Your first few years after college are like getting thrown into a bad game show. You need to balance a new career, a bevy of new living expenses, an eventual retirement to start saving for, and student loans with a grace period that’s far too short. And don’t forget: You need to build credit, so your finances look attractive when it’s time to spend money on more expensive things like houses or cars.
It’s not all bad. Using a credit card can give you extra consumer protection and make it easier to deal with the worst-case scenario: credit card fraud. But even if you’re a budgeting pro and have a deep-seated aversion to debt, you should still look for a card that reward newer credit users, even in small ways.
Here’s a handful of cards that can help you get comfortable using credit while avoiding the overcomplicated rewards schemes of the popular high-end travel cards.
Capital One Journey Student Credit Card
Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on all purchases. If you pay on time, you increase your cash back to 1.25% for that month.
Signup bonus: None at this time.
Annual fee: $0
Bonus perks: Make your first five monthly payments on time and you could get access to a higher credit limit.
Why we like it: While it’s designed for students who have limited credit history, you don’t need to be a student to apply for the Journey card. The cash-back program keeps rewards super simple and helps you resist the urge to over-gamify your credit card use. And the on-time payment bonus rewards healthy credit behavior. It does have a higher interest rate—26.99%—but that rate can scare you out of overspending and ending up with a revolving balance if you’re just getting acquainted with using credit cards.
Rewards: Earn two ThankYou Points per dollar spent at supermarkets and gas stations for your first $6,000 spent per year. Earn one point per dollar on everything else. Citi rounds your points up to the nearest 10 on every purchase, and there’s no cap on purchases that are rounded up. For example, a $2 coffee purchase would normally earn you two points, but Citi rounds it up to 10. Rewards can be used for purchases at Amazon or Best Buy, or can be exchanged for gift cards to a variety of retailers.
Signup bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in your first three months.
Annual fee: $0
Bonus perks: Get 0% APR on purchases for your first 15 months.
Why we like it: Citi Rewards+ is another card that allows you to earn on your everyday essentials. The low spending threshold for its signup bonus is achievable for a newer credit user, and a no-interest introductory period is a big perk you don’t always see on basic rewards cards.
American Express Everyday
Rewards: Get two Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets per year, up to $6,000 in purchases. Get one point for every dollar spent on other purchases. You can redeem your points for travel or gift cards, or use it as cash back to wipe out a previous charge you made.
Signup bonus: Spend $2,000 in your first three months and get 20,000 Membership Rewards points
Annual fee: $0
Bonus perks: Use your card 20 or more times in a billing period to get 20% extra points on those purchases. Eligibility for this perk starts once your signup bonus period ends.
Why we like it: The American Express Everyday card offers the highest rewards on two essentials, and keeps the rest of your earning potential relatively simple. Plus, with flexibility on how you use your rewards, you can choose whether you’d rather wipe out purchases with the cash-back option, or put your spending toward travel or other rewards. New credit users should still be wary of the temptation to use their card frequently to rack up rewards, and note that American Express is not accepted everywhere.
Rewards: Earn 3% cash back on Apple purchases, 2% whenever you use Apple Pay, and 1% on everything else.
Signup bonus: None at this time. The card only debuted in summer 2019, so a bonus may be introduced after some of the initial hubbub has died down.
Annual fee: $0
Bonus perks: Cash back is issued daily, instead of making you wait for the end of the billing cycle or beyond. In addition, Apple doesn’t charge fees for late payments, cash advances, international transactions, going over your limit, or returned payments.
Why we like it: While I’ve been pretty ho-hum about Apple Card so far, it does offer some features that make it appealing for early credit card users who are comfortable managing their finances from their mobile phone (an Apple mobile phone, of course). Apple Card automatically color-codes and categorizes your spending, and offers spending summaries by day, week, or month. It also allows you to see how much interest you’ll pay depending on the payment you make.