Best student credit cards of September 2020
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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.
Why We Like It: This card literally gives you something for nothing. That's because this card automatically rounds to the nearest 10 points for every purchase you make. Plus, you'll receive 10% of your points back for the first 100,000 points you redeem each year. (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. Plus, take advantage of seven months no interest on purchases; after the intro period, the APR will become 14.49% - 24.49% (Variable))
The Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: 3%
The Rewards: Busy students need to eat and they need a trip home (or a road trip with friends) from time to time, so we like that this Citi® card offers two ThankYou® Points per $1 at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 spent each year), and offers one ThankYou® Point per $1 on all other purchases.
Credit Needed: Good
- This card has no annual fee.
- You'll receive a 0% introductory APR for purchases for a period of seven months then, 14.49% - 24.49% (Variable).
- Your credit needs to be good, but at least it doesn't have to be excellent. Unlike other credit cards, this credit card is probably within reach for a lot of college students.
- Studying abroad is more expensive with this card due to its 3% foreign transaction fee.
- If you miss a payment, the penalty APR can go up to 29.99% (variable). So it's important that you make your payments
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.
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
- 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.
- 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 review.
Why We Like It: Thanks to 5% cash back each quarter in rotating categories, 1% 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 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years.
The Annual Fee: See Terms
Foreign Transaction Fees: See Terms
The Rewards: When you activate quarterly, earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating categories like gas stations, restaurants, online shopping, or wholesale clubs. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases and on purchases above the quarterly cap.
Credit Needed: Fair, New to Credit
- 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.
- You can earn cash back with this card, which is rare with student cards, especially at 5%.
- If you're understandably more focused on school than saving money, you might forget to activate your cash back bonus categories.
- It's hard to find much to gripe about with this card, so we'll "complain" about the cash advance. They charge $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance. Some cards charge a bit less. (Overall, it's a bad idea, though, to do cash advances on any credit card.)
Read our full Discover it® Student Cash Back review.
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. 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 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years.
The Annual Fee: See Terms
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
The Rewards: 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Credit Needed: Fair, New to Credit
- 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.
- 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.
Why We Like It: With 1% cash back, and a potential for 1.25% cash back on all purchases as well as the opportunity to gain access to a higher credit line in as little as six months, 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 in as little as six months.
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.
Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited
- 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.
- Your card comes with Eno, your Capital One assistant, which allows you to manage your credit card account by text. For instance, you can get alerts when bills are due.
- 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 sign up bonuses.
Read our full Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® review.
WHAT IS THE BEST CREDIT CARD FOR STUDENTS?
The Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card offers college students a credit card that not only comes with a bonus of 2,500 ThankYou Points just for spending $500 in the first three months, but you can also take advantage of a 0% intro period on purchases for seven months (then, 14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)). Not only that, you can earn points on purchases made at supermarkets and gas stations, which can add up, especially since these are fairly common expenses for students. Because of these reasons, CardRatings experts often rank this card as the best credit card for students.
However, the best credit card for you will depend on your situation and the types of purchases you’ll make with the card. 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.
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.
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