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Compare credit cards for young adults

The right credit card can help you work towards good financial health.

Millennials are often criticized for being unprepared to manage money, despite being dealt a tough hand. With sky-high student loan debts and eye-watering house prices, getting a strong start with personal finances is more important than ever.

When you’re younger, it’s unlikely you’ll have much credit history — which is what lenders normally use to evaluate credit card applications. Our guide looks at what you can do about it and what your options are.

Should I get a credit card?

Credit cards in a jean pocketThis depends on your personal circumstances. First of all, if you’re under 21, you can obtain a credit card on your own only if you have an independent source of income — typically, if you’re employed or receiving a student loan. If that isn’t the case, you’ll need a cosigner.

Secondly, if you’ve never had a bank account, consider starting there. By managing a chequing account and debit card, you’ll build skills for responsible credit card use. Many credit card providers will also require you to have a bank account.

If you have sufficient income and some financial experience under your belt, you could be ready for a credit card. There are many benefits to having one, including flexibility in paying for purchases and getting an early start in building your credit score.

What are my options?

Be realistic. Don’t expect to get premium travel cards or market-leading introductory APRs. The best offers are usually offered to those with established credit.

This may be the first time you’re trying to borrow money in any form. Your credit report could be sparse, meaning lenders will consider you a higher-risk borrower. They don’t know whether you’ll pay your debts on time.

If you are approved for a credit card, you’ll probably receive a low credit limit and a relatively high interest rate. If you use the card correctly, it’s no big deal: As long as you pay your balance in full every month, you won’t be charged any interest. But if you habitually carry a balance, a credit card can quickly become a very expensive way of borrowing money.

Consider these options if you’re starting out with credit

Look into these credit options and pick one that fits your personal and financial circumstances.

  • Student credit card.

    If you’re enrolled in college, you may have an easier time getting started with credit. That’s because there are cards geared specifically toward college students that typically have no annual fees and student-specific perks, such as extra rewards for good grades.

  • Secured credit card.

    A secured card requires an upfront security deposit. Because of this, a secured-card provider is typically more willing to accept a consumer with shakier credit.

    Consider this type of card if a student card is out of reach or if you have poor credit. It can help you build credit as you make on-time payments. Some providers will let you graduate to an unsecured card if you use your card responsibly.

Credit cards for young adults

Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Earn an extra 10% cash back (up to $100) when you spend $1,000 on everyday purchases within the first 2 months. Until October 4, 2021. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
BMO Rewards Mastercard
10,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 725
Get a bonus of 10,000 BMO Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Apply by October 31, 2021 . Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard For Students
800 Miles
1 Mile per $25 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 800 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $80 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash).
BMO CashBack Mastercard For Students
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get up to 5% cash back in the first three months (up to max. spend of $2,000).
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
2,500 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Earn 2,500 bonus SCENE points when you spend a minimum of $500 on eligible purchases in the first three months as a new SCENE Visa cardholder. Apply by November 21, 2021.
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Name Product Min. Required Deposit Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee
Refresh Financial Secured Card
$200
17.99%
N/A
$12.95 + $3/month
The Refresh Secured Card has no credit check, a low annual fee and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with anywhere from $200 - $10,000.
Home Trust Secured Visa (No Annual Fee)
$500
19.99%
19.99%
$0
The no annual fee Home Trust Secured card comes with a standard 19.99% purchase and cash advance rate. Apply with any credit score and start rebuilding your credit.
Home Trust Secured Visa (Low Rate & Monthly Fee)
$500
14.9%
19.8%
$60
Pay a monthly fee of $5 and get a low purchase interest rate of 14.90%.
Home Trust Secured Visa (Low Rate)
$500
14.9%
19.8%
$59
Rebuild your credit score and enjoy a low purchase interest rate of 14.90% and a cash advance rate of 19.80%.
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Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Minimum Income Reward
HSBC +Rewards™ Mastercard®
11.9%
11.9%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($25 thereafter)
N/A
Earn 2 Points for every $1 spent on eligible dining or entertainment purchases.
Get 20,000 Points (up to $100 in value), plus get a 1st year annual fee waiver. Apply by October 3, 2021.
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
12.99%
12.99%
$20
$15,000
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
12.99%
12.99%
$29
$12,000
Save on interest for 6 months by consolidating your higher-rate balances with the balance transfer offer, and get an on-going 12.99% interest rate on purchases, cash advances and balance transfers.
Get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by November 21, 2021.
BMO Rewards Business Mastercard
14.99%
22.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($120 thereafter)
N/A
Earn 3 BMO Rewards points for every $1 you spend on gas, office supplies, cell phone bills and internet bills, and earn 1.5 BMO Rewards points for every $1 you spend elsewhere.
Get 50,000 points and the $120 annual fee waived in the first year.
Business Platinum Card from American Express
N/A
N/A
$499
N/A
Earn 1.25 Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases
Earn a Welcome Bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards points in your first three months of Cardmembership.
American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
N/A
N/A
$250
N/A
Earn 2 Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases at select American Express merchant suppliers in Canada (choose 3 suppliers), and earn 1 Membership Reward point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases elsewhere
Earn a Welcome Bonus of 50,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend at least $5,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months.
National Bank Syncro Mastercard
8.90% or prime + 4.00%
12.90% or prime + 4.00%
$35
N/A
Enjoy low purchase interest, cash advance and balance transfer rates.
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Now’s the time to build great credit habits

If you have no credit card debt, give yourself a pat on the back. The average Canadian who doesn’t pay off his or her balance each month carries roughly $8,600 of credit card debt. And while that’s a lot, you’ll find people who are in even more serious debt — tens of thousands of dollars, or possibly worse.

To avoid this fate, it’s crucial to build responsible credit habits now. Your credit card may have a low credit limit, but you should see that as a good thing – this will keep you from getting into too much debt right away.

Follow these 2 strategies for responsible card use:

  1. Pay off your balance in full every month. While it’s tempting to pay just the minimum, this is a poor habit to start and could lead to fast-accumulating interest.
  2. Always keep your credit utilization under 30%. If you’re consistently maxing out your credit limit, fix the bad habit now. Several years down the line, you don’t want to max out cards with $10,000 credit limits. That’s a very deep hole to dig yourself out of.
  • Become an authorized user.

    If you can’t get a credit card on your own, ask a parent or relative if you can become an authorized user on their card account. You’ll get access to credit, and your credit score can increase via piggybacking.

    If you become an authorized user, remember that the primary account holder is ultimately responsible for any debt you accrue on your card. So, keep up with your payments to avoid financially burdening your parent or relative.

  • Prepaid credit card.

    If you’d like to ease your way into using credit cards, or you’re not sure about your ability to handle debt, consider a prepaid credit card. You won’t be borrowing money with it like you would with a credit card. Instead, you’ll constantly load it with money as you use it to make purchases.

  • Credit-builder loan.

    When you take out a credit-builder loan, the money is deposited into a savings account. You’ll pay off the loan each month. When you complete the payments, you get the savings account and the money in it.

    As you make payments on time, your credit score will increase. What’s more, a credit-builder loan can be a consistent way to save money. It can be a good choice if you don’t need a credit card but want to build your credit.

Compare prepaid credit cards

Name Product Monthly fee Cost per transaction Foreign transaction fee Rewards with this card
Mogo Visa Platinum Prepaid Card
$0
$0
2.5%
2% cash back
Earn unlimited 2% cashback on all purchases. For every $1 you spend, 1 pound of CO2 will be offset for free through Mogos Amazon Rainforest project.
OFFER
KOHO Prepaid Visa card
$0
$0
1.5%
0.5% cash back
Use promo code FINDERCODE and receive a $20 cash bonus into your KOHO balance once you make your first purchase within 30 days of signing up.
OFFER
KOHO Joint Prepaid Card
$0
$0
1.5%
0.5% cash back
Use promo code FINDERCODE and receive a $20 cash bonus into your KOHO balance once you make your first purchase within 30 days of signing up.
OFFER
KOHO Premium Prepaid Card
$9/month or $84 annually
$0
0%
Up to 2% cash back
Earn 2% cash back on transportation, grocery and restaurant purchases. Plus, get a 30 day free trial. Use promo code FINDERCODE and receive a $20 cash bonus into your KOHO balance once you make your first purchase within 30 days of signing up.
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How can I find a competitive credit card?

Comparing financial products can be difficult, especially when your options are somewhat limited. But with some research, you could find something that works for you.

Step 1: Take care of your credit score

Your credit score is incredibly important. A well-protected score that increases over time can open many doors for you — including giving you access to the best credit products and lowest interest rates.

Find out your credit score

Step 2: Think about what you need, but also about what you can get

You may be tempted to look for the best credit cards on the market – perhaps those that offer the best rewards. That may not be the best idea — you may waste loads of time and may not qualify for these cards anyway, given your limited credit history.

Instead, think about why you need a credit card — for example, to take advantage of an interest grace period, improve your credit score, etc. — and prioritize the features that will give you what you need. Also, give heavier consideration to cards that don’t demand an excellent credit history.

Step 3: Compare cards

There are various factors that can help you pick the right card. Here are a few of the major ones:

  • Annual fee. You can find excellent student and secured cards for no annual fee.
  • Rewards. Rewards are standard in student cards from major providers. Many products offer 1% rewards on all purchases, as well as bonus rewards for certain categories. Few secured cards offer cash back, points or miles, as their main purpose is to help you build credit.
  • Other benefits. Secured cards tend not to offer many features, but you can find perks designed with students in mind. The BMO CashBack Mastercard For Students offers cash back rewards that come in handy when you’re spending to prepare for school. (Get up to 5% cash back in the first three months (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter).)
  • Fees. You might find little extras here and there that could tip the scales. For example, some cards may waive your first late fee if you’re a student credit card holder, which could be helpful as you’re easing into using credit. Other cards may waive foreign transaction fees, which could be perfect if you intend to study abroad.

Step 4: Get pre-qualified

Once you think you’ve made the right choice, wait a bit before applying. When you submit an application, the card provider will initiate a hard pull on your credit, which will lower your credit score temporarily.

Instead, check if the provider offers pre-qualification. Essentially, this allows you to see which of the provider’s cards you’re eligible for. The provider will run a soft pull on your credit — which doesn’t affect your credit score — and recommend cards that fit your profile. You may even be eligible for a better card than you thought.

Step 5: Apply

Have your personal and financial details ready and always provide accurate information. You can usually apply online within 10 to 15 minutes.

Here’s some information you’ll typically need for your card application:

  • Full name.
  • Date of birth and Social Insurance Number (SIN).
  • Residential address.
  • Email address and phone number.
  • Employment status and total annual income (possibly pay stubs from the past 3-6 months or Notices of Assessment from the past couple of tax years).

You may receive an immediate decision on your application. If the provider needs to review your application further, it may take several business days to hear back.

If you’re approved, look for your card in the mail within 7-10 days.

Step 6: Activate your card and set up automatic payments

Once you receive your card, activate it according to your provider’s instructions. Then, strongly consider setting up automatic payments that clear your entire balance each month. This will help you protect your credit score and stay out of debt.

Pros and cons of getting a credit card as a young adult

Pros

  • It may give you more breathing room with your budget. You can use your card throughout each month and pay off your purchases during your grace period. This can be helpful when you’re working with a tight budget or while you’re waiting for your paycheque to arrive.
  • It helps you build your credit score. As you consistently make on-time payments, your credit score will steadily go up.
  • You might even bag a few perks. When you’re starting out with credit, don’t expect too much in terms of card benefits. But you could earn rewards and student-specific perks that you wouldn’t get by using a debit card or cash.
  • You’ll learn early how credit cards work. When you’re ready to apply for more powerful cards, you could already be well-versed in how to use a credit card responsibly.

Cons

  • Low credit limits. Lenders won’t initially trust you with much credit. However, your provider may review your account and offer a higher credit limit after you’ve had your card for a while.
  • High interest rates. Carrying a balance is an especially bad idea when you’re starting out, as your card’s APR will likely be high.
  • Risk of getting into debt. You may encounter many temptations to spend, and having a credit card can make you feel like you have more money than you really do. Strongly consider spending only what you can pay off in full each month.
  • Risk of damaging your credit score. If you don’t use your credit card responsibly — such as missing payments or exceeding your credit limit — you could hurt your credit score.

Bottom line

As long as you use them correctly, credit cards can be highly useful tools that help you build your financial future. Take your time, evaluate your options and pay off your card debt in full every month.

For more information about student credit cards, check out our detailed guide, which outlines what you should know about fees, types of cards that are available and how to narrow down your choices.

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