Best Credit Cards for Young Adults and Young Professionals: 2019

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Sep 05, 2019 | Updated Sep 12, 2019

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If you’re just starting your career, a credit card can be a valuable part of your financial toolbox. You may be thinking one (or more) of the following:

  • I’m spending a lot of money every month and know I could be getting some rewards. What’s a good, simple cash back card?
  • I travel occasionally for work and want to earn points. What travel card should I get?
  • I travel very frequently, and want a card to earn points and enhance my experience. Does it make sense to pay a high annual fee?
  • I don’t have any credit history. What should I get as my first credit card?
  • I got myself into some credit card debt during college. How can I reduce the amount of interest I’m paying?

We’ve surveyed the marketplace and here are our top credit card picks to suit your individual needs, whatever they may be.

Do you run a small business? See our recommendations for the Best Credit Cards for Small Business Owners.

All-Around Spending and Cash Back

  • 2% cash back for every purchase
    • 1% back when you make purchases
    • 1% back when you pay for purchases
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, then 15.99% – 25.99% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Travel

  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points for dining and travel
  • 60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • Annual fee: $95

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Premium Travel

  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points for dining and travel (after using the full $300 travel credit)
  • 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Priority Pass Select membership
  • Annual fee: $450

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Limited Credit History

  • 1.25% cash back when you pay on time (1% back otherwise)
  • Higher credit line after first five monthly on-time payments
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Transferring or Carrying a Balance

Amex EveryDay Credit Card
  • 2X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets, 20% point bonus for having 20 transactions per month
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 15.24%–26.24% Variable
  • No fee for transfers made within the first 60 days
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more and see why we picked this card below

The Best Credit Cards for Young Adults and Professionals

Best for Card
All-Around Spending and Cash Back Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review)
Travel Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review)
Premium Travel Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review)
Limited Credit History Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review)
Transferring or Carrying a Balance Amex EveryDay Credit Card (Review)

One of these might be a good fit for you, but keep in mind you don’t have to limit yourself to just one credit card. Having several credit cards will give you more spending power and can actually improve your credit scores. You can also come up with a strategy to optimize your spending across multiple cards to maximize rewards. As you build up your credit, you’ll be able to qualify for better cards.

If you’re new to credit cards, check out the Insider Academy, where you can learn about everything from how paying a credit card bill works to how you can build credit fast with credit cards.

Best for All-Around Spending and Cash Back

Looking for a simple rewards card you can use everywhere, without giving it a second thought? The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review) is that card.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back for every purchase
    • 1% back when you make the initial purchase
    • 1% back when you pay for that purchase later on

Where most reward cards have bonus categories, the Double Cash simply offers 2% back for everything you buy.

Key Terms & Features

  • Free FICO Score 8: Check your FICO credit score anytime you’d like, based on your Equifax credit report
  • Citi Price Rewind: Register your purchases and Price Rewind will search the internet for lower prices; if a lower price is found you can be reimbursed up to $200 per item, up to $1,000 per year
  • Personal Concierge: Call for help with non-emergency tasks like making dining or travel reservations
  • Citi Private Pass: Preferred access and presale tickets to events in big cities around the U.S.
  • Quick Customer Service: Call and say “representative” to be connected with a human more quickly than usual
  • First late payment fee is waived
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, followed by a regular rate of 15.99% – 25.99% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Citi Double Cash Card

Runners Up

  • 3% cash back for every purchase in the first year, up to $20,000 spent
  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase after that
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 16.99% - 25.74% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $150 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers, then 15.99%-27.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $150 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then your rates will be 16.24% - 26.24% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • 1.5X miles for every purchase
  • Double miles your first year
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 14 months, then your rate will be 14.24%–25.24% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

Best for Travel

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review) is one of the most popular general travel credit cards, much-loved for its redemption bonus and point transfer options.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $750–$1,200 (assuming 1.25–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 18.75–30%
Redemption Bonus
  • 25% point bonus when redeeming for travel expenses through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
    Equivalent to:

    • 2.5X points on travel and dining at restaurants
    • 1.25X points everywhere else

Ultimate Rewards points are usually worth 1 cent each, but the Sapphire Preferred adds a 25% bonus when you redeem for travel expenses. That will give you a cash back equivalent of 2.5% for travel and dining, with 1.25% for every other purchase.

You can also transfer your points to 13 different airline and hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 rate. This could give you a better value per point, upwards of 2 cents each. At that rate you’d be getting a 4% cash back equivalent for travel and dining, with 2% back for everything else. That would be a pretty competitive redemption value for non-category purchases, equal to the Double Cash card above.

Key Terms & Features

  • 1:1 Point Transfers: To airline and hotel loyalty programs including JetBlue, Southwest, Marriott, and Hyatt
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection: Benefits at participating locations, like daily breakfast for two, late check-out, and more
  • Shop Through Chase: A selection of retailers where you can earn extra points, like Saks.com, Macy’s, and The Apple Store (current offers at the time of publication).
  • Chase Preferred Experiences: Access to exclusive events and experiences at big cities around the world
  • Visa Signature Concierge: Call at any time for help making reservations, finding interesting gifts, getting good tickets, and more
  • Direct Access to Customer Support: Call the number on the back of your card to be directly connected with a human customer service representative
  • Shopping and Travel Benefits: Including Purchase Protection, Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, and Baggage Delay Insurance
  • Foreign transaction fees: $0
  • Annual fee: $95

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

There are a lot of travel cards out there, so check out our picks for:

Runners Up

  • 10X miles at Hotels.com/venture, through January 2020, 1.25X miles for other purchases
  • 20,000-mile signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Transfer miles to a variety of airline loyalty programs
  • Purchase APR: 0% for for 12 months, then your rate will be 14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • 3X points for travel, dining, gas, and streaming services
  • 30,000-point welcome bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then your rates will be 15.99%-27.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • 2X points for travel and dining, 1.5X points for other purchases
  • 50,000-point signup bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days
  • $100 annual Airline Incidental Statement Credit
  • $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit
  • Annual fee: $95

Best for Premium Travel

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) is the upgraded version of the Sapphire Preferred above, with better earning/redemption rates and luxury travel benefits.

It has a fairly high annual fee of $450, but this is offset quite a bit by the perks you’ll get. When considering expensive cards like these, take some time to be sure that you’ll be getting a positive expected value for the fee.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • travel (after using the full $300 travel credit)
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $750–$1,000, depending on redemption method (assuming 1.5–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 18.75–25%
Redemption Bonus
  • 50% point bonus when redeeming for travel expenses through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
    Equivalent to:

    • 4.5X points on travel and dining at restaurants
    • 1.5X points everywhere else

The Sapphire Reserve earns Ultimate Rewards points, like the Sapphire Preferred. But in this case you’ll be earning 3X points on travel and dining, with a 50% point bonus when redeeming for travel through Ultimate Rewards.

That means you’d be getting a 4.5% cash back equivalent for travel and dining, with 1.5% back for everything else. If you transfer those points to an airline or hotel program and get 2 cents per point, for instance, you’d be earning cash back equivalents of 6% in the first case, and 2% in the second.

Key Terms & Features

  • 1:1 Point Transfers: To a variety of popular airline and hotel loyalty programs, like British Airways, United, IHG, and Marriott
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit: Good for any travel expenses, including flight tickets and hotel stays
  • Priority Pass Select membership: Complimentary access for you and two guests to hundreds of airport lounges around the world (additional guests cost $27)
  • $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ Credit: Get a credit for the application fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓ ($85) once every four years
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection: Perks at participating locations, like daily breakfast and room upgrades
  • Elite Hotel Benefits at Relais & Châteaux: Accelerated progress towards Club 5C status at Relais & Châteaux
  • Visa Infinite Concierge: Call for help with whatever you may need, like finding a nearby hotel with open rooms or good concert tickets
  • Car Rental Privileges: Upgrades, discounts, and promotional offers at Avis, Silvercar, and National Car Rental
  • Foreign transaction fees: $0
  • Annual fee: $450

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Runners Up

The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • 5X points per dollar for:
    • flights booked directly with airlines
    • flights and prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
  • 60,000-point welcome bonus for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit for incidental charges (not flight tickets)
  • $200 in annual Uber credits ($15 per month, $35 in December)
  • $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit
  • Global Lounge Collection airport lounge access, including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, Delta Sky Clubs, and more
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: $550

 

  • 3X points per dollar for eligible travel and mobile wallet spending
  • 50,000-point signup bonus for spending $4,500 in the first 90 days
  • $325 Annual Travel Statement Credit
  • $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit
  • 12-month Priority Pass Select membership
  • 12 complimentary Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi passes per year
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: $400

Best for Limited Credit History

If you’re just beginning your credit journey, you’ll need to start somewhere.

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) is a good first credit card, and it doesn’t actually require you to be a student, despite the name. Unlike most card offers made for limited credit, this one actually provides a bit of cash back.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back for every purchase
    • pay on time and that goes up to 1.25% cash back

It’s a very simple rewards program. Pay on time to get a 25% bonus on your 1% cash back, but you should always make timely credit card payments whether you get a bonus or not. Payment history is one of the biggest factors in your credit scores, and late payments will bring your scores down significantly.

After using cards like this responsibly for some time and building up your credit, you’ll be able to qualify for more valuable rewards cards, including the premium travel cards in this post.

Key Terms & Features

  • Higher Credit Line: Get access to a higher credit line after paying your first five monthly payments on time
  • Capital One CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0, based on your TransUnion credit report, and see data from that report as well
  • Capital One Second Look Account Monitoring: Real-time fraud monitoring to help keep your account secure
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Extended Warranties, Travel and Emergency Assistance, Travel Accident Insurance, and more
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Journey Student Card

With limited or no credit, your card options will be relatively restricted. You may want to look into secured credit cards, which require a security deposit to fund the credit line. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card (Review) is our best pick among secured cards.

If you’re a college student, you might want to start off with a more rewarding student card instead. See our picks for the Best Student Credit Cards.

Or, for another option to build your credit besides credit cards, check out credit builder loans through Self (formerly known as Self Lender).

Best for Transferring or Carrying a Balance

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card (Review) is a decent rewards card that also excels in a different category: balance transfers.

It has a 0% APR balance transfer offer, but unlike most reward cards it has no balance transfer fee, ever. That’s a feature you won’t find very often, usually only on low-interest credit cards with no rewards.

If you’re already dealing with credit card debt, making a balance transfer to a 0% card like this will give you time to pay it off at no interest.

Amex EveryDay Credit Card

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar at:
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
  • 20% point bonus for making 20 or more purchases per billing period
Welcome Bonus Offer
  • 15,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $150–$300, depending on redemption method (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 15–30%

The Amex EveryDay card, in addition to being an excellent choice for balance transfers, has an unusual rewards program. Unlike other credit cards, which generally provide the same reward rate no matter how often you use them, the EveryDay card provides a 20% bonus for making 20 or more purchases in a billing period.

If you get the bonus, you’ll effectively be earning 2.4X points at U.S. supermarkets and 1.2X points elsewhere.

The Membership Rewards points you earn can be redeemed in a few different ways. Basic redemptions for statement credits will only provide 0.6 cents per point, so avoid that method. Flight redemptions and certain gift cards will provide 1 cent per point. But the best redemption options are transfers to airline or hotel loyalty programs, which may yield 2 cents per point or more.

At 1 cent per point, you’ll be getting a cash back equivalent of 2.4% at supermarkets, assuming you get the 20% bonus. Other purchases provide 1.2% back.

Or, if you redeem for 2 cents per point, you’ll get twice as much cash back: 4.8% at supermarkets, and 2.4% back everywhere else.

Key Terms & Features

  • Transfer Points: To airline and hotel partners, including Delta, JetBlue, Hilton, and Marriott
  • Amex Offers: Discounts at a changing selection of merchants, like Pier 1 Imports, Uber, Marriott, and more
  • Complimentary ShopRunner membership: Free two-day shipping and returns at participating merchants, such as American Eagle, Glasses.com, and Staples
  • Shopping and travel benefits: Including Extended Warranties, Return Protection, a Global Assist Hotline, and Travel Accident Insurance, among others
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then your rates will be 15.24%–26.24% Variable
  • No balance transfer fee
  • No penalty APR
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Amex EveryDay Credit Card

There’s a beefed-up version of the Amex EveryDay card, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card (Review). It offers 3X points at supermarkets and 2X points at gas stations, with a 50% bonus for making 30 or more purchases per billing period. It has a 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers, but in this case there is a transfer fee: 3%, or $5 minimum.

Runners Up

  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, and then 17.24%–25.99% Variable
  • No fee for balance transfers completed in the first 60 days (then 5%, $5 minimum)
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 15.24%–25.24% Variable APR
  • No fee for balance transfers completed in the first 60 days (then 3%, $10 minimum)
  • Annual fee: $0

 

  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, and then 15.24%–25.24% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

Is a New Credit Card Right For You?

Getting a new credit card can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re looking for your first ever credit card. Applying for new cards is simple, but if you’ve never done it before you may want to learn a bit about the application process.

As a young adult, you may or may not have established a credit history. Even if you’ve never had a credit card before, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans will all contribute to your credit profile because they’re reported to the three major credit bureaus. So a good first step is to check your credit reports and scores to see where you stand.

If you have good credit already, that’s great! That means you’ll meet the standard for most credit cards, although factors like income and monthly rent payments also play a role in your overall creditworthiness — so approval is definitely not guaranteed just because you have good credit.

If you haven’t started building credit yet, or you have poor credit scores, you’ll still have quite a few credit card options. Some cards are designed for people with limited or no credit, while others are designed for people with bad credit.

Whatever your credit scores might be, you should check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any credit card offers before applying. This can give you an idea of the types of cards you’ll be approved for, and you may even find a private offer featuring a better-than-usual signup bonus.

Maybe you already have a credit card or two, and you’re concerned that opening more cards will hurt your credit. But not to worry: As long as you use your cards responsibly, having multiple credit cards won’t have an overall negative impact on your credit. In fact, it will generally have a positive effect because you’ll be lowering your credit utilization, a measure of how much of your total credit limits you’re using. Lower utilization is better for your credit scores.

No matter what type of card you get or how many you have, maintain good credit behavior. This means understanding the terms and always paying your bills on time. We recommend paying the statement balance in full each billing period, which will let you completely avoid interest on purchases. It’s good for your credit utilization too.

Treat your credit cards a bit like debit cards to help you stay on track — pay them off every month, and never carry a balance. Once you start accruing interest on a credit card, it’s easy for that balance to spiral out of control.

Selection Criteria: What Makes a Great Credit Card for Young Adults and Professionals?

Still haven’t found the perfect credit card? Check out our picks for the Best Credit Cards in a variety of categories to find the right card for you!
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For rates and fees of the The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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