Best Credit Cards for Young Adults and Young Professionals: 2018

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Sep 15, 2018

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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
  • 18-month 0% intro APR for balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Travel

  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points for dining and travel
  • 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Premium Travel

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

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
  • No annual fee

Read more and see why we picked this card below

 

Transferring or Carrying a Balance

  • 2X Membership Rewards points at grocery stores, 20% point bonus for having 20 transactions per month
  • 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No fee for transfers made within the first 60 days
  • No annual fee

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 (Review)
Travel Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (Review)
Premium Travel Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (Review)
Limited Credit History Capital One® Journey® Student Credit Card (Review)
Transferring or Carrying a Balance The 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 (Review) is that card.

Citi® Double Cash Card
Apply Now

Citi® Double Cash Card

For People with
Good Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 15.24%–25.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • The only card that earns you cash back twice on every purchase with: unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases*
  • 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers and Purchases for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.24%–25.24%, based on your creditworthiness*
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • No Category Restrictions, No Caps, No Enrollments in Rotating Categories
  • No Annual Fee

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
  • 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
  • 18-month 0% intro APR: For balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Citi Double Cash Card

Runners Up

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $150 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • 15-month 0% intro APR: For purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

 

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $200 signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 12-month 0% intro APR: For purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

 

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • $150 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • 15-month 0% intro APR: For purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

 

  • 1.5X miles for every purchase
  • Double miles your first year
  • 14-month 0% intro APR: For purchases
  • No annual fee

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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Apply Now

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95, $0 first year
  • Interest Rate: 17.49%–24.49% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value - that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Premium Travel and Purchase Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Purchase Protection and more
  • 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95

The information for Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by Credit Card Insider. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Signup Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $625–$1,000, depending on redemption method (assuming 1.25–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 15.6–25%
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
  • 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

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

  • 2X miles for every purchase
  • 60,000-point signup bonus for spending $5,000 in the first 90 days
  • $89 annual fee

 

  • 10X miles at Hotels.com/venture, 1.25X miles for other purchases
  • 20,000-mile signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases
  • No annual fee

 

  • 3X points for travel, dining, gas, and streaming services
  • 30,000-point signup bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

 

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

  • 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
  • $95 annual fee

Best for Premium Travel

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (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.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
Apply Now

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Interest Rate: 17.49%–24.49% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • 3X points on travel and dining worldwide
  • 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in 3 months
  • 1:1 point transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • $300 annual credit for travel expenses
  • $100 Global Entry and TSA PreCheck application credit
  • Visa Infinite Concierge
  • Priority Pass Select Membership
  • Luxury Hotels and Resorts Collection
  • Travel and Shopping protections
  • $450 annual fee
  • 17.24–24.24% APR Variable

The information for Chase Sapphire Reserve Card has been collected independently by Credit Card Insider. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Signup 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Runners Up

  • 5X points per dollar for:
    • flights booked directly with airlines
    • flights and prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
  • 60,000-point signup 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $550 annual fee

 

  • 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $400 annual fee

Best for Limited Credit History

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

The Capital One® Journey® Student Credit Card (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.

Capital One® Journey® Student Credit Card
Apply Now

Capital One® Journey® Student Credit Card

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 24.99% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases, pay on time and that goes up to 1.25% cash back
  • Higher credit line after making first 5 payments on time
  • No annual fee
  • Made for students with limited or no credit
  • 24.99% APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fees

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
  • No foreign transaction fees: You won’t pay extra for purchases outside the U.S. or in foreign currency
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Extended Warranties, Travel and Emergency Assistance, Travel Accident Insurance, and more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

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 Lender.

Best for Transferring or Carrying a Balance

The 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.

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card
Apply Now

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card

For People with
Good Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 14.24%–25.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 10,000 Membership Reward® points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 20% more points: Make 20 or more purchases with your Card in a billing period and get 20% extra points on those purchases less returns and credits. Terms and limitations apply.
  • 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x); 1x points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • You can use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points to pay for all or part of your flight, hotel booked and paid in advance, vacation or cruise booking.
  • No annual fee. Plus, 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 14.24% to 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and limitations apply.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar at:
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Spending Bonus Offer
  • 20% point bonus for making 20 or more purchases per billing period.
    Equivalent to:

    • 2.4X points at supermarkets
    • 1.2X points for other purchases
Signup 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 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
  • 15-month 0% intro APR: For purchases, and for balance transfers made during the first 60 days
  • No balance transfer fee
  • No penalty APR
  • No annual fee

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

  • 15-month 0% intro APR: For purchases and balance transfers
  • No fee for balance transfers completed in the first 60 days (then 5%, $5 minimum)
  • No annual fee

 

  • 15-month 0% intro APR: For purchases and balance transfers
  • No fee for balance transfers completed in the first 60 days (then 3%, $10 minimum)
  • No annual fee

 

  • 21-month 0% intro APR: For balance transfers (fee of 5%, $5 minimum)
  • 12-month 0% intro APR: For purchases
  • No annual fee

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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