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Welcome to the magical-yet-confusing young adulthood phase! With that entry-level salary and growing collection of expenses, your life is getting more complicated. The way you pay for things is going to need to keep up.
Before, you may have stuck to cash or a debit card to make purchases. Perhaps you were an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, or you had a student or secured credit card of your very own. Now, you may want to build credit and, eventually, earn rewards.
Here are the best credit cards for young adults, whether you’re totally new to using them, or you’re looking for something less basic than your starter card.
If you have credit card debt, hold off on a cash-back or travel rewards card until you pay off that debt. The amount of interest you’re paying will eliminate the value of any cash-back or travel rewards you’d earn.
Options if you’re still building credit
If you have a limited or no credit history, you’ll first need to build credit before you can move up to cards with more perks. Secured credit cards, where you make a deposit that becomes your credit limit, can be a way to do this.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card: An introduction to earning cash back
The $0-annual-fee Discover it® Secured Credit Card stands out for its cash-back rewards and the ability to graduate to an unsecured card after a few months of card use. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 per quarter in combined spending. All other purchases earn 1% back. There’s even a bonus for new cardholders, which Discover describes this way: "INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match." Payment activity is reported to all three credit bureaus, and after seven months, Discover will begin automatically reviewing your account each month to determine if you’d be eligible to graduate to an unsecured card and get your security deposit back.
Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card: Goof-proof card management
The Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card is a $0-annual-fee secured card with a twist, as it allows you to avoid two big credit card traps: getting into debt and missing a payment. First, you must open a Chime checking account to use in combination with this card. From there, you can move the sum of your choice into your Chime credit builder account, and that becomes the amount you can spend on your card. Pay your bill at the end of the month knowing you have the money set aside to pay in full — you can even opt into the Safer Credit Building feature, which automatically makes payments for you so you never pay late.
Just note that there's no "upgrade" option to a traditional, unsecured card with Chime. And if you decide to switch to another credit card in the future, it won’t come with features that help protect you from yourself.
Options if you want cash-back rewards
Once you’ve attained a good credit score (a score above 690), the list of credit cards you may be eligible for begins to grow, and those cards offer pretty sweet benefits. And as far as flexibility goes, it’s hard to beat cash back.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card: For keeping it simple
You may not feel ready to carry a thick wallet full of cards that each earn different cash-back rates on different kinds of purchases. (And you may not ever feel ready, which is totally OK!) For a solid rewards rate wherever you use it, there’s the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, which earns 2% cash back on all purchases. Plus, there’s a sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $0.
Venmo Credit Card: For customized rewards and cool features
The Venmo Credit Card offers higher cash-back rates on some purchases, but it happens automatically without any action on your part. Earn 3% cash back on your top eligible spending category for the month, 2% back on your second-highest eligible spending category and 1% back on everything else. Eligible spending categories include transportation, travel, dining and nightlife, entertainment, groceries, gas, bills and utilities, and health and beauty. The $0-annual-fee card features a unique QR code that friends can scan to access your Venmo profile, making it easy to transfer money when one of you fronts a bill.
» MORE: Review of the Venmo Credit Card
When you feel ready for a more complex — yet potentially more rewarding — cash-back card, here are some to choose from:
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is especially helpful for those everyday costs. It earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in spending per year, then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back on transit and at U.S. gas stations and 1% back on everything else. Terms apply (see rates and fees). There’s an annual fee to consider (currently $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.) But that’s offset by a generous welcome offer. Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months. Terms Apply.
The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers respectable rewards for going out and staying in, considering its $0 annual fee. Earn 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, purchases at grocery stores and streaming service subscriptions, along with 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Other purchases earn 1% cash back. Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is the most complicated of the bunch. You’ll earn 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% back on dining and at drugstores, 5% back on quarterly rotating bonus categories you must activate (on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, then 1% back), and 1% on all other purchases. Thankfully, the annual fee is uncomplicated at $0. Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Options if you want a travel credit card
Picking your first travel rewards credit card can be tough. There are lots of popular options that are packed with valuable benefits, but some charge sky-high annual fees. If you’re brand new to using travel cards, think inexpensive and easy to use:
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card - Offer Ending Soon: For no annual fee
The Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card - Offer Ending Soon earns 3 points per dollar spent on dining, travel, gas, EV charging, popular streaming services and cell phone plans. Everything else earns 1 point per dollar. Not only can you use points for travel, but you can also redeem them for cash back, gift cards or purchases where you check out with PayPal. The card also features a welcome offer: Limited time offer. Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $300 cash redemption value. Offer expires 1/10/2023. The annual fee is $0.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: For perks plus easy earnings and redemptions
With its $95 annual fee, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is the gateway to the fancier travel cards you may gravitate toward later on. This card keeps it easy, earning 2 miles per dollar on purchases and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. A statement credit of up to $100 for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry will save you time at the airport and more than offset the annual fee in the first year. Redeem miles for bookings on Capital One Travel, or request statement credits to cover the cost of recent eligible travel purchases. You can also transfer your miles to Capital One’s airline and hotel transfer partners.