5 Best Student Credit Cards for 2021
Student credit cards are a great way for students to build credit and access exclusive perks and rewards.
Student credit cards are a great way for students to build credit and access exclusive perks and rewards. These cards are designed for individuals with little or no credit and often come with smaller credit limits than regular credit cards.
If you are having trouble getting approved, secured cards are also an option.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Student Credit Card
There are specific factors that you should consider when looking for a student credit card. First, look to see if the card is an unsecured card or a secured card. Most credit cards, like the ones you’ve probably seen on television commercials, are unsecured credit cards. You have to meet the card’s credit requirements to qualify for it.
Secured cards are secured with a security deposit rather than a credit check. They’re a useful tool for building credit if you have no or limited credit.
The card’s APY determines how much interest you’ll pay if you carry a balance over from month to month. Look for student cards with lower APYs.
Check out what perks come with a student card before you apply. Does it offer a welcome bonus for meeting spending requirements? Does it earn cashback or other rewards? Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you’re not eligible for valuable rewards and benefits.
At a Glance
|Best For||Annual Fee||Welcome Bonus|
|Discover it® Student Cash Back||Bonus Offer||$0||Cash Back Match|
|Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students||Limited or No Credit||$0||One Year of Amazon Prime Student|
|OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card||Easy Approval||$35||N/A|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card for Students||Travel Rewards||$0||25,000 Bonus Points|
|Journey Student Rewards from Capital One||Credit Monitoring||$0||N/A|
Best Student Credit Cards
Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best Bonus Offer
You won’t find a student credit card that offers better rewards than the Discover it® Student Cash Back. The card earns 5% cash back in quarterly rotating spending categories. Plus, students earn a cash back match on all first-year purchases and a $20 credit for good grades.
|Intro Offer||Cashback Match|
|Regular APR||12.99% - 21.99%|
|Intro APR||0% for 6 months|
Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. There's no limit to how much is matched
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter (You must activate these rewards each quarter)
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
Get a $20 statement credit each school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher (for up to 5 years)
No annual fee
No late fee on first late payment
No APR change for paying late
0% intro APR on purchases for six months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies
Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students: Best for Limited or No Credit
The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students is one of the few cards that doesn’t rely solely on a credit check or deposit for approval. Plus, it comes with valuable perks for college students like a free year of Amazon Prime Student and 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases.
Earn one free year of Amazon Prime Studentafter spending $500
on your card in the first three billing cycles
Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student after your first purchase with your new Deserve® EDU Mastercard.
Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve® EDU Mastercard
Cell phone protection up to $600
No deposit required
No annual fees
No international transaction fees on purchases abroad
No Social Security Number required to apply
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card: Best for Easy Approval
If you’ve never had a credit card or you’re having a hard time getting approved for one, a secured credit card could be the solution. The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card gives you a chance to get a card through a security deposit instead of a credit check.
No credit check required
Customers set the credit limit between $200 and $3,000 based on a refundable security deposit
Open Sky reports payments to all three major credit bureaus
3% foreign transaction fee
$35 annual fee
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students: Best for Travel Rewards
Want a student card that earns rewards for travel? The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students earns 1.5X points on all purchases. With no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, this is the perfect card for students studying abroad or who love to travel.
|Intro Offer||Earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on your new card in the first 90 days|
|Regular APR||13.99% - 23.99%|
|Intro APR||0% for 15 billing cycles|
Earn unlimited 1.5X points on all purchases
No blackout dates on award travel
No foreign transaction fees
No annual fee
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best for Credit Monitoring
There’s a lot to love about Journey Student Rewards from Capital One. This card offers a ton of value from unlimited 1% cash back (1.25% if you pay on time) to credits on streaming service subscriptions. Perhaps its best feature is access to CreditWise, a free credit monitoring tool that gives you access to your credit score and other financial tools and advice.
$60 streaming subscription credit ($5 per month for 12 months)
Earn unlimited 1% cash back (or 1.25% if you pay on time) on all purchases
No foreign transaction fees
Free credit score access through Creditwise
$0 annual fee
What to Know About Getting Your First Credit Card
Credit cards are a great financial tool, but they can also ruin your credit if used incorrectly. Here are some things you need to know about credit cards before moving forward with applying for one.
1. Your Credit is the Biggest Factor that Card Companies Consider
Your credit is a major factor in card approval, so make sure you meet the requirements before applying. Every time you apply for credit, card issuers run a credit check, which can cause your credit score to drop temporarily.
You can receive free copies of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are plenty of places to get free access to your credit score too.
If you have limited or no credit history, you may need to stick with a secured credit card, which requires a security deposit. Secured credit cards help you establish credit history and build up your credit score. Once you've established better credit, your chances of approval for better cards go up.
2. Always Shop Around
Compare student credit cards to find the one that best suits your needs.
Since you’ve checked your credit, only apply for cards that you qualify for based on your credit. Think about why you want a credit card and the card features that are non-negotiable. Narrow down your options until you find the best card for you.
3. Most Cards Have Income and Other Requirements
Your credit isn’t the only thing that determines eligibility for a credit card. Typically, lenders require you to be 18 or older to get approved. Because of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or Credit CARD Act, individuals under age 21 must show that they earn independent income or apply using a qualified cosigner over the age of 21.
Typically, lenders also require you to be either a U.S. citizen or a legal resident to get approved for a credit card. Some cards require you to be a college student, while others are available to anyone regardless of enrollment status. Read the fine print to determine if you meet the education requirements of the student card.
4. You Can See Card Details Before Applying
Card issuers are required to disclose specific card details to consumers. Information is usually disclosed online on the card issuer’s website or the credit card’s terms and conditions agreement.
There you’ll find details about the card's rates and fees, like the annual fee, APR, late fees, and other fees. You won’t know your specific APR or credit limit until after approval, but it’s always good to know what you’re getting into before getting a card.
How to Apply for a Student Credit Card
If you’re a college student, there’s a good chance you’ve never applied for a credit card before. Applying for a new card is a relatively straightforward process but can vary based on the specific card or card issuer. Here are the steps to apply for a credit card in most cases.
1. Gather the Required Information
You’ll need to provide personal and financial information during the card application process. Gather this information ahead of time, so you’re ready when asked. Information you may need includes:
A valid U.S.mailing address
Social security number or ITIN number
Monthly housing costs
2. Apply Online
Once you’ve picked a card and gathered the necessary information, it’s time to apply for a credit card. The simplest way to do this is to apply on the card issuer’s website. Applying for a credit card only takes a few minutes.
3. Wait on a Decision
Some card issuers issue a decision almost immediately after you apply. Others may take up to several business days to approve or deny the application.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do at this point except wait to hear from the card issuer. If approved, you’ll receive communication from the credit card company about when you will receive your card and the next steps, like setting up an online account.
4. What to Do if You are Denied
If your application for a student credit card was denied, chances are you didn’t meet the card issuer’s credit requirements. You’ll probably receive a letter, by mail or email, explaining the reasons why they denied your application. If you think they made a mistake, you can call the card company’s reconsideration phone line to plead your case.
If your credit was the issue, work to build your credit score or find another card that better suits you. You can build your credit by paying off any debt, including any past due or delinquent accounts.
Another option is to get added as an authorized user to a parent’s credit card. Some card issuers report authorized user payments to the credit bureaus, which can improve your credit score.
If you’re determined to get a credit card, a secured credit card may be your best option at this point.
How are Student Credit Cards Different than Regular Credit Cards?
While student credit cards are still credit cards, there are some notable differences you need to know about before applying. First, student cards tend to have lower credit limits. Most college students don’t generate a regular income, so card issuers lower their risk through lower credit limits.
Some student credit cards feature rewards, like cash back or travel rewards. The best rewards cards offer much more valuable rewards and perks but are typically reserved for stellar credit individuals.
Another difference is that student cards often come with perks specifically geared towards students. Some cards, for example, offer credits or rewards for good grades.
Benefits of Having a Credit Card as a Student
One of the primary reasons to get a credit card as a student is to start building credit. With responsible use and on-time payments, you can build up your credit score. As you get older, having good credit can help you secure financing and lower interest rates on large loans, like a mortgage or a new car.
A credit card is a powerful tool. While improper use leads to debt, it’s also a way to develop good financial habits. It’s good practice for when you have greater financial obligations that require monthly payments.
Another benefit of having a student credit card is to pay for expenses. You don’t need to go overboard, but if you have school or other expenses, you can use your credit card and then pay them off over time. Many credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees. If you study abroad, using your credit card could help you save money on expenses.
Emergencies are part of life. It’s not a matter of whether things will go wrong, but when. Whether it's a broken-down car, a medical emergency, or another unexpected expense, a credit card provides quick access to cash when you need it.
Regardless of why you get a credit card, keep in mind that you’ll get charged interest if you don’t pay your bill in full each month.
Do I Need a Job to Get a Student Credit Card?
Individuals under 21 years of age must prove they earn enough income to repay any credit card debt incurred. That doesn’t mean you necessarily need to have a job, but it helps.
You’ll need to list your source(s) of income on the card application. Some sources of income could be a part-time or seasonal job, side jobs, paid internships, or work-study programs. If your parents deposit money into a joint bank account, some card carriers may count that as income.
Without any income, your chances of getting approved for a card decrease dramatically. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a credit card, but you’ll need to get one another way, either by using a cosigner or getting added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Another option is to start with a secured credit card until you start earning an income.
Can International Students Get a Student Credit Card?
Yes, international students can get a credit card, but it may be a difficult task. Most card applications ask for a social security number, which limits most international students. Some student cards offer alternative ways to verify identity, although you still need to meet other income and credit requirements. You also may be able to use your student visa to secure a social security number.
What Happens After Graduation?
Graduating or leaving school doesn’t mean that you automatically have to close your student credit card. In many cases, you can continue to use it as long as you would like. If you've built up your credit, though, you are probably eligible for much better credit cards that offer more value and better rewards.
Your options include continuing to use your student credit card, asking your card company for a card upgrade, closing it and applying for a different credit card, or holding onto it but not using it. Part of your credit score is based on the length of your credit, so if the card doesn’t carry an annual fee, there’s no harm in putting it away in a drawer instead of closing the account.
Choose a student credit card that you’ll qualify for and that matches your needs and spending habits. The cards above represent our top choices for most students, but research on your own to find the best card for you. Having and using a credit card is a big financial responsibility and not something to take lightly, no matter your age.
Table of Contents
- What to Look for When Shopping for a Student Credit Card
- At a Glance
- Best Student Credit Cards
- What to Know About Getting Your First Credit Card
- How to Apply for a Student Credit Card
- How are Student Credit Cards Different than Regular Credit Cards?
- Benefits of Having a Credit Card as a Student
- Do I Need a Job to Get a Student Credit Card?
- Can International Students Get a Student Credit Card?
- What Happens After Graduation?
All of the opinions expressed herein are the author's alone, and not those of any bank, brokerage, credit card issuer, lender, insurance company, outside financial institution, or any other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post or any other third parties.