Worrying about your child’s health and safety is part of being a parent, but what about their financial future? In a society where credit scores have so much influence, helping your child establish healthy financial habits early on can make a huge difference when it comes time to send them off into the world.
While you might be reluctant to slap a credit card in your teen’s hand, teaching them how to be a responsible borrower now can help prep them for financial independence as they get older. Here are some of the best credit cards for students, even younger ones.
The best credit cards for teens
- American Express Blue Cash Everyday
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Citi Simplicity
- Discover it Secured
- Discover it Student Cash Back
- Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One
- Opensky Secured Visa
Best cards for 13- to 17-year-olds
Legally, your child can’t get a credit card in their name until they’re 18 years old — but they don’t need their own credit card to get the ball rolling. By adding your teen as an authorized user to a credit card account in your name, your child can start the process of building their credit history before they actually need it.
Assuming your credit habits are sound, your child’s credit record will get a bit of a head start. Exactly how much of a bump their credit will receive depends on the scoring model, as different models weigh credit factors differently.
But before you add your child to your line of credit, keep in mind that, at the end of the day, you’re solely responsible for the account. Teaching your child proper spending habits shouldn’t come at the cost of your own credit. Even if you don’t give them a physical credit card to use just yet, they can still benefit from being on your account.
If and when you decide to drop some more responsibility in their lap, you’ll be able to monitor their spending, and, with some credit cards, you can even set limits on how much they can spend altogether. The best part? You’ll not only be helping your child build their credit history but they’ll also be helping you earn points, miles, or cash back every time they swipe their card — with your approval, of course.
Not all credit cards are created equally, though, so here are a few options that stand out as good choices for adding your kid as an authorized user:
Amex Blue Cash EveryDay Credit Card
With the Amex Blue Cash EveryDay Credit Card, you get rewarded for the spending you do all day, every day — no matter the purchase. This can be a good option for earning rewards on your kid’s spending, regardless of what they’re spending on, though it won’t give you the highest earnings rate available.
You can set spending alerts and limits as low as $200 to help you keep track of their spending, and charges for each additional cardmember are separated on your monthly statement for easy expense tracking. Additionally, there’s no fee for authorized users, and while you can add your children to your account once they’re 13 years old, credit isn't reported under their name until they turn 18.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited may be as close as it gets to a perfect credit card for authorized users. This card offers 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
While you don’t have the ability to set spending limits, there’s no age requirement for authorized users, and adding an additional cardmember doesn’t cost a thing.
Citi Simplicity Card
There may not be any rewards with this card, but the Citi Simplicity Card boasts a 0% intro APR (annual percentage rate) on purchases for 12 months and a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months — as well as no late fees, no penalty rate, and a $0 annual fee.
If you’re looking to take advantage of the lack of fees and the generous intro APRs while also teaching responsible spending habits, this may be a great option. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, the Citi Simplicity Card has no age requirement for authorized users and no fees for adding them to your account.
Best cards for 18- to 20-year-olds
Once your kid becomes a legal adult, everything changes. They’re now able to take on credit products in their own name, though there are still requirements they’ll need to meet in order to get approved. If your child is under 21, credit card issuers likely won’t approve them for a card unless they have verifiable income or, at the very least, a cosigner with income that can be verified.
Getting your first credit card at this age is a great way to really start building your credit. While there are plenty of opportunities to utilize the many benefits of a credit card, mishandling and abusing credit can take a toll very quickly, especially since your child is just starting out.
Now that your kid’s options for credit cards are expanding, here are some of the best cards for young adults:
Discover it Secured
One of the best options for a first credit card is a secured credit card. Credit limits are set by a refundable deposit that the cardholder makes on the account, and, just like an unsecured credit card, all of the activity is reported to the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Proving yourself a responsible borrower is key to strengthening your credit score; this includes paying your balances in full and not carrying a balance from month to month.
The Discover it Secured has a $0 annual fee, so your kid can simply focus on making payments on time. You also get 2% cash back on purchases at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 quarterly), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. After eight months, Discover will automatically review your account to see if you can transition to an account with no security deposit.
Discover it Student Cash Back
Once your kid qualifies for an unsecured card, the Discover it Student Cash Back may be a great option. With a $0 annual fee and a $20 statement credit each year for college students who maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, your kid can start getting a taste of credit card perks while staying focused on schoolwork.
This card also boasts 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You need to activate the bonus categories each quarter, and current bonus categories can be found on the Discover Cashback Calendar. Past bonus categories have included purchases from Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com; groceries; gas; and rideshare service purchases.
Need more? Discover will match all the cash back your kid earns at the end of their first year — and there’s no limit to how much Discover will match. Credit needed for this card ranges from fair to excellent, so focus on having the best score possible in order to increase the odds of approval.
Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One
With the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One, cardholders can earn 1% cash back on all purchases and 1.25% cash back each month you make an on-time monthly payment. There’s no annual fee to worry about, no foreign transaction fees if your child heads abroad, and they may gain access to a higher credit line in as few as six months. To be approved for this card, your kid will need average credit.
OpenSky Secured Visa
No credit check needed for this one. Since the OpenSky Secured Visa is a secured credit card, you set your credit line with an initial refundable deposit — as low as $200 and up to $3,000. To ensure you’re building your credit, all activity is reported to the three major credit bureaus. It’s an alternative to the Discover it Secured card, but it lacks the earnings rate offered by Discover.
5 quick tips for building your teen's credit
- Open a bank account before you start: Before you venture into credit cards, consider opening a checking account for your teen and getting them a debit card or prepaid card so they can get comfortable with reviewing their balances and tracking their transactions.
- Consider making them an authorized user on your credit card: Adding your teen as an authorized user to your credit card account can help them build credit at an early age, provided that the card is used responsibly.
- Look into secured credit cards: Once your teen is old enough, you might consider looking into a secured credit card that reports payment history to the big three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. The right secured credit card can also help your teen build credit, with responsible card use.
- Teach your teen the dos and don'ts of credit card use: Talk to your teen about responsible card usage, the importance of building credit, and how to establish a good credit score. Also discuss important things to avoid with a credit card, like overspending or making late payments.
- Check in with them about their finances: Once your teen has a credit card, checking in with them regularly about their finances can help ensure they stay on track. This will give them an opportunity to ask questions, learn from you, and discuss progress toward their financial goals.
What is the best credit card for a teenager?
The best credit card for a teenager is one that will help them learn how to establish healthy financial habits for their future. Certain credit cards make this easier than others. For example, American Express credit cards allow you to add authorized users to your account once they’re at least 13 years old. They can benefit from being added to your account and may earn cashback rewards or travel rewards, but you can track their purchases and set spending limits for them.
How old does your teenager need to be to get a credit card?
You typically have to be 18 years old to apply for your own credit card. However, you’ll need a cosigner who’s over 21 years old if you’re younger than 21 years old, according to the Credit Card Act of 2009.
Still, many credit card companies make it easy for young people and children under 18 years old to get a credit card as an authorized user on someone else’s account. This allows teenagers an opportunity to use credit cards and learn important financial habits, but the primary account holder is still responsible for the credit card account.
How do you build credit for your teenager?
Your teenager won’t have the option to apply for their own credit card before they’re 18 years old, but you can add them as an authorized user on one of your credit card accounts. As you responsibly manage your account and don’t have late payments, your teen’s credit score can improve.
You don’t have to give your teen a physical credit card to use, but it can be helpful for them to learn how building credit works. In addition, if your teen uses a rewards credit card to make purchases, you’ll earn those rewards on your account.
Should you give your teenager a credit card?
Your teenager can’t apply for any credit cards before they’re 18 years old, and they’ll still need a cosigner until they’re 21 years old. These restrictions can make it hard for your teen to build credit, so giving your teenager a credit card after adding them as an authorized user on one of your accounts can be helpful. This method can help your teen learn how budgeting works so they can use and pay off their card purchases each month.
If you don’t feel comfortable giving your teen a credit card, you can still add them as an authorized user without giving them a physical card to use. Your responsible use of the account will still count as activity on your teen’s credit report and can help them build credit.
The groundwork for maintaining good credit can start at a young age. As an authorized user, your child can benefit not only from being able to practice proper spending habits but also lengthier credit history. Once they turn 18, they can leverage their very own credit card and continue their record as a responsible borrower. A strong credit history and a good credit score can open up opportunities for them down the line, including better loan terms and interest rates.