Comparing Student Credit Cards
The best student credit cards help young adults build credit, learn good spending habits, and even reap rewards for good grades in college. Many major credit card issuers, like Chase, Citi, Discover, and Capital One, offer cards specially designed for students with little to no credit history. Use a student credit card responsibly, and you’ll be on your way to building a foundation of solid credit before you graduate.
Find the perfect student credit card for you by exploring top offers. Note that there are federal restrictions on issuing credit cards to individuals under 21.
In this guide to college student credit cards, you’ll learn:
Best Student Credit Cards
These are the best student credit cards available today.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Why it’s the best student credit card for everyday spending
The Discover it Student Cash Back’s boosted quarterly rewards may include such categories as gas and groceries, making it a snap for everyday spending.
With the good grades program, you can earn a $20 statement credit each school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher (for up to the next 5 years), giving you a little extra cash in your pocket. When asked to pick the best credit card for students, our experts were torn between this card and the Discover it Student chrome. The reality is they are both superb credit cards, especially for cash back; so the decision will come down to your personal spending preferences.
The rotating categories may not be helpful for a consumer 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 that quarter. Also, there’s no sign-up bonus, so you have to wait until the end of your first year to get your boosted rewards.
Discover it® Student chrome
Why it’s the best student credit card for cash back
Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 a quarter (then 1%), perfect for a student on the go.
A cousin of the Discover it Student Cash Back, the Discover it Student chrome offers many of the same features and perks: no credit history required, no annual fee, no APR changes for late payments, and “good grades rewards.”
Even though no credit history is required with this card, making it easier to get than other cards, you’ll want to make sure you are reasonably organized so that you pay in full and on time each month in order to build your credit.
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Why it’s the best student credit card for Amazon.com
This card offers some benefits that are hard to come by – for instance, one year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first 3 billing cycles, a unique feature perfect for the student who buys textbooks on Amazon. This is a huge advantage for the online student shopper – in fact, TSYS reports that credit cards are consumers’ favorite payment method for online shopping.
The Deserve EDU Mastercard is another great option to help build your credit history. Like our other top picks, it comes with no annual fee, helping keep money in your pockets for tuition and ramen purchases. Other perks include no foreign transaction fees, price protection, travel assistance, extended warranty and ID theft protection
This card’s 1% on all purchases can be easily beat and there’s no sign-up bonus, so if you are on the hunt for rewards, you may want to look elsewhere.
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Why it’s the best student credit card for student travel
The Journey Student Rewards card not only rewards you with 1.25% back if you pay on time – a nice incentive for young cardholders to build good financial habits – it also comes with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, making it good choice for a semester abroad.
The Journey Student Rewards card offers access to a credit line increase after paying on time for your first 6 monthly bills. And paying on time is made easier by the fact that you are allowed to choose your own monthly due date.
There’s a lot to love about the Journey Student Rewards card, but even though it only recommends fair credit, you’ll need to have independent income if you are under 21 because of the Credit CARD Act of 2009.
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
Why it’s the best student credit card for no fees
Students shouldn’t have to worry about paying credit card fees. The Petal 2 Visa credit card comes with no fees whatsoever – no late fee, international fee, annual fee, or any other kind of fee.
After you make 12 on-time monthly payments, your cash back rate increases from one percent to 1.5%. For the student who’s starting to learn the ropes of credit, this incentive is a great way to create healthy credit habits.
Watch out for the high APR on purchases, which is 12.99% - 26.99% (Variable). If you can’t pay in full each month, you’ll do better to find a credit card with a low interest rate.
Discover it® Secured
Why it’s the best secured student credit card
Like most secured credit cards, the Discover it® Secured requires a security deposit, which is equal to your credit limit. The minimum deposit is quite low at just $200. Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Not all secured cards offer the ability to earn rewards. The Discover it® Secured truly stands out, offering 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter) 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.
The APR for purchases is unusually high. 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.
Summary of the Best College 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 5 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.
|Credit Card||Best For||Annual Fee||Review Rating|
|Discover it Student Cash Back||Everyday spending||$0||4.2 / 5|
|Discover it Student chrome||Cash back||$0||4.2 / 5|
|Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students||Amazon Prime Student||$0||2.6 / 5|
|Journey Student Rewards from Capital One||Students studying abroad||$0||2.1 / 5|
|Discover it® Secured||Secured||$0||4.1 / 5|
Although credit cards made specifically for students only make up a small fraction of all credit cards, we’ve thoroughly analyzed 109 of these student credit cards in order to choose the few best options for you. To arrive at the top 5 picks above, we used a robust set of criteria that included annual fee, regular APR, foreign transaction fee, sign-up bonus, credit needed, rewards rates and categories, redemption options, ease of application, student-specific benefits, customer service, and more.
What are student credit cards?
Student credit cards are designed for people with limited credit history and it’s a way to build your credit while in school. Student credit cards differ from regular credit cards in a couple ways. For example, unlike most rewards cards, student cards may not have sign-up bonuses. Also, the required credit will usually be lower for a student card, as well as the 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.
Still not sure why you should get a credit 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 a debit card because of federal protections that are in place.
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 Acts of 2009, a consumer under 21 must have their own source of income, even if the card requires no credit. 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?
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%.
How do I build my credit as a college student?
When used responsibly, a student credit card can be a great tool for building your credit history. It’s just imperative that as a college student, you’re on top of your spending and you know what it takes to stay on track financially. Here are some good tips to keep in mind as you begin your credit journey:
- 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.
- Budget. You need a budget and a limit for emergencies when they inevitably happen. It’s important 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. Some cards offer a monthly reminder to pay on time, but if your card doesn’t offer that feature, 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.
But a secured card, which requires a refundable deposit, can also be a good choice. In some cases they have rewards and even no annual fee. Ideally, you want a student card with no annual fee that isn’t secured, but a secured card is a good Plan B. You can build credit with a secured card, and in some cases, the issuer will advance you to an unsecured account for good credit habits.
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.
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 her credit relatively easily – make her an authorized user.
An authorized user benefits 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 gone in arrears. 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 do the “spending shuffle” and make purchases without a care in the world.
What should you do with your student credit card when you graduate?
If you are preparing to graduate in May, 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. But you don’t have to live with things the way they are.
Can I get a credit limit increase?
The biggest change you might want to make is to get the credit limit increased. Here’s how: Once you start your new job out of college, contact the card issuer, and just ask. With your new salary, you should get a sizeable 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% back card to a 1.5% 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. You can apply for a card that rewards you for airline or hotel loyalty. Look at our best credit cards to see if there is one that suits you.
Griffin Miller is a personal finance writer at Bankrate, specializing in credit cards. He frequently contributes research, guides, and advice to CreditCards.com. You can reach Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Mohammad is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She regularly covers the best credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. You can reach Laura at email@example.com.