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What to do if you can’t get a student credit card

Student cards are great for building credit – but if you don't qualify, you have other options


If you aren’t eligible for a student credit card, don’t despair. There are other ways to build a positive credit history – including secured cards, starter cards or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account.

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Student credit cards are excellent credit-building tools. The best student credit cards give college students the opportunity to earn rewards on everyday purchases like gas and groceries.

Unfortunately, not every college student will be eligible for a student credit card. You might be too young to get a credit card. (Most issuers consider 18 the minimum age to be a primary cardholder, and getting a credit card before age 21 is not always easy.) It’s possible you lack the credit history required to be approved for a student card – which means it’s a good time to start building your credit.

Your credit score is one of the most important factors in your financial life. Not only do you need a good credit score to access top rewards credit cards, but your credit score also affects the interest rates you’ll be charged on credit cards, car loans and more. Your credit could even affect your access to a new apartment or job.

That’s why it’s so important to start building credit as early as possible. Many young people can build good credit with a student credit card, but some people have to consider other options. Here’s what to do if you can’t get a student credit card.

Piggyback on someone else’s good credit

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card is a great way to build credit. If you can’t get a student credit card, ask a parent, relative or friend with good credit if they’ll make you an authorized user on one of their accounts. It’s an easy way to build credit quickly, and can help you establish the kind of credit history you’ll need to apply for many of today’s best credit cards.

As an authorized user, you have the ability to make purchases on another person’s line of credit. In fact, you’ll even get your own credit card in the mail. Your friend or relative will be responsible for paying all bills associated with the credit line, and their positive payment history will appear on both of your credit reports. That’s why becoming an authorized user is often described as “piggybacking on someone else’s good credit,” and why it’s one of the best ways to build credit while you’re a student.

Start with a deposit and a secured card

If you can’t get a student credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card instead. Secured cards give you a small line of credit in exchange for a small security deposit. If you use your secured card responsibly – making all payments on time and keeping your balances low – the credit card issuer may refund your deposit and graduate you to a standard credit card.

The best secured credit cards offer just enough credit to cover inexpensive everyday purchases, giving you the chance to build your credit score without having to worry about accidentally racking up credit card debt. The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers a $200 line of credit in exchange for a $200 deposit. The Quicksilver Secured Card also offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase, giving you the opportunity to earn cash back rewards as you build a positive credit history.

Other options to build your credit

If you aren’t eligible for a student credit card, you might have access to a starter credit card through your bank. These entry-level credit cards are designed for people who are just getting started with credit, and give you the chance to build your credit score by practicing responsible credit habits.

On the subject of responsible credit habits: You might also want to consider a credit card designed to teach financial responsibility. The Self – Credit Builder Account +  Secured Visa® Credit Card, for example, combines a secured credit card with a credit-builder loan. As you pay off your loan, your payment history is reported to the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), giving you the chance to improve your credit score by demonstrating that you can pay your bills on time.

Want another way to turn your monthly bill payments into a credit score boost? Sign up for Experian Boost, a credit-building service that adds your utility, phone and streaming service payment history to your Experian credit report. You don’t even need a credit card to take advantage of Experian Boost – all you have to do is pay your bills on time, and watch your credit score improve.

Bottom line

Student credit cards are great ways to start building a positive credit history – but if you aren’t eligible for one, you still have options. Consider applying for a secured credit card, taking out a starter credit card through your bank or becoming an authorized user on another person’s credit card account. You might also sign up for services like Experian Boost, which can help you build credit by providing a history of your utility, phone and streaming service payments. If you practice responsible financial habits, your credit score will rise and you’ll eventually have your choice of credit cards.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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