12 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults (2017)

12 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Posted: September 8, 2017
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

Acting as a universal key to credit locks, a good credit score can make your financial life a whole lot easier. As a young adult, however, the options for establishing your credit may be limited by your age and inexperience.

In particular, no one under the age of 18 can be considered for credit on their own. Furthermore, the CARD Act of 2009 prevents young people under the age of 21 from obtaining a personal credit card without proof of income or an adult co-signer with good credit. Even when you do meet the qualifications, your lack of experience may be enough to keep you from obtaining the credit card of your dreams.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll always fall short of the requirements for that killer cash back card; a wide range of issuers have credit card options specifically designed for young people to start building credit. So whether you’re looking for a card to cover study snacks at college or lunch at your first real job, you can find a great option to start your credit journey the right way.

Students | Fair Credit | No/Limited Credit | Prepaid

Best “Student” Cards for Young Adults

Whether you’re heading to the local community college or the Ivy League, being a student is all about learning. And one of the most important things you can — and should — learn before heading into the real world is how to manage your finances, including your credit. And one of the easiest ways to get started in the world of credit is to dive right in.

Credit cards designed specifically for students are a great way to get your credit feet wet, as they tend to be easier to obtain without an established credit history. Our favorite student cards welcome first-time cardholders, charge no annual fees, and even include solid cash back rewards on every purchase made with the card.

Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+See More Student Cards

Another key reason for young adults to obtain a credit card in college is the significant jump-start on building a credit history. The length of your credit history is 15% of your FICO score, and the calculation takes into account both the age of your oldest account as well as the average age of all of your credit accounts.

Best “Fair Credit” Cards for Young Adults

When calculating your credit score, FICO takes a number of factors into account — but none of those factors is your actual age. So, for some young adults, simply being young doesn’t mean their credit is unestablished, especially for those who enter the working world at 18. Instead of lacking credit, these young people are building it, and will typically have fair credit as they get started.

With fair credit, consumers won’t qualify for the most exclusive cards, but they be stuck with bad credit or subprime cards either. Our top-rated fair-credit credit cards will include options for cash back or no annual fee, and all will report to the three credit bureaus to ensure your credit report keeps growing.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Use your QuicksilverOne card and get 50% back as a statement credit on your monthly Spotify Premium subscription, now through April 2018
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Building Credit Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • See if you Pre-Qualify without harming your credit score.
  • This fully unsecured credit card with no deposit requirement can be helpful in growing or building credit. Your account activity will be reported monthly to all three major credit bureaus.
  • All the features you want in a credit card are included. Get 1% cash back on eligible purchases, take advantage of free online credit score tracking, and enjoy credit line increase opportunities. Terms apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.99% - 24.99% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

+See More Fair Credit Cards

The most important thing to remember when building your credit is that making late payments — or, worse, missing payments entirely — can really sink your score. If you use your credit card responsibly by maintaining low balances and paying your bill before the due date each statement cycle, however, you should see your credit jump from “fair” to “good” in next to no time.

Best “No/Limited Credit” Cards for Young Adults

Although some industries may hold to the adage that “no news is good news,” the credit industry isn’t quite so laissez-faire when it comes to applicants without established credit. Without a proper credit history to establish your credit risk, many issuers will simply assume a certain level of risk.

And while this “assumed” risk is typically less than the risk represented by bad-credit applicants, it isn’t going to net you the pick of the pack, either. That said, our top selections for no or limited credit still include options for cash back, no annual fee, and credit score tracking to help you stay on the right credit path.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair
Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

+See More No/Limited Credit Cards

Without other items on your credit report to buffer your score, your first credit card will likely set the tone for your early credit score. This means you should be careful to maintain a low balance and to make your payments as agreed. Setting up automatic payments can be a great way to ensure you never miss a credit card payment.

Best “Prepaid” Cards for Young Adults

Of all the reasons to obtain a credit card as a young adult, perhaps the most important is to start learning the right way to handle credit — and finances in general. For those under the age of 21, one of the best methods for learning how to handle credit won’t actually impact their credit at all: a prepaid card.

While still usable to make many of the in-store and online purchases for which you’d want to use a credit card, prepaid cards need to be pre-loaded with funds instead of being paid after the fact. This means young adults can learn important budgeting skills, including how to prevent impulse swiping, without negative credit repercussions. Our top-rated picks are backed by Visa and can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.

Pink NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Sign up for NetSpend Payback Rewards and earn cash back.
  • No late fees or credit card debt because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get real time text message alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply.
  • *Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
No Credit Check
Brink

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • Trust Brink's with your money. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Earn Cash Back via the PayBack Rewards program from restaurants, shops and more.
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply
  • *Card issued by BofI®, Member FDIC. Terms & conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
No Credit Check
AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card Review

at AccountNow'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • $0 Monthly Fee Pay As You Go Plan (See Cardholder Agreement on site)
  • No Credit Check. No Overdraft Fees, ever.
  • Free† direct deposit and online bill payment
  • Use it Everywhere Visa Debit Card Accepted in the U.S.
  • Easy Online/Mobile Account Access
  • Perfect for Occasional Usage
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Check

+See More Prepaid Cards

The things to look for when comparing prepaid cards include any applicable usage fees, such as monthly account fees or reloading fees, as well as the available methods for reloading your card. Some options may also provide cash back or other purchase rewards programs, so be sure to shop around.

Your First Card Can Help Build Your Credit Future

The key to everything from a car loan to a home mortgage, your credit is an important part of your personal finances. And cultivating your credit early is a good way to help ensure a solid credit foundation for the future.

Of course, whether picking up your first card as you head off to college or looking for your first card as you head off to the real world, obtaining a credit card as a young adult can be a challenge. In the end, it simply comes down to doing the right research and knowing your options to get started on your credit journey.