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Best student credit cards of September 2021

Rewards, perks and a chance to build your credit with responsible use of a credit card. CardRatings editors compare the best student credit cards.
Jennifer Doss, CardRatings Editor Last Updated, September 20, 2021

Best student credit cards of 2021

TOP STUDENT CREDIT CARDS

The relationships you build with banks during college can directly impact future life events such as the job offers you'll get, the kind of credit card deals you'll qualify for, and the amount of interest you'll pay on a home or car loan. Because of this, establishing a healthy credit history as a young adult has never been more important, and is why we are bringing you our top picks for the best student credit cards from our partners. 

Student credit cards often have low fees, reasonable APRs and perks that appeal specifically to college students. Some even offer cash-back or other rewards programs that can help with school expenses, accumulate miles toward a spring break trip or study abroad experience or just put more money in your pocket for the things that you love.

Choosing a student credit card can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. You need to understand your goals, your current credit score/history as well as having a firm grasp on your budget. And it should go without saying, but it's important so we'll say it anyway: You also MUST have the responsibility and maturity to treat your credit card like cash; meaning that you only spend within your budget and don't go overboard trying to earn rewards or show off your spending power to impress your friends.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR CASH-BACK REWARDS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
You're a busy college student, so no one can blame you if you don't have time to keep up with a complicated credit card rewards structure. This card offers straightforward rewards for all your eligible purchases – no caps, categories or activations to worry about.

The Bonus: There isn't a traditional bonus with this card

The Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

The Rewards: Earn a flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase.

Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited

PROS:

  • This card has no annual fee
  • Easy-to-understand rewards that don't expire for the life of the account
  • Be considered for a credit line increase in as little as six months

CONS:

  • No welcome bonus
  • High APR of 26.99% (Variable)

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR GAS PURCHASES

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
This cash-back credit card offers a cash-back rate of 2% on up to $1,000 per quarter in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants. You'll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Also, once you're a cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they are approved. You can stash your rewards until it's time to pay for textbooks, or just use those credits toward a semester's-end splurge.
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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 - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they're approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
See More

PROS:

  • You can pay the bill up until midnight on the day it's due. It's never pleasant paying a credit card bill at, say, 5:37 p.m., only to realize that you were supposed to pay it by 5 p.m. and now have a late fee.
  • You can earn cash back on purchases you likely make quite often. 
  • If you have a credit score that's considered fair (somewhere in the 600s), you'll probably be able to get this card.

CONS:

  • Discover isn't as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard, and so that's always something to consider.
  • This is a really good student credit card, and so it's hard to find much to criticize. The late fee can be up to $40, while most credit cards charge up to $39.

Read our full Discover it® Student chrome review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 86.3 81.1
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.7 8.2
Customer Service 8.6 8.0
Website/App Usability 8.5 8.3
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 8.6
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.6 7.8

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR DINING OUT

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
A big part of the college experience for many students is hanging out with friends and exploring their new college town. You might as well earn top-notch rewards on those dining out and entertainment purchases along the way.

The Bonus: There isn't a traditional bonus with this card

The Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

The Rewards: Earn 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, select streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart). Earn 1% back on other purchases. Plus, earn 8% back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.

Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited

PROS:

  • This card has no annual fee, nor foreign transaction fees
  • Excellent cas-back earning on everyday spending categories
  • Responsible use can help improve your credit

CONS:

  • No welcome bonus
  • High APR of 26.99% (Variable)

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS

4
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
This card is loaded with extra perks that could come in handy for students, such as reimbursement of up to a lifetime total of $59 for your Amazon Prime Student membership as well as included cellular phone insurance up to $600. It is also one that is avialable to people with a Social Security number, making it a solid choice for foreign students.

The Bonus: Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles with your EDU card, plus enjoy complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600.

The Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

The Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on every purchase you make.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Limited History, No Credit History

PROS:

  • Some helpful perks that come standard with Mastercard, including car rental collision damage waiver, price protection, extended warranty, travel assistance services and ID theft protection.
  • A high credit line is possible, as high as $5,000. Unless you're a big spender and make a lot of money, you're unlikely to be given that much credit. Still, if you want a high credit limit, this card may be able to give that to you.
  • No annual fee, which tends to be the case with student credit cards. Still, that's helpful to know and a good reason to get a student credit card rather than one for designed for people beyond their college years.

CONS:

  • While the APR isn't insanely high, it isn't insanely low either. So be careful about carrying a balance with this card (or any card, for that matter)
  • Balance transfers and cash advances can't be done with this credit card, and they can with most credit cards. But balance transfers and cash advances are easy ways to wreck your credit if you aren't careful. So, really, take this as a win. You're better off without them.

Read our full Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 70.7 Did not survey
Features Satisfaction 7.0 n/a
Customer Service 7.2 n/a
Website/App Usability 7.0 n/a
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 7.8 n/a
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 6.8 n/a

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR INTRO APR OFFER

4
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Besides offering high cash-back reward possibilities, this card also offers an introductor six months 0% APR on purchases (then, 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR), which isn't a common feature of student cards.
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they're approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
See More

PROS:

  • The on/off switch that the credit card provides, which prevents new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers, instantly, is a nice touch, if you're worried about identity theft.
  • And if you're really worried about identity theft, you may appreciate that the card will send you an alert (if you activate the feature to send alerts) if your Social Security number is found on any Dark Web site.
  • Earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they're approved.

CONS:

  • If you're understandably more focused on school than credit card rewards, you might forget to activate your cash back bonus categories.
  • About the quarterly categories, they're the same for the student card as they are for Discover's other cards that follow this rewards structure; that means the categories aren't necessarily geared toward typical student purchases.

Read our full Discover it® Student Cash Back review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 82.4 83.0
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.2 8.3
Customer Service 8.2 8.1
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 8.8
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.1 8.3

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD FOR LOW INTEREST

4
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Reasonable APRs aren't common on student cards, but this one checks that box. The rewards aren't stellar, but the APR means this card makes our list. Plus, this is a good chance to begin building a relationship with Chase as a student, knowing that Chase offers numerous excellent cards you may want to consider down the road.

The Bonus: Get a $50 bonus after making your first purchase in the first three months.

The Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fees: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

The Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on all eligible purchases. Additionally, earn a $20 Good Standing Reward each account anniversary for up to five years.

Credit Needed: Fair, Good, Excellent

PROS:

  • This is a cash-back card, but the rewards actually come through as Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which gives cardholders a nice opportunity to explore a popular rewards currency via a student card.
  • This is an excellent APR for a student card; mind you, it doesn't mean you should carry a balance, but it's nice that the APR isn't through the roof just in case you do.
  • Earn a credit limit increase after making five monthly payments on time (within 10 months of account opening and when meeting credit criteria).

CONS:

  • Foreign transaction fees mean that this isn't going to be a great traveling companion when you head overseas.
  • The rewards earning isn't stellar. If rewards are your primary goal, there are better student cards out there.

Read our full Chase Freedom® Student credit card review.

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

BEST CREDIT CARD FOR ENCOURAGING RESPONSIBLE HABITS

4
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Your first credit card is opportunity to set patterns and establish habits and credit history that will follow you throughout your life. We like that this card offers a boost to your cash-back rewards earning, as well as a statement credit for select streaming subscriptions, when you pay your bill on time.

The Bonus: It's not a traditional bonus, but you can earn extra cash back and even $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming subscriptions when you pay your bill on time.

The Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

The Rewards: Cardholders earn 1% cash back on every purchase, regardless of the category, and can boost cash back to a total of 1.25% each month just for paying on time. Also, if you pay on time, you can earn $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming subscriptions.

Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited

PROS:

  • Renting a car? If you rent one with this card, you'll get auto rental insurance.
  • You can set the date you want to make your monthly payments. Many other credit cards will choose the due date for you.
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming subscriptions when you pay on time.

CONS:

  • Like many cards, this card has a fairly high APR and is not a card you want to carry a balance on. That said, you really don't want to carry a balance on any credit card. It's not great for your credit score, if you do that, and it's expensive.
  • This card has no signup bonuses.

Read our full Journey Student Rewards from Capital One review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 80.9 80.6
Rewards Program Satisfaction 7.9 7.9
Customer Service 8.3 8.0
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.0
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.4 8.4
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.1 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

WHAT IS THE BEST CREDIT CARD FOR STUDENTS?

The best student credit card for you depends on your needs and wants with a credit card. Do you need a card to use during a semester abroad? Look for a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. Do you want to earn great cash-back rewards on your purchases? Check out your budget and where you spend money and choose a card that offers cash back on those purchases.

Charles Blankson, Professor of Marketing"Today's students can be surprisingly savvy when it comes to credit card use," says Charles Blankson, a professor of marketing at the University of North Texas. Blankson says his research has shown students tend to value four main things when it comes to credit cards:

  1. Enhanced buying power. Credit cards provide convenience when it comes to shopping, paying for necessities and travel. It is far easier to use a credit card than to write a check.
  2. Establishing credit. Students understand they will rely on credit when it comes to buying a car and later buying a home. They want to begin building a good credit history while they are in school because they know they will need it as they advance through life.
  3. Incentives. Young people appreciate valuable incentives associated with using credit cards to pay for things they need. Cash back is very appealing to students and getting points for groceries or travel-related purchases helps them get the most for their money. Students have commented, "They pay me to use the credit card, so it makes sense to take advantage of that."
  4. Customer service. Being able to pick up the phone and speak live with a real person actually matters to students. Credit card issuers with strong, personal customer service appeal to young cardholders just as they do to those in older age groups.

Some of the features to look for when choosing a credit card for students include the following:

  • No annual fee. According to credit scoring experts at FICO, the length of your oldest active line of credit can impact your credit score. You can keep a no-annual-fee card open without impacting your household budget for years after you graduate, especially if you don't use it for regular transactions.
  • No co-signer requirement. Although some parents eagerly co-sign on lines of credit with their college-age kids, these arrangements can lead to awkward situations and credit report damage. It's better to take a smaller line of credit on your own than to share a larger pool of potential debt with a loved one. Some banks use proprietary data models – based on your home zipcode, your school or even your major – to estimate your earning potential over the next few years. Remember that if you're under 18, you'll have to find a co-signer. Even if you are 18, you'll need to show proof of income or have a co-signer.
  • Clear communication. College students move frequently and change routines often. Therefore, banks with proactive payment reminders and transaction alerts help keep student borrowers from triggering late fees and penalties (and thereby damaging that baby credit you're trying to nurture).
  • Bonus perks and privileges. Instead of settling for the first offer you see, hunt for special deals that can earn rewards for the types of purchases you make often.
  • Rewards or rebates. It's a great time to learn how to use credit cards as tools for financial security instead of getting into debt. Rack up the biggest rebates when you behave as though your credit card is a debit card and pay your balance off in full every month.
  • A "graduation" program. The best student credit cards offer paths for cardholders to graduate into their full-service products after a year or two of responsible usage.

CAN A STUDENT GET A CREDIT CARD?

Potentially, yes - if you're over 21. Times have changed. It used to be that if you were an 18-year-old college freshman, you'd be walking around campus, and you'd see a student credit card information table with two or three people manning it and handing out free T-shirts, hats, coupons and more to get everyone's attention - and, hey, would you like to sign up for a credit card?

You would, because that sounded like a good idea even though you didn't have a job, but, hey you worked over the summer, so that counts, right? Or maybe you had a part-time job at the dorm store.

So college students, many of them freshmen, signed up for credit cards en masse without really thinking about it, and soon it became common to graduate not only with student debt but credit card debt as well - and lots of it.

So… are you saying college students shouldn't get credit cards?

Not at all. But you learn how to drive a car before you're given free rein on the interstate. If you take a summer job at a restaurant or in an office setting or anywhere, you generally get some training first. You get lessons before you swim. Universities are all about education and for decades college kids were being handed credit cards without any financial education on how to use them. Fortunately, colleges are offering more personal finance courses that provide student credit card information than they used to.

Things began changing in a big way with the Credit CARD Act of 2009 (CARD stands for Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure). Now, if you're under the age of 21, you have to prove that you have the independent income (your own job), or you have to get a co-signer, like a parent, who will be responsible for getting the debt paid if you fall behind. The CARD Act also forbids credit card companies from marketing to anyone under the age of 21.

Of course, none of this means that you can't be a college student and still get in trouble with credit cards - but at least it's a bit harder to get in trouble.

WHO SHOULD GET A STUDENT CREDIT CARD?

If you're responsible with money, there are a lot of good arguments for getting a student credit card when you're still in college - the central one being that you can get a jump on building good credit, which will help you get better terms on loans down the road, not just for additional credit cards but a mortgage, a car loan, a business loan and so on.

"I definitely recommend that responsible college students open up a low-limit credit card account in their freshman year," says Lyn Alden, the owner of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy in Atlantic City, N.J. "Spend with it occasionally, never carry a balance and pay every bill on time. That way, by the time they graduate college in four years or so, they'll have a 4-year-old account with a perfect payment history and that will give them a great head start for building their credit score."

Jeff White, a finance writer at the business website Fit Small Business, agrees. In fact, he says: "Every college student should have a credit card, regardless of their financial situation."

WHY IS IT WISE TO BUILD CREDIT AS A STUDENT?

Students who build credit while in college graduate with a head start on their personal finances during their young professional years. During college, many students have the benefit of a financial safety net in the form of their parents, which means that even if they do make a few personal finance mistakes, their parents can possibly help bail them out and guide them toward not making the same mistakes in the future.

You credit history and score will follow you throughout your life and play a role in whether you can get future loans or mortgages, whether you qualify for certain credit cards, how much you pay on some insurance premiums and even, in some cases, whether you're hired for a job.

Taking an opportunity to build your credit while still a student means that you can start your professional years with one less worry on your mind.

CREDIT CARD OPTIONS FOR STUDENTS

We've mentioned two ways already, but let's go into a bit more detail about credit cards available to you and the information you need to know about each option: 

Apply directly for a credit card. If you have a job, even a part-time one, you can apply for a credit card and depending on the issuer, you may be granted one. Just do yourself a favor, and only apply if you feel like you're going to have this income for quite awhile. There's a reason for the CARD Act's existence, after all. If you have a credit card, but you don't have steady income, and you use that credit card, you're going to make it awfully easy to get yourself in financial trouble.

Now, if you're denied for your first-choice card, you might want to consider applying for a secured credit card. Those can be excellent vehicles for building credit, but they do require you to put down a cash deposit - and if you're a college student, extra cash may be in short supply.

Ask a parent to co-sign a credit card for you. You and your parents really want to think about this for awhile. Especially your parents. If things go south because you've spent more on the card than you can pay back, your co-signer is just as much on the hook as you are to pay the bill. If they don't have deep pockets, you could get them in a financial mess, which is presumably the last thing you want to do. Again, it really comes down to how responsible you are with money.

Ask your parents to make you an authorized user of one of their cards. This is probably the best strategy - again, provided you're responsible with money. Just as it sounds like, instead of applying for your own, you're able to use your parents' credit card. Your parents may feel a little less pressure in this scenario than they might co-signing a credit card.This is their card, and they can monitor every purchase you make. It helps everyone - it's kind of your version of training wheels for a credit card. You can learn how to use a credit card and get the benefits of your parents' credit score. Assuming they have a healthy credit score, that may help yours, too. It doesn't necessarily make it much easier to get your own credit card down the road, since future lenders recognize that authorized credit card users (you, in this case) aren't actually responsible for paying the bills. But being an authorized user will usually benefit your credit score, especially if up until this point, your credit score and history were basically non-existent.

"By becoming an authorized user on my father's credit card when I was in high school, and then opening my first credit card account right before my freshman year of college, I had a credit score over 800 by the time I graduated," says Alden, who is 29.

Generally, the worst credit scores can be as low as 300. The best is 850.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STUDENT CREDIT CARD AND A REGULAR CREDIT CARD?

If you're wondering if you can get a regular, non-student credit card if you are a college student, you can. There's no rule prohibiting that.

That said, a student credit card is designed for first-time users who are in college. Some of these cards offer cash back rewards for good grades, many have lower fees or even waive some fees when you're late, and they generally don't have an annual fee, whereas many of the best regular credit cards do.

In other words, a student credit card generally factors in the fact that you've just started using credit cards - and they tend to be a little easier on you if you make a mistake.

HOW TO GET A STUDENT CREDIT CARD

Under current banking regulations, students must wait until after they reach age 18 (in most cases) to apply for a credit card in their own name. Even then, a student must show that he or she has access to enough income to pay the card's potential balance before they will qualify for an offer. Therefore, even the best credit card for students might not have the highest limit or the lowest annual percentage rate.

WHAT IS THE EASIEST STUDENT CREDIT CARD TO GET?

Good question, but it's the wrong question to ask. Much of the "easy factor" with applying for a student credit card depends on your credit history, credit score and your financial situation. What might be an easy student credit card for you to get - could be a difficult reach for somebody else.

So rather than focus on looking for the easiest credit card to apply for, you'll want to think about the various factors that a lender will consider - and then look for a student credit card that seems like a good fit for you. What are those factors?

Your job history. Credit card issuers like to loan money when they know they'll get it back. It's a weird pet peeve of theirs. We laugh about that now, but for several generations, credit card companies would give a credit card to pretty much any 18-year-old with a pulse, regardless of whether they had an income. Then that 18-year-old would rack up credit card debt and get into serious financial trouble.

The government eventually got involved with something called the Credit Card Act of 2009, which made the rules for lending more strict. This is a good thing though as there's a good chance you're already going to be in debt with student loans. Piling credit card debt on top of that won't help anything. So if you're going to get a credit card, you either need a job that pays enough that you can pay off the credit card every month - or your parents need to agree to pay it off every month. You simply don't want a credit card without a source of income.

Your credit score and credit history. Have you ever borrowed money from a financial institution? If the answer is no (the Bank of Mom and Dad doesn't count, in this case), you may not have a credit score or credit history. If you were an authorized user on one of your parent's credit cards, however, you do have a credit history, and if your parent's credit history is good, yours probably isn't too bad either. If your parents were constantly missing payments while you were an authorized user, on the other hand, your credit history may not be so hot. In any case, if you have a good credit score and history, you'll probably have an easy time getting a student credit card. If you have a bad credit score and spotty history, you'll likely have a tougher time. If you have no credit history, it really depends. Some student credit cards take that into account, and if you have a way to pay them back it may not matter if you don't have a credit history.

WHAT IS THE BEST CREDIT CARD FOR A STUDENT TO USE WHILE STUDYING ABROAD?

In short, any student credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee.

If you're going to study abroad and your student credit card does have a foreign transaction fee, then you really should think about applying for a for a different credit card, one without this fee. Foreign transaction fees are usually around 3%, and are charged on any purchase made in a foreign currency. This may not seem like much, but say you spend three months in Rome, and use your credit card for dining and grocery store purchases, spending $500 with your card each month that you're there. On those purchases alone you're looking at an extra $45 in fees. That's $45 that could instead go towards say, your next moped rental, or several extra cups of gelato.

USING YOUR CREDIT CARD: BEST PRACTICES

You've probably heard this over and over from your parents, but it bears repeating. And, sure, this is important for everyone to consider, but it's especially important to remember for a college student who may often be cash-strapped:

Don't overspend. To help you do that, it's best if you look for credit cards with small credit limits, White says.

And then, he adds, "Use the card to pay for something every month that you're going to paying for, anyway. If you have a utility bill that can be paid online with a credit card, then use yours. It's a great way to build credit by showing that you don't maximize credit limits and that you make payments on time."

Don't get too many credit cards. You may feel as if you can apply for more than one card if your credit is good and you have a pretty decent stream of income. Certainly, every college student's situation will be different, but as a general rule, you'd do well to follow White's advice.

"You don't want to get yourself in financial trouble with a credit card, which is why I don't recommend getting as many cards as you can qualify for," he says.

Even if you get several credit cards and pay off the cards every month, you could see your credit score go down, for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons you could see your credit score drop is due to what's known as the credit utilization ratio. Let's say you have a credit card that you're often getting close to maxing out - say you have a $500 credit limit, and you spend about $480 a month on it. To the credit card bureaus, that looks like you're possibly going to get in trouble with your loan at some point. They like to see credit card users borrowing 30 percent or less of the credit limit. If you have multiple cards that you're coming close to the limit on, you look like an even bigger risk.

However, that credit utilization ratio is one reason consumers do get multiple credit cards: to keep the credit utilization ratio down. But, again, you're in college. If you don't have a full-time job yet, your goal is simply to build your credit, so when you get out into the real world, you have a healthy credit score and credit report. Most college students aren't going to need more than one or possibly two credit cards. Plus access to more credit just might be more temptation to spend money you don't have.

Don't sign up for a card that charges an annual fee to use it and read the terms of the card before applying. You wouldn't believe how many people don't know what an APR is. Seek out information on finding the best rated student credit card offers. Read reviews of cards and get the lowdown on perks of various credit cards.

Find credit cards with a low interest rate. This can be kind of tricky. As a college student, you don't have much of a credit history and low rates are typically doled out to consumers with high credit scores. Still, if you can find a credit card with at least a lower interest rate than 25 percent, try to do that. If you don't make your payment within a month, you'll start compiling revolving debt, and you could find it hard to pay it back.

>MORE: Play around with our "Revolving Balance Interest Calculator" so you understand EXACTLY how quickly interest adds up.

That's why White advises looking for student credit cards versus the ones for the general public.

"While you don't plan on getting charged interest rate because you'll pay it off within 30 days, it's still a perfect time to get a low interest rate by getting a special college student card rate, just in case," he says.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T PAY YOUR BILL?

Missing payments on your credit cards can be costly and have serious consequences on your credit history. Some of those consequences include:

    Late fees. Many banks assess a fee when a cardholder fails to make the minimum payment by the due date. That fee does nothing to reduce your balance – it's just extra money you'll owe on top of whatever charges you put on your card.
  • Interest charges. Every dollar you leave on your balance past the due date is subject to an interest charge. Credit card interest compounds quickly, so you could find that your relatively small balance balloons to a mountain of debt if you aren't paying it off regularly (ideally, in full every billing cycle). Even if you can't pay in full, at least make a payment on time to cut down on the balance that will be subject to interest.
  • Penalty APRs. Sometimes missing a payment triggers a penalty APR that means you'll pay a higher interest rate on your balances going forward.
  • Forfeited rewards. Most credit card rewards programs state in the fine print that you could forfeit rewards if your account doesn't remain in good standing.
  • Lost introductory/special rates. Sometimes credit cards will offer a short-term 0% interest period, but most of the fine print states that you'll lose that rate if you miss payments.
  • Credit damage Miss enough payments and your credit score will take a hit. One of the big upsides of having a card in college is the opportunity to build credit before graduation, but you can also damage your credit before graduation if you don't handle your card responsibly.
  • Referral to collections. If you keep running up a bill and failing to make payments, the bank could refer you to a collections agency.

One other thing to keep in mind: If your credit card is co-signed by, say, your parents, your failure to pay a bill on time could also impact their credit score.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR STUDENT CREDIT CARD AFTER GRADUATION

What you do with a student credit card after graduation depends on a number of factors, but the universal advice is DON'T just close the account.

If you opened a card while in college, you've had the past couple of years to build a credit history that shows (hopefully!) consistent on-time payments and responsible use. What has also happened is that you've built a couple of years worth of history just by having the card, and the length of your credit history is an important factor contributing to your score. Closing your card stunts that history, so you're going to want to keep the account open if at all possible.

The problem, of course, is that the card that worked well during your college years probably isn't going to be ideal for your young professional years. So what do you do?

Well, the good news is that some cards will simply roll your account over to a non-student credit card when you graduate. In some cases, this may happen automatically or you may be required to contact the credit card company and request to have your account reclassified. In fact, getting familiar with the product change process and pros and cons is something that will serve you well throughout your life. The new card you change to may offer better rewards, a lower interest rate or any number of other features that your old student card didn't have, and you can have all those things without losing out on that length of credit history you've established.

WHAT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR CREDIT CARD BILL

Your credit card bill is not just a way to know how much you need to pay every month – it also has a lot of useful information to help you make decisions about how you should use your card and any possible fees you could be assessed. You will find the following information on each credit card statement:

  • Account summary: This is the up-to-date information on what you have going on with your card, based on the activity that took place in the most recent billing cycle. Through this section of your credit card bill, you will learn what your current balance is, what interest and other fees you have been charged, how much credit is available, and if there is a past due amount.
  • Payment information: This section includes the minimum payment that must be made by the due date. If this payment is not made on time, late fees will be assessed and your missed payment will be reported to credit bureaus, so it will impact your credit score.
  • Warnings: Your bill will include minimum payment and late payment warnings, which are disclosures that let you know what the ramifications will be if a payment is missed or if the minimum is not paid.
  • Interest: This part of your bill outlines what your annual percentage rate (APR) is and if there have been any changes to that rate. This allows you to see how much interest you are paying every month.
  • Fees: If you have been charged late or over-the-limit fees, as well as an annual fee or transaction fee, in any given billing period, they will be listed here.
  • Transactions: The details of the purchases you made will be listed here. It's important to check this part of your bill to make sure that no fraudulent charges have been made on your account, so you can dispute anything if necessary. You can also get information about balance transfers and cash advances here.
  • Rewards: If you have a rewards card, such as a card with cash back or travel points rewards, what you have earned for each month will be listed in this part of the bill.

ADDITIONAL INFO ABOUT STUDENT CREDIT CARDS

You should know how they work. Sure, that sounds obvious, and we all know to an extent, but plenty of consumers don't really understand the inner workings of the credit cards. It isn't like you're required to take a test before being given a credit card.

For instance, you'll manage credit cards better if you know…

When to pay. Obviously, your credit card statement has a due date, and you want to be pay by then. But, still, you may need to drill it in your head. Pay by the due date, which is generally 21 to 25 days after your credit card statement's closing date. If you pay before the due date, that's an interest-free loan you've been given. If you miss that due date, then there's interest to pay and possibly a late fee. And while that may seem like math that even a 5-year-old could figure out, plenty of frazzled, harried cash-strapped adults have missed their credit card payment deadline. It's easy to imagine a busy college student forgetting a credit card payment deadline as well.

How credit card bureaus come up with your credit score. You know that paying bills on time is important, and you probably won't be surprised to know that it's the most important factor in how your credit score is scored. But it's not the only factor.

Credit utilization ratio, which was mentioned earlier, is the second most important factor. You can pay everything on time, but have credit cards that are essentially maxed out, and your credit score will be dinged.

And the length of your credit history is the third most important factor, which is why many personal finance experts suggest getting a credit card in college, so you don't leave college, and, say, want to buy a car but are hindered in getting a loan because you don't have any sort of credit history.

There are other factors involved - like if you've applied to a slew of credit card and loan offers, the various inquiries for credit, even if you don't take all of them, can lower your score - but the factors above are the most significant to be aware of.

>MORE: Don't just wonder! Find out "How do credit cards work?"

Be aware of the fees that sometimes come with credit cards. The annual fee is the main one to be concerned about. You really want to be careful about getting a credit card with an annual fee. Some credit cards have hefty ones, as much as $300, $400 or even more. A consumer can completely justify spending that amount on an annual fee to use their own credit card if they use their credit card in a way that allows them to take advantage of the perks and amenities that come with rewards credit cards (like collecting airline miles). But if you're a college student with a part-time job, or a full-time job that doesn't pay well, you simply don't need a credit card with an annual fee. (Fortunately, as noted, most credit cards designed for college students are annual-fee-free.) And then, of course, student credit card or not, if you pay late, or you spend over your limit, you may see fees piled onto what you owe.

Cash advances should be avoided. Credit cards offer cash advances, where you can go to an ATM and take out cold hard cash. But the interest payments for them are much higher than what you're buying - and the interest starts right away rather than after a grace period which is what's typical with standard charges.

So you may wonder, why do credit cards offer cash advances if they're so bad, and why would anyone take one?

Well, you could be in a situation in which you're in an emergency - your car is broken down somewhere and you need money for a tow or a mechanic, for instance. There may be some rare times when, yes, it's worth it to get a cash advance, and you'll be glad they exist. But as a general rule, stay far, far away.

But a credit card itself? As long as you've studied up on how to use a credit card and have a stream of income to fund your payments, through a job or an amicable arrangement with the Bank of Mom and Dad, there's no reason to not consider getting one.

Survey Methodology: CardRatings commissioned Op4G in September and October 2020 to conduct surveys among 1,746 cardholders nationwide. CardRatings website analytics from Jan. 1, 2020-Aug. 31, 2020 were used to determine a selection of the most popular cards and additional cards were added to add survey breadth. Responses to each of nine questions were given on a scale of 1-10 and respondents' scores were then averaged under broad topics. To determine the overall score, responses from questions 1-8 were summed and the answer to "How likely are you to recommend this card to a friend, coworker or family member?" was double weighted.

Ranking Methodology: CardRatings experts review the fine print, details, perks, rewards and features of hundreds of cards and compare them side-by-side with similar cards. A card that makes an excellent balance transfer card may not make a great cash-back rewards card even though it offers those rewards. While the Best of the Year list is announced annually, that list – and all other “best of” lists on CardRatings – are regularly reviewed and updated as issuers change the terms and features of each card often.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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