Throughout the entire year, but especially just after the holiday season and immediately after New Years, I get asked this question:
“What are the best credit cards for young adults?”
Or I get asked this:
- I’m a recent college graduate. What’s the best starter credit card for me?
- What’s the best first credit card to get?
- I’m a young professional with some credit history. I need a credit card for business travel—what should I get?
As a publisher of Money Under 30, I’m happy to dive in to answer the question. But more importantly, I want to really share with you not only the answer – that is which are the best credit cards for young adults and new credit card users – but also why.
The why is just as important in my book.
How I came up with the list of the top 10 credit cards for young adults
I’ve been covering credit and credit cards for over 10 years. When choosing the best credit cards for young adults, I looked for cards that:
- Offer better-than-average approval odds for consumers with shorter credit histories. (This is based upon issuer-provided guidelines and Money Under 30 data from readers who click from our Website to apply for a credit card.)
- Reward spending in categories most popular with our readers such as dining, travel or Amazon purchases
- Do not charge excessive fees
Where appropriate, I selected rewards cards with programs that reward any spending level—not just someone who can charge thousands a month to their card. I also tried to stick to cards with no annual fees, although there are two exceptions.
Overview: Best credit cards for young adults
In the event you don’t have much of a credit history yet, shopping for cards can be frustrating. You find a great credit card, only to be declined. If the most rewarding credit cards are still out of reach, there are still very good credit cards designed for consumers with average or limited credit.
|Card||Best for:||Minimum Credit Score Required|
|Jasper Mastercard®||New to credit/no credit||New to credit|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Premium Travel Rewards||Excellent/good (700+)|
|Discover It® Cash Back||Cash Back|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and Entertainment|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Grocery store purchase|
|Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Cash Back||Average/fair/limited (600 – 699)
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||No Annual Fee|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Students|
|Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa with Cash Back Rewards||Cash Back—No Security Deposit||Poor (300 – 599)|
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard®||First Credit Card—Credit Builder|
Best credit cards for young adults — new to credit/no credit
- New to Credit
What we like:
Helpful for young professionals in the U.S. who are new to credit and building credit from scratch
No Social Security Number² required to apply if you are new to the US and in the country on a work visa
No annual fee³, no security deposit, and no foreign transaction fees
- *Jasper Legal Disclosure:
- ² No SSN is required to apply for applicants who are new to the U.S. and are in the country on a work visa. SSN is required within 60 days of card activation. Card can only be activated from within the US.
- ³Review the Jasper fee schedule
The Jasper Mastercard® is designed for new borrowers. You don’t need a credit history to apply if you don’t already have one and your monthly activity will be reported to both Equifax and TransUnion. Jasper Mastercard® uses technology to determine your credit limit, considering factors such as past and present employment, not just credit history. This is how they can offer up to a $5,000 credit limit even to customers who are new to credit.
Once you have the card, pay your bill on time each month and the information will be reported to Equifax and TransUnion, strengthening your credit score. The Jasper Mastercard® can even help with that. Just pay your bill on time or set up automated installments to make sure you never miss a payment.
Jasper also offers a straightforward 1% cash back on all eligible purchases, and you’ll earn that cash back as an automatic credit to your Jasper account each month (as long as your account is active and in good standing).
The APR on purchases is relatively low: 15.49% - 24.99% Variable and there’s no annual fee³ to keep your costs low. You can also earn a reward for each friend you refer to the card, upon approval and card activation. Terms apply.
Learn more: See card details/apply.
*Jasper Legal Disclosure
² No SSN is required to apply for applicants who are new to the U.S. and are in the country on a work visa. SSN is required within 60 days of card activation. Card can only be activated from within the US.
³Review the Jasper fee schedule
Details: Best credit cards for young adults—good credit
The very best credit card offers look to attract new creditworthy customers with promotions like cash sign-up bonuses, 0% intro APRs and generous rewards programs.
These cards require good or excellent credit, which means you will need to:
- Have had open loan and credit card accounts for five years or more
- Have had no late payments in the last two years
- Have not applied for credit more than twice in the last year
What we like:
A monster of an up-front bonus. 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
2x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining at restaurants, worldwide
Points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is definitely one of our favorite travel rewards cards, but don’t apply unless you’re a big spender (and a big traveler).
First the good. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. On top of that, you can get a whopping 80,000 sign up bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s a $1,000 travel value – the highest in the business.
Here’s the kicker. There’s a $95 annual fee. You really need to be a big spender to make this card worth your while. If you want to avoid the annual fee, we recommend looking at the alternative cards here. But if you’re living large, this is the perfect card for you.
Discover it® Cash Back
My top cash back credit card pick for young adults is the Discover it® Cash Back.
The Discover it® Cash Back requires good credit but, if you have it, offers benefits that are hard to beat: Generous cash rewards, reasonable interest rates, top-rated US-based customer service, awesome account apps, and late payment forgiveness. I carried an earlier version of this card—the Discover More card—in my twenties and was blown away by Discover’s customer service.
You’ll get a See Terms intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for See Terms. After the intro rate expires, the ongoing APR becomes See Terms.
The Discover it® Cash Back also gives you 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon and more—up to $1,500 every quarter you activate plus unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Even better, you could turn $200 into $400 with the end of year match. Discover it® Cash Back will automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year (new cardmembers only). This sign-up bonus is potentially a lot more valuable than the others seen on no-annual fee (between $100 and $200) if you’ll spend a lot the first year.
Discover it® Cash Back’s category for October, November, and December 2020
For this quarter of 2020 – (October, November, December) – Discover it® Cash Back’s rotating categories are Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com. You’ll earn 5% cashback on up to $1,500 in purchases.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Disclaimer – The information about the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by MoneyUnder30.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
With the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card you can save big on dining and entertainment, plus you can snag an impressive cash sign-up bonus.
The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment. You’ll also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
If that wasn’t enough, the card has a $300 sign-up bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. That’s just as good as the best sign-up bonus credit cards out there.
For these robust rewards package, you will have to pay a price. The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card’s annual fee is $95
What we like:
Earn a $200 cash bonus after spending $500 in the first three months.
5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year and an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; then a variable APR of 14.99% – 23.74%
- Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
- No annual fee
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
With Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you get a signup bonus of $200 when you spend $500 in the first three months of opening your account. You’ll also get 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months. But the real benefits are in the rewards.
Chase welcomes you with plenty of thank-you gifts with the signup bonus, but that first year also gives you another enticing bonus of 5% cash back on every dollar you spend on groceries, up to $12,000. The cash back doesn’t include purchases at Walmart or Target, but you will earn 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Also, if you own a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card, you can transfer your points to that card for additional savings. Just spend your points in the Chase Travel Center to increase your cash back to as much as 7.5% on your grocery purchases.
There’s also no annual fee for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, so as long as you pay your balance off each month, you can sit back and enjoy fee-free cash back for many years to come.
Details: Best credit cards for young adults—average/limited credit
Average credit usually means that you have:
- Had open loan and credit card accounts for three years or more
- Had no more than one late payment in the last year
- Not applied for credit more than twice in the last six months.
If you have some credit history or average credit due to a few missed payments, here are some cards to consider:
What we like:
1.5% cash back on all purchases
Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
No foreign transaction fees and a modest $39 annual fee
If you are starting to build credit, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card provides a good chance of approval with a modest annual fee (waived the first year) and a generous 1.5% cash back.
With the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase with no rotating categories or 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 in full each month to avoid finance charges.
What we like:
Only average / fair / limited credit is required for approval
Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
No annual fee or foreign transaction fees
The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a great basic credit card with no annual fee for applicants with average or limited credit.
If you have a little bit of credit history (or a fair one that you want to improve), the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is an ideal starter credit card. You won’t earn rewards with this card, but there’s no annual fee to worry about, either.
One of the great things about Capital One is that they offer cards like this and great prime rewards cards. So if you start with a Platinum card and use it responsibly for a while, you may be able to upgrade your account.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
If you’re in college, the Discover it® Student Cash Back is an excellent first credit card, offering all the amazing benefits of a Discover card with an increased chance of approval.
With the no-annual-fee Discover it® Student Cash Back, you will get 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon and more—up to $1,500 every quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. You can also earn a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the first five years.
Discover it® Student Cash Back also comes with an intro See Terms APR on purchases for See Terms . After that the ongoing APR becomes See Terms.
Details: Best first credit cards—no security deposit
If you’ve never had a credit card or loan before, a secured credit card offers your best chance of approval.
If you have no credit or very limited credit, 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 like a debit card (with money you deposit in a bank account) but helps you build credit.
What we like:
1% cash back on all eligible purchases
No annual fee. Terms Apply
No security deposit required; and your credit score is not affected when you pre-qualify
- See if you Pre-Qualify in less than 60 seconds–without affecting your credit score. It's fast, easy, and secure.
- Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV. Terms apply.
- This is a fully functional, unsecured credit card–not a debit card, prepaid card, or secured credit card with deposit requirements.
- Credit One Bank evaluates every account for credit line increase opportunities. We'll let you know as soon as you're eligible for a higher credit line.
- Take advantage of free online access to your Experian credit score and credit report summary so you can track the key factors impacting your credit health. Terms apply.
- Zero Fraud Liability protects you if your card is ever lost or stolen. Rest easy knowing you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges.
- Access your account easily from your computer, smartphone, or tablet at CreditOneBank.com or the Credit One Bank Mobile App. You can make payments, see recent transactions, and update your account preferences all at the click of a button.
- Carry a card that makes you smile by choosing from over 20 unique card designs in Credit One Bank's card gallery. A fee may apply.
- See Rates & Fees
Build credit while also earning cash back on your purchases.
Because if you’re building credit – no problem. The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa with Cash Back Rewards lets you keep track of your credit, thanks to free access to your Experian score and credit report. You’ll be able to gradually see how your monthly payments are helping strengthen your score, and Credit One Bank automatically reviews your account with the potential of increasing your credit line.
You also get flexiblility on your credit score: you fill out one application and Credit One Bank® bases your interest rate, annual fee, and cash back rewards on your credit history.
But one of the best things about the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa with Cash Back Rewards is that you earn rewards for your purchases. You’ll get 1% cash back on eligible purchases on gas, groceries, and utilities, with the percentage based on your creditworthiness at the time of application.
In terms of annual fee, you’ll need to take into consideration the fact that the annual fee is assigned at the time of application and is variable between $0 - $99. But no security deposit is needed – a nice benefit here.
What we like:
Start off with an initial credit line of $200 w/ a minimum deposit of $49, $99 or $200
Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has no annual fee and immediately allows you to begin building credit with responsible use.
A secured credit card works like a prepaid debit card—you must first make a deposit. Unlike a prepaid card, however, a secured credit card builds credit (because you make payments, rather than spend your deposit) when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the three major credit bureaus.
With the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, you will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200. Then get access to a higher credit line after making your first six monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed.
Summary of the best credit cards for young adults
|Credit card||Rewards||Unique features|
|Jasper Mastercard®||1% cash back on all eligible purchases||Monthly activity is reported to two of the main credit
bureaus to start building your credit score
|Discover It® Cash Back||5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories when you activate and 1% cash back on everything else||Discover will match all of the cash back you earn the first year|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else||Your points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Unlimited Rewards|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back at the grocery store and 1% cash back on all other purchases||A $300 cash bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||5% cash back on grocery purchases for the first 12 months (up to $12,000 spent) and 1.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases||Signup bonus of $200 when you spend $500 within the first three months of opening your account|
|Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card||1.5% cash back on all purchases||Access to a higher line of credit if you make your first six payments on-time|
|Capital One® Platinum Credit Card||None||No annual fee or foreign transaction fees|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||5% cash back in rotating categories up to $1,500 every quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases||Discover will match all of the cash back you earn the first year|
|Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa with Cash Back Rewards||Rewards 1% cash back on gas, groceries, and utilities||Interest rate and cash back amount based on your credit score and free access to your credit report
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard®||None||Access to a higher line of credit if you make your first six payments on-time|
Frequently asked questions
Can I get a credit card if I’m under 21?
Good question. In 2009, the U.S. CARD Act created new laws designed to prevent some abusive practices in the credit card industry. Among these is a law that regulates companies issuing credit cards to minors. Today, you must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card.
Applicants under 21 need to prove their financial independence via either income or assets—in other words, your ability to repay the debt. In many cases, even a small part-time job may be enough to qualify you for a credit card with a modest credit limit.
If you’re under 21 and do not have enough independent income, you’ll need a cosigner to apply for a credit card.
In either case, remember that you will have the financial responsibility to pay your credit card every month. If you can’t afford it, don’t apply!
How do I get a credit card if I have no credit history?
Regardless of your age or student status, if you don’t have any credit history yet (for example, you’ve never had a student loan, car loan, or credit card), you may have a hard time getting approved for any traditional credit card.
Secured credit cards are an exception to this rule, and they’re the best way to build credit for the very first time.
At first, a secured card works more like a debit card; you deposit money into a bank account before you can use the card.
The difference, however, is that the secured credit card will report your responsible use of the card to credit bureaus and help you build credit in a way that debit and prepaid cards do not.
Do you have any tips for using a credit card for the first time?
Credit cards can offer a ton of unique benefits, including fancy rewards, travel benefits, cash back, and more. But don’t forget, the main reason to start using credit cards is to build your credit score.
Applying for a credit card (and being approved for it) is just the start of the process. Now you have to use that credit card responsibly, which means:
- Use the card – Your credit score will tick up as you borrow money from the issuer (using your credit card) and then pay them back. If you don’t use the card, that can’t happen.
- Pay off your balance in full – Many of the credit cards on this list have a high APR, especially available for people with poor credit. That means that if you don’t pay off your balance in full, you’ll be stuck with high-interest payments on the remainder of your balance. Don’t get sucked in with the allure of minimum payments. Pay in full each month.
- Pay off your balance on time – You might think it’s not a big deal to be late with a payment by a day or two. But it is a big deal. If you use this credit card and don’t pay your balance on time, your credit score will fall.
Remember, credit cards can be a source of tremendous value – if you use them correctly.
If you’re under 35, the best credit card for you is the card you can get approved for that offers benefits that will save you—not cost you—money.
If you don’t feel like playing with spreadsheets for hours to determine the best personal rewards rate you can find, just pick a rewards credit card that sounds good to you and be done with it. Do not, however, blindly choose a rewards card only to carry a balance every now and then! If you want a credit card with which to pay off purchases over time, focus on the card’s APR, not the rewards.
Finding a credit card for which you will be approved will be more difficult if you have limited or damaged credit, but there are options. If you don’t get approved the first time, wait six months, focus on paying all of your bills on time, and try again.
Want to improve your chances of getting approved for a credit card? Finding the right credit card for you is much simpler if you know your credit score, and can narrow your search to only the cards you know you’ll get approved for. We’ve made it easy for you. If you don’t already know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool – then find the perfect card for you!