Best credit cards for a new college grad

Getting a credit card the day you arrive on campus used to be the start of college life. Recent changes to banking regulations, however, have made it more challenging for college students to get credit cards before they turn 21.

Consequently, many college students now start shopping for credit cards as they're preparing to pick up their diplomas. If you're comparing credit cards while sizing your cap and gown, you need to consider what's next in your life. Which credit card will take you into your real life?

Are you a college grad on the move?

Editor's Note:  The Discover Open Road Card offer expired and is no longer available

The best credit card rewards match the right perks and benefits with the ways you spend money right now. The Discover Open Road Card offers easy-to-use savings that can help kick-start sound spending habits.

  • Zero percent APR teaser rate can help buy you some time between graduation and your first steady paycheck.
  • Gas and restaurant bonuses let you earn extra cash back on the necessities wherever your road trip takes you.
  • Cash back on all purchases lets you squeeze extra savings from every dollar you spend. If you can pay rent or utilities with a credit card (without any added convenience fees), and pay off the balance every month, you can rack up a significant rebate by the end of your first year.

Not everyone will qualify for this Discover credit card. If you're organized and responsible with your money, you might want to team up with a parent or an adult relative with a great credit score who's willing to sign up as your co-applicant.

Ready to furnish your first apartment?

If you're the kind of college grad who's happy with a hand-me-down couch but can't tolerate a tube TV, Sony Card from Capital One® features:

  • Redeem points for Sony products, movies, music and more especially attractive if you want to trick out your pad with a new computer or a home entertainment system.
  • Earn points on purchases at Sony Store and store.sony.com let's you add even more gadgets to your collection.

There is no annual fee and keep your eyes open for any introductory offers for new cardholders such as bonus points for meeting spend or purchase requirements within a specified period of time after opening your account or even an introductory purchase APR.

Do you want to be rewarded for good credit management?

Editor's Note:  The Citi Forward® Card for College Students expired and is no longer available

Citi already offers some of the best student credit cards on the market. The Citi Forward® Card for College Students can help build a stronger credit profile while supporting you during your first few months out of school:

  • Up to 2 percent Purchase APR reduction, when you make a purchase, stay below your credit limit and pay on time 3 billing periods in a row (0.25% each quarter 8X maximum)
  • Extra bonus points up to 1,200 bonus ThankYou® Points when you pay on time and staying under your credit limit.

Critics chided banks for years about the temptations credit cards pose to new borrowers. It's great to see a youth-oriented card that actually teaches new customers how to use credit responsibly, while still offering perks for the occasional splurge.

Are you ready to see the world?

Of course, not everyone plans to leap right from college into the job market. Writers like Chris Guillebeau and Tim Ferriss have chronicled a new generation of Americans who balance business and leisure travel. If you want to see the world without disconnecting your future career, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card can help you achieve a frequent flier lifestyle.

  • No foreign transaction fees make this card an immediate money-saver.
  • Miles don't expire, and you earn them on every purchase.
  • Use miles on any airline, with no blackout dates.

As with other premium Capital One credit cards, this account requires good to excellent credit. You may need to piggyback on a parent or sibling's account, at least at first, to qualify for your own card.

Regardless of which credit card you apply for, to get your best chance of acceptance, be sure to accurately present your income and residency status along with your educational background. Credit card issuers still look for college grads with strong lifetime earning potential, hoping to lock in your loyalty for the next few decades.