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Best Credit Cards for College Students
Student credit cards are specifically created for college students who have limited credit or who are just starting to build their credit. Roughly 57% of college students have at least one credit card, and for good reason, according to the Majoring in Money 2019 report from Sallie Mae and Ipsos.
“College graduates are more likely to have a credit card in their wallet, but are also the most likely group to say they pay their credit card balance in full each month,” said Julia Clark, senior vice president of Ipsos.
These types of cards typically have low credit limits and charge no annual fees. Students can use them to build a credit history and become more financially responsible. Having a credit card as a student can also be handy in case of emergencies or unexpected accidents when away from home.
These types of cards are great for students who need to book a car rental or hotel room since those activities typically require credit authorization. Student credit cards can also provide valuable college student perks such as cell phone protection, shopping discounts, free shipping on online orders, exclusive event access and more.
Compare the best student credit cards
|Card||Rewards Rate||Regular Purchase APR||Annual Fee||Extra Perks|
|Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® — Best for students with average credit||Get unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase. You can boost cash back to 1.25% every month when you pay back all purchases on time.||26.99 Variable||None|
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard® — Best for building credit||Get access to a higher credit line after making the first five monthly payments on time.||26.99 Variable||None|
Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
Who should get it: The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a solid choice for college students who need to rebuild their credit. The card caters to anyone trying to turn around their credit scores, making it an accessible card for college students who want to develop responsible spending habits.
How to use it: Depending on your creditworthiness, put down a $49, $99, or $200 refundable deposit. Make the minimum required security deposit and you’ll get an initial credit line of $200. You could qualify for a credit line increase at no additional cost if you make your payments on time. Additionally, take advantage of Capital One tools, such as personalized payments and CreditWise®, to set your own due date, view your credit score and monitor your credit profile.
Why you’ll love it:
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® provides access to a higher credit line when cardholders make the first five monthly payments on time. Cardholders can choose their own monthly due date to make payments, as well as a preferred payment method — at a local branch, by check or online.
Things to consider:
- Cardholders are required to make a refundable minimum security deposit of $49, $99 or $200.
- Making the minimum security deposit of $49 only results in an initial credit line of $200, which can be low compared to other cards.
- There are no cash back perks to this card, which has a high ongoing APR.
Pro tip: The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® doesn’t have an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Who should get it: The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has a unique cash back rewards structure. Cardholders get 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases, with the option to earn more. Cardholders who pay off their card on time can earn 1.25% cash back on all purchases made in that month, which can be a great incentive to pay off all purchases on time.
How to use it: Use credit responsibly by paying on time each month to see your 1% cash back boosted up to 1.25%. You’ll also have access to the CreditWise® program to chart the trajectory of your credit score (and make smart, financial decisions accordingly). Since there are no foreign transaction fees, this is a great card to take with you while studying abroad.
Why you’ll love it:
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® can be an effective tool for students who want to build up a strong credit score. After the first five monthly payments have been made on time, cardholders can get access to a higher line of credit.
Things to consider:
- This card comes with a hefty APR, with no intro APR period like other cards offer. Students need to pay off purchases on time in order to avoid building up credit card debt.
- Students who plan to use their credit card often may be able to get more cash back with other student credit cards.
- Late payments are subject to up to a $39 penalty fee.
Pro tip: Make all payments on time to make the most of your cash back rewards structure with the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Who should get it: The Discover it® Student Cash Back credit card provides cash back rewards to students who spend in common categories like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Students who plan to use their credit card for most of their purchases can get 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories after activation, up to the quarterly maximum. All other purchases earn students 1% cash back automatically.
How to use it: With the Discover it® Student Cash Back, take advantage of the cash back at different places each quarter. You can also see where your money is going and improve your spending habits with Discover’s spending tool.
Why you’ll love it:
After using the Discover it® Student Cash Back credit card for a year, cardholders get their cash back earned at the end of the year completely matched. Plus, there are no annual fees or foreign transaction fees to worry about. That’s a nice perk for students who are studying abroad or traveling internationally during the holidays.
Things to consider:
- In order to get the 5% cash back at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Get 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.
- This card lacks additional features like extended warranty or purchase protection features.
- Pay attention to the annual rewards calendar. If the categories aren’t going to align with your anticipated purchases, you may be better off with a different credit card.
Pro tip: If you get a 3.0 or higher GPA, take advantage of the $20 Good Grade Reward statement credit. It is offered every year for up to five years after you get the Discover it® Cash Back.
Discover it® Student chrome
Who should get it: The Discover it® Student chrome may be a good fit if you’re looking for more control over the rewards you earn and hope to avoid paying an annual fee. Cardholders earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 in transactions each quarter. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back.
How to use it: Use this card to dine out with classmates or fill up your gas tank (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter). You’re also able to keep track of your credit score and analyze your spending habits with Discover.
Why you’ll love it:
After the end of the first year of using the Discover it® Student chrome, cardholders get all cash back matched, with no limit to how much you earn. Students can earn a $20 statement credit every year for up to five years after using the card when they have a 3.0 GPA or higher, plus no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees to keep track of.
Things to consider:
- Students could potentially earn higher cash back rewards by using a credit card with higher rates for specific categories.
- There aren’t any extra perks like travel accident insurance or rental vehicle waivers with this card.
- If getting access to a higher credit limit is your goal, this card may be slower to achieve that.
Pro tip: Make sure to use the Discover it® Student chrome to earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Student credit card FAQs
Student credit cards provide a real way to manage money in adulthood during the transitionary period of college life. Whether you’re a parent researching credit cards for your child or you are a new student ready for a credit card, check out these frequently asked questions to help you with your search.
What are student credit cards?
Student credit cards are credit cards designed with financial features that cater to students. While there may be exceptions, the majority of credit cards marketed as student credit cards will require proof of school enrollment when applying. Student credit cards are available to students who are 18 years and older.
Student credit card applicants are likely to have zero or minimal credit history, so student credit cards typically have higher interest rates than consumer credit cards. Anyone with little demonstrated card history is considered a higher risk cardholder.
Student credit cards also tend to have lower lines of credit compared to other credit cards because lenders know students likely have a more limited income. However, some cards increase lines of credit once several payments are made on time.
A student credit card can help students build credit history and increase their credit card score.
How do you get a student credit card for the first time?
Students who are interested in a credit card can apply in person or online. The student will usually have to provide their birthday, social security number, citizenship status, income, school information and monthly rent payment. Approval can take a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the card issuer and whether a security deposit is required.
For students who have no credit, they’ll need to prove they have the assets or independent income available to pay at least a monthly minimum credit card bill. Students can also have a parent or guardian co-sign for a credit card. Students who have bad credit should consider a bad credit credit card designed for rebuilding credit, like the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®.
If a student can’t qualify for a credit card, a family member can look into adding the student as an authorized user on their credit card. If the primary cardholder has good payment history, the authorized user can also get a boost in credit.
What is the minimum age to get a credit card?
Wondering what’s the minimum age to get a credit card? It’s 18 years old. However, students younger than 18 can become an authorized user for another credit card to start building credit.
How can college students establish a credit history quickly?
A way for a college student to establish a credit history quickly is to become an authorized user on a family member’s credit card. If the primary account holder makes responsible payments, that can also positively impact the student’s credit score. Students can be as young as preteens and become authorized users on some credit cards.
Do student credit cards build credit?
Yes, student credit cards build credit. Making payments on time and in full can positively impact a credit score and contribute to credit history. Students using their own credit cards will benefit most by only making purchases they can pay off on time.
What is the easiest student credit card to get?
Before you apply to a credit card, it’s best to learn about the card’s features and consider the credit level required for approval. If a student meets the requirements, the credit card application process is relatively simple.
How to maximize your student credit card
- Compare all rewards before applying. Choose a card that provides the maximum rewards for your spending habits, especially if the rewards rotate quarterly.
- Know your due dates. Making on-time payments is the best way to increase your credit score.
- Take advantage of rewards. If your card offers cash back for a 3.0 GPA, submit your paperwork on time to get those rewards. With some cards, you could earn $100 for getting good grades.
- View your card as a tool. Use your card as a tool for practicing financial responsibility. A recent report by CNBC found 36% of American college students already have more than $1,000 in credit card debt. It’s important to make purchases you can pay off in time.
- Protect your credit score. As you build up your credit score, learn about factors that can bring it down. Applying for too many cards and opening or closing accounts often can negatively impact your score.
Can you pay your student loans with a credit card?
Federal student loan servicers do not allow credit card payments for student loans. If your student loan is through a private firm, you may be able to use a credit card, but transaction fees may apply.
Be careful if you’re considering using a credit card to pay for a student loan because you’re transferring credit card debt to another form of debt, which can have higher penalties and interest. You’ll have to factor in interest rates, fees and rewards to determine what is best for your financial situation.
What to do with your student credit card after you graduate
You may be wondering if you can hold on to a student credit card once you’re no longer a student. The short answer is: yes. If you’re a fan of the student card’s features, you can keep on using the card or simply keep the account open.
Let your lender know you’ve graduated or left college, but that you would like to continue using the card. If you’re working full-time, you may qualify for a credit line. Additionally, you may be able to ask for a lower APR if you’ve been paying your monthly payments on time. You can also ask your current lender to convert your card to a different card once you’ve graduated.
There’s always the option of closing your account, too. But you should be aware that it can negatively impact your credit history and, thus, your credit score. When you close your account, you also decrease your total credit available.
If you determine you want to close your student credit card and move on completely, choose a new card from our best credit cards list and see if one works for your lifestyle.
Please Note: Information about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard, Discover cards and Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® have been collected independently by TheSimpleDollar.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.
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