Best Credit Cards for Young Adults of July 2024

Updated: Jul 17, 2024
Sara Rathner
Written by
Senior Writer/Spokesperson
Caitlin Mims
Reviewed by
Content Management Specialist
Kenley Young
Edited by
Fact Checked
Assigning Editor
Fact Checked
Sara Rathner
Written by
Senior Writer/Spokesperson
Caitlin Mims
Reviewed by
Content Management Specialist
Kenley Young
Edited by
Fact Checked
Assigning Editor
Fact Checked
Many or all of the products on this page are from partners who compensate us when you click to or take an action on their website, but this does not influence our evaluations or ratings. Our opinions are our own.
  • 250+ credit cards reviewed and rated by our team of experts

  • 80+ years of combined experience covering credit cards and personal finance

  • 100+ categories of best credit card selections (See our top picks)

  • Objective comprehensive ratings rubrics (Methodology)

NerdWallet's credit cards content, including ratings and recommendations, is overseen by a team of writers and editors who specialize in credit cards. Their work has appeared in The Associated Press, USA Today, The New York Times, MarketWatch, MSN, NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America" and many other national, regional and local media outlets. Each writer and editor follows NerdWallet's strict guidelines for editorial integrity.

NerdWallet's Best Credit Cards for Young Adults of July 2024

save money

Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

Our pick for

Building credit, rewards & upgrading

Our pick for

Building credit + easy card management

Our pick for

Simple cash back

Our pick for

Cash back for household spending

Our pick for

Cash back for going out & staying in

Our pick for

Bonus cash back

Our pick for

Rewards on rent payments

Our pick for

No-annual-fee travel card

Our pick for

Simple travel rewards + perks

Our pick for

Customized rewards & cool features


Confirm details on issuer's website when applying.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Our pick for: Building credit, rewards & upgrading

Like other secured credit cards for people building or rebuilding credit, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires a cash security deposit. Unlike most others, it offers rewards. But what really makes it stand out from the competition is its upgrade possibilities. The issuer has a process in place for automatically reviewing accounts for possible transition to an unsecured card. Read our review. 

Chime Secured Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card

Our pick for: Building credit + easy card management

This card has no minimum deposit requirement, charges neither an annual fee nor interest, and doesn't require a credit check, and you can automate your payments so you're never late. But to get it, you must be a Chime® banking customer, which is an extra hoop to jump through — and which comes with its own considerations when it comes to customer service. Read our review.

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., 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 Chime® 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 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 2022 and October 2022 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 OTC advance fees may apply. View The Bancorp agreement or Stride agreement for details; see back of card for issuer.

🤓Nerdy Tip

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.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Our pick for: Simple cash back

Among flat-rate cash-back cards, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. It earns an unlimited 2% back on all purchases, which is excellent. But in addition, the card offers a rich sign-up bonus and a generous intro APR period on both purchases and balance transfers. That's an impressive, hard-to-find combination of features on a card with a $0 annual fee. Read our review.

Venmo Credit Card

Our pick for: Customized rewards & cool features

The Venmo Credit Card offers the benefit of bonus rewards categories without requiring you to keep track of them. You automatically earn 3% cash back in the category where you spend the most money (from a list of eight), 2% on the next-highest category, and 1% elsewhere. The eligible categories include all the biggies, like groceries, gas, restaurants and travel. Read our review.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Our pick for: Cash back for household spending

If your household spends a lot on groceries, gas, transit and streaming, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is for you. The rewards it pays in those categories — particularly at U.S. supermarkets and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions — are among the richest of any card. There's a nice welcome offer for new cardholders and an introductory APR period, too. The generous benefits come at a cost, though: Unlike most cash-back cards, this one charges an annual fee. Terms apply. Read our review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for: Cash back for going out & staying in

Love the night life but dead-set against paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It pays a lower cash-back rate on dining and entertainment than the regular Savor card, but the rewards are nevertheless quite good (see rates and fees). The sign-up bonus is smaller than on the annual-fee version, too, but it's still solid (see rates and fees). Read our review.

Chase Freedom Flex®

Our pick for: Bonus cash back

The Chase Freedom Flex® offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, as well as on travel booked through Chase, at restaurants and at drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There's a fantastic bonus offer for new cardholders and an intro APR offer, too. Read our review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for: Simple travel rewards + perks

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is probably the best-known general-purpose travel credit card, thanks to its ubiquitous advertising. You earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Miles can be redeemed at a value of 1 cent apiece for any travel purchase, without the blackout dates and other restrictions of branded hotel and airline cards. The card offers a great sign-up bonus and other worthwhile perks (see rates and fees). Read our review.

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card

Our pick for: No-annual-fee travel rewards

The Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card offers so much value, it's hard to believe there's no annual fee. Start with a great bonus offer, then earn extra rewards in a host of common spending categories — restaurants, gas stations, transit, travel, streaming and more. Read our review.

Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card

Our pick for: Rewards on rent payments

The Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card stands out by offering credit card rewards on rent payments without incurring an additional transaction fee. The ability to earn rewards on what for many people is their single biggest monthly expense makes this card worth a look for any renter. You also get bonus points on dining and travel when you make at least five transactions on the card each statement period, and redemption options include point transfers to partner hotel and loyalty programs. Read our review.

• • •


What should a young adult look for in a credit card?

The answer to this question depends largely on where you are in your credit building journey:

If you don’t have a credit history yet, or you don’t have much of one, it’s best to start with, well, a “starter” card. These are cards specifically designed for people who are new to credit. They don’t offer the richest rewards or the swankiest perks, and their credit limits tend to be low. Some of them require a cash deposit. 

If you’ve already built a good credit history, you’ll have a better chance at getting approved for more popular, and more rewarding, mainstream credit cards. In that case, you’ll be looking for a card with rewards or other features that fit into your lifestyle. There is no single “best” credit card for young adults. There is a best credit card for you, however.

Starter credit cards for young adults

Young adults just getting started with credit can look into these options:

Secured credit cards

With a secured credit card, you provide a cash security deposit — typically a minimum of $200 to $300 — and your credit limit will be determined by how much you deposit. You use the card like any other credit card, making purchases and paying them off when the bill comes. Eventually, when your credit improves, you can move up to a regular “unsecured” card and get your deposit back.

Advantages of secured cards for young adults:

  • The deposit protects the card issuer in case the cardholder doesn’t pay their bill. That makes these cards easier to qualify for. 

  • You’ll get your deposit back when you upgrade to a regular card (assuming the issuer has upgrade options) or close the account in good standing. 

  • Some secured cards offer cash back rewards of 1% to 1.5% 

Disadvantages of secured cards for young adults:

  • You have to tie up money in a deposit. 

  • Unless you have a lot of money to deposit, your credit limit will be quite low, which limits the usefulness of the card. 

Student credit cards

These cards are specifically marketed to college students who are new to credit. They work just like regular credit cards, with no deposit required. The approval process for these cards is generally more accommodating; there might not be a credit score requirement, for example. However, it’s not enough to simply be a college student. You must have income to qualify.

Advantages of student credit cards for young adults:

  • No deposit required. 

  • The approval process will generally take into account that the applicant is new to credit. 

  • Many student cards offer rewards that are identical to those offered on the issuer’s regular cards. (Example: the student versions of Capital One’s Quicksilver and SavorOne cards have the same cash back structures as their regular cards; the same is true of student cards from Discover and Bank of America®.)   

Disadvantages of student credit cards for young adults:

  • If you’re not a student, you usually can’t qualify.

Alternative credit cards

So-called alternative credit cards are a fairly recent innovation in the credit cards market. The term “alternative” refers to the underwriting models that these cards use to evaluate applications. While traditional credit card underwriting leans heavily on an applicant’s credit history, alternative underwriting looks at other factors, including your income, your assets — even your occupation and education.

Advantages of alternative credit cards for young adults:

  • No deposit required. 

  • Easier approval (though not guaranteed) for those new to credit. 

  • A few offer rewards. 

Disadvantages of alternative credit cards for young adults:

  • These cards often come from startups and innovative financial technology companies, so the issuer doesn’t usually have good options to upgrade to when your credit improves. 

  • Issuers of alternative cards have been known to shift their business model abruptly, imposing new fees or even shutting down.

No-deposit subprime cards

On the surface, these look like “regular” credit cards and are relatively easy to get approved for — sometimes without even a credit check. But they can charge fees that border on the outrageous. For example, one issuer commonly charges a $95 “program fee” just to apply, followed by a $75 annual fee in the first year; in the second year and beyond, the annual fee is only $48, but there are also $8.25 monthly fees. That’s $317 in fees just in the first two years — enough for a good deposit on a secured card. And unlike with a secured card deposit, you never get that money back.

Advantages of no-deposit subprime credit cards for young adults:

  • Easy to get approved for. 

  • Some offer cash back rewards. 

Disadvantages of no-deposit subprime credit cards for young adults:

  • Fees are often extremely high. 

  • Usually there’s no option to upgrade when your credit improves. 

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you’re new to credit, you can expect that any credit card you get approved for will charge a high interest rate. But your interest rate doesn’t have to matter. If you pay your bill in full and on time each month, you won’t be charged interest on purchases.

Credit card tips for young adults

Charge only what you can afford to pay in full

Buying things isn’t what gets credit card holders into trouble. Buying things they can’t afford is what gets them into trouble.

Credit cards can make overspending easy, unfortunately. Don’t have $300 for something? Why not put it on the card and pay it off over the next few months? It’s hardly rare for a young adult to make such a decision when they’re still learning how to use credit. And in isolation, a single purchase like this might not be a huge misstep. But then they make another such purchase the next month, and the next, and soon they’re caught in a debt trap.

When using a credit card to build credit or earn rewards, it’s best to treat it like a debit card. Don’t buy anything you wouldn’t buy otherwise, and don’t buy anything you don’t currently have the cash to cover. When your bill comes, pay everything off. Even better: Don’t wait for the bill. Pay it off online.

Keep your balance low

A major factor in your credit score is credit utilization — your balance expressed as a percentage of your credit limit. If you have a $5,000 credit limit and your balance is $1,000, for example, your utilization is 20%. Young adults looking to boost their credit score should strive to keep their utilization below 30%. Staying under 10% is even better.

An important point to understand about utilization is that it has no “memory” in terms of its effect on your credit score. Your credit score reflects what your utilization is right now and is not influenced by your past utilization. So if your credit score is suffering because you’re using, say, 80% of your available credit, you can reverse that damage pretty quickly if you can pay your balance down to 30% or less.

Even if you’re not currently focused on your credit score, there are other reasons to keep your balance in check:

  • If your balance has gotten to the point that you’re carrying debt from one month to the next, rather than paying in full, you’ll be bearing the brunt of credit card interest. 

  • Charging more than you can afford to pay off each month is a strong sign of living beyond your means.

Sometimes you have no choice but to finance a big expense — such as a necessary car repair or medical bill you can’t cover with an emergency fund. But if you’re carrying debt for “stuff,” it’s time to focus on your budget. 

The credit habits you develop in young adulthood can stick with you for the rest of your life. Resist the temptation to overspend just because you have the ability to overspend.

• • •

NerdWallet's Paul Soucy contributed to this article.

To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page.

Last updated on July 17, 2024


NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best credit cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen as among the "best" in multiple categories. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.

Frequently asked questions

Some credit cards are extremely easy to get approved for — but they charge outrageous fees and don't have good options to upgrade to when your credit improves. Young adults looking to build credit with a credit card should look at secured cards, student cards and cards with alternative underwriting methods. See also our best cards for bad credit, for fair/average credit and for no credit.

That depends entirely on how you spend money. If a significant portion of your discretionary spending falls in a specific category, look for a card that pays high rewards in that category — examples include groceries, restaurants, gas, streaming services or online shopping. If you enjoy traveling, look for a card that can get you closer to your next destination. That could be a general purpose travel card with flexible points or a card tied to a specific airline or hotel chain.

A lot of young adults don't really have a dominant spending category. Others don't want to worry about categories and just want a card that offers good rewards on everything. If either of those apply to you, look for a cash-back or travel card with simple flat-rate rewards.

Keep in mind, though, that the best rewards cards are available mostly to those with good credit or better. That's generally defined as credit scores of 690 and up. Young adults who are still building credit may want to wait until they're on firmer ground before applying.

The best time for a young adult to get a credit card is when he or she:

Legally, you can get a credit card of your own when you're 18 years old, but special federal regulations apply until you're 21. If you're under 21, you'll need to either have a co-signer or be able to show that you have independent income. Once you're over 21, the income requirement adjusts a bit; when you're filling out a credit card application, you can include any income that you have access to, including a spouse's income or shared household income.

An alternative to getting your own credit card is to become an authorized user on someone else's account. When you go this route, you get a card with your name on it but that the other person is ultimately responsible for paying. Being an authorized user can help you build credit.

About the author

Portrait of author

Sara Rathner

Sara is a NerdWallet travel and credit cards expert. She has appeared on the “Today” show, Nasdaq and CNBC’s “Nightly Business Report.” Read more
NerdWallet Pixel