Best Credit Cards for Recent College Graduates

fact checked icon

Updated: June 13, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Shield Insurance

MoneyGeek partners with leading industry experts and advertisers to help you get to your financial happy place. Our content is accurate when posted but offers may change over time. We may receive compensation for partner advertisements, but our editorial team independently reviews and ranks products. Learn more about our editorial policies.

Starting life after college is a thrilling yet tough time. You're becoming an adult and dealing with more money matters. One big step to being financially independent is getting a credit card. Yet, with so many choices, picking the best credit card for recent college graduates can feel overwhelming.

The right credit card for you should be simple to handle and help you start building a good credit history. It's a chance to lay the groundwork for your financial path ahead. The best credit cards for new graduates have low fees, fair interest rates and useful reward programs. They offer an easy way to handle your money and a safety net for unexpected situations.

Different credit cards have different features for recent graduates. Some give you cash back on regular buys, others offer points for travel or special deals on dining out and having fun. With a good credit card, handling money is easier, and you can get some extra benefits too.

Look at different cards and know what they offer. Knowing what each card gives helps you choose wisely to match your financial goals.

Why You Can Trust Our List

Blue Cash Everyday® Card From American Express
Credit Card logo for Blue Cash Everyday® Card From American Express
MoneyGeek Rating
3.7/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6...
APR19.24%–29.99% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670–850 (Good to Excellent)
Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Rewards RateThis card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or point...
APR29.99% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit580-740 (Fair to Good)
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

APR29.99% variable
Min. Security Deposit$49
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit(No Credit History)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Credit Card logo for Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
MoneyGeek Rating
4.5/ of 5

Balance Transfer Offer0% for 15 months on balance transfers
APR19.99% - 29.99% variable
Balance Transfer Fee3% for the first 15 months
Recommended Credit670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Credit Card logo for Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
MoneyGeek Rating
3.5/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental c...
APR29.99% variable
Annual Fee$39
Recommended Credit580-740 (Fair to Good)
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Credit Card logo for Chase Freedom Unlimited®
MoneyGeek Rating
4.4/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Ch...
APR20.49%–29.24% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670–850 (Good to Excellent)
  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is an impressive card that pairs affordability with abundant rewards. It offers a compelling welcome bonus with no annual fee and substantial cash back in various everyday categories. It's especially beneficial for consumers who frequently travel, dine out or have regular drugstore purchases. The card is also an ally for big-ticket spending or balance transfers with its initial interest-free period. Plus, its flexible and enduring cash back rewards system means you can redeem them whenever you wish. Keep in mind that this card is best suited for consumers with solid credit histories.

    All information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card has been collected independently by Moneygeek.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card

APR28.24% variable
Min. Security Deposit$200
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit(No Credit History)
Chase Freedom Flex®
Credit Card logo for Chase Freedom Flex®
MoneyGeek Rating
3.7/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purc...
APR20.49–29.24% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670–850 (Good to Excellent)
  • The Chase Freedom Flex® card offers remarkable value, especially for consumers who can maximize the diverse cash back categories. Chase welcomes new cardholders with a bonus, and its 0% introductory APR offers a financial cushion for the initial months. Accumulated rewards are yours to keep indefinitely. While it's a boon for those with good credit and an affinity for diving into rotating reward categories, it's less rewarding for generic purchases. Overall, this card is a solid pick for strategic spenders.

    All information about the Chase Freedom Flex has been collected independently by Moneygeek.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card

APRN/A
Min. Security Deposit$200
Annual FeeNone
Recommended Credit(No Credit History)
Petal 2 Visa

Rewards Rate1% Cash Back on All Purchases
APR18.24% – 32.24% Variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit(No Credit History)
American Express Cash Magnet® Card
Credit Card logo for American Express Cash Magnet® Card
MoneyGeek Rating
3.8/ of 5

Rewards RateUnlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases
APR19.24%–29.99% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670–850 (Good to Excellent)
Citi Double Cash® Card
Credit Card logo for Citi Double Cash® Card
MoneyGeek Rating
4.4/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash b...
APR19.24% - 29.24% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Petal® 1

Rewards Rate2%–10% Cash Back
APR25.24% – 34.74% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit580 – 740 (Fair to Good)
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Credit Card logo for Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
MoneyGeek Rating
5/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
APR20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card for Students
Credit Card logo for Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card for Students
MoneyGeek Rating
1.6/ of 5

Rewards RateEarn 3% in a category of your choice, 2% back at g...
APR18.24% – 28.24% variable
Annual Fee$0
Recommended Credit(No Credit History)
mglogo icon
MONEYGEEK EXPERT TIP

Using credit cards in a responsible way is one of the best ways to build credit history. If you’re unable to get a credit card yourself, it’s best to ask a trusted friend or family member to add you as an authorized user. By doing this, you’ll get ‘credit’ for their responsible spending habits without lifting a finger. — Brett Holzhauer, contributing expert for MoneyGeek

Why Should College Graduates Get a Credit Card?

Starting to manage your own money is a big part of becoming an adult. For people who have just finished college, getting a credit card is a key first step. Here are several compelling reasons why having a credit card can be beneficial for recent graduates:

    fairCredit icon

    Credit Score Building

    A credit card is a convenient tool to initiate and build a credit score. By using a credit card responsibly and making payments on time, graduates can establish a positive credit history. This favorable credit history will be instrumental when applying for loans, mortgages or even when undergoing credit checks for rental applications.

    theftSecurity icon

    Emergency Fund

    A credit card can serve as an emergency financial resource. In unexpected situations like car repairs or medical emergencies, having a credit card can provide a financial cushion. While it’s not a substitute for a savings account, it does offer a level of financial security.

    niceMeal icon

    Rewards and Benefits

    Many credit cards come with rewards programs such as cash back, travel rewards or discounts at specific retailers. These rewards can provide real value and savings, making everyday spending more rewarding.

    graphCard2 icon

    Expense Tracking

    Credit cards often come with features that help track and categorize spending. By analyzing spending patterns, graduates can better manage their budget to make informed financial decisions.

    calendarV2 icon

    Learning Financial Discipline

    Handling a credit card requires a level of financial discipline. It teaches important financial management skills such as budgeting and timely payment habits, which are crucial for long-term financial stability.

How a Credit Card Impacts Your Credit Score

A credit score is a numerical representation of your financial trustworthiness, and how you manage your credit card plays a significant role in determining this score. Here are the different ways in which credit card usage can impact your credit score.

  • Payment history: Your payment history contributes to a significant portion of your credit score. Consistently paying your card balance on time can positively impact your score, while late or missed payments can significantly decrease it.
  • Credit utilization rate: This represents the ratio of your current credit card balance to your credit limit. Keeping your utilization rate low, preferably under 30%, can favorably impact your credit score. High utilization can indicate potential financial distress and may lower your score.
  • Length of credit history: The duration you've had your credit card open contributes to your score. Older accounts can benefit your score as they show a longer history of credit management. Frequently opening and closing accounts can negatively impact this factor.
  • New credit inquiries: Each time you apply for a new credit card or loan, a hard inquiry is made on your credit report. Multiple hard inquiries in a short period can negatively impact your score as they may indicate financial instability.
  • Credit card balances: Consistently carrying high balances on your credit card, even if you pay them off monthly, can be seen as a risk by lenders. It's advisable to pay off significant chunks of your balance periodically to demonstrate responsible credit management.
mglogo icon
BENEFITS OF ESTABLISHING CREDIT EARLY ON

Having a well-established credit history early on opens doors to better borrowing opportunities. Lenders are more likely to offer favorable terms, such as lower interest rates and higher loan amounts, to individuals with a proven track record of responsible credit use. This can translate to significant savings over time, especially on large loans like mortgages.

Additionally, a good credit score can make renting an apartment easier. Landlords often check credit scores to gauge the reliability of potential tenants. A positive credit history can help you stand out and secure a place in competitive rental markets.

Credit isn’t only about borrowing; it’s a financial tool that, when managed properly, reflects your financial stability and responsibility. For instance, some employers check credit histories as part of their hiring process. A favorable credit score could potentially make you a more attractive candidate, showcasing your ability to manage financial obligations responsibly.

Credit cards often come with rewards programs, and establishing credit early can lead to better rewards in the long run. These rewards can include cash back, travel discounts, and special offers that can save you money.

How To Get a Credit Card as a Recent College Graduate

Handling your finances after graduating can be exciting but also tricky. One of the first steps towards financial independence is to get a credit card. Here are some clear steps to help you find a credit card that suits your needs:

1
Research and Compare Different Credit Cards

Before applying for a credit card, do thorough research to find the card that suits your lifestyle and financial situation. Look for cards that have low interest rates, no annual fees and rewards programs that align with your spending habits. Comparing different credit cards will help you understand the variety of options available and what benefits they offer. Additionally, reading reviews and perhaps consulting with a financial advisor can provide further insights.

2
Check Your Credit Score

Although as a recent graduate, you might have a limited credit history, it’s still advisable to check your credit score. Knowing your score will give you an idea of what credit cards you may qualify for. There are many online platforms available where you can check your credit score for free. If your score is on the lower side, or you have no credit history, you might want to consider secured credit cards or cards specifically designed for individuals with no or low credit.

3
Consider a Secured Credit Card

If getting a regular credit card proves challenging due to a lack of credit history, a secured credit card is a viable option. Secured cards require a refundable deposit which acts as your credit limit. By using a secured card responsibly and paying off your balance on time, you can build your credit history and eventually transition to a traditional, unsecured card.

4
Apply for a Student Credit Card

Some credit card companies offer cards specifically designed for students or recent graduates. These cards often have lower eligibility requirements and offer benefits like rewards on everyday purchases, no annual fees and even good grade rewards. They serve as an excellent springboard for building credit while still enjoying some perks.

MORE: Can You Get a Student Credit Card With No Income?

5
Keep Applications to a Minimum

Every time you apply for a credit card, a hard inquiry is conducted on your credit report which may lower your score slightly. It’s wise to apply for a card when you have a fair chance of getting approved to minimize the impact on your credit score. Further, excessive applications within a short time frame may signal financial desperation to lenders, potentially hindering your approval chances.

Keep Applications to a Minimum

Every time you apply for a credit card, a hard inquiry is conducted on your credit report which may lower your score slightly. It’s wise to apply for a card when you have a fair chance of getting approved to minimize the impact on your credit score. Further, excessive applications within a short time frame may signal financial desperation to lenders, potentially hindering your approval chances.

Is It Good to Have Two or More Credit Cards After Graduation?

Having two or more credit cards can come with several advantages. Firstly, it could aid in building credit history quicker, given the cards are handled wisely. Each card used responsibly reflects well on your credit report, enhancing your credit score over time.

Furthermore, having multiple cards can unlock a variety of rewards and benefits. For instance, one card might offer valuable travel rewards, while another could provide cash back on daily purchases. This diverse rewards strategy could lead to increased savings and perks in the long term.

But more cards could mean more chances to accumulate debt if not managed correctly. It might get tricky to track various payment deadlines and conditions, potentially leading to missed payments or overspending. Also, applying for numerous cards within a short period could result in multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, temporarily dipping your credit score.

FAQ About Credit Cards for Recent College Graduates

Getting a credit card as a recent college graduate can often raise a number of questions. Below are some common questions and answers that can guide recent graduates on the path to choosing the best credit card for your needs.

What should I look for in a credit card as a recent college graduate?
How can a credit card help me build my credit history?
Can I get a credit card even if I don’t have a credit history?
What should I do if I find myself struggling with credit card debt?

About Grace Pilling


Grace Pilling headshot

Grace Pilling was the Senior Content Manager for Credit Cards at MoneyGeek. She previously led personal finance teams at Bankrate, CreditCards.com and MoneyUnder30.

Pilling has a bachelor's degree in English from Western Sydney University and a diploma in book editing, proofreading and publishing. She is focused on empowering readers to make informed financial choices that support their best lives, not a company’s bottom line.


*Rates, fees or bonuses may vary or include specific stipulations. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. Learn more about our editorial policies and expert editorial team.
Advertiser Disclosure: MoneyGeek has partnered with CardRatings.com and CreditCards.com for our coverage of credit card products. MoneyGeek, CardRatings and CreditCards.com may receive a commission from card issuers. To ensure thorough comparisons and reviews, MoneyGeek features products from both paid partners and unaffiliated card issuers that are not paid partners.