Credit cards are often an important part of building credit and learning how to manage your finances. But what if you or your child have little to no credit history and can’t qualify for available credit card products?
This is a common problem for young adults who haven’t yet had the opportunity to build their credit history. Fortunately, there are options to help solve this issue. See which credit cards for 18-year-olds might make the most sense for you or your child.
Our picks for the best credit cards for 18-year-olds:
- Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
- Discover it® Student Cash Back
- Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
- Chase Freedom® Student credit card
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Best credit cards for 18-year-olds
The best card for you or a child likely depends on each situation. Here are some of the best credit cards for 18-year-olds that could work in a variety of situations:
|Card name||Best for||What sets it apart|
|Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card||No credit history||
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Everyday rotating categories||
|Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card||Low security deposit||
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card||Quick credit limit increases||
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Earning at U.S. supermarkets||
|Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card||Elevated authorized user benefits||
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Everyday earning||
|Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students||No Social Security number requirement||
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card 1 advertises no fees of any kind, including a $0 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and no late fees from late payments. It offers a credit limit between $300 and $10,000 for qualified applicants. You’re also able to earn unlimited 1% cash back on purchases; after 6 on-time payments, earn 1.25% cash back; after 12 on-time payments, earn 1.5% cash back.
The Petal 2 could be good for 18-year-olds because it’s an unsecured card that doesn’t require a long credit history. Petal will check your credit score if you have one, but it will also analyze information from a linked bank account. This could be helpful for credit beginners who don’t have any credit history. If you don’t qualify for the Petal 2, you might qualify for the Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card, a similar card that has fees.
Learn more in our Petal Visa Credit Card review.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
The Discover it® Student Cash Back is a cashback card with a $0 annual fee and an earning rate of 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Rotating categories have included restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, Amazon.com, and more.
It also allows you to automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year
The Discover it Student Cash Back could be good for 18-year-olds because it’s a student card that doesn’t require a credit score to qualify. This could be ideal for college students going through a credit card application for the first time. And for a student card, the opportunities for earning cash back are generous. This card also offers 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, and then 15.99% to 24.99% (variable).
Find out more in our Discover it Student Cash Back review.
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
If getting a secured credit card seems like the best option for you as a first credit card, consider the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. This card doesn’t offer much in terms of benefits or earning rewards, but it has a $0 annual fee.
The Capital One Platinum Secured could be good for 18-year-olds because it doesn’t require a sizable credit history or good credit. You could also get started with a security deposit as small as $49. Automatic credit line reviews could begin in as few as six months after account opening. If you qualify for an unsecured card, your security deposit will be returned to you as a statement credit.
See more information in our Capital One Platinum Secured review.
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
The Chase Freedom® Student credit card has a $0 annual fee and offers 1% cash back for each $1 spent. Although not the best rewards rate compared with other types of rewards cards, any earning at all is typically good for starter credit cards.
The Chase Freedom Student could be good for 18-year-olds because it’s a student card that has a rewards program and doesn’t have strict credit requirements. You also get the opportunity for an automatic credit line increase after five on-time monthly payments within the first 10 months of account opening. You wouldn’t qualify for this increase if you have any missed payments, but minimum payments are fine for each billing cycle.
Learn more in our Chase Freedom Student Card review.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has a $95 (waived first year) annual fee and offers cashback rewards at a rate of 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (for first $6,000 per year, after that 1%) and on select U.S. streaming services, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit, and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
The Amex Blue Cash Preferred could be good for 18-year-olds who qualify for it, but it’s more likely to be used for adding authorized users. This card doesn’t charge any fees for adding an authorized user. The additional user’s purchases would earn at the same rate as the primary cardholder. You have to be at least 13 to be an authorized user on an American Express credit card.
Find out more in our American Express Blue Cash Preferred review.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card has a $395 annual fee and offers 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day; 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 10X miles per dollar when you book on Turo through May 16, 2023; and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
The Venture X could be good for 18-year-olds because authorized users don’t have to pay an annual fee, but can still take advantage of many of the card’s premium benefits and perks. This includes a complimentary Priority Pass membership, access to Capital One Lounges, and free Hertz President’s Circle elite status.
See more information in our Capital One Venture X review.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a cash rewards credit card with a $0 annual fee and an earning rate of 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
The Freedom Unlimited could be good for 18-year-olds because there’s no credit check for authorized users and the earning categories align with everyday purchases. There’s also no fee to add authorized users on the Freedom Unlimited.
Learn more in our Chase Freedom Unlimited review.
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is a simple cashback card with a few helpful benefits. For example: Earn a free year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first 3 months It also offers 1% cash back on all purchases. It is only available to students currently enrolled in a U.S. college.
The Deserve EDU could be good for 18-year-olds who don't have a Social Security number. For example, international students could apply for this card. It could also be a good choice for students with little to no credit history.
Find out more in our Deserve EDU review.
What to look for in credit cards for 18-year-olds
Turning 18 is typically thought of as an important milestone for a teenager. In a financial sense, it’s the age at which you can legally apply for a credit card. But according to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, 18- to 20-year-olds can get a credit card only if they have a co-signer who’s 21 or older or they can provide proof of sufficient independent income.
Co-signing for a credit card is a bit of an outdated practice that most major credit card issuers no longer offer. This leaves using your income as the recommended path to getting a credit card if you’re 18 to 20 years old.
TipKeep in mind that it’s typically only your income and assets that are considered and not those of a family member, such as a parent.
If you don’t have any income, it might make more sense to become an authorized user to help build your credit. Credit card account holders often have the option to add authorized users to their accounts. Authorized users typically get access to their own credit card and benefits.
Check out the best credit cards for authorized users for several options to consider.
Here are a few factors to consider when deciding between different credit cards for an 18-year-old:
- Credit score: Even if you have sufficient income, you might not have enough credit history to qualify for certain credit cards. Student credit cards and secured credit cards often have less strict qualifications. See our page about the best credit cards for students to learn more.
- Annual fee: It’s common for certain credit cards to have annual fees, but typically only if they have benefits to help offset the cost. Consider whether a card’s fee might be worth it depending on the benefits it offers. In some cases, building your credit could be enough of a benefit to warrant paying a fee. But having no annual fee could help you save money.
- Benefits: Credit card benefits range from travel insurance to purchase protection and more. Are you a frequent traveler, or would you like additional coverage for recent purchases? Explore a card’s benefits to see how they might be useful for you.
- Rewards: Certain cards offer rewards, such as cash back, points, or miles, whenever you make eligible purchases. This could be a valuable resource for saving money, especially if you like to travel. Check out the best rewards credit cards for recommended options.
- Interest rate: Many credit cards have relatively high interest rates, often expressed as an APR, or annual percentage rate. If you’re concerned about paying interest on a card, consider credit cards with lower variable APRs.
WarningKeep in mind that it’s not recommended to carry a balance on a credit card. This is because balances show up on your credit report, and a high balance could hurt your credit score.
Carrying a balance affects your credit utilization ratio, which compares your credit card balances to your total available credit. According to FICO, a popular credit scoring model, credit utilization over 30% could negatively impact your FICO score as well as other credit scores.
Secured vs. unsecured cards
Unsecured credit cards are what you might typically think of when talking about credit cards. These cards can often be used just about anywhere worldwide (if Visa or Mastercard) for an amount up to the provided line of credit.
Secured credit cards function similarly, but the credit limit is typically associated with a deposit you make when you open the card. If you deposit $200, your credit limit could be $200. The deposit serves as collateral for the lender, which means that if you don't make your payments, the card issuer can use your deposit to pay off your card balance.
TipSecured credit cards often have lower requirements than unsecured credit cards, including allowing bad credit, but they still typically report activity to the major credit bureaus, such as Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
What credit does an 18-year-old start with?
An 18-year-old doesn’t automatically start with any credit. You typically build credit by using different credit products, including credit cards and loans. If an 18-year-old hasn’t used any credit products before or been an authorized user on a credit card, they’d likely have limited credit or no credit history.
Can an 18-year-old get a credit card?
An 18-year-old could get a credit card if someone 21 or older co-signs with them or they provide proof of sufficient income.
These rules are outlined in the CARD Act of 2009 to help protect young consumers from potentially harmful credit decisions. It’s also possible for 18-year-olds to become authorized users of certain credit cards if they want to have a card and start building credit.
What are the benefits of having a credit card at 18?
The benefits of having a credit card at 18 could include:
- Building your credit history
- Earning valuable rewards
- Having helpful card benefits
- Learning how to use credit products
- Learning how to manage money
- Having a source of emergency funds if needed
Young adults, including 18-year-olds, often fall into an unreasonable situation where they need a credit card to build credit but can’t qualify for most credit cards. Fortunately, student credit cards, secure credit cards, and other alternatives are available to help avoid these circumstances.
Using one of these options could help you build your credit history and open up more financial opportunities in the future. This could mean qualifying for additional credit products with increased benefits and reduced interest rates. Check out our dedicated credit card page to compare credit card offers and see what products might work best for you.