Best first credit cards for young adults of 2020

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These offers are no longer available on our site: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Building credit takes time, and there’s no better time to start than now. Credit cards can be a good way to build credit without paying any interest — as long as you use your card’s grace period, which usually means paying your full statement balance by their due date each month.

Whether you’re a college student, a recent graduate or someone looking to build credit for the first time, we think these are the best first credit cards to consider, which could help you build a healthy credit profile. Some of these cards will even give you rewards and perks along the way.

Card Best for
Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card No credit
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® College students
Deserve® EDU Mastercard International students
Capital One® Secured Mastercard® Low security deposit
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Limited credit

Best for no credit: Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

From our partner

Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Here’s why: You don’t necessarily need an established credit history to get approved. Instead, Petal will ask for access to your bank account. It will review that information to determine your credit health. Note that the card issuer will use the information on your credit reports if you do have a credit history.

If you’re approved for the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card, you’ll immediately begin earning 1% cash back on all purchases made using the card, with the chance to earn more if you use your card responsibly. After six months of on-time payments, you’ll start earning 1.25% cash back, and after 12 months of on-time payments, you can earn 1.5% cash back. That’s not bad for a first credit card, especially considering there are no fees whatsoever.

The cash back card also offers a credit limit of up to $10,000 — with a minimum of $500, which is determined by your ability to pay and other factors.

Read our full review of the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card to learn more.

Best for college students: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Here’s why: The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card offers cash back rewards on all of your purchases, incentives for positive use and no foreign transaction fee.

The student card offers a base cash back rate of 1% back on every purchase, but you’ll get 1.25% back for each billing cycle that you pay your bill on time. The bank will also automatically consider you for a credit line increase after six months with the card.

If you have plans to study abroad, the card can save you money because it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. This fee is typically 3% of every international purchase, which doesn’t sound like much but can add up over time, especially on a student budget.

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card doesn’t charge an annual fee either, so you don’t have to worry about that cost eating into your rewards value. And if you pay off your balance in full by the due date each month, you’ll avoid interest charges.

Check out our editorial review of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® to get more details.

Best for international students: Deserve® EDU Mastercard

From our partner

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Here’s why: With most credit cards, you need a Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number to apply. But if you’re an international student and don’t have either, you can still apply for the Deserve® EDU Mastercard.

That doesn’t mean you can’t apply if you’re a U.S. citizen and permanent resident — but if you have an SSN, you’ll have to provide it.

As a new cardholder, you’ll receive one year of Amazon Prime Student after you spend $500 in the first three billing cycles using the card — that’s worth $59. You’ll also earn 1% cash back on every purchase made with the card, plus up to $600 in cellphone coverage if your phone is stolen or damaged — but only if you use your card to pay your phone bill. And the card comes with an annual fee of $0.

Read our Deserve® EDU Mastercard review before you apply.

Best for a low security deposit: Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Here’s why: If you’re having a hard time getting approved for an unsecured credit card, a secured credit card could be a good alternative. And the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a decent option. The card comes with an initial credit line of $200 with a refundable security deposit of $49, $99 or $200, depending on your credit. In contrast, most secured credit cards require that you make a deposit equal to your desired credit line.

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® also may offer you access to a higher credit line if you deposit more money before your account opens. But the maximum credit limit is $1,000.

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® isn’t a rewards card, and there aren’t any significant perks to speak of. But it does report to all three major credit bureaus, so if you use the card carefully (e.g., keeping your balance relatively low and making your monthly payments on time and in full), you can build a positive credit history. Plus, there’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee.

Check out our Capital One® Secured Mastercard® review for more information.

Best for limited credit: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Here’s why: If you’ve already started building credit but just haven’t gotten a credit card yet, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card may be a good fit for you. It can be a good option if you started building positive credit — with other financial products, like student loans or an auto loan — within the past three years.

The card offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which is better than most of the cards on our list, and it doesn’t require you to jump through hoops to get that rate. It does charge a $39 annual fee, but if you spend more than $2,600 per year on the card (that’s $217 per month), you’ll make that money back.

Similar to the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, with the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card you’ll be automatically considered for a credit line increase after six months with the card. There’s also no foreign transaction fee.

Read our review of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card if you’re interested in applying.

How we picked these cards

Getting a good credit card when you’re new to credit or have a limited credit history isn’t easy. As we researched the best first credit cards, we looked at various features, including fees, rewards and incentives designed specifically to help you build credit.

We also focused more on unsecured credit cards, which don’t require that you put down a security deposit in order to qualify. We still listed a secured card for people who are having a hard time getting an unsecured card, and we chose that one in particular because of its deposit requirements.

How to make the most of first credit cards

You likely won’t get a big sign-up bonus or elite benefits with your first credit card, but you’ll get an opportunity to learn healthy credit behaviors and establish your credit history. The sooner you start working on building your credit, the sooner you’ll be able to qualify for more-lucrative offerings with other credit card issuers or qualify for lower interest rates on other financial products like loans.

As you use your card, work on keeping your balance low by not using it for every purchase you make or by making multiple payments throughout the month. A credit utilization rate below 30% is generally a good thing for your credit scores. And the lower, the better.

Also, paying your bill on time every month is critical. Consider setting up automatic payments to avoid accidentally forgetting. And if you do miss a payment, pay as quickly as possible, because late payments are usually reported to the major credit bureaus once they’re 30 days late.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about the high interest rates on some of these cards, other than taking advantage of the grace period each month to avoid interest charges.

As you work on these aspects of your credit, you’ll be on the right path toward excellent credit health.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Cr… Read more.