If you are ready to build credit and start your financial journey, one of the first options you may turn to is credit cards. Credit cards allow you to build your credit history while offering generous rewards and perks. With thousands of credit cards in the market, you may face decision paralysis when deciding which one to get. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 12 best credit cards you can apply for as a young adult.
- We will cover 12 credit cards for young adults to consider, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Double Cash, American Express Gold Card, and more.
- If you don’t qualify for a traditional credit card, other options include secured credit cards and student credit cards.
1. Discover it Cash Back Credit Card
If you’re new to the credit card scene, the Discover it Cash Back credit card is an excellent starter card to apply for. The card has no annual fee and comes with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR) for 15 months on purchases and balances. That means you will not need to pay interest for the first 15 months from account opening. Afterward, a 17.25% to 28.24% variable purchase APR will apply, depending on your creditworthiness.
This card also offers an introductory bonus where Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year dollar-for-dollar. For example, if you earn $100 in cash back, you’ll receive an additional $100. You will also earn:
- 5% cash back on everyday purchases each quarter, such as Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum after activation
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
For July to September 2023, you can earn 5% cash back at gas stations and digital wallets, on up to $1,000 in purchases. Other fees include a 3% intro balance transfer fee until November 10, 2023, a 29.99% APR for cash advances, and a fee of either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance. While you’ll get a free pass the first time you make a late payment, you’ll get charged up to $41 the next time.
In addition to cash back, other benefits include online privacy protection, free Social Security number alerts, and a $0 fraud liability guarantee. If you lose your card, you can temporarily freeze your account so no one can use it. You can redeem your rewards for cash directly into your bank account, statement credit, or Amazon.com and PayPal.
2. Citi Custom Cash Credit Card
The Citi Custom Cash Credit Card is another beginner-friendly credit card with no annual fee and a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, the variable APR ranges from 19.24% to 29.24%. The card offers $200 cashback in the form of 20,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.
With this card, you can earn:
- 5% cash back on your top eligible spend category each billing cycle up to $500 spend
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
This card is relatively straightforward compared to other credit cards with rotating bonus categories. You do not have to sign up for any bonus categories. Instead, as your spending changes each billing cycle, your rewards will automatically adjust. The 5% eligible categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, travel, transit, streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, and live entertainment.
You can redeem your points for cash back as a statement credit, direct deposit or check, gift cards, travel, and Amazon.com. Compared to other credit cards with unlimited cash back in their top rewards categories, the $500 limit is fairly low. The 5% back is also limited to 1 spending category, whereas other cards typically have multiple rewards categories.
3. Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a no-annual-fee credit card that offers multiple rewards categories and various perks. You can earn a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, you can earn:
- 5% on travel purchased through Chase Unlimited Rewards
- 5% on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year
- 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 31, 2025
- 3% on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services
- 3% on drugstore purchases
- 1.5% on all other purchases
You’ll receive a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. Afterward, a variable APR of 20.49% to 29.24% will apply. There is no minimum requirement to redeem for cash back, and you can choose from statement credits, direct deposit, Amazon.com, gift cards, and travel via Chase Unlimited Rewards.
Other secondary benefits include zero liability protection, 24/7 fraud monitoring, purchase protection, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and travel and emergency assistance services. Partner benefits include complimentary 3 months of DashPass (DoorDash membership) and 3 months of Instacart+ membership, which offers a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees.
4. Blue Cash Everyday Card From American Express
If most of your spending goes toward groceries, online shopping, and gas, the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express can help offset some of those costs. The card has no annual fee, and you can earn $200 back after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months after opening an account. It comes with a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 19.24% to 29.99%. You can earn:
- 3% back on groceries at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 of purchases per year
- 3% back on U.S. online retail purchases on up to $6,000 of purchases per year
- 3% back on gas at U.S. gas stations on up to $6,000 of purchases per year
- 1% back on all other eligible purchases
Other rewards include $7 back monthly (up to $84 annually) after spending $12.99+ each month on an eligible subscription to the Disney Bundle and up to $15 back monthly (up to $180 annually) when you order online at Home Chef. In addition, you’ll get car rental loss and damage insurance and Global Assist Hotline.
While there is no annual fee, there is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. There is also a cash advance fee of either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater, plus 2.7% of each transaction for foreign transactions. If you make a late payment, you may get charged up to $40.
5. Citi Double Cash Credit Card
The Citi Double Cash credit card is a simple credit card that makes earning cash back effortless. With this card, you can earn unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases. You’ll get 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your bills. The card has no annual fee and a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers. After that, the variable APR will be 19.24% to 29.24%.
In addition, there is a balance transfer intro fee of 3% of each transfer ($5 minimum) within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, you’ll get charged 5% of each transfer. If you have any existing debt, this option will give you additional time to pay off your debt without incurring more interest.
You can redeem your rewards for statement credits, direct deposit, check, gift cards, travel, and Shop with Points at Amazon.com. However, the Citi Double Cash does not offer welcome bonuses or secondary travel perks.
6. Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
The SavorOne Rewards credit card from Capital One is a no-annual-fee card that comes with a range of rewards and benefits. New card members can earn a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. It also comes with a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. Afterward, a 19.99% to 29.99% variable APR will apply. For balance transfers, there’s a 3% fee on the amount transferred within the first 15 months. In terms of rewards, you can earn:
- 3% cash back on dining (restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains, and bakeries), entertainment (movies, sports, theater, amusement parks, zoos, etc.), popular streaming services, and grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target)
- 10% back on purchases on Uber and Uber Eats, plus Uber One monthly membership through November 14, 2024
- 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- 8% back on Capital One Entertainment purchases
- 1% on all other eligible purchases
There are no rotating categories or sign-ups needed to start earning the rewards, and the cashback does not expire. Unlike the Blue Cash credit card and Citi Custom Cash card, there are no limits to how much cash back you can earn. Additionally, the card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with extended warranty protection, travel accident insurance, complimentary concierge service, and 24-hour travel assistance services.
7. Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
Like the Citi Double Cash, the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card is a straightforward credit card offering unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases. You do not need to track any categories or activate the rewards to start earning. The card has no annual fee, and you can earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
There is a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. Afterward, your variable APR will be 20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99%. Balance transfers must be made within 120 days from account opening to qualify for the intro rate and fee.
Additional card benefits include up to $600 of cell phone protection against damage or theft, zero liability protection, and advanced security features. You can redeem the rewards for eligible purchases, statement credit, cash, or gift cards.
If you don’t want to keep track of reward structures, the Wells Fargo Active Cash allows you to earn effortlessly. But there are plenty of credit cards with higher cash back rates on the market, though you may need to put a bit of work in to get the most out of the cards.
8. Blue Cash Preferred Card From American Express
If you want to earn rewards on everyday expenses, consider the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. While this card charges a $95 annual fee, you can earn $250 back after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of card ownership. You’ll also get a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, followed by a variable APR of 19.24% to 29.99%. You can earn:
- 6% cash back on groceries on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
- 6% cash back on streaming with select U.S. streaming services
- 3% cash back on transit, including taxis, rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses, and more
- 3% cash back on gas at U.S. gas stations
- 1% cash back on other eligible purchases
Similar to the Blue Cash Everyday Card, you’ll also get $7 back monthly (up to $84 annually) after spending $12.99+ each month on an eligible subscription to the Disney Bundle and $10 in monthly statement credits (up to $120 annually) for Equinox+. Other secondary travel perks include car rental loss and damage insurance and Global Assist Hotline.
While there is an annual fee, you can easily make that if you regularly buy groceries. For example, if you spend $125 on groceries every 2 weeks, that’s equivalent to $195 cashback per calendar year. Your cashback is received in the form of Reward Dollars that you can redeem as a statement credit.
9. Chase Freedom Flex Credit Card
The Chase Freedom Flex is a cash reward credit card that comes with no annual fee and plenty of ways to earn cash back (if you’re up for doing a bit of work). You will receive a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of card membership, which is much more affordable than most other credit cards on the market. Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on grocery purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Other ways to earn include:
- 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories, such as gas stations, groceries, and select online merchants on up to $1,500 in total combined purchases each quarter you activate
- 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 31, 2025
- 3% on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services
- 3% on drugstore purchases
- 1% on all other purchases
The card offers a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. After the promotional period, you’ll get charged a variable APR of 20.49% to 29.24%. Your cashback rewards do not expire as long as your account is open, and you can redeem them for statement credit, direct deposit, Amazon.com, gift cards, or travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Additional perks include zero liability protection, purchase protection, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, cell phone protection, 24/7 fraud monitoring, auto rental collision damage waiver, and travel and emergency assistance services. You’ll also get a complimentary 3 months of DashPass and Instacart+ membership, as well as a complimentary 1-year ShopRunner membership.
While maximizing your rewards will be a little complicated due to the rotating quarterly bonus categories, you can earn up to 5% cash back, which is quite high compared to similar cards.
10. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Venture Rewards credit card from Capital One is best known as a general-purpose travel credit card and is the perfect gateway to other luxury travel cards. It comes with a $95 annual fee, but you can earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. You’ll also get 2X miles per dollar on every purchase and 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
With the Venture Rewards, you can enjoy 2 free lounge visits annually to Capital One Lounges or up to 100+ locations through their Partner Lounge Network. You’ll also get Hertz Five Star status and up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®. The card has no foreign transaction fees and has a variable APR of 20.99% to 28.99%.
While you won’t get the same level of travel perks as a dedicated airline or travel credit card, you can use your miles to get reimbursed for past travel experiences or redeem them by booking a trip through Capital One Travel. You can also transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs.
11. Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
A sister card to the Chase Freedom Flex, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is an excellent beginner-friendly travel credit card to have in your wallet. The card has a $95 annual fee and offers a generous welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. When you redeem the points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, that’s worth $750. Other ways to earn include:
- $50 in statement credits each account anniversary for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 5X total points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 31, 2025
- 5X points on Peloton equipment and accessory purchases over $150 with a max earn of 25,000 total points through March 31, 2025
- 2X points on all other travel purchases
- 3X points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout, and dining out
- 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs)
- 3X points on select streaming services
- 1X points on all other eligible purchases
- 6 months of complimentary Instacart+ membership
- 1 year of complimentary DashPass membership
You’ll also earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year on each account anniversary. For example, if you spend $5,000 on purchases, you’ll get 500 bonus points. If you are a member of a frequent travel program, you can transfer your points to leading programs at a 1 to 1 value, including Southwest Airlines, United, Virgin Atlantic, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, and more.
In addition, you’ll get travel and purchase perks such as trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, and more. Plus, when you travel abroad or purchase from foreign vendors, you won’t have to pay foreign transaction fees.
12. American Express Gold Card
Last on the list (and my favorite credit card in my wallet today) is the American Express Gold Card. This credit card comes with a steep $250 annual fee, but you can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months of card membership. You can earn:
- 4X points at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
- 4X points on groceries at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases per year
- 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
- 1X points on all other eligible purchases.
Other standout benefits include:
- Up to $10 in statement credits for dining at participating partners, including Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations ($120 annually)
- Up to $10 in Uber Cash per month for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S. ($120 annually)
- $100 experience credit with a 2-night minimum stay when you book The Hotel Collection through American Express Travel
- No foreign transaction fees
- Global Assist Hotline
- Baggage Insurance Plan
- Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance
- Access to Amex Offers
If you are a big foodie, the American Express Gold Card is a game-changer. Even though the annual fee is relatively high compared to other credit cards on this list, you can easily earn that back with the 4X points on restaurants and groceries, plus the dining and Uber credits.
What Should Young Professionals Look For in a Credit Card?
If you don’t have a credit history, you may want to apply for a “starter” credit card first. These cards are designed for beginners who are new to credit and will be much easier to qualify for. However, they may not offer the best rewards or perks and may have low credit limits. When I got my first credit card with Bank of America, the card had a credit limit of $500. So, sometimes I had to pay my bill early to avoid maxing out my credit card.
If you already have a strong credit history, you’ll be more likely to get approved for more mainstream credit cards. In that case, you should look for a card that offers rewards and benefits that match your lifestyle. For example, if you travel frequently, consider getting a travel rewards credit card to elevate your travel experiences. If you spend most of your money on restaurants and groceries, get a cashback credit card that rewards you for those categories.
Other Starter Credit Cards For Young Adults to Consider
Secured Credit Cards
If you do not qualify for a traditional credit card, a secured credit card can be a good place to start. With a secured credit card, you must provide a cash security deposit, which will act as your credit limit. For example, if you put down a deposit of $200, your credit limit will be $200. This helps lenders minimize the risks of lending to you.
Aside from the security deposit, you can use the card like any other credit card. At the end of your billing cycle, you’ll need to pay off your balance, which should then be reported to the credit bureaus. As you build your credit, you can eventually graduate to an unsecured credit card and get your deposit back.
Student Credit Cards
As the name implies, student credit cards are geared toward college students with limited credit history. They work just like regular credit cards and do not require a deposit. Because these cards are designed for students, the credit requirements may be more lax, though you may still need to meet income requirements to qualify. Some student credit cards also offer rewards and benefits you can use towards your education.
Credit Card Tips For Young Adults
Here are a few times to keep in mind as you begin your credit journey:
- Spend only what you can reasonably afford. Having a credit card can be both a blessing and a curse. If you tend to make impulsive purchases, a credit card can make it easy for you to go into debt because you are not handling physical cash. Once you get a credit card, make sure you can pay off the bill at the end of every billing cycle.
- Keep your credit utilization low. Your credit utilization plays a major role in your credit score calculations. It is the percentage of your combined credit limits that you use. For example, if you have a $1,000 credit limit and your balance is $300, your utilization is 30%. Experts generally recommend keeping your utilization below 30%, though I like to keep mine below 15% to be safe.
- Set up autopay. If you tend to forget when your bills are due, setting up autopay can help ensure that you don’t miss any payments. When you make late payments or miss payments, that can lead to late fees and cause your credit to fall.
- Look for credit cards that match your spending. When used responsibly, you can earn a ton of rewards that you can use toward travel or cashback. Even if the card has an annual fee, you could still benefit from having the card if you do a bit of research on how to maximize the value you get from the card.
- Pay attention to your credit reports. You should check your credit reports regularly to ensure there are no errors. You can get a free copy from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Don’t be afraid of annual fees. Most of the best credit cards on the market will come with annual fees. If you are considering a card that comes with an annual fee, do the math to compare the costs versus the rewards you could potentially gain.
The Bottom Line
Getting a credit card helps you build credit and allows you to earn valuable rewards and benefits, such as airport lounge access, cashback, airline and hotel discounts, dining credits, and more. As you look for the perfect credit card for your financial situation, factor in your specific financial goals, spending habits, and lifestyle.