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Choosing a Credit Card for Your Teen

Last Updated: January 10, 2024
4 min read

Key points about: the best credit cards for teens

  1. Teenagers must be 18 or older to apply for a credit card in their name.

  2. Student and secured credit cards are great options for teens 18 or older with little to no credit history.

  3. Teens under 18 may qualify to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.

As your teenager approaches adulthood, you may be thinking about their first credit card. After all, a credit card can be an excellent tool for teaching financial responsibility and building a credit history. But how do you choose the best credit card for your teen? We can help.

Credit cards for teens 18 and older

Individuals 18 and older are legally allowed to open a credit card in their name. But based on the CARD Act of 2009, borrowers between 18-20 years old must show they have enough independent income (like from a job or regular allowance) to repay their credit card debt. With the proper income and credit history, some young adults may qualify for a standard credit card, but most don’t meet the requirements. Luckily, there are good options for young adults with little or no credit history.

Student credit cards

A student credit card is designed specifically for college students who have never established credit. That means, in most cases, a credit card issuer won’t require a credit score to apply. Instead, a credit card company may consider a student’s age and income when reviewing applications, and income requirements for student credit cards are generally lower than those for regular credit cards. 

Because of their typically lower credit limits, student credit cards can be one way to help teens build credit history responsibly and with less risk. These kinds of cards may also offer reward perks, such as cash back on every eligible purchase.

For example, the Discover it® Student Cash Back Card lets you earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.

Secured credit cards

If your teen is not a college student and has no credit history, another option may be a secured credit card. A secured card provides a line of credit (approved by the credit card issuer) that requires a deposit that’s typically equal to the credit line. The spending limit is often lower and can make it easier for first-time borrowers to manage payments, and potential cash back rewards can help with everyday expenses. Once your teen demonstrates responsible use by keeping balances low and making on-time payments, they may be able to transition to an unsecured account.

Did you know?

With a Discover it® Secured credit card, you can get your deposit back when you upgrade to an unsecured card after 6 consecutive on-time payments and maintaining good status on all your credit accounts1. And there’s no credit score required to apply.2

Can a minor get a credit card?

If your teen is under 18, they can’t apply for a credit card in their name. However, dependent on age, your minor can still get a credit card if you add them as an authorized user to your account. For instance, Discover allows a primary cardmember to add an authorized user 15 and older to their credit card account. And once your teen turns 18, their credit history may help them qualify for better terms when applying for their own lines of credit.

Remember that you’re legally responsible for any charges your teen puts on your credit card, so setting expectations about financial responsibility and agreeing to sensible spending are key to success. If your teen runs up a high balance you can’t pay down, both of your credit scores can suffer. Also, if you have bad credit, adding your teen to your account may hurt theirs, as your less-than-stellar credit activity could get added to their credit report. 

What to know when choosing credit cards for teens

You and your teen can get involved with choosing their first credit card. To make it easier, you may want to understand your teen’s financial literacy and introduce them to the basics of credit, like what an interest rate is, how to use a credit limit, the importance of making payments on time, and what it means to build good credit. Once you start researching cards, make a list of features important to you both, and consider the following when deciding on the best credit card:

Some credit cards for teens may come with no annual fee, but if your teen plans to travel, you’ll need to know if an issuer charges a foreign transaction fee for purchases made abroad.

Many credit cards offer cash back or another type of reward for each eligible purchase.

To start building credit, your teen’s borrowing and payment activity must get reported to a credit bureau. Credit card companies have different policies when it comes to reporting account activity. Consider a credit card company (like Discover) that reports monthly activity to one or all of the three major credit bureaus.

Tools such as mobile apps for online banking can help your teen manage their account with features like automatic payments and text alerts that notify them when monthly bills are due or payments post. Some apps even help with budgeting for personal finance.

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a credit card for your teen. It’s essential to explore your options and communicate with your teenager about responsible credit use. With the right card and a little guidance on money management, your teen can use a credit card to strengthen their financial future.

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  1. Secured Card: Graduation Transparency: Monthly reviews start your seventh month as a customer. We will refund your security deposit if you have made all payments on time for the last six consecutive billing cycles on all your Discover accounts including any loans, and you've remained in “good status” on all credit accounts you are responsible for whether they are Discover accounts or not. “Good status” means: (1) your credit report shows no delinquencies, charge-offs, repossessions, or bankruptcies for the six months prior to our review; and (2) your Discover Secured Card is not in a prohibited status at the time of our review, including, but not limited to: closed, revoked, suspended, subject to tax levy, garnishment, deceased, lost/stolen, or fraud. Monthly reviews may be delayed if you change your payment due date. We typically process your refund in 2-3 business days based on your delivery preference. If you close your account and pay in full, we’ll return your deposit within two billing cycles plus ten days.
  2. No Credit Score Required (Secured Card): Based on 2022 Discover it Secured credit card application data, applicants without a credit score may qualify. You must meet other applicable underwriting criteria. When we evaluate your creditworthiness, we consider all the information you provide on your application, your credit report, and other information. If you have a credit score, we may use that in our evaluation.

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.