7 Best Credit Cards for College Students – Reviews & Comparison

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Most college students have limited experience with credit cards and other forms of credit. Accordingly, their credit histories are often thin or nonexistent. Therefore, the single most important reason for students to apply for credit cards is to build a positive credit history.

Students keen on building credit quickly need to look for cards that report timely payments to one or more (ideally all three) consumer credit reporting bureaus – and then keep up their end of the bargain by making in-full, on-time payments. The best student credit cards generally have low fees, reasonable APRs, and perks that specifically appeal to college students. A few even have cash back programs that reward spending on gas, groceries, dining out, and other routine purchases. Here’s a look at some of the best options on the market today.

Best Student Credit Cards

1. Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

1% Cash Back on All Purchases; Minimal Fees; Good for Students With Average Credit

capital one journey student rewards cardThe Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One is a low-fee student credit card that’s ideal for students with decent credit and a penchant for cash back rewards. Its biggest benefit is definitely the cash back program, as all purchases earn 1% cash back, with no spending categories or limits. If you make your payments (at least the minimum) on time, you get a 0.25% cash back bonus on all purchases made during the corresponding billing period. You can redeem your rewards as a statement credit or check in $25 increments.

Other perks include an automatic credit line increase after five months of on-time payments, minimal fees, and the perks associated with the Capital One Credit Tracker feature – a great credit educational tool. Drawbacks include a fairly high APR (regardless of creditworthiness) and no balance transfers.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or balance transfer fees (because there is no option for balance transfers). Late payments cost $35. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 3%.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no introductory APR.
  • APR: The variable purchase and cash advance APR is 20.24% for all cardholders, but may vary with prevailing interest rates. There’s no penalty APR.
  • Other Perks: The Capital One Credit Tracker feature gives you free, unlimited access to your FICO credit score, plus a “what-if simulator” that you can use to predict changes in your credit score and debt load based on hypothetical financial actions and events.

See our Capital One Journey Student Rewards Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.


2. Discover it® for Students

$20 Annual Cash Back Bonus for Good Grades; Double Cash Back Rewards in the First Year

discover-it-studentsDiscover it for Students has similar benefits to the standard Discover it card. In particular, it has a nice cash back rewards program, unlike many student credit cards. All purchases earn 1% cash back, with no spending caps or restrictions. Purchases in quarterly rotating spending categories (such as department store or gas station purchases) earn 5% cash back, up to a $1,500 quarterly limit across all active categories. Quarters begin January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st.

You can redeem your cash in any amount as a statement credit, bank account deposit, check, or Amazon purchase credit. Another nice benefit is that at the end of your first year as a cardholder, Discover automatically doubles all the cash back you earned over the previous 12 months. Plus you get an additional $20 cash back every year your GPA stays above 3.0, for up to five years.

One downside is that Discover it for Students is meant for students with good to excellent credit. If you have poor credit or a spotty credit history, you’ll have trouble qualifying.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus, though Discover does automatically double all the cash back you earn during your first year.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. Balance transfers cost 3% of the transferred amount. The cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 5% of the advanced amount. There’s no foreign transaction fee or late fee for your first late payment ($35 for subsequent late payments).
  • Introductory APR: 0% purchase APR for 6 months and 10.99% balance transfer APR for 6 months.
  • APR: After the introductory APR periods end, purchase and balance transfer APR is 13.24% to 22.24%, depending on your creditworthiness and prevailing interest rates. The cash advance APR is 25.24%. There’s no penalty APR.
  • Other Perks: Discover it for Students comes with a free FICO credit score every month. Also, Discover’s Freeze It feature lets you turn off many account features, including the ability to make new purchases and cash advances, at the click of a button.

See our Discover it for Students Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.


3. Discover it® Chrome for Students

$20 Annual Cash Back Bonus for Good Grades; Good for Students With Average Credit

discover-chrome-studentsDiscover it Chrome for Students is very similar to the regular Discover it Chrome card. Its cash back program is a bit different from the Discover it card’s: Dining and gas purchases earn 2% cash back, up to $1,000 per quarter. Dining and gas purchases above this spending cap earn an unlimited 1%. All other purchases also earn an unlimited 1%. You can redeem in any amount as a statement credit, check, bank account deposit, or Amazon gift card.

Like Discover it for Students, Discover it Chrome for Students pays you $20 cash back every year your GPA stays above 3.0, for up to five years. This card’s credit requirements are a bit laxer than its stable mate’s, so students with uneven credit can still apply.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus, though Discover does automatically double all the cash back you earn during your first year.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost 3% of the transferred amount. The cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 5% of the advanced amount. There’s no late fee for your first late payment ($35 for subsequent late payments).
  • Introductory APR: 0% purchase APR for 6 months and 10.99% balance transfer APR for 6 months.
  • APR: After the introductory APR periods end, purchase and balance transfer APR is 13.24% to 22.24%, depending on your creditworthiness and prevailing interest rates. The cash advance APR is 25.24%. There’s no penalty APR.
  • Other Perks: This card’s additional perks are the same as those of Discover it for Students.

See our Discover it Chrome for Students Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.


4. Upromise World MasterCard®

Up to 5% Cash Back on Purchases; $50 Sign-up Bonus

upromise mastercardThe Upromise MasterCard, issued by Barclaycard, is a great choice for students who want to earn cash on everyday purchases. You earn 1% cash back on all purchases, with no spending caps, and 2% cash back on department store and movie theater purchases, also with no spending caps. Additionally, you earn 5%, with no spending limits, on purchases made with the more than 10,000 online retailers, travel companies, and restaurants that partner with Upromise.

You do need to join Upromise to earn these rewards, but it’s free and fast to do so. Once you start earning cash back, you can redeem it in any amount for a statement credit, savings account deposit, student loan payoff, or deposit into a 529 college savings plan. If you have at least $10 in rewards, you can also request redemption via paper check.

Aside from its cash back rewards, the Upromise MasterCard has a nice sign-up bonus. Its APR is average. Drawbacks include fees a bit on the high side, no introductory APR, and high credit standards – the card is meant for students with good to excellent credit.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Get a $50 cash back bonus when you use your card to make at least one purchase within 90 days of opening your account.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount. The cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 5% of the advanced amount. Late and returned payments cost $37. Foreign transactions cost 3%.
  • Introductory APR: 0% APR on balance transfer for 15 months as long as you make the transfer within 45 days of opening your account.
  • APR: After the introductory APR periods end, purchase and balance transfer APR is 14.24% to 23.24%, depending on your creditworthiness and prevailing interest rates. The cash advance APR is 25.49%. There’s no penalty APR.
  • Other Perks: You get a complimentary monthly FICO score. Certain Upromise.com (an ecommerce portal) purchases earn up to 10% cash back on top of regular cash back rewards.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.


5. Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

2x Points on Dining & Entertainment; 1x Points on Everything Else; Personal Concierge Service and Other Perks

citi thankyou preferred card studentsThe Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is a student-friendly version of the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card. It’s one of the only student credit cards with a sign-up bonus, and has the most versatile – though not the most valuable – credit card rewards program of any card on this list. You earn two ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on dining and entertainment, and 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else.

You can redeem your ThankYou Points for gift cards at major merchants (including Best Buy), travel purchases, cash back, statement credits, and online shopping purchases. Points are worth between $0.005 and $0.01, depending on how they’re redeemed. Redemption minimums vary by method, but typically start around 1,000 points.

The ThankYou Points program is definitely this card’s biggest advantage, but a 7-month intro APR period helps too. Drawbacks include high fees and APRs.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou Points when you spend at least $500 within 3 months of account opening.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 4%. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. Late and returned payments cost $35. Foreign transactions run 3%.
  • Introductory APR: 0% purchase APR for 7 months.
  • APR: After the introductory period, the variable purchase APR ranges from 14.24% to 24.24%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfer APR ranges from 14.24% to 24.24% from account opening, based on creditworthiness. The cash advance APR is 25.49%, and the penalty APR is 29.99%.
  • Other Perks: Citi’s Private Pass program offers VIP access and presales for popular entertainment events. Citi also offers personalized concierge service, including 24/7 travel and event booking.

See our Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students Review for more information.


6. Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

Limited Fees; Potential for a High Credit Limit; Good for Students With Poor to Fair Credit

capital one secured mastercardAs a secured credit card, the Capital One Secured MasterCard  is different from the credit cards listed above. Before you can make purchases with it, you need to make a cash deposit of $49 to $200. The deposit entitles you to a credit limit of anywhere from $200 to $3,000, depending on your creditworthiness. You can subsequently raise your credit limit by making an additional deposit.

However, deposits can’t be credited against your purchases – you still need to pay your bill every month, just as you would with a normal credit card. If you demonstrate a pattern of timely payments over several months, Capital One may raise your credit limit without requiring an additional deposit.

The biggest drawback of this card is its purchase APR, which is significantly higher than many other student credit cards, and lack of balance transfers. However, its fees are manageable, it’s available to students with poor or spotty credit, and the value-added benefits of Capital One Credit Tracker are definitely useful for students who want to track and build their credit over time.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 3% of the advanced amount. Late payments cost $35 each. Notably, you can’t use this card for balance transfers.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no intro APR.
  • APR: The purchase and cash advance APR is 24.99%, varying with prevailing interest rates. There’s no penalty APR.
  • Other Perks: This card also comes with Capital One Credit Tracker.

See our Capital One Secured Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.


7. Citi® Secured MasterCard®

Reasonable APR and Fees; Relatively High Credit Limit; Good for Students With Poor Credit

citi secured mastercardCiti Secured MasterCard is another secured credit card with benefits for students. To use it, you need to first make a deposit of as little as $200 or as much as $5,000. That deposit is equal to your credit limit and can’t be credited against your purchases. If you exhibit timely payment patterns for 18 months, Citi may return your deposit and allow you to continue using your card as an unsecured, “normal” credit card.

The Citi Secured MasterCard has relatively lax credit approval standards. If you have poor or spotty credit, this is probably the best student card for you. And because Citi automatically reports your payment patterns to the three major consumer credit reporting bureaus, it’s also a great card for building credit. If you make timely payments, your credit score is likely to rise over time. However, the annual fee and relatively high purchase and balance transfer APRs are significant drawbacks.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus.
  • Fees: There is a $25 annual fee. Foreign transactions cost 3%. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%, and balance transfers the greater of $10 or 3%. Late and returned payments cost $35 each.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no introductory APR.
  • APR: The regular purchase and balance transfer APR is 22.24% and varies depending on prevailing interest rates. The cash advance APR is 25.49%, and the penalty APR ranges up to 29.99%.
  • Other Perks: This card has the same Citi perks as the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students.

See our Citi Secured Card Review for more information.


Final Word

You’ve heard all the clichés about starving students. While you’re hopefully not actually going without regular meals as you work and study your way through school, you probably don’t have as much disposable income as you’d like.

Credit card issuers know that, on average, college students have less money than older people with full-time jobs. Accordingly, they tend to tightly restrict how much their student customers can spend on their cards. Don’t expect your first student credit card to come with an exceedingly high credit limit, particularly if your only source of income is a stipend or work-study job.

The good news is that if you make regular payments, build a positive credit history, and look for ways to earn extra income on the side, your credit limit – and spending power – is likely to increase over time. Years from now, when you think back to your time as a student, you might just identify your first-ever student credit card approval as a decisive milestone on your personal finance journey.

What’s your preferred student credit card?

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    Discover is the best for my son. It provides the big cash back. However, we should always pay attention to the rules that could make our credit card score is always increasing. One of the most important ways is to pay bills on time. We should not be paying only for the minimum bill, but we have to pay off our debts as soon as possible.

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