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Best credit cards for young adults

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

Updated . What changed?

Fact checked

Our pick for young adults: Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠ logo

Up to 5%

Cash back

  • Huge signup bonus for a no-annual-fee card
  • 5% back in rotating categories on up to $1,500 quarterly, then 1%
  • New rewards on travel, dining and drugstores
Apply now
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.

Best credit cards for young adults

Best for young adults with no credit
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

Petal® 2
Finder Rating: 2.9 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (600-850)
Apply now
on WebBank's secure site
Rates & fees

600
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Up to 10%
Cash back
n/a
Welcome offer
This card is a solid option for young adults who have no credit. With responsible card use, you can build your credit and get access to better cards and better loan terms in the future. Plus, you get to earn cash back on all of your purchases and you won't pay an annual fee for the card.
  • Build credit. Petal reports your card activity to the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Build your credit with responsible card use.
  • High credit limit. Credit cards for building credit typically start with a $200 credit limit. This often makes it harder to build credit due to limited spending power. Petal, however, starts with a $500 credit limit and it goes as high as $10,000.
  • Cash back. Earn 1% cash back on all purchases. Boost your rewards rate to 1.5% cash back on all purchases after you make 12 consecutive on-time payments. What's more, some retailers let you earn 10% cash back, which is rare with any cashback credit card.
  • No signup bonus. You don't get to earn any bonus once you signup.
  • No intro APR period. There's no 0% intro APR period on balance transfers or purchases with this card.
Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 12.99% to 26.99% variable
Balance transfer APR N/A
Welcome offer N/A
Rewards Up to 10% cash back from select merchants, on other purchases earn 1% back, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments

Best for young adults who often travel
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.3 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on Chase's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$95
Annual fee
Up to 5x
Points
60,000
Points welcome offer
Young adults with good credit or higher who often travel should definitely check out this card. That's because you get to earn accelerated points on travel and dining, plus you get to earn a generous signup bonus and you get a solid redemption rate on travel purchases.
  • Chase Ultimate points. Earn 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2x points on travel and dining purchases, and 1x points on all other purchases. Get 25% higher point value when you redeem your points via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for airfare, hotel stays and car rentals.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of card membership. This is worth $750 if you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Use your card freely abroad or online with foreign merchants and you won't pay any foreign transaction fees.
  • No intro APR period. You don't get a 0% intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Annual fee. This card costs $95 annually.
Annual Fee $95
Purchase APR 15.99% to 22.99% variable
Balance transfer APR 15.99% to 22.99% variable
Welcome offer 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $750 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Rewards 5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases

Best for simplicity with rewards
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited® logo
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on Chase's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Up to 5%
Cash back
$200
Welcome offer
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a great starting rewards card since it comes with a strong base cashback rate even if you don't take advantage of your rewards categories. However, put a little more research and effort into the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and this card can become a powerful rewards asset.
  • Signup bonus. Earn $200 after you spend $500 within your first 3 months of account opening. Plus earn 5% cash back on eligible grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 in your first year.
  • Earn rewards. Earn 5% cash back on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and on Lyft through March 2022, 3% back at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% back on all other purchases. You can transfer these points to other Chase rewards cards, potentially boosting your points value in the future.
  • Foreign transaction fees. You’ll pay a 3% fee on purchases made abroad.
Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
Balance transfer APR 14.99% to 23.74% variable
Welcome offer $200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus 5% cash back at grocery stores on up to $12,000 in the first year
Rewards 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on Lyft, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases

Best cashback credit card
Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠ logo
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on Chase's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Up to 5%
Cash back
$200
Welcome offer
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is one of the best cashback cards you can currently get. Aside from earning generous cashback rates on a variety of categories, you also get to earn a solid signup bonus and you get to save money on interest with a 0% intro APR period. And you get all these benefits without paying an annual fee.
  • Cash back. Earn 5% back on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022 and 5% back on up to $1,500 each quarter on rotating categories. After reaching the cap you earn 1% back. Earn 3% back on purchases made at drugstores and restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and 1% back on everything else you buy.
  • Signup bonus. Earn a $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. As a part of the signup bonus, you also earn 5% back at grocery stores on up to $12,000 during your first year when you open your account.
  • Intro APR period. Get 15 months of 0% intro APR period on purchases. A variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74% applies thereafter.
  • Foreign transaction fees. You’ll pay a 3% foreign transaction fee on every transaction made abroad or online with foreign merchants.
Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
Balance transfer APR 14.99% to 23.74% variable
Welcome offer $200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus 5% cash back at grocery stores on up to $12,000 in the first year
Rewards 5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter (then 1%), 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases

Best for students
Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students

Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students logo
Finder Rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (580-850)
Read review
580
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Up to 3%
Cash back
$200
Welcome offer
If you're a student -- consider this card. This is a rare card for students that offers three valuable perks: a high cashback rate on a category you choose, a 0% intro APR period on balance transfers and purchases and a signup bonus.
  • Cash back. Earn 3% cash back in one category of your choice -- online shopping, dining, gas, drug stores, travel or home improvements. Earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. Note, your 3% and 2% cashback categories are capped at $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter. Once reaching the cap and on all other purchases, earn 1% cash back.
  • Signup bonus. Earn a $200 online cash bonus after you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days of card membership.
  • Intro APR period. Get 0% intro APR period on balance transfers and purchases for your first 12 billing cycles. After that, your APR reverts to variable 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Balance transfer limitations. You must make your transfers within your first 60 days when you open your account to use the 0% intro APR period. Otherwise, the standard APR of 13.99% to 23.99% variable will apply.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Avoid using this card abroad or online with foreign merchants or you'll pay a 3% fee of the amount of each transaction.
Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 12 statement closing dates (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR 0% intro for the first 12 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
Welcome offer $200 after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
Rewards 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category, grocery and wholesale club purchases each quarter, then 1%

Best for dining and entertainment
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.3 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Read review
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Up to 5%
Cash back
$200
Welcome offer
If you already have a good credit score or higher and you spend a lot on dining and entertainment, the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card may be worth considering. With this card, you get to earn cash back, earn a signup bonus and get a long 0% intro APR period on purchases.
  • Cash back. Earn 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on all other purchases.
  • Signup bonus. Earn a $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 in your first 3 months when you open your account.
  • Intro APR period on purchases. Get 0% intro APR period on purchases for your first 15 months of card membership. Once the intro APR period ends, your APR reverts to 15.49% or 25.49% variable.
  • No intro APR period on balance transfers. If you're looking to save money with a balance transfer, this is not the right card for you.
Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 15 months (then 15.49% or 25.49% variable)
Balance transfer APR 15.49% or 25.49% variable
Welcome offer $200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months
Rewards 5% cash back on Uber Eats, 3% on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases

How we selected our top cards

We compared all credit cards based on rewards, annual fee, interest-free period and other perks, and we selected the cards that are most useful to young adults.

What’s changed in 2020?

With the September 2020 update, Chase Freedom Flex℠ is now the most rewarding cashback card with no annual fee.

Should I get a credit card?

This 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 checking 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.

Now’s the time to build great credit habits

If you have no credit card debt, give yourself a pat on the back. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s most recent Consumer Credit Card Market report, the average card balance is over $4,800 among consumers with at least one credit card. 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 that fate, it’s crucial to build responsible credit habits now. Your credit card may have a low credit limit, but see that as a good thing: This will keep you from getting into too much debt right away.

Follow these two 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.

How to pick the best 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: Make friends with your credit score

Your credit score is incredibly important. If you take care of it and grow it responsibly, it can open many doors for you — including giving you access to the best credit products and lowest interest rates.

What are the advantages of a good 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, those with the best rewards perhaps. That may not be the best idea — you may waste loads of time and probably won’t get them anyway.

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 amazing 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’ll often find student-specific perks with student credit cards. The Deserve® Edu Card, for example, offers an Amazon Prime Student credit.
  • Fees. You might find little extras here and there that could tip the scales. For example, Discover will waive your first late fee for its student and secured cards, which could be helpful as you’re easing into credit. And Capital One waives foreign transaction fees, which could be perfect if you’ll 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 typically lowers your credit score slightly.

Instead, check if the provider offers pre-qualification. Essentially, you can 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 Security number.
  • Residential address.
  • Email address and phone number.
  • Employment status and total annual income.

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 seven to 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.

Credit cards for young adults

Name Product Filter values Minimum deposit required Purchase APR Annual fee Recommended minimum credit score
Petal® 1
N/A
19.99% to 29.49% variable
$0
550
A high-limit no-annual-fee credit card that's ideal for rebuilding scores as low as 550. See if you prequalify with no impact to your credit.
Petal® 2
N/A
12.99% to 26.99% variable
$0
New to credit
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score of 600 or higher. See if you prequalify with no impact to your score.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
Starting at $200
17.39% variable
$35
300
Apply for this card with no credit check if you're new to credit or have bad credit.
Deserve® Edu Card
N/A
18.74% variable
$0
580
Designed for college students to build credit history and earn rewards.
First Progress Platinum Select MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
Starting at $200
13.99% variable
$39
300
No minimum credit score and no credit history required.
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Compare up to 4 providers

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, check out our guide on student credit cards.

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