The Best Credit Cards for Recent College Grads: Low Fees & Awesome Perks

CREDIT CARDS - STUDENT CREDIT CARDS
If you're a new grad, these credit cards provide easy approval and generous rewards.
Updated May 21, 2024
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New college grad with diploma

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As a new college graduate, it can be difficult to get approved for top cash back credit cards or the best travel cards because you may not have a long credit history yet, which will likely be reflected in your credit score. You may also not be making enough yet — or not have worked at your job long enough — to get approved for competitive credit cards with high credit limits.

But just because you may not be a perfect customer yet doesn't mean that there aren't great credit cards out there that provide you with cardholder perks you'll love. In fact, there are plenty of rewards cards you should be able to qualify for even if you're just out of college.

Here are a few of the best credit cards for a recent college grad — and the cardholder perks that come with them.

In this article

What’s the best credit card for a recent college grad?

When you're looking for the best credit cards for a recent college graduate, there are a few key features to consider, including the following:

  • Affordable annual fees: Paying a high annual fee may not be worth it when you're just starting to earn a good income and become financially independent.
  • A low APR: If you're graduating with credit card debt, a balance transfer card with a 0% promotional APR on balance transfers could allow you to reduce the cost of your debt. A card with a 0% promotional APR on purchases could give you the chance to buy the essentials for post-grad life and pay for them over time without incurring interest costs. See our picks of the best balance transfer cards for more details.
  • A card that's easy to get approved for: While some new graduates have a strong credit history already and have a good income, many don't. If you don't have a high credit score or a job that pays a lot, you may not yet be able to qualify for the most competitive rewards cards.
  • Rewards that match your lifestyle: Ideally, you can find a card that provides bonus rewards for the things you buy often. For many new grads, this means finding a card that provides bonus cash back, miles, or points for ridesharing, groceries, or travel.

Search for a card that you can qualify for and that offers the key features that provide the most value. And try to avoid carrying a balance and paying credit card interest, as interest on any card except a 0% APR card is likely to cost a lot.

Card Reward details Annual fee Recommended credit score
Discover it® Secured Credit Card Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. $0 Fair, Bad
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase; plus 5% unlimited cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel $39 Fair
Citi Double Cash® Card Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases; plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24 $0 Excellent, Good, Fair

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is the perfect choice for recent grads who don't have any credit history or whose credit history is so limited that it's not possible to qualify for an unsecured card.

With a secured credit card like this one, you put down a refundable security deposit equal to your credit limit. Start using the card for small purchases and paying them off to develop a positive payment history. The best part? You earn cash back for your regular spending.

Key features of the Discover it Secured Credit Card include:

  • $0 annual fee
  • A free FICO score so you can track your progress at improving credit
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
  • A refundable security deposit equal to your credit limit — and after your first 7 months as a cardholder, Discover will review your account to see if you qualify to transition to an unsecured card

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card comes with a small annual fee of $39; however, it also provides unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase; plus 5% unlimited cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. This card is ideal for new grads who want to maximize rewards while building credit. It provides tools to help you improve your credit score and you will be automatically considered for a credit line increase after as few as six months.

Key features of the Capital One QuickSilverOne Cash Rewards card include:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase; plus 5% unlimited cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • CreditWise, which provides access to your credit score as well as tools to help you monitor your credit and improve your score
  • Automatic consideration for a credit line increase in as few as six months
  • Rewards you can redeem for cash back at any time

Citi Double Cash® Card

If you want to transfer the balance of high interest credit card debt incurred during college, the Citi® Double Cash Card is an excellent option. This card is also ideal if you want a simple cash back rewards program that allows you to earn generous rewards without worrying about rotating categories.

Some of the key features of the Citi Double Cash card that could make it perfect for new grads include:

  • 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then 19.24% - 29.24% (Variable))
  • 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases; plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24
  • $0 annual fee
  • Citi Entertainment helps you get tickets to special events
  • Digital wallets make online checkout easier at participating stores, and helps protect your identity.

How to earn the most rewards

If you've just graduated, money may be tight or you may be spending a lot to establish your life as a post-grad. Earning maximum credit card rewards can help you get a little extra back for your everyday spending.

Fortunately, you have the option to maximize the credit card rewards you can earn by applying for a few different credit cards and using them strategically.

You could, for example, apply for the Discover it Secured Credit Card and the Citi Double Cash cards. You could then use the Discover it Secured Credit Card to earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. You'd also receive the Cashback Match™ during your first year. 

Then, you could use the Citi Double Cash to earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases; plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24.

If you do plan to juggle multiple cards, though, be sure you can keep track of payments so you don't miss one — and pay off your balances in full at the end of the month. Interest always costs well above what you earn in rewards and negates the benefit of using a rewards card.

Methodology

We scoured credit card offers to find cards that you are likely to get approved for as a new grad and that also reward you for the spending you're most likely to do. We also looked for credit cards that were affordable; paying high annual fees often isn't worth doing when you're a new grad. Plus, you probably aren't spending thousands a month on travel to take full advantage of features such as airline lounge access that tend to come with expensive cards.

The final word on the best credit cards for recent college grads

Now you've got some good insights to help you select the best credit cards for students and recent college grads. Check these out and shop around for a card that's a good fit for your lifestyle and has a rewards program you're excited about. Just remember to spend wisely and always pay off your balance in full so you can get the best value from any rewards credit card you choose.

Lucrative, Flat-Rate Cash Rewards

5.0

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Current Offer

$200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

Earn 2% cash rewards on purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Christy Rakoczy Christy Rakoczy has a Juris Doctorate from UCLA Law School with a focus in Business Law, and a Certificate in Business Marketing with an English Degree from The University of Rochester. As a full-time personal finance writer, she writes about all things money-related but her special areas of focus are credit cards, personal loans, student loans, mortgages, smart debt payoff strategies, and retirement and Social Security. Her work has been featured by USA Today, MSN Money, CNN Money and more, and you can learn more at her LinkedIn profile.

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