The Best Credit Cards for Young Adults Can Help Kickstart Your Credit and Earn Rewards

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Credit cards are helpful tools for any young adult looking to building credit. They can offer great rewards and savings on your most frequent spending. Plus, good credit can go a long way in helping you reach many financial milestones of adulthood — from a future mortgage on a home to the auto loan and insurance you’ll need when buying a car. 

“I know a lot of young people are afraid to get a credit card, but the sooner you start your credit history, the better,” says Tiffany Ferguson, a social media influencer who paid off over $10,000 in credit card debt. 

But they’re also a huge financial responsibility, and overspending can lead to lasting high-interest debts. You can use a credit card to build credit without risking debt by spending only within your budget. And choosing the right credit card for you can go a long way in helping you save on everyday purchases without paying unnecessary fees and interest. 

The best credit cards for young adults will help you build credit without paying hefty fees, and offer rewards to save on your spending. Here’s what you should know before choosing a credit card, and how to develop good credit habits that will help you maintain your credit over time. 

Best Credit Cards for Young Adults

Editorial Independence

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
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Petal® 2
Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Petal’s secure site.
Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
  • Intro offer:
    N/A
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.24% – 29.24% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    (No Credit History)
Rewards rate:

Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments. 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Cash back rewards increase with responsible credit use
  • No annual fee or security deposit
  • Prequalify online without a hard inquiry on your credit report
Cons
  • No welcome bonus
  • No introductory APR
  • Potentially high ongoing variable APR
The Bottom Line
The Petal 2 Visa Credit Card issued by WebBank, is designed to help credit newcomers establish credit and build a good credit score with no annual fee. You’ll earn cash back rewards on your spending, and the card uses an alternative approval process which can help you qualify even with no credit history.

Additional Card Details

  • Earn a baseline 1% cash back on all eligible purchases, and up to 1.5% back after 12 on-time payments
  • Reports payment history to all three credit bureaus
  • Credit limit between $300-$10,000 based on credit worthiness
  • No annual fee

The Petal 2 Visa Card is a cash back card to help you build credit without credit history. You can get approved based on an alternative approval process — when you apply, Petal creates a “Cash Score” based on your income, savings, and spending. You can earn 1% cash back on every purchase, which increases to 1.25% cash back after six on-time payments and up to 1.5% back after 12 on-time payments. 

Discover it® Secured 

Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (3.7/5)
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (3.7/5)
  • Intro offer:
    Cashback Match™
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    25.24% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    (No Credit History)
Rewards rate:

Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Build credit, even with limited credit history
  • Automatic monthly account reviews after 7 months to determine if you qualify for a refunded deposit
  • Earn rewards on your spending
Cons
  • Requires security deposit (minimum $200)
  • High APR
The Bottom Line
With a valuable cash back rewards program, the Discover it Secured credit card stands apart from many other credit-building secured cards. Along with the standard features of a secured credit card — a refundable cash security deposit and payment reporting to the three credit bureaus to help you build credit — the Discover it Secured credit card gives users a way to build their credit and earn cash back rates typically only available with rewards cards that require higher credit scores.

Additional Card Details

  • Cashback Match first-year bonus: Discover will automatically match all the rewards you earn at the end of your first year
  • Refundable security deposit between $200 and $2,500 required, which will act as your credit limit
  • Automatic review your account after seven months to determine if you’re eligible to get your deposit back and upgraded to an unsecured card

A secured card can make a good option if you are starting with no credit at all or you have a bad credit score. The Discover it Secured card is a good starter credit card that lets you earn rewards on small purchases as you build credit. After putting down a refundable security deposit (which serves as your credit limit), you can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. At the end of your first year, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned so far.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®  

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
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Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Chase’s secure site.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)
  • Intro offer:
    Earn an Additional 1.5% Cash Back
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    17.24% – 25.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;. 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service. 1.5% on all other purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Flexible, hybrid rewards structure made up of tiered categories and flat cash back
  • No annual fee
  • Valuable first-year bonus
  • Competitive intro APR period can be useful for paying off large purchases over time
Cons
  • Not a great choice for international travelers — you’ll incur a 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Travel bonus rewards only apply to travel booked through Chase
The Bottom Line
Chase Freedom Unlimited is NextAdvisor’s pick for the best cash back credit card for its impressive rewards and flexibility for everyday spenders. But the card’s value goes beyond its primary rewards structure. A standout first-year bonus, introductory interest offer, and boosted redemption options make this card one of the best available on the market today.

Additional Card Details

  • 0% introductory interest offer on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months after account opening, variable 17.24% – 25.99%. interest thereafter; intro balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater in the first 60 days
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2025
  • Complimentary 3-month subscription to Doordash’s DashPass, followed by 50% off DashPass for 9 months (activate by 12/31/24)
  • Travel protections
  • Purchase protections

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a cash back card with several bonus categories — from 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase to 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5% on all other purchases. Plus, you can earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy, up to the first $20,000 spent within the first year. This is a great card with a lot of flexibility for young adults, but keep in mind that you’ll need good-to-excellent credit for the best chances of approval. 

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
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Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.6/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Wells Fargo’s secure site. See Rates & Fees.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.6/5)
  • Intro offer:
    $200 cash rewards
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    17.99%, 22.99%, or 27.99% Variable APR
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
  • Valuable welcome bonus
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (17.99%, 22.99%, or 27.99%) variable APR thereafter)
  • Cellphone and travel protections
Cons
  • High variable APR after introductory offer ends
  • No bonus categories to maximize
  • 3% foreign currency conversion fee
The Bottom Line
The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card comes with an enticing 2% cash rewards on purchases, along with a valuable welcome bonus. You won’t pay an annual fee, and can also benefit from the 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (followed by a variable APR of 17.99%, 22.99%, or 27.99%.

Additional Card Details

  • 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (followed by a variable APR of 17.99%, 22.99%, or 27.99%).
  • Cell phone protection worth up to $600 when you pay your bill with your eligible Wells Fargo card (subject to a $25 deductible)
  • Visa Signature® Concierge service
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • Roadside dispatch

The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card is a flat-rate cash back card that offers unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases. You can also get a $200 cash rewards bonus when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. The card is ideal for straightforward cash rewards. 

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Learn More externa link icon
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Capital One’s secure site.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
  • Intro offer:
    75,000 miles
  • Annual fee:
    $95
  • Regular APR:
    17.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options. Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Flat 2x miles on every purchase
  • Generous sign-up bonus
  • Flexible rewards redemptions
  • No foreign transaction fees
Cons
  • High variable APR
  • $95 annual fee
  • Travel transfer partners options and value aren’t as good as some other programs
The Bottom Line
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great travel credit card option for travel enthusiasts who value flexible rewards over premium benefits or credits. It even ranks among our best credit card picks. Double miles on every dollar you spend, a generous welcome bonus, and numerous redemption options can all go a long way to offset the card’s $95 annual fee — and help you save on future travel.

Additional Card Details

  • Flexible redemption options to use rewards toward future travel
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Up to $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® membership every four years
  • Two complimentary visits to Capital One Lounge locations each year

If you’re looking to get into travel rewards, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a good travel credit card for beginners. You can earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, plus an unlimited 2X miles on every other purchase. There’s also a 75,000 bonus mile welcome offer after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Unlike the other cards on our list, the Venture card does charge a $95 annual fee.

What Should Young Adults Look for in a Credit Card?

Before you apply, research the types of cards that best fit your goals and spending habits. 

When first establishing credit, you may look into cards with alternative approvals or cards that don’t require an excellent credit score. Secured credit cards and student credit cards are usually geared towards young adults. If you have some credit history already, you may also qualify for more lucrative cash back and travel rewards cards.

No annual fee cash back cards are great for beginners, because they reward common purchases like dining, groceries, gas, and more without the need to pay an annual fee. Plus, cash back rewards have straightforward redemptions that don’t require you to keep up with complex rewards programs.

But even more important than rewards is to get down the basics of card use that can help you maintain great credit long-term, says Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, which like NextAdvisor is owned by Red Ventures. “The main objective should be building credit and paying as few fees as possible.” 

Don’t Use Your Card to Overspend

A credit card should not be a means to the type of lifestyle inflation a new line of credit may appear to offer, Ferguson says. If your card has a limit of $5,000, that doesn’t mean you can automatically spend $5,000 more each month if you can’t afford to pay it off. 

Instead, use the credit card to make small purchases that you usually make — such as gas, streaming subscriptions, or groceries — to pay off in full each month, build credit, and establish good credit habits. 

“That’s going to jumpstart your credit history, which is important for a lot of things,” Rossman says. “Maybe getting an apartment lease or qualifying for a cellphone plan.”

Once you build a strategy that works for you, you can focus on maximizing your rewards or adding other cards to your wallet with more benefits and perks. 

How Many Credit Cards Should a Young Adult Have?

It’s best to start small with one or two credit cards, says Rossman. The most important thing is to establish good credit habits like paying your bill on time and in full each month instead of overcomplicating the process with several due dates and accounts. 

“The biggest reason to have multiple cards is when you’re chasing rewards, and you’re able to mix and match different categories,” Rossman says. “I wouldn’t go there just yet.” 

Even with one card, you can maximize your spending by evaluating your spending before you apply. Look back to previous months to see where you spend most, and look for a card you can qualify for that earns rewards in those categories — like dining out, gas, or groceries, for example. You may even consider a flat cash back card that earns rewards on every purchase you make. 

Are Certain Issuers Better for Young Adults?

Most card issuers have credit card options for beginners, but Capital One and Discover are two credit card issuers that Rossman recommends for beginners. 

Neither charges foreign transaction fees and most of their cards don’t charge annual fees. Both card issuers also offer secured credit cards that require a deposit which serves as your credit limit, like the Capital One Platinum Secured Card and the Discover it® Secured Card

You may also consider newer issuers with alternative approval options, which can be easier to access with no credit history and offer great rewards while you build credit. Cards from Petal or Tomo are good unsecured credit card options because they’re geared towards building new credit while also offering cash rewards on your spending. 

If you’ve already established some credit as a young adult though — maybe as an authorized user on your parent’s card account, or with a student credit card — focus on the cards you may qualify for that will best help you meet your financial goals.

If you’re looking for a starter card that earns rewards on your spending, a cash back card is a good card type to consider. You can use these cards to earn straightforward rewards on everyday spending, without racking up high annual fees. Some travel credit cards, too, can offer big savings on an upcoming vacation without very high annual fees.

Regardless of which card issuer you choose, always pay your bill on time and in full to avoid paying interest, and to build a strong credit score.