Best Credit Cards for Recent College Graduates

No matter where your credit score stands after you graduate from college, you can find a credit card to suit your needs. Plus, most of the top cards come with no annual fees.

Advertising & Editorial DisclosureLast Updated: 11/27/2022
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Last Updated: 11/27/2022

It’s not uncommon for recent college graduates to either have no or poor credit. Some may have never used a credit card before or haven’t had many opportunities to establish a credit history. Others may have been able to obtain credit history via a credit card or other means, but they may not have yet established good habits around managing their credit.

In both scenarios, there are options: those graduates may want to consider looking at what the Petal 2 Visa Card and the Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa Credit Card have to offer.

If you’ve managed to build good or excellent credit through your student years, a couple of your top options include the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card and the Chase Freedom Flex Card.

Keep in mind that you might not need to pay any annual fee, and not have to sacrifice benefits worth using or the ability to earn rewards.

Card Options for College Graduates

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Best Credit Cards for Graduates With No or Poor Credit

The best credit cards for college graduates with no credit are also the ones you may want to apply for if you have poor credit. All the top cards we’ve selected from this segment come with no annual fees. Whether or not you need to pay a security deposit depends on the card you choose.

  • Petal 2 Visa Card - Great for earning cash back
    The Petal 2 Visa Card is an unsecured credit card, so you don’t have to pay any security deposit. The initial credit limit may vary from $300 to $10,000. Cardholders can earn up to 1.5% cash back on purchases by making their payments on time. Purchases made at select merchants earn up to 10% cash back. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa Credit Card - Perfect for building/rebuilding credit
    This card is a great option as Chime doesn’t check your credit when you apply for this card. However, you must have a Chime Checking Account to get the Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa Credit Card. This secured card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but doesn’t offer rewards for spending.
  • Discover it Secured Credit Card - Good for earning cash back
    The Discover it Secured Credit Card requires a $200 minimum security deposit. You might be able to qualify for a standard unsecured Discover card after seven months through automatic account reviews. This card offers 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on combined spending of up to $1,000 every quarter. All other purchases earn cash back too. The Cash Back Match offer lets you double the cash back you earn at the end of the first year. And as with other Discover credit cards, this card doesn't incur foreign transaction fees.

  • Chime Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card

    A good secured credit card with no annual fees and interest


    • None-PoorCredit Needed
    • UnspecifiedAPR
    • $0Annual Fee
    • $200Min. Security Deposit

    Terms, rates and fees apply

  • Discover it® Secured Credit Card

    A good no-annual-fee secured card for earning cash back and building/rebuilding credit


    • Limited-PoorCredit Needed
    • $200Min. Security Deposit
    • 1%-2% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • 2xRewards Rate on Gas
    • 2xRewards Rate on Dining

Selecting a secured card may tie up funds temporarily. But keep in mind that you might be able to qualify for an unsecured card relatively quickly by using your secured card responsibly. How long this takes depends on your card issuer. For example, Discover states that it conducts account reviews after the first seven months. Bank of America and Wells Fargo also offer automatic reviews, but don’t disclose their timelines.

Top Credit Cards for Graduates With Good to Excellent Credit

If you’ve already established good or excellent creditworthiness, you have a wider selection of cards to choose from. While we’ve identified the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card as the best credit card for new graduates with good or excellent credit, we’ve selected a few other very good options too. Plus, none of these cards charge annual fees, and all offer rewards/cash back.

  • Capital One Quicksilver Rewards - Perfect for earning cash back on everyday purchases
    As one of the best credit cards for college graduates, the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards card keeps things simple by offering a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. New cardholders stand to earn a $200 welcome bonus by spending $500 on purchases in the first three months. An intro 0% APR offer applies on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. You pay no foreign transaction fees when you use this card outside of the U.S.
  • Chase Freedom Flex - Good for earning cash back on travel, dining and drugstore purchases
    The Chase Freedom Flex Card comes with a spend-based welcome bonus and lets you earn cash back faster during the first year. It offers 5% cash back on quarterly bonus categories you need to activate and on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Restaurant (including eligible delivery and takeout) and drugstore purchases earn 3% cash back. All other purchases come with 1% cash back. A low intro APR offer applies on purchases and balance transfers. This card also offers cell phone, purchase and travel protection.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited- Ideal for earning cash back on travel, dining, drugstore and everyday purchases
    The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card lets you earn a $200 welcome bonus by spending $500 on purchases in the first three months. You also stand to earn extra cash back on grocery purchases during the first year. Travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards earn 5% cash back. You get 3% cash back on drugstore and dining (including eligible delivery and takeout) purchases. All other purchases earn 1.5% cash back. This card comes with a 0% APR offer on balance transfers and purchases. It also offers purchase protection, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and travel and emergency assistance services. However, keep in mind that this card charges foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Apple Card - Great for earning cash back through select merchants as well as on Apple and everyday purchases
    The Apple Card offers 3% cash back on Apple purchases as well as on purchases made at select merchants. All other purchases made using Apple Pay via your iPhone or Apple Watch earn 2% cash back. Cardholders can also use this card to pay for new Apple products through interest-free monthly installments. If you use it outside of the U.S., you pay no foreign transaction fees. However, it doesn’t come with a welcome bonus or an intro APR offer.

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

    Best cash back rewards credit card for everyday spending


    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 1.5% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • 1.5xRewards Rate on Dining
    • 1.5xRewards Rate on Online Shopping

  • Chase Freedom Flex℠

    An easy-to-use cash back card with quarterly rotating bonus categories


    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 1–5% Cash Back*Rewards Rate
    • 5xRewards Rate on Air Travel
    • 3xRewards Rate on Dining

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited

    An excellent no-annual-fee card that lets you earn unlimited cash back


    • ExcellentCredit Needed
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 1.5–5% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • 3xRewards Rate on Dining
    • 5xRewards Rate on Air Travel

Quick Tips for Comparing Credit Card Offers

When selecting from the wide array of credit cards for college graduates, it’s important to take your spending patterns and specific requirements into account. Not all cards work equally well for everyone. For example, the best all-around credit card might not necessarily be the best credit card for saving money. While looking at annual fees and APRs is crucial, you might also benefit by comparing the rewards and other perks offered.

1

Annual fees

The best credit cards for college graduates are usually ones that do away with annual fees, as is the case with all the cards you'll find on this page. However, if you're looking at other cards, this aspect requires your particular attention because the annual fees of some premium cards can be upwards of $500.

2

Welcome offers

Many top-rated credit cards for college grads come with spend-based welcome offers. For example, you could earn $200 in cash rewards by spending $500 on purchases in the first three months.

3

Intro APR offers

Finding credit cards that come with intro 0% APR offers on purchases and/or balance transfers is fairly easy. The duration of such promo periods typically ranges from 12 to 21 months.

4

APRs

Regular APRs of credit cards usually depend on your credit score. Average credit card APRs on purchases and balance transfers may vary from 13.5% to 21%. Bear in mind that cash advance APRs are typically higher.

5

Rewards/cash back

Most of the cards we've selected offer cash back or rewards. However, the cash back/rewards rate depends on the card you choose. For example, with the Petal 2 Visa Card, our pick for the best credit card for college graduates with no/poor credit, you may earn up to 10% cash back through select merchants.

6

Foreign transaction fees

If you plan to use your card outside of the U.S., you should consider applying for a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. Cards that charge this fee usually require that you pay 3% extra on each international transaction.

7

Added perks

Since the best credit cards for college graduates we've selected come with no annual fees, they offer basic benefits. A few of the card-specific perks you may enjoy include cell phone protection, purchase protection, extended warranty, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and access to travel and emergency assistance services.

Other Cards to Consider

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What You Should Know When Applying for a Credit Card

Applying for a credit card might seem pretty straightforward, but there are a few things you need to know before you get started. For instance, it helps to know what impact a credit card might have on your credit score. Consequently, it also helps to understand how to use a credit card responsibly.

How Credit Card Impacts Your Credit Score

A credit card will affect your credit score, for better or worse. If you wish to improve your credit score, it’s crucial that you make all your payments on time and keep your credit utilization ratio at an acceptable level. The credit utilization ratio refers to the amount of credit you’ve used from your total available credit. This number should ideally be below 30% as anything above that can negatively impact your credit score.

Making late payments, missing payments, having a high credit utilization ratio and applying for new credit in quick succession will lower your credit score.

It’s also important to distinguish fact from fiction. For example, the idea that simply closing a credit card account will help your credit score is a myth. On the contrary, a credit card is often the key to establishing a good credit score — and often, the longer a credit card account is open, the better.

But before you apply for a credit card and begin using it, it’s vital to understand your limits when using the card to spend. Creating a budget and knowing your spending habits can go a long way. According to a Sallie Mae report, the monthly credit card balance for a college student stood at $1,423 in 2019. The same report suggests that 71% of college grads felt they were good or excellent at dealing with their finances. It also added that as many as 60% of students paid off their balances in full each month.

As someone who’s trying to build or rebuild credit, one of the most important things to do is use your credit card only to make purchases that you can pay off in full each month. If you don’t, you’ll need to pay interest charges. In addition, if you end up using a significant portion of your card’s credit limit, you can expect that to lower your credit score.

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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

How to Get a Credit Card After Graduation

Getting a credit card after graduation can give you a simple way to pay for purchases and earn rewards or cash back in the process. You may also benefit from different card-specific features and perks. However, using a credit card irresponsibly brings the potential to accumulate debt that you have trouble repaying, which then negatively affects your creditworthiness. If you think you’ll be able to manage your spending responsibly, you may consider getting a credit card by following a few steps.

1

Check your credit score

This step helps you determine the type of card you may qualify for, whether its a secured card, an unsecured card or even a rewards card. So before you apply for a credit card, be sure to check your credit score for free.

2

Prequalify

Some credit card providers send prequalified offers via email or regular mail. Others let you check if you prequalify for a card online. While this step doesn’t guarantee you’ll be approved for the card, it can give you an idea of which types of cards to focus on. Additionally, this helps avoid having credit card issuers conduct multiple hard credit pulls, which occur when you apply for a credit card.

3

Identify your key requirements

Given that the best credit cards for college graduates don’t have annual fees, it’s important to pay attention to other factors. For example, do you want to earn higher-than-usual rewards/cash back on specific categories, or would you rather get a card that offers a high flat rewards/cash back rate? If you plan to travel internationally, you may consider looking at the top travel credit cards available.

4

Upgrade your student card

If you have a student credit card, you may continue using it as before, although this depends on its issuer. Some card providers let you reclassify your card to a regular card. If you wish to upgrade your student card to a regular card, you’ll need to inform the card issuer that you’re no longer a student. Canceling the card might not be in your best interest as it may have a negative effect on your credit score.

Benefits to Establishing Credit Early On

Building a good credit score early in life comes with numerous benefits. For starters, lenders look favorably upon borrowers with good or excellent credit, which brings with it increased odds of approval. People who have good credit scores typically get lower interest rates than those who don’t. By qualifying for better credit cards, you stand to earn rewards faster and enjoy a variety of perks.

Potential employers may check your credit reports to establish credibility. There’s a possibility that a landlord might check your credit score before leasing an apartment. This might also be the case when you’re setting up new accounts with utility companies.

Students who’ve never used credit may work on building their creditworthiness through alternative means.

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MONEYGEEK EXPERT TIP

People with no credit histories and access to credit may create accounts at alternative credit reporting agencies and start building their credit by reporting rent and various recurring bills.

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

Having two or more cards after graduation might work well for you if you manage your credit in a responsible manner. Spreading expenses across multiple cards can help to keep your credit utilization ratio low.

Multiple cards may also be beneficial if you wish to make the most of your spending by earning cash back or rewards. You can often achieve this by using a combination of cards to earn high rewards/cash back across various bonus categories. For example, using the Chase Freedom Flex Card and the Citi Double Cash Card can give you the ability to earn high cash back on various bonus categories as well as everyday purchases.

The possible downsides of getting two or more cards are that you might find it hard to manage multiple accounts and keep track of due dates. Besides, having multiple cards may also lead to accumulating unnecessary debt that you find hard to repay.

If you plan to use multiple cards, bear in mind that you should ideally space out your applications. This is because your credit score temporarily drops by a few points every time you apply for new credit.

How We Rank Credit Cards

We revise our list of the best credit cards for new graduates based on data from card issuers and other reliable sources such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The process involves looking at all new and existing cards from this segment and comparing them against key parameters such as annual fees, interest rates, rewards and benefits. The ratings we award each card after evaluating them against our unique ranking methodology help our experts to determine the top options for different types of users.

Key Takeaways

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Rewards & Benefits

Common Questions About Credit Cards for Recent College Graduates

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About the Author


Rajiv Baniwal has been writing about different financial topics for over 15 years. Meticulous in his research, he makes sure he provides accurate and up-to-date information. His areas of expertise include mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, insurance and international money transfers.


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*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.
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