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2019

Best Student Credit Cards

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Student credit cards are designed for students — meaning people with limited or no credit history, and relatively low income. But before you get one, it's important to understand how credit cards impact your credit history. If you use a credit card irresponsibly you could end up with lots of expensive debt, negative items on your credit reports, or both.

Best Student Credit Cards
Brendan Harkness

By Brendan Harkness

Our Selection Criteria

The best credit cards for students will build credit while costing you nothing, and actually saving you a bit of money through rewards and benefits. Here are some things to consider for your first credit card:

  • Annual fee: If you’re new to credit cards you should probably start with a card without an annual fee. Paying an annual fee can often be worth it when you’re getting good rewards and perks, but if you’re just getting started you should stick to the basics and find a card you can keep forever to help build credit, without a fee to worry about justifying. Luckily, student credit cards don’t usually have annual fees.
  • Rewards program: Many student cards have solid rewards programs to let you earn cash back or points on common purchases. Look for a student card that will reward you for the types of purchases you make the most.
  • Extra benefits: These usually aren’t major deciding factors for most people, but you should still look over the benefits of any card you’re considering to learn how to make the most of it.
  • Free credit monitoring service: Many credit card issuers today offer free credit monitoring tools, which are very useful for anyone working to build up his or her credit. The major card issuers all provide either FICO or VantageScore credit scores, based on one of your three credit reports. In either case you can monitor that score and learn how to improve your credit over time.
  • Interest rate: NOT! We recommend you always pay your statement balance in full every month (unless you have a 0% intro APR). If you do this the interest rate doesn’t matter for purchases, since most credit cards provide a grace period and won’t charge any interest as long as you pay in full each month. Sometimes emergencies happen and you might have to carry a balance, but in that case you should pay it off aggressively to get back to being interest-free.
  • Ability to study abroad: Will you be traveling outside the country to further your education and broaden your horizons? Check out the Best Credit Cards for Studying Abroad, which don’t have foreign transaction fees and, in some cases, come with chip-and-PIN capability.
Is a Student Card Right for You?
Best Student Credit Cards
Brendan Harkness

By Brendan Harkness

Is a Student Card Right for You?

Student cards are special credit card products that are usually only available to students enrolled in college or university. They’re designed for people with little to no credit history, which is common among college students who haven’t had many opportunities to establish credit yet.

Don’t assume that you need to get a student credit card just because you’re a student — it’s possible to get other cards with little or no credit, like secured credit cards which require a refundable security deposit. But you may also qualify for some of the best cash back or travel rewards credit cards, especially if you have established some credit already.

You may be surprised at some of the cards you qualify for, especially if you have any experience paying back loans, like student or auto loans. Check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any credit cards — it’s free and it won’t hurt your credit.

Our Selection Criteria
BEST PICK FOR

Flexible Bonus Categories, Traveling Abroad

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Our rating
Credit range No Credit
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 16.24%–26.24%Variable
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securely on the issuer's website

The Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students (Review) is one of the most rewarding cards for students, with a 3% category you can customize to your liking each month.

This card is good for traveling abroad, because not only does it include travel as a potential 3% category, it also comes with chip-and-PIN capability, making it more useful at certain terminals and automated kiosks outside the U.S. You can easily set or change your PIN online. If you’ll be traveling to foreign countries it’s often a good idea to have a PIN card in your wallet.

  • 3% cash back in your choice of one category every month:
    • Gas
    • Online shopping
    • Dining
    • Travel
    • Drugstores
    • Home improvement/furnishings stores
  • 2% cash back at:
    • Grocery stores
    • Wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back for everything else
  • Spending limit: 3% and 2% rewards only up to $2,500 per quarter, then 1%
  • $200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days

With this flexible card you can adjust your bonus category each month to fit your expected spending. So if you’re going on a trip next month, for example, you could use the travel category to get 3% back on your airfare and hotel bookings, and even a car rental. Then, when the new month begins, you can switch your category to gas to help fuel your adventure.

  • Bank of America Preferred Rewards: Eligible bank account holders get a 25–75% bonus on rewards earned, depending on how much money is held in BofA bank accounts.
  • Free credit score: Check your FICO Score 8 for free, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Visa Platinum or Signature benefits: Depending on creditworthiness.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then 16.24%–26.24%Variable
  • Foreign transaction fees: 3%
  • Annual fee: $0
BEST PICK FOR

Rotating Bonus Categories

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Our rating
Credit range No Credit
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 14.74%–23.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

If you make a variety of purchases throughout the year (and who doesn’t?) it’s useful to have a card with a variety of bonus categories.

That’s what you’ll get from the Discover it® Student Cash Back (Review), which is probably the most rewarding student card available. Its 5% cash back categories change throughout the year, covering some pretty common student purchases. If you want a simple but rewarding card with excellent customer support, this could be the one for you.

The Discover it Student is just as rewarding as the non-student version, the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card (Review), although some of the other terms are different.

  • 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent per quarter (then 1%), in categories that rotate throughout the year
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year (awarded at the end of the first year)

Discover’s Cashback Match means you’ll be earning a cash back equivalent of 10% in the bonus categories for the first year, and 2% for everything else. Those are excellent rates, even for non-student cards.

You’ll be limited to $1,500 per quarter for the bonus categories, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for the average student. Are you going to spend more than $500 per month on groceries, gas, or dining out? Probably not.

Although statement credits are usually the best redemption option for cash back cards, when it comes to Discover you’ll actually get the best value from gift cards. You’ll get at least $5 added to each gift card redemption — a nice feature, but only useful if you’ll be able to utilize those gift cards.

  • Good Grades Award: A $20 statement credit for each year in which your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years
  • Free credit score: Track your FICO Score 8 over time, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Social Security number alerts: Get notified if your SSN is found on any thousands of risky websites.
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
BEST PICK FOR

Buying Gas and Going Out to Eat

Discover it® Chrome for Students

Discover it® Chrome for Students

Our rating
Credit range No Credit
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 14.74%–23.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

Gas and dining are pretty popular categories on student cards, but the the Discover it® Chrome for Students (Review) provides the best consistent rewards for those purchases.

You won’t be earning a ton of cash back with this card, which is fairly typical for student cards. But in your first year you’ll get very competitive rates for gas and dining, equal to some of the best non-student cash back cards.

  • 2% cash back on the first $1,000 spent per quarter (then 1%), at:
    • Gas stations
    • Restaurants
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year (awarded at the end of the first year)

So this card is great in the first year, providing a 4% cash back equivalent on gas and dining, and 2% back for everything else. After that it drops to a more tame rewards program.

You’re limited to $1,000 in spending per quarter in the bonus categories, which means you can earn a maximum of $40 cash back per quarter at the 4% rate in the first year. After the first year you can earn up to $20 cash back per quarter at the 2% rate.

You could earn more than that in a given quarter with the runners up below, but the Discover it Chrome for Students is the only option to offer both of these categories year-round. The Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students has a 3% category, and you could choose gas or dining for that, but only one at a time. And the Discover it Student will offer 5% back for gas, but only for one quarter out the year.

Like the Discover it Student card, the most valuable redemption method here is for gift cards, which will get at least $5 added to their value. But this option isn’t as useful if you can’t use those gift cards for purchases you were already going to make.

  • Good Grades Reward: A $20 statement credit for each year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years
  • Free credit score: Track your FICO Score 8 over time, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Social Security number alerts: Get notified if your SSN is found on any thousands of risky websites.
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

  • 3% cash back in your choice of one category every month:
    • Gas
    • Online shopping
    • Dining
    • Travel
    • Drugstores
    • Home improvement/furnishings stores
  • 2% cash back at Grocery stores and Wholesale clubs
  • $200 cash bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Spending limit: 3% and 2% categories are limited to the first $2,500 in combined spending per quarter (then 1%).
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then 16.24%–26.24%Variable (for transfers made during the first 60 days)
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

Discover it® Student Cash Back

  • 5% cash back in rotating categories (usually including gas and dining), up to $1,500 spent per quarter (then 1%)
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year (awarded at the end of the first year).
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% for 6 months, then 14.74%–23.74% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details
BEST PICK FOR

Flat-Rate Cash Back

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our rating
Credit range No Credit
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 26.99% (Variable)

Flat-rate credit cards provide the same rate for every purchase, making them excellent choices to fill in the gaps between the bonus categories of other cards.

You might have cards with good bonus categories for groceries and gas, but what about those random Walmart and corner store purchases? That’s where flat-rate cards come in handy.

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) is the best flat-rate card for students. As long as you pay on time (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll be earning almost as much cash back as the typical non-student flat-rate card, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (Review) which provides 1.5% back.

The Journey Student also provides a higher credit line after you make the first five payments on time. That extra spending capacity should be very useful on a student card, which usually comes with a fairly low credit limit.

Anyone can apply for the Journey Student Rewards card — it isn’t limited to students, despite the name.

  • 1% cash back on every purchase
    • 1.25% cash back when you pay on time
  • Higher credit line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report with Capital One’s CreditWise tool (available online or through a mobile app).
  • Shopping and Travel protections: Including Extended Warranties, Travel and Emergency Assistance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, and more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Deserve Edu Mastercard

  • A better chance of approval because Deserve checks factors like education and income potential
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Limited 12-month Priority Pass Select membership for spending $1,000 in 120 or 155 days; $27 fee per lounge visit (offer for select applicants and cardholders only)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Take note that Deserve will need to connect to your bank account to verify your balance, because Deserve bases its decision on more than the typical credit approval factors.

View card details
BEST PICK FOR

International Students, No SSN Required

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Our rating
Credit range No Credit
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 20.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The Deserve Edu Mastercard (Review) is good for international students because it doesn’t require a Social Security number to apply. Deserve will also check more than the usual credit history factors when you apply, like your education and future employability, giving you a better chance of approval than most cards.

So, if you’re arriving in the U.S. to study and you don’t have an SSN this may be one of the few cards available to you. International students will need to provide proof of a U.S. bank account and copies of their student visas, passport IDs, and school documents.

Take note that Deserve will need to connect to your bank account to verify your balance. If you have privacy or security concerns this might worry you, but it seems reasonable because Deserve bases its decision on more than the typical credit approval factors.

  • 1% cash back for every purchase
  • 12-month Priority Pass Select membership for spending $1,000 in 120 or 155 days (offer available to select applicants and cardholders only)
    • Lounge visits cost $27 per person
  • One free year of Amazon Prime Student: A $59 statement credit for an Amazon Prime Student membership
  • Lemonade Insurance rebate: A $10 statement credit after making three consecutive payments for Lemonade Renters and Home Insurance
  • Feather furniture rental rebate: A $100 statement credit for your first month’s payment to Feather, when using code “DESERVE100”
  • Shopping and Travel protections: Including Cell Phone Insurance up to $600, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, Price Protection, and more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0
BEST PICK FOR

Best for No Income

Citi<sup>®</sup> Secured Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Our rating
Credit range Bad
Details
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR 23.99% (Variable)

You’ll probably have trouble getting approved for any credit card — even secured cards — if you’re working with little to no income. If you’re under 21, issuers are required by law to consider whether you can make your monthly payments before they issue you a card. With that said, if you’re going to be approved for any credit card with minimal income, it’s likely going to be secured.

The Citi Secured Card is a good option because it doesn’t require a bank account, which you may not have (or want to use), in order to apply. However, if you’re not using a bank account, you must apply and provide your deposit in person at a Citibank branch.

It’s a no-frills secured card, requiring a security deposit of at least $200. You’ll get a few basic benefits, like a free FICO score and purchase protection.

The Citi Secured Card requires a security deposit of $200 to $2,500. Your credit limit will be equal to your deposit.

With consistent responsible use, your security deposit may be returned, and you could be upgraded to the unsecured Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card (Review). But you’ll probably have to have some kind of income for that to happen.

  • No bank account needed: Apply at a Citibank location if you don’t have a checking or savings account.
  • Flexible due dates: Choose the payment due date that works for you — pick from the beginning, middle, or end of the month.
  • Upgrade path: Use this card responsibly, and Citi may return your deposit and upgrade you to the Citi Diamond Preferred.
  • Free FICO score: Access your FICO Bankcard Score 8, based on your Equifax credit report, to monitor your credit situation.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 23.99% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

  • Security deposit: $200 to $2,500
  • 2% cash back on the first $1,000 spent per quarter at:
    • Restaurants
    • Gas stations
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year (awarded after the first year)
  • Credit Scorecard: Check your FICO Score 8 for free, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Purchase APR: 24.74% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% for 6 months, then 24.74% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

  • Security deposit: A $49, $99, or $200 security deposit, depending on your creditworthiness, will fund a $200 credit line. You can deposit more if you’d like a higher credit limit, up to $1,000 for a $1,000 credit limit.
  • Higher Credit Line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report, and see information from that report.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

What Will Happen to My Student Credit Card After I Graduate?

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