Best Credit Cards for Recent College Graduates

Whether you have no credit, fair credit or bad credit after graduation, here are some beginner-friendly cards that can help you reach your credit goals.
Melissa Lambarena
By Melissa Lambarena 
Edited by Kenley Young

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If you're fresh out of college, your credit card options will likely be limited. Here's why:

  • If you never had a student credit card to practice with, you may have thin or no credit.

  • Even if you did have a student credit card that you managed well, you may only have worked your way up to "fair credit" (FICO scores of 630 to 689), which is an underserved market.

  • If you had a student credit card but ran into trouble managing it responsibly, you may have bad credit.

Whichever category you may fall into after graduation, here are some beginner-friendly credit cards that can help you reach your credit goals.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you can’t qualify for a credit card, consider getting a co-signer or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. These options can help you establish credit.

Options if you have no credit

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

The $0-annual-fee Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card offers up to 1.5% cash back on all purchases and additional cash back when you shop with select merchants. Plus, it has zero fees. The card is issued by WebBank, and you don’t need a security deposit to qualify.

Petal may not rely solely on credit scores to determine eligibility. The company has a machine-learning underwriting model that allows its issuer to look at income, expenses, savings and debts. Payments are reported to all three credit bureaus, which is ideal when you're trying to establish credit.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you don’t have a strong enough cash flow or credit history to qualify for this card, then the Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card may be an option. It doesn't offer everything that its sibling card does. For instance, it offers lower rewards, a lower possible credit limit and a higher potential APR. But it can still help you build credit, and there's still no annual fee or security deposit.

Options if you have fair credit

Capital One QuicksilverOne Credit Card
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Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a solid starter card for new graduates. It earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases. You’re also automatically considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months, which could bump up your credit scores. (A higher credit limit can lower your credit utilization ratio, a key factor in your scores.)

The card has a $39 annual fee.

🤓Nerdy Tip

For most credit cards, age and income matter. You can improve your odds by applying for a credit card that’s in your league.

Options if you have bad credit

Discover it® Secured Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

The $0-annual-fee Discover it® Secured Credit Card is among the most generous secured card options. It offers 2% cash back on up to $1,000 spent per quarter on restaurants and gas, and 1% back on all other purchases. It requires a minimum security deposit of $200 to qualify.

That deposit may be a bit steep, but it could be worth it, as this card offers incentives and a possible path to upgrade to a better card. With responsible use over seven months, Discover reviews your account to see whether you’re eligible to upgrade to a traditional unsecured credit card. Discover also reports payments to all three credit bureaus.

🤓Nerdy Tip

When you’re starting out with your first credit card, healthy habits are important to establish a good credit history. Start with small charges, don’t carry a balance and avoid late payments to keep your credit card within your control.

Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

Chime Secured Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card

The Chime Secured Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card is technically a secured card, but it breaks away from that traditional mold in several ways. It doesn’t require a hard credit check, and you don't have to pay a minimum security deposit upfront. It does require a Chime Checking Account and at least $200 in direct deposits made to that account within the past 365 days, but that might be easier to swing than having to put up several hundreds of dollars all at once for a traditional security deposit.

The money you move from that Chime Checking Account to the Credit Builder secured account determines your credit limit. You can also use this money to pay off your balance, and when you do, those payments are reported to all three major credit bureaus. The card also packs features that can keep you out of debt. It doesn’t charge interest or fees because you can’t carry a balance from one month to the next.

Chime says the following:

  • The secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted. Please see the back of your card for its issuing bank.

  • To apply for Credit Builder, you must have received a single qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more to your Checking Account. The qualifying direct deposit must be from your employer, payroll provider, gig economy payer, or benefits payer by Automated Clearing House (ACH) deposit OR Original Credit Transaction (OCT). Bank ACH transfers, Pay Anyone transfers, verification or trial deposits from financial institutions, peer to peer transfers from services such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo, mobile check deposits, cash loads or deposits, one-time direct deposits, such as tax refunds and other similar transactions, and any deposit to which Chime deems to not be a qualifying direct deposit are not qualifying direct deposits.

  1. Based on a representative study conducted by Experian®, members who made their first purchase with Credit Builder between June 2020 and October 2020 observed an average FICO® Score 8 increase of 30 points after approximately 8 months. On-time payment history can have a positive impact on your credit score. Late payment may negatively impact your credit score.

  2. On-time payment history may have a positive impact on your credit score. Late payment may negatively impact your credit score. Chime will report your activities to Transunion®, Experian®, and Equifax®. Impact on your credit may vary, as Credit scores are independently determined by credit bureaus based on a number of factors including the financial decisions you make with other financial services organizations.

  3. Money added to Credit Builder will be held in a secured account as collateral for your Credit Builder Visa card, which means you can spend up to this amount on your card. This is money you can use to pay off your charges at the end of every month.

  4. Out of network ATM withdrawal and over the counter advance fees may apply. See here for details:

Grow Credit Mastercard
NerdWallet rating 

Grow Credit Mastercard

The Grow Credit Mastercard, issued by Sutton Bank, is a virtual card that offers the chance to build credit while paying for qualifying monthly subscriptions like eligible bills, TV, music and other streaming services. There’s no credit check required for this card. The company requires you to link a bank account, then it applies its own proprietary technology that looks at income to evaluate eligibility.

You have the option of choosing one of four membership plans, depending on eligibility. Each one has a different cost, a different monthly spending limit and different subscriptions that qualify. For example, the free membership plan allows you to build credit with subscriptions like Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime and others. Paid membership plans cost $4.99 per month or $9.99 per month and they include "premium" subscriptions that allow you to build credit with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile payments, among others. Only one membership plan requires a low security deposit.

The Grow Credit Mastercard functions like a credit card in some ways, but you can’t use it to spend on every purchase. You can only charge those specific subscription transactions, up to a certain amount, since the line of credit is small. And as with some of these other options, you can’t carry a balance from month to month. The card doesn’t charge any interest or fees beyond the cost of the membership plans. Payments are reported to all three major credit bureaus.

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