Your Guide to College Student Credit Cards and the Best Cards Out There

Should a college student get a credit card?  That’s certainly a heated question.

One the one hand, it’s terribly easy for a young adult to get themselves into credit card debt they may regret years after they graduate. Students loans are bad enough without other debt looming over you.

On the other hand, a credit card can be a great tool to help a college student with their cash flow as well as be a means to build up their credit history early on.  Used wisely a credit card can help a student achieve an excellent credit history and score by the time they graduate.

Sure a student can use cash or a debit card to make payments.  It’s probably a good idea most of the time.  But neither of those options help a student build up a credit history.

Once a college student hits the “real world,” and maybe even before, they may find that their credit score can be used for things as diverse as getting a job, getting a cell phone, or renting an apartment.  Building up excellent credit early on is a clear incentive to have a credit card in college.

It’s Tougher for Students to Get Credit Cards These Days

Your guide to student credit cards

One thing’s for sure, since the CARD Act of 2009 it’s become harder for college students to get credit cards.  Now, if a student is under 21 they need to show proof that they can afford the payments on the card (as much as that makes sense it wasn’t always the case).  If they can’t prove income then another option is to get a co-signer for your card. This isn’t always a great option though since the co-signer, usually a parent, is on the hook for the student’s debt if he can’t pay.

Another option for a college student that wants a credit card is to be signed up as an authorized user on one of his parent’s cards.  The parent can still control the account (and can cut the student off if needed) while the student gets to piggyback on his parent’s card and still build up a credit history.

Why Even Bother With a Student Credit Card and Not a Regular Card?

A student can apply for any card.

But credit cards that are created with college students in mind, student credit cards, will usually have different credit limits and APRs (usually a lower credit limit and a higher APR).  The applications may have questions like:

  • What school are you attending?
  • When is your graduation date?
  • Are you full or part-time?
  • What is your address while at school?
  • Is it a 4 or 2-year degree?
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They will also ask about your income and your ability to pay for your purchases.

student credit card

Credit cards for college students help build up valuable credit history. Some cards will even reward students for good payment habits.

Student credit cards also have rewards that may be designed for a student lifestyle and they can even reward a student for positive habits in taking care of their card (like getting an APR reduction for paying on time).

So a student might have an easier time getting a student credit card vs. a non-student one as well as have rewards that are better suited for him.

A Note On Credit Scores

A college student still needs to have good credit to get a student credit card.  If you already have negative activity in your credit history then you’ll need outside help to get a card.  Don’t know what your credit report looks like?  Check it at the three major credit bureaus for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

You can also get free version of your credit score at Credit Karma and Credit Sesame.

I Get Why a Student Credit Card is Great. Which One is Best for Me?

I’ve reviewed some of the best student credit cards so you have a place to start to see which card is right for you.  This list doesn’t show all cards so if you think there’s one that deserves mention please let me know!

Best Credit Cards for College Students:

Discover it® for Students with $20 Cashback Bonus

Discover it® for Students with $20 Cashback Bonusapply_now_button

This new Discover card aims to make credit cards fair for the people who use them.  That’s great news for students!

You get no annual fee, no over limit fee, no foreign transaction fees (great for when you travel), and no pay-by-phone fee.  Make a mistake and pay late?  Your first late payment won’t have a late fee.* [But really, do what you can to pay on time.] You also won’t see your APR increase for paying late.*

The card is also flexible since you choose your own due date and can pay online or by phone up to midnight ET on your due date.

And then there’s cash back.  You get a generous 5% back in categories that change throughout the year up to the quarterly maximum in purchases.  All other purchases earn you 1%.  It’s easy and free to sign up.  As a student it’s easy to wrack up purchases, what with books and all.  Why not get some cash back for it?

There’s also $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee so you won’t have to pay on unauthorized purchases.  And if you ever need to talk to customer service you’ll get 100% U.S. based service.

Get a jump start on your cashback with a $20 bonus when you make your first purchase within your first 3 months of approval.*   Check Terms & Conditions when applying.

Apply for the Discover it® for Students with $20 Cashback Bonus


Citi Forward® Card for College Students

There’s no cosigner required (see site for details).

Now check this out – you get rewarded for paying on time.  You can earn up to a 2% APR reduction when you make a purchase, pay on time, and stay under your credit limit (see details at site).

Earn ThankYou® points for your purchases.  You get 5 for every $1 you spend at restaurants and on books, movies, and music.  You also get 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

Earn 100 ThankYou Points each billing period you pay on time and stay under your credit line.  Grab another 1,000 bonus ThankYou Points when you sign-up for paperless statements.

There’s also an introductory 0% interest rate for 7 months on purchases (it’s variable after your 7 months are up).  And no annual fee for this card.


Discover it® chrome for Students

Discover it® chrome for Studentsapply_now_button

Discover keeps ‘em coming with the Discover it® chrome for Students.  This version it the ‘it’ card gives students an automatic 2% cashback at restaurants or gas stations up to $1,000 in purchases every quarter.  There’s no signups needed for this.  All other purchases earn you 1% unlimited cashback.

You also get 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months.  After 6 months your APR is variable.

And like the other ‘it’ cards you’re also getting no late fees on your first late payment, no annual fees, no over limit fees, and no foreign transaction fees.  And you’ll also enjoy seeing your free monthly FICO® credit score online and on your statements.  This is a great benefit for students as they can track changes in their credit scores.  Check Terms & Conditions when applying.

Apply for the Discover it® chrome for Students


Citi® Dividend® Card for College Students

This Citi card requires no cosigner to get the card (you will be asked about your income though).

Students will also get the chance to earn cash back on their purchases.

Here’s how it works: You earn 5% bonus cash each quarter on categories like travel, departments stores, and more.     All other purchases earn 1%.  Every quarter you can enroll in new categories that earn cash back (enrollment is free).  You can earn up to $300 per calendar year.

To help students control their spending, Citi has free credit educations tips and tools that you can use.  You also get to choose your payment due date.

There is no annual fee for this card.


Discover it® for Students

Discover it® for Studentsapply_now_button

This Discover it card is similar in many most ways to the Discover it card above.  The main difference is this card doesn’t have the $20 cashback bonus.  Instead you get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months.  After your 6 months you’ll have a variable APR rate from 12.99%-21.99%.

If you are planning on making some big purchases then the 6 month 0% intro APR rate may be really valuable to you (like if you needed to buy books).  As with the other card Terms & Conditions apply so make sure you check the details when you apply.

Apply for the Discover it® for Students Card


CapitalOne Journey Student Rewards Card

This is a card for students with limited or average credit who will get rewarded for their good credit habits.  You get 1% cash back on all purchases and every month you pay your bill on time you get a 25% cash back bonus on the cash back you earned that month.  Your cash back rewards are unlimited and don’t expire.

Students will also get access to their monthly credit score (this is from TransUnion’s New Account Model) and there is no annual fee.

Use Your Credit Card Wisely

Just because you have credit doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Do yourself a favor and only charge what you need to and what you can pay off.  When you max out your credit limit it doesn’t look great on your credit history.  Of course paying late is bad too.

A credit card can be a great tool to have and it can do wonders for building up a great credit score.  But you have to be responsible with it, which I know you will be!

* See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the “Apply Now” button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer’s website. Discover is a paid advertiser of this site.

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Published or updated September 3, 2014.

Comments

  1. Those are some strong credit card offers. It definitely helps to start a credit history as early as possible. It helped me secure a mortgage before I could grow a beard.

  2. Nice reviews – and timely. The kids are heading back to school pretty soon.

  3. Don’t forget the secured cards. I like to think about them like credit cards with training wheels for people that are not used to living with raw unsecured credit yet.

  4. I highly recommend college students opening up a credit card to build up their credit. However, if it is too much of a temptation for said student then I said avoid them at all cost. But if they have self-control and discipline then it is always a good idea to get a head start!

    • Glen Craig says:

      Most new cards don’t have very high credit limits. I remember my first card only had $500. That’s a small enough amount to work on your discipline without getting too out of control. But for some, even that may be too much.

  5. Hi Glen,
    I would agree that having a credit card as a student isn’t a bad idea. It gives them credit history, teaches them responsibility, accountability and discipline if used correctly. Granted I guess that is the catch, “if used correctly”.

  6. Now that is what I call a comprehensive analysis! I would suggest students get a credit card as soon as they feel there is the need to do so. No point in getting them just to have them and to learn things, that should come only when the necessity arises. Plenty of students could go quite far without any credit cards whatsoever!

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