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The best first credit card for young adults and students

To the point Here's how to choose a first credit card for a young person just starting out and help them build their credit score.

Credit card to get started

When you start to build your credit score or manage your finances, a good tool is to have a credit card.

This is a great way to:

  • to establish a credit score,
  • learn how to manage expenses,
  • and enjoy rewards and benefits in the process!

How to choose a first credit card?

As astudent or young adult, it’s important to consider your spending habits, the benefits the card can provide and your goal using it.

Looking at the expenses in your bank account, which are the most frequent and important?

  • Payment of monthly cell phone or internet bills
  • Grocery stores, restaurants, bars, food delivery like Uber or Skip the Dishes
  • Gas or public transportation

Then, what do we want to do with the rewards? The most popular answers are:

  • Cash back to reduce your account balance
  • Take the opportunity to travel

Here are four of the best credit cards for young adults (students and non-students) in Canada, based on their needs and goals.

KOHO Prepaid Card

The KOHO Prepaid Mastercard is a hybrid of a debit and credit card and is available to individuals who have reached the age of majority in their province. Therefore, from the age of 18 in Quebec, it allows :

  • To serve as a debit card, where you only spend what is in the account
  • To serve as a credit card by offering cash back rewards

We’ve even named the Extra version, the KOHO Extra Mastercard Prepaid Card, as the Best Prepaid Card in Canada in 2023!

The KOHO Prepaid Mastercard provides the following benefits:

  • Cash back for specific purchases
  • No interest charges
  • Perfect for bill payment and online shopping
  • Available on Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay

Note that this type of card will not affect your credit report or help improve your credit score, as it is a prepaid card.

For someone who is just starting out or who is unsure at first, the KOHO Prepaid Mastercard can be a good way to manage your budget. Then, when everything is under control, the next step is to move to a credit card.

American Express Credit Card

The American Express® Green Card is very flexible. Contrary to popular belief, it is accepted in many more businesses than one would think. It is an unknown card that has great power.

The American Express Green Card is also easy: it gives you 1 Membership Rewards point for every $1 spent on everything.

In Quebec, you have to be at least 18 years old to obtain it and the card is made of 99% recycled plastic.

Then, the points can be used to:

  • Decrease your credit card balance (1,000 points for $10 less in your account) on any expense
  • Transfer to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy for cheaper travel

Plus, it doesn’t even have an annual fee!

Thanks to American Express Experiences and Preview, people with this card have access to pre-sales of the most popular shows before anyone else.

Visa Credit Card

The CIBC Aventura Visa* Card for Students is the best Visa student credit card with travel points. You must be ofage of majority in your province to subscribe to it.

The best way to use Aventura points for travel. So, with Aventura Points, go on an adventure for cheap!

It gives 1 Aventura point for

  • for every $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and drug stores
  • for every $1 spent on travel purchases on their CIBC Rewards Centre site
  • for every $2 on other purchases

Also, CIBC is giving away a free membership to SPC+, which gives discounts on a ton of fashion, dining, entertainment and travel stores.

Mastercard Credit Card

Voted Best Cash Back Card, the BMO CashBack Mastercard for students is a great way to build credit. You must be 18 years old in Quebec or have reached the age of majority in your province of residence to obtain this card.

With no annual fee, it has an attractive welcome offer. In fact, $100 cash back will be paid if $1,000 is spent in the first three months.

Then, with that $100, you can simply pay back your expenses or deposit it into a BMO bank account. Here are the simple steps on how it works here:

On top of all this, thanks to a welcome offer, the discount rate is 5% on everything (with certain conditions) during the first three months with the card.

One of its advantages is a 90-day protection for your purchases. For example, this means that if a cell phone is purchased with this card and is lost, damaged or stolen within 3 months of purchase, it can be refunded, repaired or replaced.

Bottom Line

For a first credit card, we recommend choosing one with no annual fee; you take it with the intention of never cancelling it in order to build your credit history. As a young adult or student, no matter what you choose, it is very important to pay your credit card balances on time, every month and the full amount.

For tips on how to build a good credit history, read this article:

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I'm Caroline, a loyalty program specialist! I use my points to travel more often and at a lower price with my spouse and our two children. I'm passionate about writing about the latest rewards news and how to put more points in your pocket.

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