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Best credit cards for college students from our partners

By , CardRatings contributor

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College student wearing backpack

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.

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. Below you'll find a list of our editors' top picks for the best credit cards for college students to help you navigate this whole new world of exciting opportunity.


Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

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Why We Like It: With 1 percent cash back, and a potential for 1.25 percent cash back on all purchases as well as the opportunity to gain access to a higher credit line after making the first five monthly payments on time, this is a great first card for students. And with no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and easy redemption tools, this card makes a great companion on campus and on the road.

The Bonus: Cardholders can get access to a higher credit line after making the first five monthly payments on time.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Cardholders earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase, regardless of the category, and can boost cash back to a total of 1.25 percent each month just for paying on time.

Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited


Discover it® chrome for Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

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Why We Like It:  This cash-back credit card offers a cash-back rate of 2 percent on up to $1,000 per quarter in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants. You'll earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. You can stash your rewards until it's time to pay for textbooks, or just use those credits toward a semester's-end splurge.

The Bonus: Get a dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. Plus, earn a Good Grades Reward of $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years.

The Annual fee: $0

The Rewards: Two percent cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Read our full review

Credit Needed: Fair


Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

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Why We Like It: Busy students need to have some fun, too, and we like that this Citi® card offers 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar on purchases at restaurants and entertainment such as sporting events and theatrical performances, and offers 1 ThankYou® Point per dollar on all other purchases. These points do not expire and there is no limit to the amount you can earn. Cardholders can enjoy multiple redemption options, which include gift cards from your favorite retailers as well as travel rewards. You can also use these points to purchase tickets at LiveNation.com and can shop with points at Amazon.com (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser).

The Bonus: Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first three months of opening an account.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Two ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on purchases for restaurants and entertainment. One ThankYou® Point on all other purchases.  Read our full review

Credit Needed: Good


Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

Wells Fargo Cash Back College Visa

Why We Like It: Wells Fargo eases new cardholders into a monthly routine with this card, featuring a 0 percent introductory purchase APR for 12 months (after that, 12.15% to 22.15% (Variable)). This card also features a generous 3 percent cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases for the first six months.

The Bonus: Three percent cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases for six months after opening an account.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Three percent cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases for six months, 1 percent on everything else, and then 1 percent cash back on all purchases after the first six months. Rewards are redeemable in $25 increments to a linked checking or savings account or as a statement credit. You can also request a paper check or elect to redeem your rewards for travel, gift cards and more.

Credit Needed: Limited


State Farm™ Student Visa®

State Farm Student Visa

Why We Like It: Although it might seem weird to get a credit card from your insurance company, State Farm offers one of the lower purchase APR ranges on the market for student credit cards (currently 12.24-19.24 percent variable, based on creditworthiness). If you or your family already insures your car or property through the company, your local agent can help process your application by verifying your income and identity.

The Bonus: Three points for every $1 spent on State Farm insurance premium payments, up to $4,000 annually.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: One point for every $2 spent on all purchases and three points for every $1 spent on State Farm insurance premium payments, up to $4,000 annually. Points can be redeemed for gift cards to popular retailers, e-certificates, travel purchases and eligible State Farm products.

Credit Needed:  Limited


Discover it® for Students

Discover it® for Students

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Why We Like It: Thanks to 5 percent cash back each quarter in rotating categories, 1 percent on all other purchases, and a dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, this card makes it easy for students to put more money in their pockets for school expenses or to treat themselves to the things they love.

The Bonus: Get a dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically, plus, a Good Grades Reward of $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: When you sign up, earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating categories like gas stations, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs. Earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases and on purchases above the quarterly cap. Read our full review

Credit Needed: Fair


Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students

Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students

Why We Like It: Good cash back earning potential, plus a $150 cash-back bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days of opening an account, makes this card a good option for students looking to quickly earn some rewards just for spending money on every day necessities like groceries and gas.

The Bonus: Receive a $150 cash rewards bonus after making at least $500 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening. Cardholders can also get a 10 percent customer bonus every time they redeem cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: This card will earn users 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3 percent on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter, and 1 percent cash back on everything else.

Credit Needed: Limited


Your local bank or credit union

If your family has been banking with a small community bank or credit union, you can leverage that relationship in an attempt to qualify for a no-frills card that doesn't charge an annual fee. However, you don't have to sacrifice features or service when you sign up with a neighborhood bank. Most small financial institutions actually outsource their credit card servicing to companies with nationwide operations.

For instance, a company called Elan Financial Services manages student credit card programs for regional banks such as Comerica Bank, Susquehanna Bank, and Frontier Bank. ICBA Bancard manages similar programs for community banks across the country. Many of these programs use offers, rewards and even marketing collateral that's identical from bank to bank. Check the fine print on your application to learn whether agent banks like these are really issuing your prospective credit card.

Best practices and pointers for choosing the best credit card for students

Under current banking regulations, students must wait until after they reach age 21 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. Instead, look for cards with:

  • 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 21, you'll have to find 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 ot 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.
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