Student Credit Cards

I’ve heard about student credit cards, but I don’t really know anything about them. Should I get one?

Credit card companies make special credit card products designed for students. But before you get one it’s important to understand how credit cards impact your credit history.

If you don’t use a credit card responsibly you could end up with lots of expensive debt, negative items on your credit report, or both.

Many negative items, like late payments, stay on your credit reports for 7 years. Bad credit history can make it hard or impossible to rent an apartment, get car insurance, or get smartphone financing and data plans.

If you’re new to credit cards, start with our guide to building credit with credit cards to learn the basics.

The Best Student Credit Cards of 2018

Best For Card
Earning Rewards Discover it for Students (Review)
Buying Gas and Going Out to Eat Discover it® Chrome for Students (Review)
Long 0% Intro Period Bank of America Cash Rewards™ for Students Card (Review)
International Students, No Credit History Deserve Edu Mastercard (Review)

Here are our most recent picks for the best credit cards for students. Keep reading to learn why they’re our favorites.

Best for Earning Rewards

Discover it® Student Cash Back
Apply Now

Discover it® Student Cash Back

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 14.99%–23.99% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Double all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year automatically - only for new cardmembers*
  • 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter like gas, restaurants, Amazon.com and more-up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up.* 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on first late payment & paying late won't raise your APR.*
  • Free FICO® Credit Score on statements, online & by mobile app.* 100% U.S.-based service any time. Text alerts when payment is due & a free mobile app to stay on top of your account.
  • New Freeze ItSM on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.*
  • Each Discover purchase is monitored. If it's unusual, you're alerted by e-mail, phone or text-and never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms & other info by clicking “Apply.”

The Discover it for Students (Review) is very rewarding for a student credit card. For no annual fee, it provides:

  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate throughout the year, on the first $1,500 spent each quarter (see calendar below)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match: new cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year
  • Good Grades Reward: Get a $20 reward for every year that you get a GPA of 3.0 or above, up to five years

The 5% cash back calendar for the Discover it for 2019 is:

Quarter 5% Cash Back Category
January – March Grocery Stores
April – June Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft
July – September Restaurants
October – December Amazon.com

That Cashback Match is a great deal, and it means you’ll be getting 10% cash back in those categories for your first year. And 2% back for non-category purchases.

You’re not likely to find a deal like that on other no-annual-fee rewards cards, especially those designed for people with limited credit. As far as student cards go, it’s definitely the most rewarding card offer. If you make a variety of purchases throughout the year, a card with rotating categories like this could be a good fit.

This card comes with a 0% intro APR for 6 months for purchases. That gives you some time to pay off initial purchases at no interest, but be sure to always make at least your minimum payments during that period. When this intro period runs out, and for cards without an intro period, we recommend always paying your balance in full each billing period.

Discover cardholders can access the Discover Credit Scorecard, a tool for tracking your credit. It will show you your FICO 8 Credit Score based on your TransUnion report, along with helpful advice to improve it. This is an excellent feature to have when you’re working to build your credit.

Best for Buying Gas and Going Out to Eat

Discover it® Chrome for Students
Apply Now

Discover it® Chrome for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 14.99%–23.99% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Double all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year automatically - only for new cardmembers*
  • 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations every quarter-no sign-ups needed.* 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on first late payment & paying late won't raise your APR.*
  • Free FICO® Credit Score on statements, online & by mobile app.* 100% U.S.-based service any time. Text alerts when payment is due & a free mobile app to stay on top of your account.
  • New Freeze ItSM on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.*
  • Each Discover purchase is monitored. If it's unusual, you're alerted by e-mail, phone or text-and never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms & other info by clicking “Apply.”

The Discover it® Chrome for Students (Review) is a solid choice if you spend a lot on gas or at restaurants — or both.

Cardholders get:

  • 2% cash back on the first $1,000 spent each quarter 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
  • Good Grades Reward: Get a $20 reward for every year that you get a GPA of 3.0 or above, up to five years

For no annual fee, this card provides a simple way to earn rewards in these two bonus categories. In your first year you’ll be getting 4% back in them, along with 2% back for non-category purchases. Those rewards can be redeemed for statement credits, which is the easiest way, but also for gift cards at popular retailers.

That’s a big deal for student cards like these, because you’re meant to eventually move on from them once your credit improves and you can qualify for better cards. So even though you might not use this card for very long after you get out of college, you’ll still get a great deal in that first year.

You can use the Credit Scorecard to monitor your credit, specifically your FICO 8 Credit Score from your TransUnion credit report. If you’re new to credit and still learning how to improve it reliably, this can be a very valuable tool.

The Discover it Chrome for Students has an introductory purchase APR of 0% for 6 months. This is useful when making large purchases, giving you time to pay them off at zero interest. Don’t forget to make minimum payments during this period, however. And when your intro period runs out, we always recommend paying your balance in full each billing period.

Best for Long 0% Intro Period

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students
Apply Now

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 15.24%–25.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter
  • No annual fee
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 15.24%–25.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • 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

The Bank of America Cash Rewards™ for Students Card (Review) has the longest 0% intro APR we’ve found on a student card, at 12 months. This applies to both purchases and balance transfers, making it one of the few good balance transfer offers marketed to students.

There’s no annual fee, so you won’t have to pay for the convenience of that intro rate. And there’s a decent rewards program too:

  • 3% cash back on gas
  • 2% cash back at:
    • grocery stores
    • wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Signup bonus: $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in the first 90 days after account opening
  • Redemption bonus: 10%+ bonus for redeeming cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account

Not all students buy a lot of gas and groceries, but if you do it could make sense to have a credit card specifically for those purchases. This card would work well for that, in addition to the long intro rate you’ll get. And there’s a nice signup bonus too.

If you’re already a Bank of America bank account holder you have an extra incentive to apply for this card. That 10% bonus means you’d be getting 3.3%, 2.2%, and 1.1% cash back for those purchases.

Cardholders will have access to their FICO 8 Credit Score, based on their TransUnion credit report. This is a pretty common feature, and it’s the same as the two cards above. For anyone who’s new to the world of credit, like most students, this is a great benefit to explore because it can teach you a lot about how credit works.

Best for International Students or No Credit History

Deserve Edu Mastercard
Apply Now

Deserve Edu Mastercard

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 20.49% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • 1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases
  • Deserve will pay for Amazon Prime Student, get free Video, Music, and Reading (Up to a life-time total of $59)
  • Up to a $5,000 credit line
  • $0 annual fee
  • No security deposit or co-signer required (No SSN required for international students)
  • Builds credit history
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted with no foreign transaction fees
  • Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Price Protection, Travel Assistance, ID Theft Protection, Extended Warranty and Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver

The Deserve Edu Mastercard (Review) is easier to get for international students because it doesn’t require a SSN to apply.

It also doesn’t require a traditional credit history, and will check more than the typical factors when you apply. Beyond just your credit and current financial status, Deserve will also check your education level and future earning prospects when making their decision.

This gives more people a better chance of being approved. If you’re just entering the world of credit and have no credit history at all, you’ll find it difficult to qualify for that first credit card or loan. Deserve knows that, so they designed a product to help people get out of that situation and build a good credit profile.

In addition to getting a foot in the credit door, cardholders also get some modest rewards and benefits:

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • One free year of Amazon Prime Student membership

This card isn’t very rewarding, but the main point of using it is to build up your credit. The Amazon Prime Student membership is a nice feature, however. It typically costs $59 per year, and has the potential to save you a lot of money in free shipping and discounts, if you use it a lot.

The Deserve Edu doesn’t offer access to any of your credit scores. But you can still use Discover’s Credit Scorecard, even if you’re not a Discover cardholder.

If you’re a student without an established credit history, this card might be one of the best ways to start building a record of positive activity.

Looking for an alternative way to build credit for immigrants to the U.S. who don’t have a SSN? Check out personal loans from Stilt.

Runners Up

Most credit card issuers offer a card or two designed for college students, although not all. American Express does not currently offer any student cards, and neither does Chase.

The following cards aren’t necessarily the very best. But they may be right for you if you can’t get approved for any of the cards above. In some cases they may offer something that the others don’t, like a particular reward category or a credit limit increase.

 

  • 2X points on dining and entertainment
  • 2,500 bonus points for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months, then 16.49%–26.49% Variable

 

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.
  • No annual fee
  • 1.25% cash back for on-time payments
  • Higher credit line after 5 on-time payments

 

  • No annual fee
  • 3% cash back on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for 6 months
  • 0% intro APR for 6 months

 

  • Not a student card but designed for people with limited credit history
  • No annual fee
  • 3% cash back on travel and entertainment

 

Why Building Credit Is Important for Students

Credit history can have a big impact on your future. Your credit history is important for getting credit cards and loans, but can also influence things like renting an apartment, getting insurance or even getting a job.

As you start out your credit-building journey, you could go one of three ways:

  1. Make credit mistakes: With no credit history established and little-to-no understanding of how credit works, it’s easy to rack up debt or do major damage to your credit history that can last for years. For example, let’s say you apply for a store credit card. Maybe you don’t understand how paying the bill works, and end up spending up to the credit limit on that card. Then you only pay the minimum due, which costs you a lot of money in interest. Then, you pay two months late, resulting in a negative item on your credit reports that will last 7 years. Frustrated, you pay off the card and close it, ending the life of an account that could have been your key to a long average account age. Now, several years later, you want to rent an apartment. But no landlords will rent to you because of your poor credit history. People make these types of mistakes every day, but if you arm yourself with the knowledge of how credit works you don’t have to end up like them.
  2. Avoid credit completely: It might be appealing to avoid credit cards. You might pay cash or use your debit card for everything. Maybe you even think when you choose “credit” for a debit card purchase that you’re building credit (you’re not). For some people who can’t control their spending it might make sense to avoid credit cards, but time is valuable in your credit history. If you later decide you want to build credit, you’ve missed out on years you could have been building up your credit history.
  3. Build credit responsibly: You learn how credit reports and credit scores work, and how credit cards or other types of loans impact your credit. You know that building credit doesn’t have to cost you any money at all, and that it’s possible to build credit without being in debt. You use this information to start building a positive credit history now. This puts you in great shape for the future and ahead of your peers who, possibly unknowingly, took path #1 or #2.

Ready to get started?

It’s not hard to get started down path #3. If you’re a student, you may already have student loans. As long as you’re paying those on time you’re likely already building positive credit history. But there’s more to it than just paying bills on time.

Start Here: The Definitive Guide to Building Credit with Credit Cards

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide that covers how to build credit, and specifically how credit cards help you do that. Once you read the guide, please email us with any questions you have and someone from the team will get back to you right away.

What Are Student Credit Cards?

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 are a student — it is possible to get other cards with little or no credit, like secured credit cards. But you also may be able to get a the best cash back credit cards or travel credit cards, especially if you have established some credit already.

What Makes a Great Student Card?

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

  • Annual fee: If you’re new to credit cards, you’ll probably want to start with a card that doesn’t have an annual fee. Sometimes, paying an annual fee can be worth it to get extra benefits. But when you’re just getting started you can stick to the basics and find a card that won’t cost you anything just to have. Luckily, student credit cards don’t usually have an annual fee.
  • Rewards program: Some student credit cards earn rewards, and credit card rewards programs vary. For example, some cards provide a flat cash back rate, like 1%, on all purchases. Other cards give more rewards in certain categories, like 3% cash back at gas stations, as the BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students does. Sometimes, the categories that earn more rewards rotate, like with the Discover it. Consider what categories you spend the most money in to determine what card would allow you to maximize rewards. If you can’t get approved for the most rewarding card, however, it’s not a huge deal because you can still build credit with any card. Then you can apply for a more rewarding card in the future.
  • Extra benefits: Many credit cards come with extra benefits, like extended warranties on purchases. These are usually pretty similar from one card to the next, so it might not factor into your decision of what card to apply for. But you should still look over the benefits of any card you’re considering so you can figure out how to make the most of it.
  • Free credit monitoring service: Many credit card issuers today offer a free credit monitoring tool, which is very useful for anyone working to build up their credit. This will typically be a FICO 8 Credit Score, but sometimes a VantageScore 3.0. In either case you can monitor that score and learn how to improve your credit over time.
  • Interest rate: NOT! We recommend you pay your balance in full every month. If you do that the interest rate doesn’t matter, since most credit cards provide a grace period and won’t charge any interest as long as you pay in full. Many people consider interest rates when shopping around for credit cards, but that assumes you’ll be carrying a balance for a long period of time. There are other factors to consider before the interest rate if you’re not going to carry a balance. Sometimes emergencies happen and you might have to carry a balance, but in that case you should be paying it off aggressively, to get back to being interest-free.
  • Ability to study abroad: Traveling outside the country to further your education and broaden your horizons? Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees so you won’t be charged extra for every purchase. Some cards charge a fee of up to 3%, and that’s a cost you don’t need to pay if you have the right card.

When you start your search for a student credit card, or really any credit card, you might think all the different options seem similar. It’s not just you — the credit card business is very competitive, so companies are always trying to catch up with or out-do one another in their credit card offerings.

When you’re just starting out, make sure you understand the basics of how credit cards and building credit work. That’s the same for pretty much every credit card. Then, look through your options and make a decision about a card that seems like a good fit for you. If you don’t get approved for you first choice, you could try for your second choice, or explore other options for your first card. It’s also a good idea to check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards already.

The Biggest Credit Mistakes That Students Make

Here are a few common mistakes students make with credit cards. If you’ve read our guide to building credit with credit cards, you’ll understand why all of these are big mistakes. If you haven’t, go read the guide now!

Getting Credit Cards Without Understanding How They Work

While there is some mystery around the credit approval and credit scoring process, there is nothing mysterious about using credit cards responsibly (check out our guide to responsible credit use here).

Credit cards are deceptively easy to get and to use, but they are serious financial tools that will affect your life. There is no licensing process that requires you to pass a test proving you are knowledgeable enough to use a card; it’s up to you to inform yourself about the benefits and hazards of credit cards.

Carrying Debt

According to a survey by Fidelity, 25% of students who graduated in 2013 carried credit card debt with them, at an average of $3,000 per graduate. This is very high, especially considering that most students (70%) who graduated that year also left with student loan debt, at an average of over $35,000.

Carrying high balances on your credit cards doesn’t just cost you money. If your balance is high relative to your credit limits, that can have a strong short-term negative impact on your credit scores.

We recommend paying off your new credit card balance in full each month by the due date. If you need help understanding how credit card bills work and how much you should pay, see read this guide. You should always consider a credit card purchase as being made with your own money that you have in your possession right now, which leads to the next mistake.

Buying Things They Can’t Afford

Credit cards can increase impulse spending, giving some people the urge to spend money they don’t have. That’s exactly what a revolving credit limit allows someone to do.

The first way to combat this tendency is to be aware of it. Next, think of your credit card as being intimately linked to your bank account: do you have enough money in your bank account right now to pay for this purchase you’re considering?

You may even consider paying your bill every week, which is fine with most credit card issuers. You’ll be able to keep any eye on how much you’re spending week-to-week compared to how much cash you have available to pay your bill, so you can make spending adjustments for the next month, if necessary. You may not build credit as quickly if you pay off your balance in full before the statement is generated, though.

Paying Only the Minimum Payments

Every month you’ll get a statement from your credit card issuer detailing the previous month’s activity. The statement will show you the full amount you owe (statement balance) as well as a “minimum payment” or “minimum due” amount, which is usually rather small, around 1-5% of what you owe.

It’s a mistake to think that you can pay just the minimum amount each month and be worry-free. Your bank will likely be very happy if you only pay the minimum, though, because you’ll be paying them a lot of extra money in interest.

The bank is not on your side with the minimum monthly payment calculation. That number is not the bank telling you how much you should pay. It’s only the minimum amount they’re willing to accept to keep your account in good standing. The remaining balance will accrue interest each month with most credit cards, which will end up costing you a lot of extra money in the long run.

We recommend always paying your balance in full every billing period. This will let you completely avoid interest on purchases, and it will be good for your credit utilization too. If you ever have any questions about student credit cards or building credit as a student, use the Ask button in the top right to ask someone your question now, or contact us here.

Laws in Place to Protect Students from Predatory Marketing

If you’re under 21, there are laws that may make it more difficult for you to get a credit card. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (informally referred to as the “CARD Act”) helps protect students and consumers under the age of 21 from fraud.

Credit card issuers must now:

  • Obtain proof of income before issuing a credit card to consumers under 21 years of age. If you don’t have an income, a credit card co-signer is required in order for the application to be approved. If you’re looking to get a credit card without a co-signer and you’re under 21, one option is to simply get a job so you can have your own proof of income. Another option is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, which can help you build credit using an existing credit card account so you don’t have to apply on your own or provide proof of income.

  • Obtain prior consent before sending pre-approved credit card offers to anyone under the age of 21.

  • Obtain written permission to increase credit limits on accounts with co-signers for accountholders under the age of 21.

  • Cease all predatory lending practices and aggressive marketing tactics on or near college campuses.

If you’re looking to get a card, see our guide to building credit with credit cards to explore some options for your first credit card.

More Student Resources

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John Ganotis

John Ganotis

Updated Nov 01, 2018

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