Our team of experts uses a methodology to identify the credit cards most likely to fit your needs. We examine annual percentage rates, annual fees, issuer satisfaction ratings and other factors to determine what cards come out ahead. Learn more»
Best Cards Summary
Discover it® Student chrome
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: This card caters to consumers who want to earn cash back on gas and dining purchases. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to the first $1,000 in combined purchases quarterly. After that, you’ll earn 1% back, along with unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee, no late fee on first late payment, and no APR change for paying late. See our full review.
Discover it® chrome
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: This card caters to consumers who want to earn cash back on gas and dining purchases. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to the first $1,000 in combined purchases quarterly. After that, you’ll earn 1% back, along with unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee and rewards never expire. See our full review.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: Chase Freedom Unlimited charges no annual fee. The card earns 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5% cash back on all purchases. INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back. See our full review.
Discover it® Cash Back
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: The Discover it Cash Back offers 5% cash back each quarter in rotating categories, such as Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. There is no annual fee. At the end of your first year as a cardmember, Discover will match all the cash back you earned. See our full review.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: With the Discover it Student Cash Back Card, students have a chance to earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter, like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. The card offers unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned after your first year. There’s no annual fee and no late fee the first time you pay late. See our full review.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express earns 3% cash back on up to $6,000 annually at U.S. supermarkets and then 1% back, 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations, on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%, and 3% Cash Back on U.S. online retail purchases, on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%. If you spend $2,000 on your card in the first six months, you receive a $200 statement credit. See our full review.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: Chase Freedom Flex charges no annual fee. The card earns 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you get a card and spend $500 within three months of opening it, you can earn a $200 bonus. See our full review.
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why this is one of the best credit cards for young adults: The Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limit. Cardholders pay no annual fee, and rewards won’t expire as long as the account is open. See our full review.
U.S. News Survey
U.S. News Survey: Americans Are Eager for Personal Finance Education – and They Need It
Americans are still struggling to practice good credit habits, even as they grasp the basics of credit and recognize the importance of educating teens about financial literacy, a new U.S. News survey finds. The key discrepancy: While 52% of respondents say they knew how credit cards worked when they opened their first cards, 58% are also under the impression that carrying a balance on their credit cards boosts their credit scores. This is incorrect; carrying a balance will likely lower your score.
An overwhelming majority of respondents say financial literacy is a key missing piece of high school education; two-thirds say it should be mandatory for all high school students to learn about personal finance, while another quarter say it should be an elective class.
Additional Survey Insights
More than half of respondents got their first credit card in college or right after high school.
A secured credit card is a common starter credit card and way to build credit, and more than half of respondents say they either have a secured card (34.3%) or used to have one (18.5%).
The two most common questions respondents have about credit are how to improve their credit scores and how long information stays on their credit reports.
Respondents understand credit well enough to know when they’ve made mistakes: 21.8% of respondents say paying a bill late was their single biggest credit mistake, and 21.7% say their biggest mistake was carrying too high of a balance.
Respondents also understand the importance of checking their credit reports regularly: 46.5% checked a free report within the last three months, and only 6% have never checked their credit.
U.S. News Survey Methodology
- U.S. News ran a nationwide survey of 1,259 respondents through PureSpectrum on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15, 2022. Only people who had used a credit card for at least 10 years answered questions.
- The survey sample drew from the general American population, and the survey was configured to be representative of this sample.
- The survey asked nine questions relating to spending and credit habits.
Do Young Adults Need Credit Cards?
You can live without a credit card, but life may be easier if you have one. A credit card can help you manage your expenses more easily, earn rewards for everyday spending, build credit history, and obtain benefits and protections that debit cards don’t provide.
Credit cards have their drawbacks, of course. You risk piling up debt and owing interest charges if you don’t pay off your card balance.
Failing to use a card responsibly could damage your credit.
Like a bank account, a credit card is a financial tool that young adults must learn to handle with care. Dipping your toes into the credit card pool as a young adult can help you establish good credit habits for a lifetime.
Identify the most important features to you in a credit card to help you compare offers. You can narrow down your choices by asking yourself:
What are my approval odds? Know your credit score – some apps provide free scores – and stick to cards that fit your credit profile. Issuers may be able to preapprove or prequalify you online for a card with no harm to your credit, but these are not guaranteed credit offers.
What are your goals for the card? Knowing what you want to accomplish can help you settle on a type of card. Maybe you want to build or rebuild credit, earn rewards, or simply get more comfortable using a card.
What are my spending habits? Choose the card that best suits your needs. Consider rewards categories, bonus requirements and card fees as well as benefits. If you get a secured card, can you upgrade your card once you prove that you can manage credit?
Struggling to choose between similar cards? Look for rewards that don’t expire and no late fees or penalty APRs, plus an easily attainable bonus spending requirement. Apply for the card with the best overall package.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?
You might not be able to get a credit card on your own if you are under 21. Federal rules prevent issuers from offering credit cards to consumers under 21 unless they meet certain requirements.
If you are interested in credit cards for 18-year-olds, note that you must apply with proof of your independent income.
Alternatively, you could ask a family member or friend to add you as an authorized user to a card, which gives you access to the account without liability for the bill.
What Is the Best Credit Card for Beginners?
If you’re new to credit cards, focus on building credit. A good starter credit card to build credit will report your account activity to the three major credit bureaus and should be easy to manage.
The key differentiating factor between cards is typically ease of use because nearly all credit cards report your account activity.
What Makes Credit Cards Easy to Use?
Look for cards with no or low fees, clear rewards programs, and alerts to help you remember to pay your bill and avoid overspending.
Cards may also come with other benefits and protections. Your credit card may have a zero fraud liability policy, which means you are not responsible for unauthorized charges.
Other credit card benefits may include extended warranty coverage, price and purchase protection, and travel insurance.
What Is the Easiest Credit Card to Get With No Credit?
Young adults with no credit have limited choices because many credit cards, especially ones with lots of perks, require good or excellent credit. Still, you have options:
- Secured credit cards. Secured cards are for consumers with no credit or limited credit history, or consumers looking to rebuild credit. You’ll pay a security deposit, typically $200 or more. Your deposit is often equal to your credit limit.
- Unsecured credit cards. When you close a secured card or upgrade to an unsecured card, you will get the deposit back. An unsecured card with no security deposit may be an option if you have fair credit or better.
- Student credit cards. Young adults in college should consider student credit cards for building credit. This type of card often has no annual fee, may earn rewards and could offer free access to your credit score.
How Long Does Building Credit Take?
If you’re starting from scratch, you will need up to six months of payment history to build credit. Establishing strong credit requires paying back a loan or opening and using a credit account that reports your payments to at least one of the three major national credit bureaus.
For a FICO credit score, you will need at least one account open for six months or longer. A VantageScore takes one month of credit activity.
Paying your bills on time and using 30% or less of your credit limit can help you build a good credit history quickly. You can boost your score more quickly by using 10% or less of your credit limit.
The age of your accounts is also a factor in credit scoring – the older, the better. As a result, the first card you open is one you’ll want to keep for a long time.
Credit Card Tips for Beginners
Building credit and learning how to manage credit are helpful goals for most young adults using credit cards. Here are some ways to get off to a strong start:
Choose a credit card you can easily manage. Credit card offers can be attractive, with some touting tempting rewards and benefits. But high-value cards aren’t necessarily for beginners. For many young adults, a credit card with no annual fee and simple cash back rewards can be a good fit.
Pretend that your credit card is a debit card. Keep in mind that your credit limit isn’t your budget. Set up a budget and track spending so you know how much you can afford to spend each statement period. Carrying a balance means paying interest charges and could lead to piling up debt.
Keep credit utilization low. Your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you are using compared with your credit limit, should be 30% or less. On a credit card with a $500 credit limit, 30% is $150. If you need to spend more than 30% of your credit limit, ask your card issuer about raising your credit limit.
Use card rewards and benefits. You may be able to redeem rewards as cash back deposits in a bank account, as gift cards or as statement credits. Also, make sure you know your credit card’s benefits and use them for savings. For example, some credit cards provide rental car insurance, which means you may not need to pay extra for it when you travel.
Treat credit cards as a learning experience. You might make mistakes with credit cards, such as paying your bill late or blowing your budget, but you can bounce back. Learn from any missteps and resolve to improve your credit card habits as you get more practice using credit.
What Credit Card Issuers Are Best for Young Adults?
Discover and Chase each claim spots in the Best Credit Cards for Young Adults ranking. Discover’s roster includes a secured card as well as options for students. Chase does not offer any secured cards, but it provides a student card and lucrative rewards cards.