The best first credit cards for young adults of 2019

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In a Nutshell

The best first credit card options for young adults are those that can help you build credit but don’t make you pay a bunch of fees or sacrifice good benefits.

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These offers are no longer available on our site: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, Chase Freedom®

If you’re working to build your credit history from scratch, there’s no reason to settle for a vanilla credit card.

Here’s our take on the best first credit cards and the features that make them worth considering.

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

Here’s why: In addition to offering cash back on all of your purchases, Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® provides college students with extra benefits for practicing good credit habits.

5 credit card mistakes students should avoid

You’ll earn a base rewards rate of 1% cash back on every purchase you make. For each month that you pay your bill on time, you’ll receive 1.25% back instead. What’s more, Capital One may increase your credit limit after you’ve made on-time payments for your first five months.

While the card has a $0 annual fee, its interest rate for purchases, and balance transfers, is relatively high at a variable 26.99% APR. But if you pay off your purchase balance in full each month by the due date, and don’t use the card for cash advances or balance transfers, you can avoid paying interest entirely.

From our partner

Read our editorial review of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card to find out if it’s right for you.

Best secured card: Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Here’s why: Not only does this card skip the annual fee, but it also offers rewards and a chance to get your deposit back before you close the account.

Not many secured credit cards offer cash back, making the Discover it® Secured Credit Card tough to beat. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on the first $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (1% after that), plus 1% cash back on all other purchases.

To sweeten the deal, Discover will match all the cash back you earn during your first year, effectively making your base rewards rate 2% during that time.

While some secured credit cards require you to close your account to get your security deposit back, you may be able to get yours back with the Discover it® Secured Credit Card if you convert to an unsecured card, which can happen as soon as eight months after you open your account.

The card doesn’t charge an annual fee and its purchase APR is a variable 25.24%.

Find out more about the Discover it® Secured Credit Card in our editorial review.

Learn more: How a secured card can help you build or rebuild credit

Best rewards card for graduates with good credit: Chase Freedom®

Here’s why: Chase Freedom® offers a sign-up bonus and the opportunity to start learning how to maximize your credit card rewards.

If you had the chance to build a good credit history while in college, the Chase Freedom® card is a great way to cut your teeth with credit card rewards. You’ll start by earning a $150 bonus after you spend $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.

But with Chase Freedom®, it’s all about the rewards. You’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories every quarter you activate, plus 1% cash back on everything else. Bonus categories in 2018 included gas stations, grocery stores, department stores, ride-share services and more.

This structure can give you the opportunity to maximize your rewards.

If that isn’t enough, the card also offers a $0 annual fee. Get more details about the Chase Freedom® card in our full review of the card.

From our partner

Chase Freedom®

From cardholders in the last year

Best rewards card for graduates with limited credit: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Here’s why: If you started building credit in college but your scores aren’t yet in the good or excellent ranges, the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card can be a great way to continue building credit while also earning great rewards.

This card is designed for people with average credit, which according to Capital One includes having a limited credit history with no recent defaults.

You’ll have a tough time finding many credit cards for fair credit that also have a great rewards program. But with this card, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make, and you may be able to get a higher credit limit after you’ve made on-time payments during your first five months.

The card charges a $39 annual fee, but you can offset it with cash back by spending at least $2,600 each year. It has a variable APR of 26.74% for both purchases and balance transfers.

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

Read more about the card’s highlights and how to use it in our full card review.

Best for minimal fees: Petal Visa Credit Card

Here’s why: Finding a credit card with no fees is virtually impossible. If that’s your ultimate goal though, the Petal Visa Credit Card should be on your radar as a card with minimal fees.

The card doesn’t charge any of the typical fees you see with credit cards. And it’s possible to get approved for the card with bad credit or no credit scores at all. In addition to a credit check, Petal will review your bank account data to determine your overall financial responsibility and fit for the card.

The card offers credit limits between $500 and $10,000, and charges a variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 25.49%.

If you want to learn more, read our review of the Petal Visa Credit Card.

From our partner

Petal Visa Credit Card

From cardholders in the last year

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Best international student card: Deserve® Edu Mastercard

Here’s why: Many credit card issuers require a Social Security number to submit an application. But with the Deserve® Edu Mastercard, you don’t need either if you’re an international student.

That’s not to say U.S. citizens and permanent residents can’t apply — but if you are either, you’ll need to provide your SSN.

The card also offers some perks. If approved, you’ll receive up to $59 in reimbursements for an Amazon Prime Student subscription. And you’ll earn 1% cash back on all the purchases you make with the card.

Your credit limit can be as high as $5,000, giving you plenty of room to use your card without worrying about having a high credit utilization, which can hurt your credit scores. The card doesn’t charge an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee, and the variable purchase APR is 20.24%.

From our partner

Deserve® Edu Mastercard

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

If you’re considering the Deserve® Edu Mastercard, read our full review to learn more.

How we picked these cards

Getting a good credit card when you’re young isn’t always easy. As we picked our top choices, we considered several factors, including fees, rewards and features designed specifically to help you build credit.

While we listed one secured credit card for its standout features, we mostly focused on unsecured credit cards, so you don’t have to worry about coming up with a security deposit. And while we couldn’t do much about the high interest rates, remember that you can often avoid paying interest on your purchases by paying your balance on time and in full each month.

Learn more: How to avoid interest with a credit card grace period

How to make the most of your first credit card

Getting a massive sign-up bonus, or top-tier rewards and perks, is typically too much to ask of a first credit card. But once you find the right card, take the opportunity to use it to build your credit history, so that you can get approved for better cards in the future.

Specifically, always pay your bill on time to establish a positive payment history, and keep your balance low relative to your credit limit.

Also, read your card’s benefits guide to get to know what types of perks you get beyond what you see in the advertising. For example, your card may offer complimentary rental car insurance or some protections for the things you buy with the card.

If you take the time to research what your card has to offer, it’ll help you squeeze as much value out of it as possible.