A guide to student credit cards
Students and recent graduates can start their financial journey smoothly with a credit card tailored just for them. From statement credits on good grades to rewards on streaming services and food-related purchases, you can find the perfect card for college life. Exploring the top offers will help find the perfect student credit card for you. In this guide to college student credit cards, you’ll learn:
Editor’s picks: Student credit card details
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for entertainment seekers
Why we picked it: Students who are already spending dollars on dining, entertainment and streaming can reap ample rewards with the student version of this popular Capital One credit card, which offers a best-in-class return on non-rotating bonus categories among student credit cards.
Pros: The 3% cash back rate on dining, select grocery stores, popular streaming services and entertainment is not only super generous for this card category, it fits the common spending habits of so many college students nationwide. Plus, students will enjoy consumer-friendly terms, like no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
Cons: If you don’t spend money on the card’s bonus categories, you’ll probably be better-served by a flat-rate student rewards credit card. Undisciplined spenders might also find the ability to earn ample rewards distracting, particularly since the bonus categories largely focus on discretionary spending versus everyday expenses.
Who should apply? Students who already devote a portion of their budget to streaming, dining and entertainment (and can commit to paying balances off in full each month) will find this card very lucrative.
Read our Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card review.
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
Why we picked it: The student version of this popular cash back credit card from Capital One now offers a best-in-class 1.5% cash back on all purchases (the standout rate for flat-rate cash back student credit cards.)
Pros: It’s easy to earn and redeem rewards. Plus, students will enjoy a number of consumer-friendly benefits, including no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
Cons: Some students might not be ready for a rewards credit card. If you’re worried about spending to earn rewards, consider a no-frills student credit card with credit-building incentives.
Who should apply? Overall, this is a great first credit card for students, combining consumer-friendly terms with a straightforward (and generous) rewards program.
Read our Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card review.
Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for everyday spending
Why we picked it: The Discover it Student Cash Back gives 5% cash back on a different category each quarter (such as gas stations, restaurants, Amazon.com, etc.) up to the combined quarterly maximum, then 1% (activation required), plus 1% cash back on all other purchases. With calculated spending, students can take advantage of strong rewards while sticking to a college budget.
Pros: This no annual fee card offers a 0% intro APR for your first six months on purchases (12.99% to 21.99% variable thereafter), allowing you to carry an interest-free balance during that time period. Also, Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, increasing the value of your rewards. Thanks to this perk, it’s no surprise that this card and the Discover it Student chrome are considered to be two of the top choices by our experts.
Cons: The rotating categories may not be helpful for someone just starting out because it takes a fair amount of organization to use – you have to sign up each quarter and track which categories apply for those three months. Also, there’s no sign-up bonus, so you have to wait until the end of your first year to get your matched rewards.
Who should apply? Any student prepared to get started with a credit card should take a good look at the Discover it Student Cash Back. Its affordability and consistent rewards are some of the best in its class, and you can take advantage of Discover matching your cash back at the end of the first year.
Read our Discover it® Student Cash Back review.
Discover it® Student chrome: Best for cash back
Why we picked it: With this no annual fee card, you’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter (then 1%) and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, all the cash back you earn is matched at the end of your first year thanks to Discover.
Pros: This card comes with several perks: no credit history required, access to your FICO score and no penalty APR for late payments. Another notable feature is the 6-month introductory 0% APR on purchases (then 12.99% to 21.99%, variable).
Cons: There aren’t many downfalls when it comes to this card – just be sure to pay your bill on time to avoid any interest charges. Even though there is no penalty APR for late payments, a late payment fee of up to $40 will apply after your first time.
Who should apply? Thanks to high-traffic categories, matching cash back and a slew of benefits, the Discover it Student chrome might be the most well-rounded student card out there. It’s a great option for anyone getting started.
Read our Discover it Student chrome review.
Chase Freedom® Student credit card: Best for sign-up bonus
Why we picked it: The Chase Freedom Student is one of the rare student credit cards to offer a sign-up bonus: New cardholders earn a $50 bonus after their first purchase is made within the first three months from account opening.
Pros: Cardholders earn 1% cash back on all purchases, and through March 2022, you can earn an additional 4% cash back on Lyft rides. There’s also a $20 Good Standing Reward: Cardholders receive 2,000 points (or $20) after each account anniversary year for their first five years if their account is in good standing (meaning their minimum payments are being made on time). Additionally, this card comes with no annual fee, a low APR (14.99% variable) and access to a free look at your credit score each month.
Cons: While the base rewards earnings (1% cash back on general purchases) are good, there are a few student credit cards that could net you more cash back, depending on your spending habits. For instance, the Discover it® Student Cash Back offers stronger rewards on rotating quarterly bonus categories.
Who should apply? Students looking for consistent earnings without extra homework would benefit from this card. Plus, getting started with a Chase card can lead to great graduation opportunities in the future and the chance to get familiarized with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Read our Chase Freedom® Student credit card review.
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students: Best for Amazon Prime
Why we picked it: This card offers some benefits that are hard to come by – for instance, an intriguing sign-up bonus: One year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles (lifetime value of $59), a unique feature for the student who buys textbooks on Amazon.
Pros: The Deserve EDU Mastercard is a solid option to help build your credit history. Like our other top picks, it comes with no annual fee, plus other perks like no foreign transaction fees, no credit history needed, price protection, travel assistance, extended warranty and ID theft protection.
Cons: This card’s 1% cash back on all purchases can be easily beat by its competitors. Also, there’s no introductory APR offer or cash sign-up bonus.
Who should apply? This card can be a great choice if you don’t have a traditional credit history, if you’re an international student or if you’re especially interested in the free shipping and streaming options provided by Amazon Prime. Otherwise, if you qualify for competing student cards, you may want to look in their direction.
Read our Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students review.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best secured student credit card
Why we picked it: If your credit score is preventing you from opening an account, secured cards can be a surefire way in. Like most secured credit cards, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires a security deposit to open an account. This option’s minimum deposit is quite low at just $200. Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Pros: Not all secured cards offer the ability to earn rewards. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card truly stands out, offering 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. On top of that, they’ll match all the cash back you earn in your first year. Additionally, this card comes with benefits built to help your credit score, such as a review for a credit line increase starting at eight months.
Cons: The APR for purchases is unusually high (22.99%, variable). If there’s a chance you might be carrying a balance, you should prioritize a low interest rate over this card’s excellent rewards structure. Also, putting down the deposit up front might not be a realistic payment schedule for everyone.
Who should apply? Those looking to get started with a secured option should look no further. The Discover it Secured card might be the best of its kind, offering easy access, strong rewards and credit-building opportunities.
Read our Discover it® Secured Credit Card review.
Comparing the best student credit cards
Our experts at CreditCards.com analyzed 109 student credit card offers to find our top recommendations. Below are our picks for the nine best student credit cards. The Discover it Student Cash Back tops our list as the best credit card for students because of its rewards rates and special perks, but there are several strong options:
|Credit Card||Best For||Annual Fee||Review Rating|
|Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card||Entertainment seekers||$0||3.6 / 5|
|Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate cash back||$0||3.3 / 5|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Everyday spending||$0||4.1 / 5|
|Discover it® Student chrome||Cash back||$0||4.1 / 5|
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card||Sign-up bonus||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students||Amazon Prime Student||$0||2.6 / 5|
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card||Secured||$0||4.1 / 5|
What is a student credit card?
Student credit cards are designed for people with limited credit history, whether they’re building credit while in school or they’re just a newcomer to the world of credit. Student credit cards differ from regular credit cards in a couple ways. For example, when compared to traditional rewards cards, student cards lack large sign-up bonuses, the required credit score will usually be lower for a student card, and you won’t start with as high of a credit limit. Finally, student cards will sometimes have special features specific to the needs of college students.
The specific features of student cards can vary greatly. For example, only 2 of the 11 student cards we surveyed offered a bonus worth more than $200, and one had a $50 sign-up bonus. Additionally, some cards offer greater rewards in college-friendly categories.
Still not sure whether you should get a student card? Because of the way scoring models are set up, the easiest way to build credit is with a credit card. In addition, credit cards are safer than debit cards because of federal protections that are in place, so building your credit history with a credit card is the perfect journey to begin while on campus.
How do student credit cards work?
Here we’ll look at how to get your first credit card and how to understand the features of the card:
How to get your first credit card
When you’re ready to get your first credit card, do your homework. Check your credit reports, find your credit score, and research cards that fit your needs. There are a number of student credit cards available, most with unique features and conditions. Take special notice of annual fees, rewards offered, and APRs.
Narrow your selection and apply to only one card. Every time you apply for a credit card (this is called a “hard pull”), it’s noted on your credit report. Multiple applications can negatively impact your credit score and make it more difficult to get approved for a card.
How to get a student credit card with no credit or bad credit
Just because you’re a college student doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get approved for a student card. Because of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, a consumer under 21 must have their own source of income, even if the card requires no credit. There are also ways around this by having a co-signer help you out or becoming an authorized user. Otherwise, applying for a card, no matter your credit, is pretty much the same – you need to make sure you have the right required credit, and you will be asked a series of questions on the application that will help the card issuer decide if you are a good credit risk. If you don’t qualify for a student card, a secured credit card may be a better choice for you.
Is a secured card a good choice for a student?
For a student who doesn’t mind putting down a deposit to start an account, the right secured card could be a solid choice. One thing to note: Student cards are typically unsecured, which means no security deposit is required, the credit limit is usually lower, and the average APR on student cards is 17.79%. One thing to note: Student cards are typically unsecured, which means no security deposit is required, the credit limit is usually lower, and the average APR on student cards is 17.79%.
Understanding your student credit card’s features
There are a number of moving parts to a credit card, for example:
APR – The annual percentage rate is the interest you will be charged on balances carried from month to month.
Credit limit – The credit limit is the maximum dollar amount you can charge at any point. For most student credit cards, the limit is $1,000 or less.
Rewards – Many credit cards, student cards included, offer rewards to the user. Rewards include cash back, points, and sign-up bonuses. Cash back is simply a percentage of the charges you make credited back to your account. Rewards points can usually be redeemed for travel, gift cards, electronics, and other prizes.
There are also fees to be aware of, including:
- Annual fees. Though most student credit cards do not have annual fees, many rewards cards typically do. This fee is usually $50-$500.
- Balance transfer fees. These fees can run 3%-5% or $5-$10, whichever is greater.
- Cash advance fees. Users can pull cash from their credit card, usually with an extremely high APR.
- Foreign transaction fees. Typically about 3%, these can put a crimp in your plans to travel abroad for Spring Break or to study, so check for this.
- Convenience fees. Occasionally charged by the merchant, you can end up paying about 3% for tuition by using your credit card, so ask your school first.
There are also penalty APRs that can come into effect when minimum payments are not met. Penalty APRs are usually the highest interest rates credit cardholders will experience.
Pros and cons of student credit cards
Pros of student credit cards
- Low barriers of entry. Most student cards are open to almost all levels of credit scores, but you might have to provide proof of income to get approved. Student cards allow for young and inexperienced cardholders to build credit, spend conveniently and get into the routine of the right habits.
- Don’t lose out on rewards. Typically, cards for new credit users and bad credit scores come with low value rewards or no rewards program at all. With student credit cards, you can enter into the world of credit cards while still earning worthwhile cash back rates.
- Student-centric benefits. Many student credit cards feature things that the college-aged cardholder would appreciate, such as credit-building perks and no annual fee. Some cards even reward high-traffic student spend categories, such as supermarkets, dining purchases, entertainment and Lyft rides.
Cons of student credit cards
- Pricey APRs. Carrying a balance could be costly for a student cardholder. Because student cards are able to provide options for so many and still give substantial rewards, there’s some additional interest cost if you don’t fulfill the card’s payment terms.
- Lack of bonuses. Student cardholders can still capitalize on Discover’s Cashback Match offers, but most student cards come without large sign-up bonuses or any other money-saving treat.
- Ability to overspend. For rookie cardholders with an easy new way to spend, it’s essential that basic concepts of budgeting are instilled. Many college students aren’t used to managing their own bills, so it may take some planning and practice to be sure that payments don’t become too steep.
How to choose a student credit card
Who should get a student credit card
- The shopping student. If you’re spending on textbooks, food, clothes for school or anything else regularly, a student credit card could be a great help. Student cards aren’t strangers to cash back rewards, so you could earn some money back when you swipe your card on campus. While a small percentage back may not seem like a major impact, savings add up over time and will help when it comes time to make monthly payments.
- The student saver. Homebody students and those with a tight budget have lots of advantages with a student credit card. Opening a credit card account while in college is a great way to establish your credit score, and managing your payments with just a few purchases each billing period is an easy way to start strong.
- The new cardholder. These cards are often more generous than other cards for low credit and come with credit-building perks, so it can be an ideal way for newbies to get started if you qualify.
Who should skip a student credit card
- The rewards chaser. Although student credit cards feature worthwhile rewards rates and bonus rewards in certain categories, an experienced cardholder would find more value out of a high end card. If today’s top rewards cards are out of your range, the options here are a great way to grow your credit and earn along the way.
- The traveler. Students vacationing and studying abroad will appreciate cash back rewards and the lack of foreign transaction fees that student cards can bring to the table, but a more typical traveler likely wants more. If you’re looking to turn purchases into future trips and improve your travel experience, reroute to the best travel cards.
- The tight-budget student. If you’re already dealing with debt from student loans, textbooks or any other expense, it might be best to wait on applying for a student card. Credit cards are useful tools to grow credit, spend conveniently and earn rewards, but they can escalate into a major burden if you can’t afford to pay off your purchases and fall behind schedule.
How to make the most of your student credit card
When used responsibly, a student credit card is a phenomenal tool for building your credit history. Just remember: as a college student, it’s imperative that you’re on top of your spending and know what it takes to stay on track financially. Here are some good tips to keep in mind to avoid common mistakes and to make the most of your student card:
- Pay your balance in full each month. This is one of the most important habits to establish as a new cardholder. When you pay off your balance each month it helps your credit score and prevents interest from accumulating.
- Track your spending. Use your card for the smaller, everyday purchases, like gas and groceries. Some cards offer tools like spending trackers, but there are also apps that you can download to keep track of where you have room to spend more and where you need to cut back. You can also set alerts that will notify you when you’re reaching your monthly spending limit.
- Know your rewards. Whether your card comes with heightened rewards in certain categories, rotating rates or a flat-rate rewards program, it’s important to know how you earn. Be sure to use your card whenever you’re spending in a well-rewarding category to get the most out of your purchases.
- Budget. You need a budget and a limit for emergencies when they inevitably happen. It’s important to avoid spending recklessly and to plan out a certain amount each month for emergencies, so if something does happen, you won’t be left with an unexpected balance you can’t pay off.
- Be responsible with your payments. Set up a system in which you pay the same time every month, like a bill. Autopayments can be extremely helpful if available, and some cards offer a monthly reminder to pay on time. If your card doesn’t offer these features, designate a day and time each month to pay off your balance.
- Last but not least, check your credit score and credit reports. You can access your credit reports for free each year through AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can access your credit score through MyFICO.com for about $20 each. Also, some cards offer the feature of free access to your credit score.
What should you do with your student credit card when you graduate?
If you are preparing to graduate this year, you’ll likely want to think through your credit and credit card. Should you add a card? Maybe lose the card you have? And what do these actions do to your credit? Here’s what we have to say about that.
Should I get rid of my credit card?
Unless you have an annual fee, there is pretty much no reason to get rid of the credit card, and even then you want to make sure there are no benefits to counterbalance getting rid of the card. In fact, holding onto the card may help your credit score, and it may be time for some upgrades.
Can I get a credit limit increase?
The biggest change you might want to make is to increase your credit limit. Here’s how: Once you start your new job out of college or have set a trend of being a responsible cardholder, contact the card issuer, and just ask. With your new salary, you should get a sizable increase, which helps with your available credit if you have a balance.
Can I upgrade my card?
Here’s another tip: Check with your card issuer and see if you qualify for an upgrade that will allow you to keep your credit history. You might be able to graduate from a 1% cash back card to a 1.5% cash back card, for example. Just make sure it’s an upgrade and not a new account so that your history continues to grow. Also, there should be no hard inquiry if it’s an upgrade.
Should I add a credit card?
With all the cards available today, you can build points and cash back, earning for spending every day. Additionally, pairing cards with different utilities can be a great way to capitalize on all that credit cards offer. They can even reward you for your loyalty to your favorite airline or hotel. Also, credit cards are one of the fastest ways to a great credit score, unlocking doors to new opportunities. Look at our best credit cards to see if there is one that suits you.
Credit card tips for parents with college students
There are a number of ways to help your kids build their credit. Whatever your comfort level, you can help them in a big way, whether it’s making them an authorized user or just sharing a few valuable tips. So, here goes:
Make your student an authorized user
The easiest way and fastest way to build credit is with a credit card, but that can be a tough nut to crack for consumers under 21 years old. Luckily, there’s a way to help your student improve their credit relatively easily – make them an authorized user. While becoming an authorized user can help your credit, there’s some details to know beforehand.
For this example, let’s say you’re making your daughter an authorized user – meaning she’ll benefit from your credit habits, but she isn’t responsible for the balance. Another great benefit, it’s easy to be placed on the account and even easy to be taken off. However, there are a few things to know:
- When she is removed from your card, the card drops off of her credit files, which means your good habits are no longer there. That’s why she needs to get a card of her own when she can.
- Make sure the card issuer will report to all three major credit bureaus for her credit files. Some don’t. If you don’t make sure of this, then her credit may not benefit.
- Ensure that you have good credit and keep paying your bills on time so that she benefits.
- The authorized user doesn’t have to be 18, which means you could give your underage teen a card, depending on the card issuer.
Teach them proper card use
If you and your student feel she’s ready for a credit card, it’s now time for some ground rules. Even if you choose to make her an authorized user, establish these rules:
- Have her track her spending and tell you when it reaches a certain amount during the month. If it’s her card, help her set up alerts so that she knows when she’s approaching her monthly limit.
- Give her a limit for emergencies, and make sure she tells you immediately when they occur. With her own card, she needs to make sure she has a place in her budget for emergencies so the card isn’t a crutch.
- Make her responsible for her spending. Set up a system in which she pays you the same time every month, like a bill. With her own card, help her set up a monthly reminder to pay the card on time.
- Teach her to pay in full each month so that she’s building good credit habits.
- Show her how to check her credit score and credit reports. She can access her credit reports for free each year through AnnualCreditReport.com, and she can access her credit scores through MyFICO.com for about $20 each.
Tell your student about co-signing
A friend or roommate may at some point ask your student to co-sign for them on a card or loan, particularly if she has independent income. The simple answer: Don’t do it.
Co-signing makes her equally responsible for the bills, even if it’s the friend’s car. Even if there’s no falling out between them, your student can easily lose track of whether the payments are being made on time and only get the bad news after the account has become a problem. Also, it’s very difficult to be removed from an account as a co-signer, unlike an authorized user. While it’s unlikely she would be asked to co-sign for a card, because few if any card issuers accept co-signers, she might be asked to be on the hook for a car or personal loan.
Teach your student about budgeting
Sit down with her and show her – on a spreadsheet, an app, whatever – how you manage your budget each month. Make sure she understands that this is a monthly affair, not a one-time endeavor. Be sure to give her tips about how to track her card spending so that she doesn’t begin to freely make purchases without a care in the world.
How we picked the best student credit cards
Research methodology: We thoroughly analyzed 109 student credit cards in order to choose the top options for young adults and new cardholders. While a number of factors were considered in narrowing down our list, the most notable were:
- Credit-building perks: Credit cards for students are best utilized when establishing a good credit score. We made sure the cards here have benefits that will help students get into the right habits and will report those habits to the three major credit bureaus.
- Affordability: Because students and rookie cardholders are often on a tight budget, we searched for cards that avoided an annual fee, have reasonable terms and don’t hit you with extraneous costs.
- Student benefits: Many student cards come with incentives specifically designed for college-goers. We looked for unique perks, rewards rates in applicable categories and other benefits that’ll help out around campus.
Our full criteria include: Regular APR, foreign transaction fee, sign-up bonus, credit needed, rewards rates and categories, redemption options, ease of application, customer service, security and miscellaneous benefits.
Additional information on student credit cards
For more information on all things student credit cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts: