Student Cash Back card, 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
Recap: Comparing the best cards for young adults
Here’s a quick breakdown of our top picks for credit cards for young adults. Whether you’re just getting started with credit, working to rebuild your score after a few missteps or are ready to take advantage of your top-notch credit history to earn rewards and luxury perks, you should find a card that fits your needs.
|Credit card||Best for||Minimum credit score||Annual fee|
|Discover it Secured||Those new to credit||No credit history||$0|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Travelers||Good||$95|
|American Express Green Card||Young professionals||Good||$150|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining rewards||Good||$95|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Paying off debt||Excellent||$0|
|Wells Fargo Platinum||Financing a purchase||Good||$0|
|Discover it Student Cash Back||Students||No credit history||$0|
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?
*Information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Platinum has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the card issuers. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Platinum are no longer available through CreditCards.com