The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Friday, September 30, 2022

Best Credit Cards For 18-Year-Olds

Best Credit Cards For 18 Year Olds

credit card advice

Adam West

Written by: Adam West

Adam West

Adam corresponds with finance experts to publish industry news coverage related to helping consumers achieve greater financial literacy and improved credit. He has more than 12 years of storytelling, editing, and design experience in print and online journalism and is most knowledgeable in the areas of credit scores, financial products and services, and the banking industry.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

See full bio »
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Turning 18 can be an exciting time, full of new adventures. Many will leave home for the first time, vote for the first time, and buy their first Powerball ticket in the fruitless hope of becoming a millionaire.

At one time, another rite of passage for newly-minted 18-year-olds was to signup for their first credit card, choosing from among the bounty of applications inevitably hitting their mailbox — until the CARD Act of 2009.

These days, the CARD Act (Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility And Disclosure Act) requires consumers under the age of 21 to have a cosigner or a steady income to obtain a credit card. In one fell swoop, the CARD Act limited the options for 18-year-olds to obtain credit from the entire consumer marketplace down to a handful of issuers and cards.

Though somewhat limited, the best credit cards for 18 year olds are still out there to help you start building credit.

Students | No/Limited Credit | Prepaid | Cosigners | Secured Cards

Best Student Cards For 18-Year-Olds

Those under the age of 21 who wish to obtain a credit card under their own name will need to have a regular income substantial enough to repay any credit card debt. At the same time, that income doesn’t necessarily need to be from a job, which can open up some doors — particularly for students.

Why? Because you can typically report extra money from scholarships, grants, and fellowships as income on a credit card application. What’s more, you can also find a range of credit cards designed specifically for students, with flexible credit requirements and room for those who have yet to start establishing a credit history.

You can start exploring some of the best student credit card options available below:

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • 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! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.99% - 24.99% applies.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
15.99% - 24.99% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), with 1% on all other purchases
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.6
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings, and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • 0% Introductory APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 18 billing cycles (balance transfer fee applies), then a variable APR applies
  • Optional overdraft protection option helps prevent declined purchases, returned checks, or other overdrafts when you link your eligible Bank of America® checking account to your credit card. Transfer fees may apply.
  • $0 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 18 billing cycles
0% for 18 billing cycles
16.24% - 26.24% Variable
$0
None/Limited
STUDENT RATING
★★★★★
4.5
OVERALL RATING
  • $50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual Fee
  • $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years
  • Earn a credit limit increase after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.24% Variable
$0
See website for Details*

+See More Student Credit Cards

One important thing of which you should be aware of is that certain types of school-related monies should not be reported as income on a credit card application, the most prominent of which is student loan funds.

Basically, since your student loan is really a type of debt rather than actual income, it’s a bad idea to claim it as such. In other words, you’ll need to pay back your loans, meaning they’re not a very reliable option for repaying other types of debt.

Moreover, if you need to falsely report student loan funds as income to qualify for a student card, you probably don’t need to take on any other potential sources of debt in the first place — particularly not ones with the high interest rates that come with revolving credit lines.

Best Cards For 18-Year-Olds With No Credit

The main issue with not having an established credit history is that issuers can’t get an idea of how much financial risk you present. Think of it like this: if you were to lend someone money, wouldn’t you want to know they can — and, more importantly, will — pay you back? That’s where your credit history comes into play. Enter: the starter credit card.

Offered by many major issuers (and not-so-major ones, too), starter cards are like the base model subcompact car of bank credit card products. In other words, they’ll get you where you need to be, but they’re not likely to have a lot of creature comforts, like purchase rewards on eligible purchases or lucrative signup bonuses. Our favorite cards for those with no/limited credit include a number of annual-fee-free options.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Help build your credit through responsible use of a card like this
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Monitor your credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. It's free for everyone
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with online banking from your desktop or smartphone, with Capital One's mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
28.49% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), with 1% on all other purchases
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.6/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it's misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they're approved for a Capital One credit card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+See More Cards for No/Limited Credit

After you open your first credit account, your creditor — the credit card issuer, in this case — will start reporting your payment behavior to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). This will establish your consumer credit profile, which credit scoring agencies will use to calculate your credit scores.

FICO is the most commonly used credit scoring agency, and the FICO Score 8 the most frequently used credit scoring model. VantageScore 3.0 comes in a close second.

Since most major credit card issuers now offer free FICO tracking as a benefit to cardholders, you can likely keep track of your changing credit score through your online banking/bill paying portal. Don’t be alarmed or dismayed if it takes some time for you to get a credit score, however, as it takes up to six months of credit history for FICO to have the means to calculate your credit score.

Best Prepaid Cards For 18-Year-Olds

While the CARD Act seeks to protect young people from taking on credit card debt they cannot repay, it can be an inconvenience for those who are unable to obtain a credit card as a result, particularly in the modern world of digital payments. If you are between the ages of 18 and 20 and cannot meet the requirements to obtain a credit card under the CARD Act, your best solution may be to get a prepaid credit card.

When adorned with a credit card network logo — e.g., Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or Amex — prepaid cards can be used just like credit cards to conveniently make purchases anywhere the network is accepted. The main difference is that prepaid cards need to be loaded with funds to be used, sort of like a gift card or debit card.

Unlike gift cards, prepaid cards, including our expert-rated options below, can receive direct deposits.

Brinks Prepaid Mastercard Review

at Republic Bank & Trust Company'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • Brink’s gives you the peace of mind you deserve. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • With Brink’s Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster* than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Brink’s Money Prepaid Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply.)
  • *Card issued by Republic Bank & Trust Company, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Mastercard Debit cards are accepted. “Apply Now” for full details.
  • See additional Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard® Details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
Not applicable
PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at The Bancorp Bank'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • Move money from your PayPal account to fund your prepaid card account.
  • Earn cash back and personalized offers, just for using your card.
  • With Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • Card issued by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted.
  • Click PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® for additional features & program details, and to request a Card.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your card.
  • Use the NetSpend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. Click "Get My Card" for full details.
  • See additional NetSpend® Prepaid Visa® details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable

+See More Prepaid Cards

Although prepaid cards can be used the same way as credit cards for purchases, prepaid cards have one key difference: They cannot help you build credit like a credit card can.

Credit card purchases borrow money from the issuing bank to pay for purchases, then you pay off that debt when the issuer bills you. In contrast, prepaid cards use the money you load onto the card to pay for purchases directly and must be reloaded once that money is spent.

And because prepaid cards are not technically credit cards, they are exempt from the CARD Act and do not require a credit check to obtain. Prepaid cards are not tied to your credit in any way and they won’t report your payment behavior to the credit bureaus, meaning you can’t use prepaid cards to establish or build credit.

Best Credit Cards that Allow Cosigners

While it may seem restrictive, the heart of the CARD Act’s age restrictions were designed to prevent young people from taking on credit card debt they can’t repay. As such, if you cannot show you have a reliable income to repay your debts, you’ll need a creditworthy cosigner who can vouch for your ability to pay your debts.

However, getting a credit card with a cosigner isn’t always easy. Not only do you need someone with good credit willing to take on the responsibility, but you’ll also need to find a credit card and issuer that allows cosigners in the first place. This can be easier said than done, as many major issuers won’t allow cosigners, but not all credit card issuers frown on cosigners; here are some of our top picks.

12. Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

This card is currently not available.

Bank of America® Rating
★★★★★
N/A
OVERALL RATING
N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

13. Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card

This card is currently not available.

Bank of America® Rating
★★★★★
N/A
OVERALL RATING
N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

14. BankAmericard® credit card

This card is currently not available.

Bank of America® Rating
★★★★★
N/A
OVERALL RATING
N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

Before running out and finding a cosigner, be sure you understand what it is you’re asking them to do. Cosigners are more than simply references. Those who cosign for a debt — and yes, your credit card balance represents a debt — are also agreeing to repay that debt in the event the primary cardholder cannot (or simply does not). And rest assured that the credit card issuer will hold your cosigner to their word if you fail to make your payments.

Additionally, it’s not just your cosigner’s wallet on the hook if you misbehave with your new credit card; the cosigner’s credit will also be impacted by the credit card account, as the account will show up on the cosigner’s credit reports.

This means that poor credit behaviors, like carrying a high balance or missing payments, will not only cause your own credit score to drop, but may also tank your cosigner’s score, too.

Best Secured Cards For 18-Year-Olds

Far and away the easiest credit card to obtain — and, arguably, one of the safest — is a secured credit card. Made for credit builders (or rebuilders for those with bad credit scores), secured credit cards require an initial deposit to open the account. That deposit acts as security for the account, and the size of your deposit will determine the size of your credit line.

Since a secured card is less risky for the issuer, they tend to have lower interest rates and fees than unsecured cards for building credit. Plus, your secured card deposit is fully refundable when you close your account in good standing — those pesky unsecured card fees are gone for good.

Many of our top-rated secured cards have no annual fee at all:

SECURED RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual or hidden fees, and you can earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Put down a refundable $200 security deposit to get a $200 initial credit line
  • Building your credit? Using a card like this responsibly could help
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
28.49% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
SECURED RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Building your credit? Using the Capital One Platinum Secured card responsibly could help
  • Put down a refundable security deposit starting at $49 to get a $200 initial credit line
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
28.49% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Discover it® Secured Credit Card Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

SECURED RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
  • No credit score required to apply.
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200. That means a $200 deposit for a $200 credit line. Or a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit, and the security deposit equals your credit limit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 7 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
25.99% Variable APR
$0
New/Rebuilding

+See More Secured Credit Cards

Another reason to go with a low- or no-fee secured credit card over a pricey unsecured credit card is that some secured cards can be upgraded down the line. For example, if you have a Discover it® Secured Credit Card, Discover will periodically check up on your credit progress to see if you can qualify for an unsecured card.

If your credit report passes muster, you’ll be automatically upgraded to an unsecured card, and your deposit will be refunded in full. As an added bonus, the switch is often seen as an upgrade, not a new credit product, which means you’ll hang onto the account history you’ve built with your secured card. (Your average account age is factored into your credit score, so maintaining old accounts can be important.)

Become an Authorized User on Someone Else’s Account

If you can’t qualify for your own credit card but you want to begin building credit, one way to do that is to become an authorized user on someone else’s account. You’ll receive your own card with your name on it, but you won’t be the primary borrower. That means you aren’t legally responsible for repaying the debt.

Authorized Users

Becoming an authorized user means the account will be reported to each major credit bureau for inclusion on your credit reports. This will only help, though, if the account is in good standing and managed responsibly.

Ideally, the account will have been opened for a few years, has a spotless record of on-time payments, and has a balance below 30% of its available credit limit.

You should see the account appear on your credit reports after it is reported to the bureaus, which will generate a credit score.

Start Off On the Right Credit Foot

As the young cub in the den, it can be challenging to measure your progress against that of the more experienced people around you. But the thing to realize here is that you have time working on your side, and, when used wisely, time can be a powerful weapon.

To make the most of that time — and your finances — you should start planning for the future as early as you can. This not only means starting to build your retirement savings with your first paycheck, but also responsibly establishing your consumer credit profile as soon as (reasonably) possible.

Ideally, having a parent or other responsible cardholder add you to their accounts as an authorized user can jumpstart your credit journey. Even without this boost, however, you can reasonably build credit in a few short months.

So, once you’ve opened your first credit account, you should focus on building a positive credit history. The most important thing to do is to be sure to pay your bills on time and as agreed each month. Late payments can have a devastating effect on your credit, particularly newly established credit.

You should also be careful to build credit slowly; opening four credit cards all at once won’t build your credit faster, and it could have the opposite effect if you can’t stay on top of the payments. Plus, every credit card application will result in a hard credit inquiry, and excessive inquiries can do some serious damage to a fledgling credit profile (and not a little damage to an established one, for that matter).

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