Just finished school? Congratulations! It wasn’t always easy, but you did it. As you begin your credit journey, here are some of the best college graduate credit cards, whether you’ve been walking the stage or preparing for further graduate studies.
However, since the CARD Law went into effect in 2010, it has become difficult to get a credit card before the age of 21. It is technically possible to get a credit card in your name if you are over 18 and have proof. income, although lenders are much stricter now.
New high school graduates who are under 18 and have no income must obtain a secure credit card or become an authorized parent (or any trusted adult) credit card user. This can speed up your credit history and help you access more rewards later.
However, there are more opportunities for new college graduates as many of them are at least 21 years old. Those of you with no credit history can opt for a student credit card to build healthy credit habits and keep your score up. New graduates who have a credit history have more options. Check out our picks below.
Visa Petal 2 “Cash Back No Fee” Credit Card: Best for Limited Credit
Why we chose it: Perhaps you don’t have a credit score or it’s still relatively low. In such a case, we recommend Petal® 2 Cash Back Visa® Credit Card No Fees. It offers a reward structure that encourages responsible card use, which can help you learn how to become a responsible cardholder. To start, you will receive 1% Cashback on qualifying purchases. This rate then increases to 1.25% cashback on eligible purchases after you make six monthly payments on time, and then to 1.5% on eligible purchases after 12 monthly payments on time.
- Petal uses cash flow technology to approve candidates without a credit history
- Up to 1.5% cashback on qualifying purchases
- No Fees – Annual fee, foreign transaction fee, annualized penalty and more.
- Credit limit up to $10,000
- High annual interest rate from 12.99% to 26.99%, variable
- Unsecured credit cards can contribute to the development of bad credit habits
Who should apply: Students or new graduates who have no credit history or a lower score should consider this card. It’s also a great first unsecured credit card for those who spend modestly and don’t mind earning modest rewards.
Who should miss: Anyone with a good credit score or who needs to develop good credit habits with a secured card should avoid this card.
Discover Secure Credit Card: The Best Secure Card
Why we chose it: Secure cards that offer rewards are not as common, but there are more products of this type on the market lately. One of these products is Discover it® Secure Credit Card, which has long been one of the best secured credit cards. With this card in your wallet, you’ll earn 2% cashback at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 on combined purchases per quarter, then 1%) and 1% cashback on other purchases.
After the first seven months, Discover will review your account monthly to determine if you are eligible to upgrade to an unsecured card. If so, you will receive your deposit back.
- Discover will refund all the cashback you earn in the first year with the card.
- Earns cash rewards even as a secure card
- No annual fee, foreign transaction fee or annual penalty.
- Minimum deposit $200
- High annual interest rate of 22.99%, variable
- The 2% category cashback is capped at $1,000 per quarter.
Who should apply: Cardholders with absolutely no credit card experience should start with a secure card to develop good credit habits, such as paying their bills in full on time, every month.
Who should miss: Young people who already have some credit experience and are looking to get a loan faster, with higher credit limits to lower the credit utilization rate.
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best Student Card
Why we chose it: That Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card ideal for those who continue their education as a graduate student. Like other student cards, it has more relaxed approval requirements and generally accepts those without credit. Its main attraction is its generous rewards structure, with 3% cashback on food, entertainment, popular streaming services, and grocery shopping, and 1% cashback on other purchases.
Capital One SavorOne is also recommended as an entertainment card with 8% cash back on Vivid Seats tickets through January 2023.
- High annual interest rate of 26.99%, variable
- No welcome bonus
Who should apply: Graduate students with some credit experience, but not enough to have good or higher credit scores. Capital One SavorOne is great for those who would like to earn solid cash back on their daily expenses (lunches, groceries, etc.) but don’t have the time or energy to pay attention to rotating categories.
Who should miss: New graduates with no credit history who may be tempted to overspend due to card rewards.
Capital One Credit Card QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards: Best Credit Card
Why we chose it: For young people with fair credit, you should check Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. You’ll receive an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which is a simple rewards structure great for those just starting their credit card journey. Capital One will also consider increasing the credit limit after the first six months of timely payments.
The only caveat is the $39 annual card fee, which can eat into your cash rewards. However, if you put most or all of your spending into Capital One QuicksilverOne, the rewards can be decent.
- Unlimited cashback 1.5%
- Automatic review to a higher credit limit after 6 months of timely payments
- Access and track your credit score with CreditWise
- $39 per year
- Limited redemption options
Who should apply: Any person with a good reputation or anyone who needs to improve their reputation without having time (while you are adjusting to a new job or graduate life) to pay much attention to your rewards.
Who should miss: Cardholders with good or higher credit can earn higher rewards with another card. If you don’t have a credit history or have bad credit, you shouldn’t apply – harsh measures will only hurt your score.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: the best map for beginners
Why we chose it: New graduates usually have two goals: to earn money and pay off student debt. However, for those who graduated with not only a degree but also a good credit score, you might want to consider getting credit card fare rewards. That Pursuit of Unlimited Freedom® great map to start with.
The card returns 5% cash on rides booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% cash on Lyft purchases (until March 2022), 3% cash on restaurant and pharmacy purchases, and 1.5% cash on all other purchases. It also has a signup bonus allowing you to earn an additional 1.5% cashback on everything (up to $20,000 spent) in your first year.
- 3% foreign transaction fee
- Earns travel rewards relatively slowly
Who should apply: Young working adults with good credit should definitely apply for this card. While rewards are slower than mid-tier passes, it will serve you well in the first few years after college. Chase Freedom Unlimited is also perfect for those who are looking for access to Chase Ultimate Rewards but are not prepared to pay an annual fee.
Who should miss: If you are still trying to establish healthy credit habits, you should choose another card.
Comparing the Best Credit Cards for College Graduates
Unprotected or secured? Cashback or points? For young people who have never had a credit card, this can all seem overwhelming. Here we compare all of our recommended cards in a table to see how they compare.
How to choose a credit card for a college graduate
Before we talk about choosing a card, it’s important to emphasize the importance of paying your credit card bills in full and on time. With an average interest rate north of 16%, it’s expensive to carry credit card debt month after month.
For this reason, many young people avoid credit cards. They tend to prefer debit cards and often use buy-now-pay-later services like Affirm and Afterpay when they need a little more time to pay for a purchase (hopefully no interest). However, credit cards offer better buyer protection and there is huge reward potential as you become more reputable.
- What is your credit score? Some students may be authorized users and not even know it. Some have no credit history at all and don’t know where to start. The first step is to find out your credit score and check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Should I get an unsecured card? We recommend that students with no credit history choose a secured credit card to develop good credit habits and get used to paying their bills on time and in full. For younger cardholders who already have experience, feel free to look for a card that falls within the range of your credit score.
- Cashback or points? Most bad or fair results cards either offer no rewards or only offer cash back. If your score falls within these ranges, there is no shame in taking one of these cards. However, if you have a good score and want to apply for a pass that earns points, you should do so.
- Is the annual fee worth it? For those new to credit, the annual fee may seem like a burden on your budget. However, if the reward is generous enough, sometimes the annual fee is worth the upfront cost.
You won’t get rich off the rewards of most of these cards, but that’s not the point. When you’re new to lending, it’s all about establishing a solid track record of making payments on time while avoiding too much debt. Even if you just put a small purchase on the card from time to time and pay for it right away, you are moving towards a good credit score that will serve you well in the future.