Choose a credit card that fits your life stage, lifestyle © Ian Mckinnell/Getty Images

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The right credit cards for right now

As you get older and your finances improve, it might be wise to change your credit choices. Use these tips to pick the best credit cards for your life stage.


As you move from a minimum-wage summer job to your first full-time job in a cubicle to top dog in the corner office, it's clear that your financial position changes over time. Oftentimes, however, your credit cards don't change when your financial situation does.

That may be a mistake, says Aaron Patzer, the vice president and general manager of personal finance at Intuit.

"It is reasonable to change (your credit card) as your life changes," he says. "Optimized credit relationships can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in rewards in what you spend."

Choose your life stage and your financial position, and sign up for the credit card that will benefit you most.

Life stage: Young adult

Financial position: You may be scraping by on a college-student budget or making your way in the world with your first job, but either way, money's tight. You're just learning the ropes with credit, and you'll need a card that encourages (or forces) you to spend within your means.

What to look for: Try a credit card with training wheels, says MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston, the author of "Your Credit Score: Your Money & What's at Stake."

"If you can't talk your parents into co-signing a card for you or being added as an authorized user, then a prepaid card is probably the way to go," she says.

A prepaid card is linked to money you put up as collateral. In essence, you borrow your own cash. Though you'll lock up your money with the card, it will ensure that you don't get in over your head, and you'll start building your financial skills so that you won't make missteps when you start walking on the credit tightrope without a similar financial net.

Also consider: Think you're plenty responsible with your money already? Then grab a card with an annual fee below $75 and that will reward you for the things you're most likely to buy at this age, such as books, music and movie tickets. Just be warned that your first credit card will most likely come with a low credit limit, which should increase over time if you use the card responsibly.

Good choices: For a good secured card, your best bet is usually at your local credit union. Otherwise, the Public Savings Secured Visa is a good choice. With the exception of a $79 sign-up fee, there are no monthly or annual fees, a reasonable 11.24% interest rate, a 25-day grace period and a promise to report to all three credit bureaus to build your credit scores.

If you qualify and know you can pay off your monthly bills, Citi mtvU Platinum Select is an unsecured card that offers five points for every dollar spent in restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters and music stores.

Word of warning: Because of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, students under 21 are no longer able to qualify for credit cards unless they can show proof of income or have an adult co-signer.

Life stage: Young families

Financial position: In your 30s, you'll likely begin to juggle many more financial responsibilities, from a mortgage to child care to college savings. You'll be trying to squeeze the most from every dollar. With so many financial obligations, you may rely heavily on credit to help you through the month and be working to pay off credit card balances.

What to look for: Find a card that minimizes the consequences of your debt and spending, says Samir Kothari, a co-founder of BillShrink. "If you're still getting on your feet financially, you'll want to optimize your card for the total cost of ownership, which means looking at the interest rate and fees," he says.

Also consider: If you pay off your balance each month, check out cards that help you multitask with your finances with rewards that go straight to your home mortgage or a 529 college savings plan.

Good choices: For those working to pay off balances, the Simmons First Visa Platinum offers a low 7.25% rate, no annual fee and no balance-transfer fees. There are no rewards, but that shouldn't be your focus if you carry a balance. Looking to squeeze the most out of your card with good rewards? The FutureTrust MasterCard deposits 1% of purchases into a college savings account for your kids. If you've got a mortgage through Wells Fargo, the Wells Fargo Home Rebate Card will contribute $25 to the principal of your mortgage every time you reach $2,500 in purchases.

Continued: Your prime earning years and retirement

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