Depending on your credit card goals the right card can make all the difference. From no credit to good credit, travel perks to cash back, these cards meet the needs of most 18-year-olds.

If you’re an 18-year-old, you’re just beginning your journey into the credit world. But if you’ve found this article, your financial savvy is probably light years ahead of most of your peers.

It’s good to start building your credit history as early as possible. The sooner you can be approved for credit cards, the sooner you can amass various airline miles, hotel points, and cash back to achieve your goals.

We’ve picked the below cards for the most common situations you might find yourself in. Are you a student? Are you interested in free travel but can’t be approved yet for a travel credit card? Do you have literally zero credit history? No matter where you’re at, we’ve got the best options to help you succeed.

A warning first, though: you shouldn’t dive into credit cards unless you’re confident you have the mental horsepower to keep from overspending. Credit card debt is one of the worst things that can happen to you, financially.

Best Credit Card for 18-Year-Olds Who Want Cash Back: Citi® Double Cash Card

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If simplicity is your goal, the Citi® Double Cash Card is a great option. It’s one of the all-time great cash back cards, with no complicated redemption processes that sometimes accompany other credit cards.

This no annual fee card offers a flat 2% cash back (effectively) for all spending. You’ll get 1% back when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off. For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.

Data points show that the Citi® Double Cash Card is easy to be approved for. Personally, it was one of my first credit cards — though I did have a credit history when applying.

Apply for the Citi Double Cash Card or read our full review.

Best Credit Card for 18-Year-Olds Who Want to Collect Travel Rewards: Chase Freedom Flex℠

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If you want to collect travel points but don’t have enough credit history to be approved for a proper travel credit card, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is your best option.

See, the card is marketed as a cash back credit card, but it actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points — arguably the most potent travel rewards currency in existence. You can transfer them to valuable airline and hotel partners such as Hyatt, Southwest, United Airlines, and many others. But there’s a catch — you can’t unlock their full potential unless you have one of the following cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
  • Ink Business Preferred®.

These cards tend to require very good credit for an approval. If your credit history doesn’t have the Tabasco sauce necessary for these cards just yet, you can still stockpile points in the meantime by using the Chase Freedom Flex℠ regularly.

It’s got astonishing earn rates for a no annual fee credit card:

  • 5% cash back (5 Chase points) when you buy travel through the Chase Travel Portal.
  • 5% cash back (5 Chase points) on rotating bonus categories each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases) when you activate the bonus.
  • 3% cash back (3 Chase points) on dining and at drugstores.
  • 1% cash back (1 Chase point) for all other eligible purchases.

Add to this the fact that you’ll earn a $200 bonus (20,000 Chase points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. If you use this card regularly, you could well have 100,000+ Chase points by the time you’re eligible to open a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, which will unleash amazing travel rewards.

If you have the self-control to keep from cashing out your points for cash back, you could have a (nearly) free bucket list vacation waiting for you in a year’s time.

This card also offers benefits such as:

  • Cellphone protection.
  • Car rental insurance (secondary in the U.S., primary otherwise).
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

I’ve had this card for many years and it’s one of the biggest workhorses in my wallet.

Apply for the Chase Freedom Flex℠ or read our full review.

Best Credit Card for 18-Year-Olds with Good Credit History: Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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If you’re one of the lucky 18-year-olds with an established credit history, you’re likely eligible for some the better products in the credit card world — namely, the Chase Sapphire Preferred®. I’ve had mine for eight years and it’s still one of my favorites.

One way to establish credit at a young age is to be added as an authorized user on someone else’s account — perhaps your parents’ or even a friend’s.

Read more: Authorized cardholders: the pros and cons

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is one of the best all-around cards on the market, especially if travel is an aspiration. It comes with 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Its earn rates are as follows:

  • 5 points per dollar for Lyft rides (through March 2025).
  • 5 points per dollar on all travel purchased through the Chase Travel Portal.
  • 3 points per dollar on dining (including many delivery services), on certain streaming services, and for online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs).
  • 2 points per dollar on other travel.
  • 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

This is the only card on our list that incurs an annual fee, however. You’ll pay $95 for the privilege of wielding this card — but here’s what you’ll get for that fee:

  • Primary rental car insurance (this can save you $12+ per day, as you don’t have to buy the rental agency’s in-house insurance).
  • Trip delay insurance (if your flight is delayed overnight or by 12 hours, Chase will give you up to $500 for expenses like lodging, food, etc.).
  • Baggage delay insurance (if your bag is delayed by six hours or more, Chase will give you $100 per day — for up to five days — for essentials like clothes and toiletries).
  • 10% anniversary point bonus.
  • Up to $50 in statement credits toward hotel stays booked through Chase.
  • $10 per month in Gopuff credit through December 2023.

Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or read our full review.

Best Credit Card for 18-Year-Old Students: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Similar to secured credit cards, student cards trade off strong return rates and lucrative benefits for relaxed application requirements.

If you’re an 18-year-old who is enrolled as a student, the no annual fee Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students has some features that you won’t find on other student cards.

For one, the card’s got an unusually large bonus of $200 after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

You’ll also get 3% cash back in the category of your choice:

  • Gas.
  • Online shopping.
  • Dining.
  • Travel.
  • Drugstores.
  • Home improvement/furnishings.

You can change your category once each calendar month, which is especially handy as your biggest expenses will likely change periodically.

For example, during most of the year, you may choose to earn 3% back on dining. But when you begin shopping for the upcoming school year, you can change your category to online shopping. And when planning for spring break, you can change your bonus category to travel.

You’ll also earn 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% back on all other purchases.

The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students even offers a great intro APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles for new purchases and balance transfers.

Read more: Best credit cards for college students

Best Credit Card for 18-Year-Olds with No Credit History: Discover it® Secured

The no annual fee Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a great option for 18-year-olds with no credit history.

Banks are more willing to give secured credit cards to young people (or anyone, for that matter) who don’t yet have a lengthy track record of responsible credit usage. That’s because with a secured card, there’s virtually no risk for the issuer.

Here’s how a secured credit card works:

  1. You give the bank a cash deposit.
  2. The bank gives you a card with a credit line equal to your cash deposit.
  3. Your credit card works as any other card, but if you can’t pay your bills, the bank just keeps your cash deposit.
  4. If you cancel your card — or build enough credit to warrant an unsecured card — you’ll get your cash deposit back.

Most secured credit cards don’t offer any rewards for spending. The main selling point of secured cards, after all, is the fact that they’re so easy to acquire. Which is why the Discover it® Secured stands out, offering 2% cash back on restaurants and gas stations, and 1% on everything else.

Discover will also double the cash back you earn during the first year of cardmembership, effectively making the return rate 4% and 2% during the first 12 billing cycles (or 365 days, whichever is longer) after account opening.

The card doesn’t have many noteworthy ongoing benefits, but you’ll find some basic and helpful tools to help you cultivate a good credit history, such as:

  • Free FICO score.
  • Instantly freeze your account if you lose your card.
  • Free alerts if Discover finds your Social Security number on the dark web.
  • $0 fraud liability guarantee.

If you’re in the market for a secured credit card, this is one of your best bets.

Read more: Best secured credit cards

Summary

These five credit cards are perfect for any 18-year-old situation you may find yourself in: whether you’re interested in cash back or travel; whether you’ve got no credit history or lengthy credit history due to being an authorized user on your parents’ accounts; or whether you’re a college student trying to build your credit independently.

Once you’ve achieved a credit score worthy of more premium credit cards, be confident in how you handle credit before applying for loads of new cards. Spending above your means is easy to do — and it can cripple you financially.

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About the author

Sarah Hostetler
Total Articles: 7
Sarah Hostetler is a freelance writer and has been featured on Million Mile Secrets and The Points Guy. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.