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Best Credit Cards For Young Adults

Of the hundreds of credit cards out there, only a select few are well-worth having in your wallet — if you can qualify. Here are our picks for the best credit cards for young adults taking into account our limited credit histories in our 20s can mean it’s sometimes harder to get approved.

So as a personal finance blogger who has a lot of personal experience with credit cards (both good and bad) I get the question “What are the best credit cards for young adults?” a lot. Or some variation:

  • I’m a recent high school or college graduate, what credit cards are right for me?
  • What’s a good first credit card?
  • And when should somebody get a first credit card anyway?

The best credit cards for young adults are cards that offer a good chance of approval without charging unnecessary fees.

Choosing a card for which to apply all depends whether you have already established credit or not. Do you already have at least one credit card? Do you have student loans? If you’re still unsure, check your credit score to find out what kinds of credit cards you’ll qualify for.

If you have no credit history, you’ll need to read up on building credit for the first time. In some cases you’ll need to get a special type of product called a secured credit card that works likes a debit card (with money you deposit in a bank account) but helps you build credit.

The best credit cards for young adults

Discover itTM

If you have excellent credit and want strong cash rewards, check out the Discover it Card, which offers unlimited cash back and up to 5% in rotating categories. Read our full review. Note that the Discover it card requires a strong credit history, but if you have it, the combination of cash rewards, low interest rates, top-rated customer service, and late payment forgiveness make it an ideal choice for people new to credit. I carried the earlier version of this card — the Discover More card — for about eight years in my twenties.

Discover it®

Great For: Cash back rewards in revolving categories like dining, travel or gas.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Average Approved Score: 711*

Lowest Approved Score: 676*

  • Fair. No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. Plus, pay up to midnight ET online or by phone on your due date without a fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won’t raise your APR.*
  • Generous. 5% cash back at Home Improvement Stores, Furniture Stores and Bed Bath & Beyond® on up to $1,500 in purchases from April through June 2014.*
  • Human. 100% U.S.-based customer service available any time.
  • Safe. Because you’re never responsible for unauthorized charges with our $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee.
  • Plus, free FICO® Credit Score on your monthly statement to help you stay on top of your credit.*
  • 0% Intro APR* on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%. A fee of 3% applies for each balance transferred.
  • *Click "Apply" to see rates, rewards, and free FICO® Credit Score terms and other information.
Intro APR Balance Transfer APR Regular APR Annual Fee
0% for 14 Months 0% for 14 Months 10.99% – 22.99%* Variable $0

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

The Citi Diamond Preferred Card is the credit card Lauren and I used for probably six or seven years before and shortly after we were married. It’s a basic credit card that features a low regular APR and generous 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Great For: Personalized concierge services and deals on entertainment.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Average Approved Score: 727*

Lowest Approved Score: 672*

  • Get 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers and Purchases for 18 months. After that, the APR will be 11.99%-21.99% based upon your creditworthiness.*
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer.
  • Citi® Easy Deals(SM) Get what you want for less. Earn Citi Easy Deals Points for the purchases you make with your card. Redeem your points for great online deals on name-brand merchandise, gift cards and even local deals.
  • Let our 24/7 concierge service help book your hotel rooms, flights and more.
  • Enjoy special access to presale tickets, preferred seating, VIP packages, and unique entertainment experiences through Citi Private Pass®.
  • $0 liability on unauthorized purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions
  • No annual fee*
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
0%*18 Months* 0%*18 Months* 11.99% – 21.99%* Variable $0*

Discover it® for Students

Are you a full-time student looking to establish healthy credit? Student credit cards are no different from other credit cards except that they are designed to approve applicants who are still in school (and don’t have as much credit history). Again, I like Discover’s product but you can’t go wrong with any of these credit cards designed for students. 

Discover it® for Students

Great For: Helping students build good credit history.

Credit Needed: Fair

Average Approved Score: 672*

Lowest Approved Score: 629*

  • Fair. No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won't increase your APR.*
  • Generous. 5% cash back at Home Improvement Stores, Furniture Stores and Bed Bath & Beyond® on up to $1,500 in purchases from April through June 2014.*
  • Human. Talk to a real person any time with 100% U.S.-based service.
  • Safe. Because you're never responsible for unauthorized purchases with our $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee.
  • Plus, free FICO® Credit Score on your monthly statement to help you stay on top of your credit.*
  • 0% intro APR* on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99%.*
  • *Click "Apply" to see rates, rewards and other information.
Intro APR Balance Transfer APR Regular APR Annual Fee
0% for 6 Months See Terms for See Terms 12.99% – 21.99%* Variable $0

If you don’t have well-established, excellent credit, here are two cards that offer a better chance of being approved and will get you on the road to top-notch credit.

Capital One® QuicksilverOneSM Cash Rewards Card

If you are starting to build credit, the Capital One® QuicksilverOneSM Credit Card provides a good chance of approval at a modest annual fee with a well-known national credit card bank. Even better, you’ll earn 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase with no rotating categories or other hoops to jump through. This card does feature a higher APR than others on this page, but is ideal if you’re going to pay your balance off in full each month to avoid finance charges.


Capital One® QuicksilverOneSM Cash Rewards Credit Card

Great For: Cash back rewards and low intro rates.

Credit Needed: Fair

Average Approved Score: 618*

Lowest Approved Score: 563*

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories and no sign ups needed to earn cash rewards
  • Redeem the cash back you earn for any amount, any time
  • No limit to the cash back you can earn
  • Your cash back doesn't expire
  • 0% intro APR on purchases until January 2015
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
0%until January 2015 N/AN/A 22.9%* Variable $39

Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard® – Average Credit
This card from Barclay’s is designed to provide a good rewards program to applicants with average credit. Note that you’ll need some credit history to get approved for this card, but if your credit falls short of the “good credit” category needed for other cards, this card will give you rewards on purchases, a 0% intro APR for 6 months, and no annual fee.

Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard® - Average Credit

Great For: Rewards for spending on gas and groceries

Credit Needed: Fair

Average Approved Score: 658*

Lowest Approved Score: 595*

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, grocery, and utility purchases and 1 point per $1 everywhere else
  • Use the points you earn like cash to pay for almost any purchases you've made.
  • No blackout date, no redemption fees, no limit on the points you can earn and no complicated set up.
  • Reports to all 3 major credit bureaus monthly providing you the opportunity to rebuild your credit score
  • Complimentary FICO® Scores as a benefit to active cardmembers. Opt-in to have instant and convenient access to FICO® Scores from your Barclaycard online account.
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
N/AN/A N/AN/A 24.99%* Variable $0

Not decided yet? See even more recommended credit cards »

What If I’m Under 21?

Good question. In 2010, the US Card Act created new laws designed to prevent some abusive practices in the credit card industry. Among these is a law that makes it more difficult for applicants under 21 to get a credit card. The law requires applicants under 21 to have a cosigner or prove their financial independence and ability to repay a debt. What this really means is, if you’re under 21, you should have either a cosigner or a documented income before apply for a credit card.

###

Disclaimer: One way I’m able to support my blogging while helping you is to link to products I like and earn a referral commission if you sign up. I only link to products I trust. That said, you should know that if you click the links to these cards and ultimately apply for and are approved for that card, I may be paid for that. If you choose to support Money Under 30 in that way, thanks!

*Credit Karma users have received approvals with these TransUnion New Account credit scores. These approval metrics are only guidelines and approval is not guaranteed.

Check your credit score for FREE (for real -- no CC required). Learn how here.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I agree with your choice of the Discover More card. I’ve had one for about five years now and love it. The extra 5% cash-back bonus that changes every three to four months is a nice feature as well.

  2. i want to build my credit im in the national guard and i only plan to use the card if i already have the money and for gas. so please help me becuase im trying to start a family and really you need to have credit to do that, thank you for listning.

    • David Weliver says:

      Hi Brian, if you have a little credit history the Discover More card is a good first card even if you don’t use it often, sometimes it requires a bit more credit history to get approval though. You might check out Capital One’s site as they offer some cards for applicants with little/no credit history, although some have annual fees.

      Another option is to check with USAA. They have cards with programs designed for the military, and their service is supposed to be excellent.

      https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/banking_credit_cards_main

  3. I’m going to be a freshman in college, in the fall and I’m hoping to get my first credit card to help pay for some of my expenses. My parents have excellent credit (not sure if that makes a difference), but I’m just not sure which card is the best option

  4. Hey David– thoroughly enjoy your website– especially the credit card information. Thank you for your insight. I am a 27 yr old graduate student and I’m wanting to establish some credit. I have not had a major credit card yet, just a department store one (which I’ve always paid on time) and a 4 yr car loan. I was hoping this credit would give me enough to get a Chase Freedom Cash Back card, but I was turned down. My credit report did not reflect my car payments (I’m currently trying to get that corrected), but now I’m hoping to get any form of credit card started. My out-of-state graduate school is expensive (aka my loans are large), but I WILL pay the balance every month and at age 27, will not abuse it in any way. I’m just 15 months from a real job and hopefully a home someday, etc. Should I still go for a “student” credit card? A secured credit card? Cash back would be nice, but I would rather not get turned down again. Any help would be great…….keep up the good work!

    Thanks!

    • David Weliver says:

      ST, two things to consider: If you have a checking account with a smaller bank or credit union, pop into a branch and ask about their credit cards options. They may not come with rewards, but they may be able to approve you for a no-fee, unsecured card that’ll get you started. The other option is the Orchard Bank card shown on this page. They approve people with a wide variety of credit situations, and offer a secured card as a back-up resort. Depending on their assessment of your credit, their may be an annual fee, but after a year or two with this card you should be able to get approved for another one and cancel the fee-charging one. Good luck.

  5. Catherine Walker says:

    Hey,

    I wanna thank you so much. Not only did your recommendations help me in finally figuring out my credit score but also helped me in getting all my student loans in order. I’m a newly graduated engineer and needed help finding and figuring out my credit and getting a credit card. You helped me understand all of what I needed to know to start working on my credit. I’ve recommended your website to all of my college buddies. Thank you again, I was so lost and you helped figure things out without trying to put me into more debit like what some banks and credit companies try to do. :-) :-)

  6. Is the Capital One MTV Visa card a good deal for a student with established credit and a score of 724?

    Thanks

  7. caroline says:

    I need advice on credit and what i should do in regards to credit cards. i just recently turned 18 and need to start building credit since i have no credit. so i applied for a capital one credit card, i got denied for my first application so i applied for another credit card the secured capital one credit card because i saw that it said it helps build credit. i should of done my research before even applying for any card but at the moment i was so eager to get one, which wasn’t good. I got approved for the secured credit card from capital one and paid the one time fee to get my card. I feel stupid in doing that because shortly after applying i found out that there was a student credit card journey from capital one which is much more convinient for me because of its rewards and there isnt annual fees like the secured card has. I called them and asked to see if i can switch to the journey card but they said no because they are not similar cards. I want to know if i should close the secured card from capital one and open up the journey card. But i dont want to hurt my credit score.

    • David Weliver says:

      Hi Caroline, It’s hard to know whether you would’ve been approved for the Journey card or any other card at 18 with no credit yet. Although the secured card has fees, it’s not a bad way to start building credit, and has the advantage of helping you begin using a credit card without the risk of going into debt right off the bat.

      If I were you I would keep the secured card for 6 months or a year and then apply for a second card—perhaps a student card if you’re a full-time college student (a requirement for these cards). After you get that second card you can cancel the secured card. Let us know how it works out.

  8. I’m 19 with no credit history and just got approved for an American Express Gold charge card. I’ve been told that’s kinda crazy. Just wondering what’s going on. Did I slip through the cracks?

  9. David,
    I love the Chase Amazon.com rewards card, it allows you to build up points that we have used for books (a regular expense for my wife who is in graduate school). Do you feel that using a credit card responsibly is the best way for a young person to build credit? I’ve heard that it is wisest to avoid credit cards and focus on making your rent/student loan payments on time. Your thoughts?

  10. Hey there! I am looking into applying for another credit card. I have one through wells fargo and I do have a credit history through a student loan I used via a smaller state bank and my current wells fargo cash back card. I am looking into Chase or Citibank. Which one will not ding me the most after the first year with interest? Which one has the best rewards? Thanks!

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