The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Saturday, November 28, 2020

12 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults (2020)

Best Credit Cards For Young Adults

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Updated: June 10, 2020
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. Let’s take a look at some of these credit cards, including cards specifically created with students in mind, cards for fair credit, cards for limited or no credit, and prepaid cards.

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
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • 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 12 billing cycles (3% balance transfer fee 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 12 billing cycles
0% for 12 billing cycles
13.99% - 23.99% Variable
$0
None/Limited
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.4/5.0
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points ($250 value) if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere
  • No blackout dates or restrictions apply, and points never expire
  • 0% introductory APR on new purchases for 12 billing cycles
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 billing cycles
N/A
14.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
None/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
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
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
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • 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
Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit

+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
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

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
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • 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

+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.

PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • 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
Bluebird by American Express® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get your paycheck up to 2 days faster with free direct deposit
  • Cash your checks to your Account with the Bluebird Mobile app. Access your money in minutes for a fee or in 10 days for free if your check is not returned unpaid.
  • Enjoy Card Membership benefits such as Purchase Protection and Fraud Protection when making purchases online or in store with Bluebird
  • Get free ATM access at over 30,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations. You can also pick up cash at over 4,500 Walmart® stores with Cash Pickup Powered by Ria®.
  • Pay no monthly fees or overdraft fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
Not applicable
American Express Serve® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy FREE withdrawals at over 24,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations nationwide. You can also use non MoneyPass® ATMs, but fees may apply
  • Get access to your money up to 2 days faster with early Direct Deposit
  • With Serve, you can pay anyone, anytime. Use FREE Online Bill Pay or Write a Check online and we'll mail it to anyone you need to pay.
  • Check your balance and recent transactions, pay bills on the go, add checks, get SMS text alerts, and send money to family or friends who have a Serve Account
  • No credit check, no minimum balance, no hidden fees
  • Transfer cash to anyone from anywhere. Cash is ready for pickup in minutes.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0 - $6.95 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.

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