[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners here — Discover it — 18-Month Balance Transfer, The Citi Double Cash Card, Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, Barclaycard Ring Card and Barclaycard Ring Card. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Thanks to student credit cards, secured credit cards and a little something called “the authorized user,” plenty of college seniors will be graduating with some credit. And, if you’re one of them (you can check via your free credit report summary on Credit.com) you might want to consider a plastic upgrade.
Starter credit cards are great for building credit, but they don’t usually tout the best terms and even if there’s a $0 annual fee or base rewards program, that plastic likely carries a low credit limit — which might not help in case of an emergency or if you want to further boost your credit. (Remember, a low limit makes it harder to maintain a solid credit utilization rate — how much debt you’re carrying versus how much credit is available to you. For best scoring results, you’ll want to keep your charges below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit limit.)
If you’ve outgrown your starter credit card, or think you’re about to, here are five credit cards worthy of your consideration.
1. Discover it — 18-Month Balance Transfer
Purchase APR: Variable 11.74% to 23.74%, depending on your credit
Annual Fee: $0
Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Because the Discover it is a solid rewards credit card with some built-in training wheels. Cardholders get 6-months of 0% financing on purchases and a full 18-months 0% financing on balance transfers (the annual percentage rate after that will be a variable 11.74% to 23.74%, depending on your credit). There’s also no late fee for a first missed payment (which you should still avoid at all costs) and no penalty APR.
Plus, if you use your card right, you’ll earn some serious rewards. The Discover it offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in revolving bonus categories each quarter and 1% cash back everywhere else — plus, Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. And there’s an added bonus for new grads getting ready to move out of their parents’ house: Now through June, you can get 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases at home improvement stores.
2. The Citi Double Cash Card
Purchase APR: Variable 14.24% to 24.24%, depending on your credit
Annual Fee: $0
Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Rewards credit cards can be tricky. Points, miles and cash back are nice, but they can easily entice someone to overspend. Charge more than you can pay off each month and any interest you pay on the balance will wind up eating those rewards — and then some. But here’s the thing about the Citi Double Cash Card: It rewards you for paying the bills. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on purchases, then another 1% back when they pay that purchase off. That means you can earn a full 2% cash back on every dollar you spend, which is pretty tops for a cash back credit card, especially since there’s no annual fee. There’s also a 0% introductory APR for balance transfers for your first 18 months. (You’ll pay a variable 14.24% to 24.24% after that.) (Full Disclosure: Citibank, as well as Discover, Capital One and Barclaycard advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
3. Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Purchase APR: Variable 24.99%
Annual Fee: $39
Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Available to people with average credit, the QuicksilverOne is a solid alternative for any new grad who had a credit misstep (or two) while they were in school. Yes, you’ll pay an annual fee ($39) and its 24.99% APR will sting if you wind up carrying a balance (expert intel: avoid carrying a balance), but you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. You’ll also have access to a higher credit limit after making your first monthly payments on time and receive a few ancillary benefits that’ll come in handy if you need to purchase some stuff for your first apartment. Those bennies include an extended warranty that doubles the original manufacturer warranty up to a maximum of 12 months on most purchases and price protection that reimburses you the difference in price on eligible items charged to the card if you find a lower price for the same item within 60 days of purchase (see card agreement for full details.)
Plus, if you use the card responsibly, you may be able to upgrade to the QuicksilverOne’s no-annual-fee big brother: the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card — which we’ve got a full review of right here.
4. Barclaycard Ring Card
Purchase APR: Variable 13.74%
Annual Fee: $0
Why You’ll Want to Consider it: If you’re worried about overspending for rewards, are looking for an in-case-of-emergency card or you need to make a big purchase soon that you might not be able to pay off right away, the no-frills, low-cost Barclaycard Ring Card will probably fit right into your wallet. There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and no balance transfer fee. Plus, the card comes with a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening — after which, you’ll pay a reasonable variable 13.74%. So, if you need to pick up a few necessities for your first apartment, this is the kind of card you’ll want to put those on. Not to mention the Barclaycard Ring lets cardholders drive: You’ll be invited to share your opinions and vote on product changes in Barclaycard Ring’s online community.
5. Citi Costco Anywhere Visa
Purchase APR: Variable 15.99%
Annual Fee: Technically $0, but you’ll need a Costco membership to apply — and that’ll cost you at least $55
Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Because the card offers big-time rewards on all the stuff you’ll be purchasing once you leave the nest. That includes 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (then 1%); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1% cash back everywhere else. Plus, there’s a 7-month 0% introductory purchase APR (after that, your APR will be a variable 15.99%). Of course, only Costco fans should apply: While the rewards are plentiful, they’re issued as an annual credit card reward certificate on February billing statements and are redeemable for cash or merchandise at U.S. Costco stores.
Remember, no matter what credit card you choose, smart spending habits should apply. Sign up for alerts or set your bill to auto-pay so you never miss a payment, keep your balances low (or, ideally, pay them off in full) and avoid signing up for every credit card on the market that catches your eye — too many inquiries can damage your credit standing.
In the meantime, if you’re also looking for some new digs, we’ve got a rundown on the 19 mistakes college grads tend to make when looking for their first apartment that you’ll want to read.
At publishing time, the Discover it, Citi Double Cash, Capital One Quicksilver One, Barclaycard Ring and Citi Costco Anywhere Visa cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.