The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Thursday, April 9, 2020

12 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults (2020)

12 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults (2020)

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Updated: September 11, 2019
Advertiser Disclosure

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. Keep reading for information on the best credit cards for young adults.

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.

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.

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
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (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.

Just remember to use your student credit card responsibly. There are more than a few stories of college students who viewed their credit cards as free money, and by the time they graduated, they entered the workforce with a significant amount of credit card debt on their record.

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

★★★★★
4.8

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
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

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
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+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
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

+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.

NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • 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
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • 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
Up-to $9.95 monthly
Not applicable
PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your Card Account and stop waiting in line to cash your refund check!
  • 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

+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.