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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

Summary

It’s been more challenging for college students to be approved for their very own credit card since the Credit CARD Act was passed into law 10 years ago. But there are ways to increase 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. Now might be a great time to investigate getting one to jumpstart your journey on the road to financial health.

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,” says 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 says.

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

1. Know if you qualify

Before you 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:

  • Type of credit card: Which type of credit card best matches your lifestyle and spending habits? Is it cash back rewards, points or miles? Once you decide, look for a card that rewards you for the things that you spend the most on, such as groceries or gas.
  • Average APR: 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.
  • Additional fees: To identify any additional charges you might be subjected to, read the Schumer box, which includes a typical table outlining all the rates and fees. Many cards come with annual fees, foreign transaction fees, and setup or monthly maintenance fees. Choose the card with the lowest number of fees to save money.
  • Intro offer: Some student credit cards offer an introductory offer for new cardholders. The introductory offer includes cash back matches or money, like $100, accredited to your account. Watch out for spending requirements to qualify for the offer and its duration. If you don’t meet the requirements, you will lose the intro offer. The spending requirements can vary among cards, but you can find one that only requires you to make your first purchase, like the Chase Freedom® Student credit card.
  • Credit history recommended: To qualify for a student credit card, there are issuers that require you to be in a certain range of the FICO score or VantageScore, like “good to excellent.” Find out which one is required and if your credit history meets such requirements. If you have poor or no credit history at all, you can still find credit cards that don’t require a credit history, such as the Discover it® Student chrome and the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card.

4. Apply for a card

Once you zero in on the card you want, you can 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.

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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