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How to choose a student credit card

Consider card rewards and fees before deciding which is best for you

Summary

Student credit cards offer a great opportunity to test out card features and see if they align with your lifestyle, so make sure to pick one with features that match your spending habits.

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Several new players have emerged on the student credit card market over the last few years. Chase debuted the Chase Freedom® Student, Chase’s first credit card designed for students, in 2019, and Capital One unveiled two competitive student cards in August 2021. These additions bring a lot to the table but may make choosing a starter credit card even harder.

Student credit cards offer a great opportunity to test out card features and see if they align with your lifestyle, but they can vary greatly. So, how do you decide which one is best for you?

Student cards are built with those new to credit in mind, so they often come with more modest earning rates and higher interest rates. Nevertheless, many offer valuable benefits that can help you learn how to make on-time payments, build your credit history and score and  start earning points or cash back.

Decide what features are best for you

Choosing the features that are most important to you is the first step in selecting a student card. As a baby step into using credit cards for purchases, some offer rewards programs that enable you to accrue points or cash back, while others have more tolerable interest rates and fees. Unfortunately, student cards typically perform well in just one of these areas rather than both.

Student card features to look for:

  • Rewards: Cash back, points or airline miles are a great incentive to use your card responsibly, especially when you earn them for your most frequent purchases, like groceries or gas. Sign-up bonuses are worth considering, too.
  • Late payment fee waivers: Most credit cards charge a fee for late payments, but some student cards will waive the fee once or more.
  • No foreign transaction fees: If you plan to travel or study abroad, you can save money by using a card with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Auto-pay or payment reminders: If you’re worried about forgetting to pay your bill, the ability to set automatic payments can reduce your stress. Payment reminders can be helpful, too.
  • No penalty APR: When you’re a certain number of days late on paying your statement, most credit cards will trigger the penalty APR, which is higher than the regular APR. If you’re worried about making late payments, a card with no penalty APR could be a good safeguard.
  • Low interest rate: If you pay your statement balance in full each month, your interest rate doesn’t matter much. But if you do carry a balance, you’ll want to look for a card that will minimize interest charges.
  • 0 percent introductory APR: If you’d like a few months to not worry about interest charges while you pay off a large purchase or get into the habit of making payments on time, a card with a 0 percent intro APR will work in your favor.
  • Automatic review for a credit line increase: Most student credit cards will start out with a low credit limit, often under $1,000. Some student card issuers will automatically review your account for an increase after several months, which can improve your credit score.
  • Financial education resources: Budget management tools and credit score monitoring are common resources offered by student cards, which can be helpful if you’re focused on building healthy habits.

You might focus on rewards rate if:

  • You feel confident about making your monthly payments on time.
  • You intend to pay off your balance in full each month.
  • You’re excited about earning cash back or points.

You might focus on beginner-friendly features if:

  • You could use some leniency when it comes to penalties and fees, like late payment fees.
  • You may carry a balance from time to time and could benefit from a lower interest rate.
  • Your main goal is to build your credit and establish healthy financial habits.

Depending on which card features make the most sense for your spending — whether you seek to practice budgeting and making monthly payments or the ability to stockpile rewards — you can then narrow down your options.

Best student cards for low rates and fees

If you are looking for an introduction to credit card ownership that won’t charge you steep rates and fees while you get accustomed to making monthly payments, the following student cards might be best for you.

CardRewards rateOther features
Discover it® Student chrome
  • 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter, 1percent thereafter)
  • 1 percent cash back on general purchases
  • Matches cash back at end of first year
  • No penalty APR
  • 0 percent intro APR on new purchases and 10.99 percent on balance transfers for first 6 months (13.74 percent – 22.74 percent variable APR thereafter)
  • No fee for the first late payment (up to $41 thereafter)
BankAmericard for Students*None
  • 0 percent APR on balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening and new purchases for 18 billing cycles (13.74 percent – 23.74 percent variable APR thereafter)
  • No penalty APR

Both these cards offer good introductory APRs so you can get used to making payments without worrying about racking up significant interest charges. Additionally, neither charges a penalty APR, so your rate won’t skyrocket if you miss a payment. However, while one of these cards does offer a rewards program, it’s not particularly lucrative.

Best student cards for rewards

If you aren’t as worried about the rates and fees and are excited to begin earning card rewards, there are also plenty of cards that introduce students to the rewards card space. Whether you prefer flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points or cash back, there are plenty of student cards that offer good earning rates.

These cards are all great options for rewards seekers as they offer good rewards rates or an introduction to some of the most valuable card rewards programs. On the downside, many have higher APRs or fees than cards without a rewards program.

CardRewards rateOther things to know
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase
  • 5 percent on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Extended warranty coverage for purchases
  • Price protection
  • Automatic consideration for a higher credit line after six months
  • Access to CreditWise, Capital One’s credit monitoring service
Discover it® Student Cash Back
  • 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that you must enroll in each quarter (on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1 percent)
  • 1 percent cash back on other purchases
  • Matches cash back at end of first year
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target)
  • 5 percent on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel
  • 8 percent cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats
  • 1 percent cash back on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Automatic consideration for a higher credit line after six months
  • Access to CreditWise, Capital One’s credit monitoring service

What if you don’t qualify for a student card?

If you have no credit history and don’t qualify for one of these student credit cards, you still have a few other options. If a parent is willing to add you to one of their credit cards as an authorized user, that is one way to boost your credit history without qualifying for a credit card for yourself.

Many secured credit cards are also available to users with no credit history. While these cards usually don’t have any sort of rewards program and require a deposit, they can help steadily improve your credit history, so you can qualify for a better card down the line.

Bottom line

While there aren’t as many cards available for students as there are general rewards cards, there are still plenty of good options for new cardholders. Whether you are looking for a card that teaches good credit habits and goes easier on the fees or one that lets you rack up rewards, you can find a student card that matches your lifestyle.

*All information about the BankAmericard for Students has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.

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.

Credit Card Rate Report
Reward
16.90%
Student
17.53%
Airline
16.60%
Business
15.12%
Cash Back
16.92%

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