Getting started in the world of finance can be difficult for students in college who haven’t yet been able to establish a credit history. Student credit cards are great options available that not only allow students to begin establishing credit but can also provide rewards and financing opportunities that can be worth hundreds of dollars. For first-time credit card users, student cards can be valuable tools.
To qualify for a student credit card you will need to be a college student, but you will also need to have a source of income, and sometimes even a co-signer. Unfortunately, simply being a student willing to prove you can manage a credit account wisely, doesn’t guarantee you will be approved for a student credit card. If you are working to build your credit file and have found it to be difficult getting approved for a student credit card, you should consider using a secured credit card until you build your credit. Secured cards aren’t just for those who have bad credit, but can be helpful also to students with no credit. You can read more about the best secured credit cards here.
If you are working on establishing or reestablishing credit as a college student, here is our roundup of the best student credit cards available.
This card has no annual fee, which is helpful and cost-efficient for college students, but it also provides a low-interest rate. New cardholders get a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers made within the first 60 days of opening the account, for 18 months. After that, a variable APR of 11.24% to 21.24%, will apply.
This card is a straightforward card for college students. Although there are no extra bells or whistles, it provides one of the lowest interest rates you’ll find with student credit cards. Plus, there’s no annual fee, and if you need to transfer a balance from a card with a high APR, you can save hundreds of dollars by paying it down at 0% with this card.
no annual fee
no credit needed
5% cashback on changing categories
double first year cashback
The Discover it for Students Credit Card offers many of the same benefits you get with the non-student Discover credit cards. This is one of the best cash back cards for students because you can earn as much as 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories, and 1% cash back on all other purchases, which is one of the highest rates of rewards available. There is also no annual fee and new cardholders get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months and then a variable APR of 13.24% to 22.24% will apply. Also, students get $20 cash back each year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher for the next 5 years. Plus, Discover currently matches all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.
College students have extra incentive to keep their grades up with the extra $20 cash back bonus that Discover offers each year. You can also earn as much as 5% cash back on certain purchases, according to a rotating quarterly calendar. For students who want to earn cash back for their purchases, you can earn the most with the Discover it for Students card. However, the disadvantage of this is program is if you don’t manage your spending or keep track of the rotating categories every quarter, you risk only earning 1% cash back for your purchases.
no annual fee
no credit needed for students
up to 2x points and 2,500 bonus
For students who find more value in a card that awards everyday type purchases like dining out and entertainment, the Citi ThankYou Preferred Credit Card for Students is a solid choice. This card awards 2 points for each dollar spent on dining at restaurants and entertainment and one point for all other purchases. You can redeem these points in a number of ways ranging from gift cards or even cash. This card has no annual fee and offers a 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 7 months. After that, a variable APR of 14.24% to 24.24% will apply. New cardholders can also earn 2,500 bonus points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of opening the account.
If you’re a student whose spending is primarily in the dining out and entertainment categories, you can earn the most rewards with this card. This is one of the only credit cards for students, which awards these particular categories. Plus, if you plan on making a large purchase right away, you not only get a 0% intro APR for 7 months to pay it down, but you also get a bonus of 2,500 points if your purchases are at least, $500 in the first 3 months.
no annual fee
2-3% cash back on gas and groceries
Besides dining out and entertainment, students might also spend quite a bit on gas and grocery store purchases. If you are a student who prefers earning rewards on everyday type purchases, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students is a card you should consider. This card awards 3% cash back for gas and 2% cash back for groceries, up to the first $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you have a Bank of America checking or savings account, you can also earn a bonus of 10% on your rewards. There is no annual fee, and you get a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days, for 12 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR of 13.24% to 23.24% will apply. New cardholders can earn a $100 cash rewards bonus if you spend at least $500 with your card within the first 90 days of opening your account.
If most of your spending is on gas or groceries, you can earn the most cash back with this card. There are also various bonus opportunities, including the sign-up bonus for new cardholders and the customer bonus if you have a Bank of America checking or savings account. Further, this card offers a 0% APR for both purchases and balance transfers for 12 billing cycles. The only disadvantage with this card is if your spending covers a broad range of categories instead of just gas and groceries.
The Discover it Chrome for Students Card awards 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, up to a combined purchase total of $1,000 each quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. There is no annual fee for this card and you get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months. After that, a variable APR of 13.24% - 22.24% will apply. This card also offers new cardholders $20 cash back each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years, and matches all of your cash back after your first year.
This card is ideal for college students whose spending primarily falls into gas and dining out. If you frequently make purchases at grocery stores or in a wide variety of categories, you can earn more with cards that focus on those purchases. However, the Discover it Chrome also offers some of the most valuable cash back bonuses including the $20 for getting good grades each year, and the cash back match of all the cash back you earn after your first year. Additionally, if you plan on making a large purchase right away, you can take 6 months to pay down your balance at 0% interest.
no annual fee
+10,000 points bonus
With BankAmericard Students Travel Rewards card you can earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent and qualify for 10,000 points sign up bonus if you spend $500 on the card in the first three months.
Points can also be redeemed for travel as a statement credit towards your travel purchases. Additionally, since there are no international transaction fees, this card makes a good option for students who travel abroad.
There are two credit cards in our review that offer free FICO score monitoring tools – Discover it card, mentioned earlier and a Capital One Journey card.
The Capital One Journey Student Credit Card not only has no foreign transaction fee, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fee. If you are a student who frequently travels abroad, it’s important that you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee for your purchases. This fee can be as much as 3% with other cards. This card is one of the only student cards available with no foreign transaction fee. The APR for purchases and balance transfers is 20.24%. It also awards 1% cash back on all purchases, and when you make your payment on time, your cash back is boosted to 1.25% for that month. What makes this card great is a free CreditWise tool from Capital One that lets you monitor your credit score online
Student credit cards without an annual fee, balance transfer fee, and foreign transaction fee are rare. If you need to use your card for foreign transactions, this card will save you as much as 3%. Further, you can earn cash back on all your purchases, without the limitations of rotating categories or certain spending categories. However, there is no sign-up bonus with this card, and the APR is one of the highest available. It is crucial with this card that you pay your balances in full each month rather than carry your balance from month to month to avoid paying the high amounts of interest that will cancel out any cash back you earn.
We recommend looking for the following when choosing a student credit card:
For students under 21 and those with no regular income source, a co-signer may need to be named on an account in order to get a credit card.
A co-signer, typically a parent or close family member, will share full responsibility for the credit card payments and his or her own credit rating factors in the bank’s credit decision. A general rule to consider is that if you are at ages 18-21 and cannot provide a documented “full-time income” then you will likely need a co-signer. Even if you are over 21, you will still need to have a robust independent income that will show you can make payments on the card; otherwise, you will need to bring a co-signer.
The need for a co-signer was a big change introduced after the CARD Act of 2009. In the past, credit card companies freely extended credit to almost anyone older than 18, but they often charged high-interest rates and offered misleading credit terms and this resulted in many young people acquiring a massive debt. Things changed when the CARD Act was introduced in 2009. The Act required lenders to check whether a person had the ability to pay a debt and since most people younger than 21 have little or no credit history and income source, they must rely on the credit history and income of a co-signer.
The CARD Act also requires a plain language in credit contracts so that borrowers can better understand interest rates and how they can change, late fees, add-on products, and rewards programs so that those who sign up for student credit cards today can make more informed decisions. In fact, many clauses of the CARD Act were written specifically with those younger than 21 in mind.