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RATING
2021

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.

How We Picked These Cards Is a Student Card Right for You?

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

The information related to Chase Freedom® Student credit card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

How We Picked These Cards

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?

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.

Best Pick For...

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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR13.99%–23.99% Variable
  • $200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • New Offer: Maximize your cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement /furnishings
  • Now earn 3% cash back in your choice category and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
  • You can update your choice category for future purchases once each calendar month using the Mobile banking app or Online banking, or do nothing and it stays the same.
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.99%–23.99% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • No annual fee
Rewards

The Bank of America Customized 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.

Spending Rewards
  • 3% cash back in one category of your choice:
    • Gas
    • Online shopping
    • Dining
    • Travel
    • Drugstores
    • Home improvement/furnishings stores
  • 2% cash back at:
    • Grocery stores
    • Wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • 3% and 2% rewards only up to $2,500 per quarter, then 1% cash back
  • Eligible Bank of America members can get a 25%–75% bonus on rewards
Introductory Bonus
  • $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.

Key Features
  • 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 APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99%–23.99% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99%–23.99% Variable
  • Foreign transaction fee: 3%
Runner Up1

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back in rotating categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter, then 1%; activation required):
    • January – March: Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS
    • April – June: Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services
    • July – September: Restaurants, PayPal
    • October – December: Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • Cashback Match: Double all cash back rewards earned in the first year
  • Purchase APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • Balance Transfer APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details
Rotating Bonus Categories

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Our rating:
  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APRSee Terms
Rewards

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 rotate 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.

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back in rotating categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter, then 1%; activation required):
    • January – March: Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS
    • April – June: Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services
    • July – September: Restaurants, PayPal
    • October – December: Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • Cashback Match: Double all cash back rewards earned in 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.

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

Key Features
  • 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: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • Balance Transfer APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • No foreign transaction fee
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR14.99%–22.99% Variable
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire
  • 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days – that can be a $250 statement credit towards travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – no blackout dates and restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 17.24%–25.24% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • Access your FICO® Score, updated monthly, for free from TransUnion
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25%-75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards
Rewards

Heading out for an exciting adventure in another country? It’ll be nice to have a convenient payment method, one that won’t cost you extra for using it outside the U.S.

The Bank of America Travel Rewards® Credit Card for Students checks that box by having no foreign transaction fee, so that should help keep expenses down. You’ll also get a solid rate on purchases through the BofA Travel Center, so try to book through that service when possible.

Spending Rewards
  • 3X points per dollar on purchases from the Bank of America travel center
  • 1.5X points per dollar for all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

This card 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.

Key Features
  • 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 and Merrill Lynch 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 APR: 0% for 12 months, then 14.99%–22.99% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 14.99%–22.99% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
Runners Up2

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • One year of Amazon Prime Student for spending $500 in the first 3 billing cycles
  • Perks: Potential limited Priority Pass Select membership, insurance and furniture rental rebates
  • Purchase APR: 18.74% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
    • Pay on time and that goes up to 1.25% cash back
  • $60 streaming credit: $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming services, when you pay on time
  • Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details
Buying Gas and Going Out to Eat

Discover it® Student chrome

Our rating:
  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APRSee Terms
Rewards

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

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back, up to $1,000 spent per quarter (then 1%), at:
    • Gas stations
    • Restaurants
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • Cashback Match: Double all cash back rewards earned in 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 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.

Key Features
  • 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: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • Balance Transfer APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • No foreign transaction fee
Runners Up2

Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Spending Rewards
  • 3% cash back in one category of your choice:
    • Gas
    • Online shopping
    • Dining
    • Travel
    • Drugstores
    • Home improvement/furnishings stores
  • 2% cash back at:
    • Grocery stores
    • Wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • 3% and 2% rewards only up to $2,500 per quarter, then 1% cash back
  • Eligible Bank of America members can get a 25%–75% bonus on rewards
Introductory Bonus
  • $200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99%–23.99% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99%–23.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back in rotating categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter, then 1%; activation required):
    • January – March: Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS
    • April – June: Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services
    • July – September: Restaurants, PayPal
    • October – December: Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • Cashback Match: Double all cash back rewards earned in the first year
  • Purchase APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • Balance Transfer APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details
Flat-Rate Cash Back

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Our rating:
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR26.99% Variable
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
Why We Picked It

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 may also provide a higher credit line after your first six months. 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.

Rewards
Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
    • Pay on time and that goes up to 1.25% cash back
Key Features
  • Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months.
  • $60 streaming credit: $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming services, when you pay on time
  • Capital One CreditWise: The CreditWise service provides free access to one of your VantageScore 3.0 credit scores, based on your TransUnion credit report. You can monitor your score over time and get alerts about any changes.
  • Capital One Second Look account monitoring: Keep an eye on your account with Second Look, and get access to account alerts to be notified of any activity on your account.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
Runners Up3

Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card

Spending Rewards
  • 3% cash back for the first 6 months, up to $2,500 spent, on:
    • Gas stations
    • Grocery stores
    • Drugstores
  • 1% cash back for every other purchase
  • Bonus cash back at participating merchants in the Earn More Mall
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 12.15%–22.15% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 6 months, for transfers made within 120 days, then 12.15%–22.15% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • One year of Amazon Prime Student for spending $500 in the first 3 billing cycles
  • A better chance of approval because Deserve checks factors like education and income potential
  • 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 fee
  • 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

Chase Freedom® Student credit card

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides (through March 2022)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • $50 bonus after your first purchase within 3 months of account opening
  • $20 Good Standing Rewards: Once per year after your account anniversary, for up to five years
  • DoorDash membership: A free membership (DashPass) for three months; automatic enrollment at 50% off for the next nine months
  • Credit limit increase: Qualified cardholders can get a credit limit increase after five on-time monthly payments in the first 10 months
  • Annual fee: $0
View card details
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR12.99 - 26.99% Variable
  • No fees whatsoever. No late fee, international fee, annual fee, or any-other-kind-of-fee, fee.
  • Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away
  • 2% – 10% cash back from select merchants
  • $500 – $10,000 credit limits
  • Variable APRs 12.99% – 26.99%
  • Build credit alongside tens of thousands of Petal Card members
  • Cash flow technology may help applicants without credit history get approved
  • Petal’s mobile app makes it easy to manage your money, track your spending, and automate payments
  • See if you’re pre-approved within minutes without impacting your credit score
  • Petal reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • No deposits required
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC
Why We Picked It

With no fees at all aside from potential interest charges, the Petal® 2 Cash Back, No Fees Visa® Card (Review) is a great first credit card.

Most card issuers will check your credit history when you apply — but what if you don’t have any credit history yet, and no credit scores? The Petal card might be for you.

If you have no established credit, Petal will ask to connect to your bank account to check your financial situation, as a way to judge your riskiness as a borrower. This gives you another avenue for approval if you don’t have any credit. If you do have some credit built up, Petal will likely run a hard inquiry to check it, like most issuers do.

Rewards
Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on purchases initially
  • 1.25% cash back on purchases after 6 on-time payments
  • 1.5% cash back on purchases after 12 on-time payments
Key Features
  • Petal Offers: Get 2%–10% back from select merchants, with no activation necessary.
  • Visa Local Offers: Earn Uber Cash when making purchases at select merchants by adding your Petal card to the Uber app.
  • Free credit score: Check your VantageScore 3.0 credit score from your Experian credit report, whenever you’d like.
  • Purchase APR: 12.99 - 26.99% Variable
  • Credit limit: $500–$10,000
  • No foreign transaction fee
Runners Up1

Petal® 1 No Annual Fee Visa® Card

  • Petal’s cash flow technology: Looks at bank account records to help you qualify
  • Petal Offers: Get 2%–10% back from select merchants, with no activation necessary.
  • Visa Local Offers: Earn Uber Cash when making purchases at select merchants by adding your Petal card to the Uber app.
  • Free credit score: Check one of your credit scores from your Experian credit report, whenever you’d like.
  • Purchase APR: 19.99%–29.49% Variable
  • Credit limit: $500–$10,000
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Issued by WebBank, Member FDIC
View card details
International Students, No SSN Required

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Our rating:
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  • Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Regular APR18.74% Variable
  • Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles with your EDU card (Lifetime Value of $59).
  • Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard. Once approved, you’ll automatically start earning cash back on all purchases.
  • Feel secure with cell phone protection up to $600.
  • No deposit required. No annual fees.
  • No international transaction fees on purchases abroad so you can travel with confidence.
  • No Social Security Number required for international students to apply.
  • Refer A Friend Program: Refer anyone to Deserve using your personal referral code. Upon approval, card activation and use, you’ll receive $30 and so will your referral. Referral bonuses are unlimited!
  • Manage and track your spending, set automatic payments and securely freeze your card all through one easy to use app.
  • See if you prequalify with no impact to your credit score in minutes.
  • Deserve Mastercards are issued by Celtic Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Enjoy Mastercard Platinum Benefits intended to make your life easier like Mastercard ID Theft Prevention(TM) and Master Rental(R).
Why We Picked It

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.

Rewards
Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
Introductory Bonus
  • One year of Amazon Prime Student for spending $500 in the first 3 billing cycles
Key Features
  • 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: Cell Phone Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, Price Protection, and more
  • No foreign transaction fee

What Is a Student Credit Card?

A student credit card is simply a credit card designed for college students. These cards usually require you to be an active student when you apply (the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One (Review) is an exception — you don’t need to be a student to qualify).

Students typically have limited or no credit, because they haven’t yet established a credit history (learn how to build credit with credit cards here). As such, student cards typically come with few rewards or benefits, and low credit limits.

Other than that, they’re pretty similar to regular credit cards.

What Is the Best Student Credit Card?

There are a variety of student credit cards, designed for different purposes. Our favorite student cards include:

Do Student Credit Cards Build Credit?

Yes, student credit cards can help you build credit like most other credit cards — as long as the issuer reports the card activity to the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

Most credit card issuers (including the major credit card issuers, like Chase, Citi, and Discover) report card activity to the bureaus, so you typically have nothing to worry about.

In some cases, smaller, less established credit card companies may not report activity to the credit bureaus. But this is rare. Some companies only report activity to one or two of the bureaus, rather than all three; these issuers can still help you build credit, but the effects won’t be as robust.

Commit to using your credit cards responsibly to help improve your credit scores — in time, as your scores go up, you may qualify for better rewards cards with valuable perks.

How Old Do I Have to Be to Get a Student Credit Card?

You have to be at least 18 to apply for a student credit card.

If you’re younger than 21, you’ll need to meet more stringent criteria to prove you can pay your bills each month. When the issuer asks for information about how much money you make, you’ll only be able to report your own independent income (and most card issuers don’t allow cosigners).

Once you turn 21 you can include your total household income, and that can include your spouse’s income — this can make it easier to qualify.

If you’re under 18, you can explore becoming an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Authorized users can get their own copy of someone else’s credit card, but keep in mind that only the primary cardholder has full legal responsibility for paying the bill.

What Will Happen to My Student Card After I Graduate?

The answer: It depends on your card issuer. Your typical options will be:

  1. Upgrade to a non-student credit card
  2. Continue using the same card

Contact your card issuer to see what your options are — we recommend upgrading to a non-student credit card if possible, because you’ll probably get better rewards and benefits. You might be awarded a higher credit limit whether you keep the same card or upgrade, since you may be entering the job market and earning more money.

We usually suggest not closing your student card after you graduate, unless it has an annual fee. Keeping your cards open can help improve your credit scores by reducing your credit utilization and increasing your overall age of accounts, among other effects.

Expert Q&A

Q1) What are the best features to look for in student credit cards?

Answer by: Ali Nejadmalayeri, Associate Professor of Finance, University of Wyoming

First and foremost, a credit card is a loan, not your money. So, you need to pay it back with interest. So, the first thing is to search for a low interest rate card that doesn’t jump after the introductory rate period. Or, at least introductory rates that last a while. But since you will be using it forever, then my preference is to start with low-rate ones. You’ll most likely have months that money is short.

Some offer extra if you use the card for tuition, or room and board. This helps if, for instance, you’re waiting for your financial assistance to come through, and you collect points. If you travel a lot because school is out-of-state, travel perks, gas perks, etc. might be something you want to look into.

Answer by: Jeffrey Jones, Department Head, Finance and General Business Department, Missouri State University

Those that have no annual fee, and a decent reward/cash-back program.

Answer by: Amit Sinha, Professor, Finance and Quantitative Methods, Bradley University

One of the features of some of the student credit cards is the cash rewards some of them provide. If students keep their card in good standing and perhaps maintain a good GPA, these cards may provide some cash at the end of the year or semester. This feature, not available for traditional cards, can act as an extra incentive for students to focus on their academics.

Q2) How should a college student plan to use a student credit card?

Answer by: John Sedunov, Associate Professor, Finance & Real Estate, Villanova University

In my view, the best way to use a credit card is to build credit. Don’t use it to buy things you couldn’t otherwise afford. Instead, use the card and pay it off in full every month.

This helps build your credit and enhance your credit score so that when it comes time for larger purchases like a car or a house, you won’t have trouble, and can potentially get better interest rates.

Answer by: Nicholas Wonder, Associate Professor, Western Washington University

Making purchases on the card and paying the balance each month can generate cash back and build a credit history without negative consequences. The student should be careful not to spend more than will be available to pay off the balance at the end of the month.

Downloading the transaction record each month or the annual summary the card company provides may be useful in tracking spending. Also, some cards offer extended warranties, rental car insurance, or other perks, and one needs to become aware of those services (perhaps by examining the cardmember agreement) to benefit from them.

Answer by: Ali Nejadmalayeri

The most prudent way to use the card is as a bridge loan that helps to pay for stuff while you are waiting for scholarships, fellowships, and bigger student loans to kick in. But remember, being a good borrower helps build the credit profile which you need for your car purchase, home purchase, etc. Make sure to pay on time. If you can, make the full payment. If not, avoid going over 50%-60% your credit limit. These are all hard things to do. I know, I lived it, so I am telling you from my own struggles as well.

Answer by: Jeffrey Jones

If a college student can manage their budget, and pay off a credit card balance in full each month, then it is appropriate to use a credit card for daily expenses. The first time a student is unable to pay off the balance in full, it is probably a good idea for them to cease using the card for daily expenses until the card balance is paid in full.

Answer by: Amit Sinha

Responsibly, I would say. One has to recognize that credit cards are a form of debt and irresponsible use will have detrimental effects.

Q3) What are some of the dangers that college students should be aware of with student credit cards?

Answer by: John Sedunov

Overusing the credit card is a clear danger and is related to what I said about the best way to use the card. Be aware that the card isn’t free money, and that the card will often have quite a high interest rate. It bears repeating that you should do everything you can to not use the card for anything that you couldn’t otherwise afford.

Answer by: Nicholas Wonder

Cash advances may be tempting but do not offer the grace period that applies to new purchases—interest is charged, and often at a high rate, even if the borrower pays off the entire balance by the monthly due date.

In general, buying more than one will be able to pay off at the end of the month is a bad idea; interest is high, and the student might struggle to escape the accumulating debt. Moreover, if a business checks the student’s credit score, a high ratio of debt to credit limit will not help.

Balance transfers offers may be useful on rare occasions, but keep in mind that upfront charges can amount to large annualized interest rates if, say, half of the balance would have been paid off six months from now anyway. In the other direction, failure to pay off the balance before the deadline for the low interest rate might be very costly. And if one ended up paying only the monthly minimum after the low-rate period, the lender might allocate that payment to the high-interest balance, meaning that new purchases would not benefit from a no-interest grace period.

Answer by: Ali Nejadmalayeri

Again, a credit card is NOT your money. So don’t assume a $5000 credit line means you can fly to Cancun first class and have a once-in-a-life-time Spring break. Do that and it will break you. And wreck your financial future.

It is very hard when times are hard to keep up with fully repaying cards. But try your best to keep it clean as often as you can. It’s good for your credit scores and it also gives you a lot of emergency lines of credit.

Answer by:
Jeffrey Jones

The primary danger is the temptation to overspend, and to accumulate a balance that cannot easily be paid off each month. Interest charges generally only are assessed when the balance is not paid in full each month. Students often do not understand how the interest is calculated, or the actual rate of interest (which can be quite high).

Answer by: Amit Sinha

Student credit cards are a form of debt, and they are very easy to use. Repeated use without paying off the balances increases unpaid balances. Unpaid balances in turn increase interest payment obligations. Improper use will also affect credit scores adversely. That will have consequences, financial and otherwise, including getting jobs, renting apartments and getting a mortgage.

Q4) Why would you consider a student credit card over a traditional credit card?

Answer by: John Sedunov

You may consider this option if you don’t have a long or strong credit history. This may be the only option you have to start building credit and setting your future self up for success.

Answer by: Ali Nejadmalayeri

It really depends on your circumstances and what the card offers: rates, no-late fee, points for things you do (tuition, room, board, etc.). If the card is good, it stands out for things that matters greatly for a student. A card that offers points for air travel is probably not a good one for a student who is stuck in a dorm room, working many hours, are at the library and has limited financial assistance. You probably need that card when you get your first job as a sales-rep for a pharmaceutical company!

Answer by: Jeffrey Jones

The primary differences between a “student” credit card and a “traditional” credit card are that student credit cards tend to have lower credit limits and rewards/cash back programs targeted more towards the activities of a typical student.

Answer by: Amit Sinha

A student credit card is a good starter card. Oftentimes the credit and income requirements for such cards are a bit relaxed when compared to a traditional card, and hence it becomes easier to get. One can build one’s credit history using a student card so as to get a traditional card at better terms.

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