Best Credit Cards for Young Professionals [2021]

Find out how the best credit cards for young adults can help you take the next step in your financial journey.
Last updated Feb 11, 2021 | By Ben Walker
Young woman reconciling credit card bill

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According to Experian, millennials have about three credit cards on average, whereas Generation Z individuals have about two. So younger generations are using credit cards, but not quite at the levels of baby boomers and Generation X individuals, who both have more than four credit cards on average.

Fewer credit cards can mean fewer opportunities to build credit, which can restrict your financial opportunities down the road. However, it’s also important to balance more credit cards with responsible credit card use. There’s no point in getting a credit card if you don’t plan on paying off the balance.

So as you learn about the best credit cards for young professionals, remember that credit cards are designed to help you reach your financial goals. Your situation is unique, so the best credit card for you may not make sense for someone else. This line of thought will help you align a card’s features and benefits with your spending habits and lifestyle.

Best credit cards for young professionals

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What’s the best credit card for a young professional?

The best credit card for a young professional is the one that could help you achieve your goals. If your main goal is to build credit without worrying about specific card rewards or benefits, basically any credit card can help do that. However, it likely makes more sense to consider multiple factors when choosing a credit card.

As a young professional, your considerations for credit cards may differ from someone else’s. Your credit history may be fairly limited, so a credit card can help you build credit. Or you want to earn rewards on everyday purchases to save money and fuel future vacations. You may have existing credit card debt, so a balance transfer card can help you avoid high interest rates while you get your finances in order.

Whatever your considerations, you have plenty of options to choose from. However, some credit cards may align perfectly with your financial needs, some get close, and others aren’t anywhere near the mark. Thinking about your needs and financial situation beforehand can make it easier to find the best fit for your wallet.

7 best credit cards for young professionals

Each of the listed cards can provide significant benefits depending on what you’re looking for. They’ve been picked specifically for young professionals, which can sometimes mean young adults applying for one of their first credit cards. To find the card best suited for you, browse the table and then dig deeper into the details below.

Card name Best for... Reward details Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Frequent travel 5X on Lyft rides, 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases $95
Chase Freedom Flex Takeout and drugstores 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases $0
Citi Double Cash Card Balance transfers and unlimited cash back up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% as you buy and 1% as you pay $0
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express Groceries and streaming services 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (for first $6,000 per year) and on U.S. streaming services, 3% at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit, and 1% on other purchases $95 (waived first year)
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Average credit unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase $39
Discover it Secured Bad or limited credit 2% cash back on purchases at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 quarterly), and 1% cash back on all other purchases $0
Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card Entrepreneurs 1.5% cash back on all spending $0

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for frequent travel

If you travel for work or fun, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best travel credit cards to have. It has a low $95 annual fee and earns 5X on Lyft rides, 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases. In addition, the points you earn are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Chase travel portal.

Earning points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program can be beneficial for young professionals who travel often. It’s easy to book award flights and hotel stays through Chase, or you can transfer points to more than a dozen Chase transfer partners. These include major hotel and travel partners like JetBlue, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt.

It’s also helpful knowing the Sapphire Preferred is a Visa credit card. Because Visa is accepted in hundreds of countries and territories worldwide, you know your card will generally be accepted everywhere you travel. Plus, this card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees, so you’re free to make purchases abroad without worrying about this additional cost.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to $50 statement credit for grocery store purchases
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Chase Freedom Flex: Best for takeout and drugstores

The Chase Freedom Flex is an ideal option for young professionals who want a cash rewards credit card with a $0 annual fee. This card earns 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases.

The bonus categories are common, which makes them incredibly useful. So if you often make purchases at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores, it’s easy to earn loads of cash back. Plus, the rotating categories can help you earn more rewards. Chase Freedom categories have included everyday bonus categories like grocery stores, gas, PayPal, Walmart, Amazon.com, and more.

Once you’ve earned enough cashback rewards, redeem them for a statement credit, a direct deposit into your eligible bank account, shopping trips on Amazon, gift cards, or to book travel through Chase.

Additional benefits with this card include cell phone protection, purchase protection, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and an auto rental collision damage waiver. Not everyone will use these benefits, but they can come in handy when you need them. It can hurt to have to pay for repairs on an expensive phone, but a benefit like cell phone protection could help mitigate eligible costs.

Powerful New Cashback Card

Benefits

  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • Up to 5% cash back on spending
  • Lyft and DoorDash perks

Citi Double Cash: Best for balance transfers and unlimited cash back

The Citi Double Cash Card is one of the best cashback credit cards available. It earns up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% as you buy and 1% as you pay. There’s no worrying about which type of purchase earns what percentage of cash back. Rather, you make a purchase and on-time payments and earn up to 2% cash back. It’s simple and straightforward with a $0 annual fee as well.

This type of card makes it easy to earn cash back, which could appeal to young professionals. You already have plenty to worry about, like furthering your career or working on a side hustle, so an uncomplicated cashback card might be a good fit. Cashback rewards can be redeemed for statement credits, a direct deposit, a mailed check, or converted to Citi ThankYou points.

In addition, the Citi Double Cash is also one of our picks for the best balance transfer credit cards. This means you can transfer existing debt to this card and receive 0% intro APR on the transfer for 18 months. So that gives recent college grads, new car owners, and plenty of people in other situations 18 months to avoid interest on a transferred balance.

Earn Cash Back Twice

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months
  • 2% cash back on all purchases - 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay
  • No annual fee

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: Best for groceries and streaming services

For a cashback credit card that earns rewards on multiple everyday expenses, consider the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. You can earn 6% cash back on purchases from U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year) and select U.S. streaming services, which is one of the best rates available for these categories. But you also get 3% bonus cash back for purchases at U.S. gas stations and eligible transit. Eligible transit includes ride-share services, like Uber and Lyft.

These are typical expenses for everyone, but young professionals could use the accelerated cash back to save up money for big purchases, like a down payment on a house or a new laptop.

Keep in mind, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred does have a $95 (waived first year) annual fee, but the earning potential can outweigh this cost. For example, spending $6,000 on purchases in the 6% category would net you $360 ($6,000 x .06 = $360) in cash back. That’s a net profit of $265 ($360 - $95 = $265).

#1 Cash Back at Supermarkets

Benefits

  • $300 statement credit welcome offer
  • 6% cash back on U.S. streaming services and at U.S. supermarkets
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit
  • 0% intro APR on purchases
  • Terms apply

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for average credit

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is an excellent option for young professionals who have average credit. You likely don’t need more than fair credit to qualify for this card, which translates to a FICO Score between 580 and 669. So if you’re building credit and lengthening your credit history, this could be an ideal card to help you open up more financial opportunities down the road.

Also, the Capital One QuicksilverOne’s earning potential is surprisingly decent for its less-than-strict credit requirements. Cardholders earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. It does have a $39 annual fee, but the cost is likely worth it to build your credit and earn rewards at the same time.

Your cashback rewards can be redeemed for a statement credit, to cover recent purchases, and for gift cards. As you use your credit card, Capital One will periodically conduct automatic credit line reviews to determine whether you warrant a credit line increase.

Easy cash back rewards

Benefits

  • 1.5% unlimited cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Consideration for a higher credit line as quickly as 6 months after account opening
  • CreditWise to monitor your credit score

Discover it Secured: Best for bad or limited credit

If you’re a young professional with bad credit or no credit history, a $0 annual fee card like the Discover it Secured could make sense. The Discover it Secured is a secured credit card, which means you have to make a security deposit to be able to use the card. Your security deposit then serves as your credit limit. This is different from unsecured credit cards that offer you credit without having to make a security deposit. Most typical cards are unsecured credit cards.

The Discover it Secured earns 2% cash back on purchases at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 quarterly), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. As you use your card and pay off your balance in full, you’ll earn rewards and get the opportunity to build your credit. Using a credit card responsibly, including a secured credit card, reports useful information to credit bureaus and helps increase your credit score and credit history.

If you pay off your balance and close your credit card account, you’ll have your security deposit refunded. You’ll also receive your security deposit back if Discover reviews your credit card history and thinks you no longer need to have the deposit in place.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card: Best for entrepreneurs

For entrepreneurial-minded young professionals, the Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card is a good starting point. It is one of the best small business credit cards available, which can be helpful if you’re starting your own business or running a side hustle.

The Ink Business Unlimited has a $0 annual fee and earns a solid 1.5% cash back on all spending. So on top of being able to separate your business expenses from your personal expenses, you also get to earn valuable rewards. In addition, this business credit card offers purchase protection, extended warranty protection, and auto rental collision damage waivers.

If you want to earn bonus points on common business expenses, consider pairing the Ink Business Unlimited with the Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card and Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. These cards provide different ways to earn more points, so you can maximize your earning potential between all three cards.

Unlimited Cash Back

Benefits

  • New Offer: $750 cash back sign-up offer
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all spending
  • 0% APR for 12 months on purchases
  • No annual fee

Why we chose these cards (methodology)

Young professionals are typically at a point in their lives where they’re learning about financial products and then implementing what they’ve learned. They may be recent college graduates or well into their careers. Some of them are making large purchases and investments, like buying a car or house.

Overall, the situations will vary, but most young professionals aren’t likely getting ready for retirement or sitting on heaps of savings. This presents an opportunity for credit cards to help these individuals reach financial goals they otherwise wouldn’t be able to attain.

We picked the credit cards in this guide based on their usefulness for different situations that a young professional might find themselves in, whether it’s paying down debt, building credit, saving up for travel, or saving money on everyday expenses. We didn’t want any cards with steep annual fees, but we also wanted each card to have helpful benefits a young professional could take advantage of.

FAQs about the best credit cards for young professionals

What is the best credit card for a young professional?

The best credit card for a young professional is the card that best suits their financial needs. Each situation is different, so the best card for one young professional might not be the best for another. If you want to build your credit, a secured credit card might make the most sense. But if you want to save money on common purchases, a cashback credit card could be the right fit.

What's a good credit card to build credit fast?

A secured credit card like the Discover it Secured can help you qualify for a credit card and start building your credit fast. An unsecured credit card for bad credit, such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, could also help. You don’t need excellent credit for these cards, but you do need to use them responsibly if you want to build credit.

For alternative ways to build your credit, consider getting added as an authorized user to a friend or family member’s credit card account. As their card is used and paid off, your credit can build. In addition, a car loan or student loan can help in the same way. As they’re paid off on time and in full, you’ll likely see positive changes in your credit.

What's the best way to build your credit score?

The best way to build your credit score and improve your creditworthiness is to learn about the factors that affect your credit. Free credit services like Experian Boost can also help you monitor your credit report and see what factors are making it change. Factors like on-time payments are huge, but monthly payments won’t be your only concern.

You’ll also need to consider how many credit accounts you have, the length of your credit history, recent credit inquiries, your credit utilization, and more. If you can keep track of these factors and make sure they’re all in good standing, you’re more likely to build your FICO score.

The bottom line

Finding the perfect credit card for your financial situation can be challenging, especially when you’re learning about credit cards as a young adult. But if you think about your specific goals, spending habits, and lifestyle, it becomes easier to see what credit card features may be beneficial to you. Then you can align your goals with a credit card that will offer you the most value.

Keep in mind, every credit card can help you build credit, but it’s better to consider credit cards that can help you in other ways too. That way you can also earn valuable rewards or take advantage of other benefits at the same time as you take care of your financial future.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to $50 statement credit for grocery store purchases
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits