Do student loans, work study, qualify as income on card application?

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My college-age daughter wants to apply for a credit card. Do scholarships, grants, loans and work study qualify as income?

Card issuers have different policies on what can be considered income on a credit card application.
  1. Scholarships and grants.
  2. Student loans.
  3. Work study.
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Dear Opening Credits,
My daughter is going to apply for a credit card. She is at college. She always works on vacation and made $4,514 and received $24,622 in scholarships, grants, loans and work study. What amount does she put in annual gross income on her card application? – Rosa

Dear Rosa,
The money your daughter earns from her summer job is considered income, but what about the rest?

Policies vary by issuer, so if she’s interested in a specific card, just have her call and ask the representative for details. To get an example, though, I called Discover and here is what the representative told me about money received for scholarship, grants, loans and work study:

Scholarships and grants

Your daughter can include these funds as income, but only if she can draw from the funds on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.

However, if she receives the money all at once and it is diverted to her school for expenses such as tuition and boarding, she doesn’t have it on hand. It won’t qualify because it can’t be used to pay a credit card bill.


Tip: The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act prevents young adults under 21 from qualifying for a credit card unless they can prove a steady income stream.

Student loans

Some issuers do permit student loans to be included as income, as long as the funds can be withdrawn on a regular basis for living expenses. Others don’t allow it at all.

Personally, I think it’s a bad idea. Although federal student loan interest rates (which, as of April 2018, can range between 4.5 and 7 percent) and are significantly lower than the average of most credit cards (as of mid-May 2018, 16.71 percent), it is not free money and everything borrowed must be repaid.

So even if your daughter can and does use student loan funds to qualify for a credit card, it’s extremely important that she repay her entire credit card bill with cash and not her loan.

Work study

Yes, this is considered income, and your daughter should include every penny of what she makes on the application!

That’s because the money isn’t diverted to the school at all. The award is given to working students as a regular paycheck, and it is meant for normal expenses. Therefore, if she charges a meal out, she should use the money from her work study program to pay the credit card balance in full.

Have your daughter review a wide variety of student cards and make sure she contacts those she’s interested in for detailed information about their income restrictions.


Video: How young adults can use credit safely

After that, simple math will lead her to the correct number that she can list on the application. Just have her subtract any of the funds that she can’t include from those she can.

Student credit cards usually come with short credit lines, so her financial limitations shouldn’t be a handicap.

Another option would be for your daughter to pursue a secured credit card. These products are also great for people who are just starting out because the credit line is guaranteed by a cash deposit.

Finally, know that if your daughter is under the age of 21, the income sources she lists might be checked for validity. Encourage her to be truthful.

As tempting as it can be, fluffing the numbers is not a smart decision. After all, your daughter will want to be sure she can handle her account comfortably. It would be terrible to graduate not just with looming student loans but high credit card debt – and an unattractive credit report.

See related: Student credit cards: The definitive guide, First credit card dilemma: Student card vs. secured card

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Updated: 11-16-2018