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How to get a credit card as a college student

The CARD Act has made it harder for students to get approved – here’s how you can improve your chances


Since the Credit CARD Act was signed into law a decade ago, it’s become more challenging for college students to get approved for their very own credit card. Here’s what you need to know about why it’s more difficult nowadays and what you can do to improve your chances of getting approved.

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Getting a credit card as a college student can help you establish a credit history and learn how to use credit responsibly. If the pandemic hurt you financially, now might be a great time to investigate getting one to jumpstart your journey on the road to financial health.

Considering signing up for a credit card? Here’s why it’s more difficult nowadays and what you can do to improve your chances of getting approved.

Prior to the Credit CARD Act in 2009, card issuers descended on college campuses, handing out free food and swag in exchange for completed credit card applications – and you didn’t need significant income or even a job to qualify. This, not surprisingly, left a lot of college students with unmanageable credit card debt. So, the federal government created several consumer provisions that would protect students from getting a credit card before they were financially ready.

The result is that while there are plenty of student credit cards on the market, students may have a hard time getting one – at least not without knowing what to look for.

“Credit scores are used to make decisions about almost everything, from cellphones to apartments and loans,” said Laks Vasudevan, senior vice president of consumer card product management at Huntington National Bank.

“So, it’s important for college students to start building a strong credit history early on,” she added.

While it’s possible to achieve this goal without credit cards, it’s not a bad idea to learn how to start using them responsibly. Below are steps you can take to improve your chances of getting one.

1. Know if you qualify

Before you can apply for a credit card, make sure you meet the issuer’s general requirements, which typically include:

2. Review your credit report

The information in your credit report is what the three credit bureaus use to calculate your score, so it’s important that it’s accurate.

3. Compare cards

It’s important to look at a number of student credit cards to make sure you choose the one that best fits your spending habits and lifestyle. Here are some things to evaluate when you’re comparing credit cards:

  • Many cards come with fees. These can range from annual fees to foreign transaction fees to even setup or monthly maintenance fees. Choose the card with the fewest number of fees to save money.
  • Do you like to earn cash back rewards? Miles? Points? Once you decide, look for a card that rewards you for the things that you spend the most on, such as groceries or gas.
  • Consider the interest rate in the event you have to carry a balance. While we encourage you to pay your balance in full every month, life happens, and you may end up paying interest on purchases you can’t afford to pay off right away – so the lower the interest rate, the better.

4. Apply for a card

Once you zero in on the card you want, apply for it. The easiest way is to fill out the application online. You might get approved immediately or you might have to wait for a decision to come in the mail. Before you apply, be sure you have everything you need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your monthly housing payment
  • Your contact information
  • All income (this includes deposits in a shared account)

Bottom line

The CARD Act is an important law that helps protect college students from getting in over their heads too easily.

But while student credit cards today are designed specifically with college students in mind, being in school isn’t enough to get approved on its own.

As you figure out how to maximize the amount of income you can claim on your application, consider alternative credit products and seek out a co-signer. You’ll have a better chance of getting the right card for you to begin building your credit history.

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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