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Best Credit Cards for Young Adults and Young Professionals: 2021

Updated Jun 16, 2021 | Published Sep 05, 201910 min read

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At a glance

Building a healthy credit history as a young professional is an important pillar of financial wellness. Secure a card that offers rewards, an affordable annual fee, or a 0% intro period as a bonus to improving your credit.

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

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.

Read more Best Business Credit Cards

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 U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum 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.

Insider tip

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.

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Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back for every purchase (must pay at least the minimum due on time)
    • 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 cardholders 2% cash back rewards 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
  • 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 on Balance Transfers, followed by a regular rate of 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Citi Double Cash Card

Runners Up

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Chase Freedom Unlimited®
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
  • 5% cash back on:
    • Travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
    • Lyft rides (through March 2022)
  • 3% cash back at:
    • Restaurants
    • Drugstores
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases
  • $200 bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 15 months, then 14.99% - 23.74% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 14.99% - 23.74% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

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Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR14.49%-24.99% Variable
  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $150 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers, then 14.49%-24.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

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Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 15 months, then 15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

Discover it® Miles
  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APRSee Terms
  • 1.5X miles for every purchase
  • Double miles your first year
  • Purchase APR: See Terms for See Terms, then your rate will be See Terms
  • Annual fee: $0
Read more How Do Cash Back Credit Cards Work? Plus Our 9 Favorites

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. The card also provides a host of attractive benefits.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$95
  • Regular APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on:
    • Lyft rides (through 3/31/22)
  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 100,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening

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. Your intro bonus points will be worth a lot more too.

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

  • 25% point bonus when redeeming for travel expenses through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 1:1 Point Transfers: To airline and hotel loyalty programs including JetBlue, Southwest, Marriott, and Hyatt
  • $60 Peloton credit: Enroll to get up to $60 back for an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership (through 2021). No fitness equipment is required.
  • DoorDash membership: A free membership (DashPass) for at least a year, which provides free delivery and reduced service fees on orders over $12
  • 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

Insider tip

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

Runners Up

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Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable

The information related to Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Spending Rewards
  • 1.25X miles per dollar spent on all purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Transfer miles to a variety of airline loyalty programs
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 12 months, then your rate will be 15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR14.49%-24.99% Variable
  • 3X points for travel, dining, gas, and streaming services
  • 20,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening, then your rates will be 14.49%-24.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0

 

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Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$95
  • Regular APR15.99%–22.99% Variable
  • 2X points for travel and dining, 1.5X points for other purchases
  • 50,000 bonus points 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 $550, 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.

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Chase Sapphire Reserve®
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  • Min. credit levelExcellent
  • Annual Fee$550
  • Regular APR16.99%-23.99% Variable

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 10X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on:
    • Lyft rides (through 3/31/22)
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on:
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after account opening

The Sapphire Reserve earns Ultimate Rewards points, like the Sapphire Preferred. But in this case you’ll be earning 10X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Lyft rides, 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

  • 50% point bonus when redeeming for travel expenses through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 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 airfare 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
  • $120 Peloton credit: Enroll to get up to $120 back for an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership (through 2021). No fitness equipment is required.
  • 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
  • Lyft Pink membership: One free year of Lyft Pink, which includes 15% off rides, relaxed cancellations, surprise offers, and priority airport pickup
  • DoorDash membership: A free membership (DashPass) for a year, which provides free delivery and reduced service fees on orders over $12
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit: Get $60 in DoorDash credits in 2020, and $60 in credits in 2021.
  • Foreign transaction fees: $0
  • Annual fee: $550

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Runners Up

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The Platinum Card® from American Express
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$695
  • Regular APRSee Pay Over Time APR

Rates & Fees

American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar (on up to $500,000 spent per calendar year, then 1X) on:
    • Flights booked directly through airlines or through American Express Travel
    • Prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on other eligible travel expenses booked through American Express Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • 100,000 bonus points for spending $6,000 in the first 6 months; 10X points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months

Key Features

  • Global Lounge Collection: Enroll for complimentary access to Priority Pass, Centurion, American Express International, Delta Sky Club, Escape, Airspace, Lufthansa, and Plaza Premium Lounges.
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber Cash: Add your Platinum card to the Uber App to get up to $15 in Uber Cash per month, plus a bonus $20 in December; U.S. Eats orders and rides only.
  • $200 hotel credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits each year for prepaid hotels booked through The Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels & Resorts; must pay with the Platinum card.
  • $300 Equinox credit: Pay with your Platinum card to get up to $300 in statement credits annually with Equinox (up to $25 per month), for Equinox All Access, Destination, E by Equinox, or Equinox+ membership fees.
  • $240 digital entertainment credit: Pay with your Platinum card to get up to $240 in statement credits annually for digital entertainment (up to $20 per month), only for eligible purchases from Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times.
  • CLEAR credit: Up to $179 in statement credits annually for CLEAR biometric security, enough for a membership.
  • Uber Eats Pass: Get unlimited $0 delivery fees and 5% off orders at eligible restaurants for 12 months; must enroll by 12/31/21. Taxes and service fees may apply and do not count toward the order minimum. Eats Pass will start auto-billing 12 months from enrollment, at then-current monthly rate. Learn more.
  • Uber VIP status: Add your Platinum card to the Uber App to get Uber VIP status where available.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100 every four years) or TSA PreCheck ($85 once every four and a half years)
  • Complimentary elite hotel statuses: Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • The Hotel Collection: A $100 hotel credit and room upgrades when available for every eligible two-night stay
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts Program: Daily breakfast for two, room upgrades when available, amenities valued at $100, and more at eligible properties
  • $100 annual Saks credit: Up to $100 in statement credits each year for Saks Fifth Avenue: $50 from January through June, and $50 from July through December
  • Global Dining Access by Resy: Resy provides access to exclusive reservations and dining experiences.
  • Point transfer: To a selection of airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Shopping and travel protections: Purchase Protection; Extended Warranty; Return Protection; Baggage Insurance Plan; Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance; Trip Delay Insurance; Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $695

Enrollment required for select benefits; terms and limitations apply.

The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)

 

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U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
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  • Min. credit levelExcellent
  • Annual Fee$400
  • Regular APR16.24% Variable
  • 3X points per dollar for eligible travel and mobile wallet spending
  • 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,500 in the first 90 days of membership
  • $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.

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Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR26.99% Variable

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
    • 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

  • Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months.
  • $60 streaming credit: $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming services, when you pay on time
  • Capital One CreditWise: The CreditWise service provides free access to one of your VantageScore 3.0 credit scores, based on your TransUnion credit report. You can monitor your score over time and get alerts about any changes.
  • Capital One Second Look account monitoring: Keep an eye on your account with Second Look, and get access to account alerts to be notified of any activity on your account.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

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

Runner Up

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Petal® 2 Cash Back, No Fees Visa® Card
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR12.99 - 26.99% Variable
  • 1% cash back on purchases initially
    • 1.25% cash back on purchases after 6 on-time payments
    • 1.5% cash back on purchases after 12 on-time payments
  • Petal Offers: Get 2% – 10% cash back from select merchants, with no activation necessary.
  • Visa Local Offers: Earn Uber Cash when making purchases at select merchants by adding your Petal card to the Uber app.
  • Free credit score: Check one of your credit scores from your Experian credit report, whenever you’d like.
  • Purchase APR: 12.99 - 26.99% Variable
  • Credit limit: $500–$10,000
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
Insider tip

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 (Review) is our best pick among secured cards. With responsible use, your security deposit may be returned, and you can continue using the card; this is a handy feature to have for a secured card.

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 U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card (Review) excels at balance transfers.

Why? It has an exceptionally long 0% APR balance transfer offer, giving you more time than most other credit cards.

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.

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U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0*
  • Regular APR14.49% - 24.49%* Variable

Rates & Fees

Key Terms & Features

  • Free Credit Score: Check your VantageScore 3.0 credit score, based on your TransUnion credit report, for free.
  • Purchase APR: 0%* for 20 billing cycles on purchases, then your rates will be 14.49% - 24.49%* Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0%* intro on BTs for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers*, then 14.49% - 24.49%* Variable
  • Balance Transfer fee: Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater
  • No penalty APR
  • Annual fee: $0*

Runners Up

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Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

  • Purchase APR: 0% for 18 months, then 13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, then 13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0
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Citi Simplicity® Card
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  • Min. credit levelGood
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

  • Purchase APR: 0% for 18 months, then 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, then 14.74% - 24.74% (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 going to be a first time cardholder. Applying for new cards is simple, but if you’ve never done it before the credit card application process can be intimidating. You may want to learn a bit first.

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.

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

What’s the Best Credit Card for Beginners?

The best credit card for someone new to the world of credit, or an up-and-coming professional, will usually be a card with no annual fee, although not always.

Our favorite cards for first-time users and young adults include:

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Credit Card?

By law, you need to be at least 18 to get your own credit card (those under 18 may be able to become authorized users).

If you’re younger than 21, you’ll also be held to a higher standard when it comes to proving that you’ll be able to make payments. Credit card issuers ask about your income when you apply, to help determine your ability to pay off the card; if you’re under 21, you can only report your own independent income (most credit card issuers don’t allow cosigners).

If you’re 21 or older, however, you can include your overall household income, which can include your spouse’s income. And that extra cash flow can make it easier to qualify for credit cards.

Best Credit Cards of August 2021

See them here!
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For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

Written by

Brendan Harkness

Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high-quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.

Do you have a correction, tip, or suggestion for a new post? Contact us here.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts are accurate and/or questions are answered.

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