Best Credit Cards For College Students – 2016

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Editor's Best Card Picks

Aug 13, 2015 | Updated Jul 13, 2016

The cards on this page have been chosen from the widest possible selection of cards that we could find when the page was last updated on July 13, 2016. Although Credit Card Insider does receive compensation from some card issuers as advertisers, this does not in any way influence our choice of cards or the order that cards appear on the page. We have attempted to determine the best cards in this category, regardless of our advertising relationship with the issuers.

Learn more about how we rate credit and charge cards.

No Credit Yet?

Most students are new to the world of credit. A student loan or auto loan is often the only item on your credit report, and you haven’t yet established a history of responsible use.

You don’t necessarily have bad credit, but you do have limited credit.

This means that lenders (including credit card issuers) see you as a somewhat risky proposition, and they’ll continue to do so until you prove otherwise.

Consider Student Credit Cards

Thankfully there are a type of credit cards, called student credit cards, that are designed specifically for people like you. Credit card issuers understand that people just starting out won’t be able to qualify for the best cards on the market, and they provide these cards as an easy way in.

Student credit cards are relatively easy to get for young adults with limited credit, and they’ll help you build up your credit score too. If you’re not a student, check out The 3 Best Credit Cards for Young Adults and Young Professionals.

This means that, as long as you commit to using credit cards responsibly, you’ll soon be able to qualify for better cards with better rates, higher rewards, and truly valuable extra benefits (like what you’ll find on rewards cards or travel cards).

Insider Tip: There’s another type of card designed for people with no or poor credit, called secured credit cards. These can be a good option if you can’t get a student credit card, but, if you can get one, it will usually be better to go with a student card rather than a secured card.

Editor’s Picks for the Best Student Credit Cards

Here are our picks for the best credit cards available for college students.

We’ve picked these cards primarily based on their rewards and extra benefits, but they also all come with 0% introductory APRs, which will give you some time to learn how credit cards work before interest might be charged.

Insider Tip: Your student credit card won’t last forever – click here to learn what happens to your student credit card after you graduate college.

Best for Rotating Categories and All-Around Spending

Discover it® for Students

This card has 5% cash back categories which rotate every 3 months, and students are sure to love some of these.

Discover currently has a great offer to new applicants to double the cash back you earn in your first year. (Keep in mind that this is a promotional offer that could end at any time – be sure to check if it’s still available)

This means that the Discover it for Students is currently the most rewarding student card available, with even better deals when you spend in the categories:

Quarter 5% Rewards Category
January to March Gas and Ground Transportation
April to June Restaurants and Movies
July to September Home improvement stores, department stores, and Amazon.com
October to December Amazon.com, Department stores, Clothing stores

You’ll also get:

  • 1% cash back for all other purchases
  • Access to the Discover Deals marketplace, which offers up to 20% at select retailers
  • $20 cash back every year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher (not a big deal, but a nice touch)
  • Double the total cash back you earned after your first year of card usage

New applicants are getting a great deal with this card – notice that, with the offer to double your cash back, you’ll be getting 10% off Amazon.com for 6 months out of the year!

You’ll also be earning 2% cash back for every purchase for that first year, which is the best deal currently available for student credit cards.

Insider Tip: You probably won’t find an application for this card on the Discover website. Instead, you need to apply for the Discover it Chrome for Students card. If you are approved, you can then contact customer service to request the Discover it for Students card.

In addition to all that, you’ll get some nice benefits for people new to the world of credit:

  • A free FICO score every month, as well as credit-tracking tools so you can see your credit grow
  • The Freeze ItSM feature, which lets you easily disable your card to prevent new purchases if you lose it temporarily (and then enable it again when you find it)
  • The ability to cash in your rewards at any time, for statement credits or directly through Amazon.com
  • No late fee on your first late payment
  • No fee for going over the credit limit
  • U.S.-based customer service
  • Pay your bill online or by phone up until midnight of the day it’s due

And the terms are quite good for people with limited credit:

  • No annual fee
  • 0% introductory purchase APR for 6 months, then 12.99% to 21.99% (Variable)
  • 10.99% introductory APR for balance transfers made within 6 months, then 12.99% to 21.99% (Variable)
  • 24.99% APR (Variable) for cash advances (not a great deal, but you should be avoiding cash advances anyway)
  • No foreign transaction fees

Other student cards for general spending:

Journey Student Credit Card: This is another decent card for general spending. Instead of rotating categories, you’ll earn 1.25% cash back for every purchase you make and pay off on time. There’s also a credit tracking service, no annual fee, and some nice extra benefits.

Currently the Discover card above is the best choice because of the double cash back, but if that offer ends then the Journey card will be a much stronger contender.

Discover it® for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 12.99% – 21.99%* 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
  • 0% intro APR* on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99%.
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms & other info by clicking “Apply.”

Best for Gas and Groceries

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

You’ll be buying gas and groceries for the rest of your life, so why not get rewarded for all those purchases?

This card does just that:

  • 3% cash back on purchases of gas
  • 2% cash back on purchases at grocery stores
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases

If you also have a checking or savings account with Bank of America, you’ll earn a 10% bonus whenever you redeem your rewards into that bank account.

You’ll also get:

  • $100 cash back for spending $500 in the first 3 months (only available to people who apply for the card online)

And the terms of the card are great for newcomers to credit:

  • No annual fee
  • 0% introductory purchase APR for 12 months, then 12.99% to 22.99% (Variable)
  • 0% introductory balance transfer APR for 12 months for transfers that occur within 60 days, then 12.99% to 22.99% (Variable)
  • 24.99% APR (Variable) for cash advances (avoid cash advances!)
  • A penalty APR of 29.99% (Variable) which could be applied if you make a late payment (hint: don’t make late payments)
  • A foreign transaction fee of 3%

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 12.99%-22.99% (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, 12.99% – 22.99% 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

Best for Dining and Entertainment

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

If you love to eat out, see movies, and go to concerts and sporting events, this is the card for you.

You’ll earn rewards for spending money on all those things and more:

  • 2 points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment purchases
    • Eligible dining purchases include:
      • Fast food
      • Fine dining restaurants
      • Bars
      • Nightclubs
      • Other merchants that primarily sell food and drink to customers to be consumed immediately
    • Eligible entertainment purchases include:
      • Movie theaters
      • Sporting events
      • Concerts
      • Live performances
      • Amusement parks (including zoos, circuses, and aquariums)
      • Video rental stores and music record stores
      • Museums and other tourist attractions
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

As you can see, the “entertainment” category captures quite a few types of purchases, and the “dining” category should work for anywhere you go out to eat or drink.

Together, these two categories cover a whole lot of the expenses of a typical college student.

This card also has a vast set of additional perks, which can come in very valuable if you make use of them:

  • 2,500 bonus points for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • A Personal Concierge Service, which provides 24/7 assistance for all kinds of non-emergency help (a concierge service is a great find on a student credit card!)
  • The ability to choose your own due date (not a big deal, but a nice feature)
  • The Citi Price Rewind program, which will help you find discounts on items you’ve already purchased
  • Additional offers and discounts through the Citi Private Pass® program
  • Purchasing protections like theft/damage protection and extended warranties
  • Travel protections like worldwide travel accident insurance, trip cancellation and interruption protection, and car rental insurance

And the terms are favorable too:

  • 0% introductory purchase APR for 7 months, then 13.99% to 23.99% (Variable)
  • 13.99% to 23.99% balance transfer APR (Variable)
  • 25.24% APR (Variable) for cash advances (always avoid cash advances!)
  • 29.99% Penalty APR, which may be applied if you make a late or returned payment
  • A foreign transaction fee of 3%

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 13.99%, 18.99%, or 23.99% (Variable)
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership.
  • 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point on other purchases.
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points with this card
  • Redeem ThankYou Points for merchandise, travel rewards, gift cards, cash and more
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No annual fee

Applying For A Student Credit Card

Want to apply for these cards or learn more? Just click the name below.

Discover it® for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 12.99% – 21.99%* 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
  • 0% intro APR* on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99%.
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms & other info by clicking “Apply.”

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 12.99%-22.99% (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, 12.99% – 22.99% 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

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

For People with
No Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 13.99%, 18.99%, or 23.99% (Variable)
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership.
  • 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point on other purchases.
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points with this card
  • Redeem ThankYou Points for merchandise, travel rewards, gift cards, cash and more
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No annual fee

Do you use one of these cards as a college student? How do you like it? How could it be better? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Was this helpful?
  • Jenna

    I love my discover it card, I have the student one and right now Amazon gets 5% cash back and all purchases double at the end of the first year so every transaction is essentially at least 2% cash back. As long as you spend in the rotating categories the savings are great! If you use my link you get 50 bucks cash back for signing up and that is included in the first year double! https://refer.discover.com/s/bdcjb

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