Best credit cards for back-to-school expenses

By , Editor-in-chief

Our credit card articles, reviews and ratings maintain strict editorial integrity; however we may be compensated when you click on or are approved for offers from our partners. How we make money.

Best credit cards for back-to-school expenses

With nearly 20 million American students heading for college and another 55 million kids in K-12 schools, parents often have to scramble for the extra cash necessary to buy books, clothing, backpacks, shoes, and everything else today's students need to succeed in the classroom.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American shoppers spent upwards of $7.4 billion in family clothing stores to get ready for the back-to-school season.

What back to school really costs

American Express breaks down the real costs of going to school in this edition of its nationwide Spending & Saving Tracker study. Over two-thirds of parents surveyed told researchers that they planned to purchase name-brand sneakers and jeans for their children before the first school bell rings this fall. A quarter of parents said they planned to outfit students with new portable computers before sending them off to campus, while two in five respondents revealed a desire to get their kids a good haircut at the end of the summer.  

In total, the average American family of four will spend about $800 to get their kids ready for a new semester, according to American Express. Today's best credit card deals can help you recapture some of that household budget for yourself, or spread out part of those costs over the next few months.

Here are some options that may fit your need if you have back to school shopping or traveling to do.

Best credit cards for back-to-school shopping

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers an exceptional set of year-round rebates that may help you save money during back-to-school season on eligible purchases. No enrollment is required. You can earn 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent). If you plan on making a few road trips back and forth between home and your child's campus (or buying them back-to-school clothes), this card's 2 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores may come in handy. Other eligible purchases you make with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express earn you 1 percent cash back. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees.

Chase Freedom®

This card offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. It card also offers unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Chase has been offering a series of special bonuses to attract new cardholders. At the moment, Chase Freedom® offers new customers a way to get a $150 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

The Chase Freedom® also features a $0 annual fee.

American Express® Gold Card

OK, this might sound like an unconventional pick for back-to-school shopping, since it's usually the card of choice for plane-hopping travelers. Despite its $250 annual fee, this charge card could help you earn Membership Rewards® points if you're sending a child off to a faraway college and you book flights with airlines. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees.

You can earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after spending $2,000 on eligible purchases with the Card within the first three months of account membership, and when you use the American Express® Gold Card, you'll earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X), and 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. Terms apply. 

You can also earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Boxed, participating Shake Shack locations, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required. Terms apply. 

Then, there is a $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline. With no foreign transaction fees, this card is a smart choice both at home and abroad. Terms apply. 

Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more. Terms apply. 

Other great offers worth mentioning are Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card, M&T Visa Signature, and The Upromise MasterCard®.

How to find the best credit card for you

Here are a few tips for choosing the best credit card deal:

  1. Compare credit cards based on their annual fees, their reward structures, and their partner relationships to learn which lender has the best deal for your family.
  2. Because opening a new credit card account can impact your FICO score, look beyond any short-term bonuses and think about how a card can get you the best long-term rewards.
  3. Remember to consider whether issuing an extra card to your college student can help them learn to manage cash responsibly while preparing them for emergencies.
  4. If you partner with your student to handle routine expenses through a single rewards credit card, you can maximize your rewards while eliminating late-night cash transfers.

As with all credit cards, protect your credit history by using them responsibly, reading the agreement carefully before signing up, planning your purchases to maximize any rewards and signup bonuses, and setting a budget and payment schedule that you can handle. 

For rates and fees of the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please see the following links: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); American Express® Gold Card (See Rates and Fees)


Be the first to comment!

Start Here

Search. Compare. Apply.

Featured Partner Cards