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Once you hit the age of 18 and become a college student, it’s time to start building your credit. Student credit cards can establish a positive credit history that can lead to a good credit score post-graduation. Having a positive credit history is essential to buying a car, renting an apartment, getting approved for loans, and, in some cases, finding employment.
Of course, it’s essential to be careful not to spend more than you can afford, as you don’t want to get deeply in debt and struggle to pay back what you owe. You also don’t want to sign up for just any random credit card. Since there are many college credit cards to choose from, it’s important to find the best credit cards for students out there.
The best student credit cards are generally easy to qualify for, have no annual fees, and even offer rewards for spending. Here are our picks for the best student credit cards offered through our partner.
Best Student Credit Cards
- Best overall student credit card: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
- Best for its added benefits: Deserve EDU
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best Overall Student Credit Card
- LendEDU Rating: 5/5
- Rewards rate: 1% – 5%
- Annual fee: $0
- Editor’s thoughts: This card offers all the credit building benefits a student needs with the added benefit of earning cash back on all purchases
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is our top-rated student credit card.
Some important details include:
- Earn 1% cash back on all purchases. If you pay on time, the rate can be boosted to 1.25% for that month
- Earn 5% on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Terms apply.
- Receive unlimited access to your credit score and other credit-building tools with CreditWise from Capital One
- Your account will be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months
- Eligible items purchased with your card can qualify for additional warranty protection
- No foreign transaction fees on purchases outside of the United States
The Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One is available to those with fair credit or better. There are 8,000 reviews on Capital One’s website, with 94% of reviewers recommending the card to others.
To learn more about this card and its benefits, click here.
Deserve EDU: Best for its Added Benefits
- LendEDU Rating: 4.5/5
- Rewards rate: 1%
- Annual fee: $0
- Editor’s thoughts: This card looks to disrupt the student credit card space by offering added perks and benefits that other cards don’t offer
The Deserve EDU card is for students looking to receive perks on top of a new credit card’s expected credit building features. If approved, cardholders can apply for an Amazon Prime Student account and be reimbursed for up to a year of membership.
Some other important details include:
- Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
- When you pay your cell phone bill with your card, you will receive coverage for up to $600 if your phone is stolen or damaged
- International students do not need a Social Security number to apply
- Sign up for a Feather subscription with your card using the promo DESERVE100 and get $100 off your first month
- Pay for three consecutive monthly Lemonade insurance statements with your card and get a $10 statement credit
- No international transaction fees
The Deserve EDU card is a straightforward credit card with several added perks that you won’t find on other cards. If you plan to use any of the subscriptions mentioned above, this card can temporarily lower some of those initial costs.
To learn more about this card and its benefits, click here.
Recap of the Best Student Credit Cards
|Card name||Best for||Rewards||Annual fee|
|Journey Student Rewards||Best overall||1% – 5%||$0|
|Deserve EDU||Best for added perks||1%||$0|
How We Chose the Best Student Credit Cards
To find the best student credit cards, our Editorial Team analyzed cards offered through our partner by introductory APR, welcome bonus, category-specific cash back rate, all purchases cash back rate, redemption options, added benefits and perks, annual fee, and whether the issuer was nationally recognized.
Learn more about our ratings and methodology here.
What Students Should Know About Credit Cards
Credit cards work very differently than debit cards, which simply allow you to swipe your card and pull money directly from your bank account. When purchasing with a credit card, you’re not spending your money upfront. Instead, you’re adding debt to an account in your name with the credit card issuer.
You are expected to pay this money back, typically by making minimum monthly payments based on a percentage of your balance. Ideally, though, you would pay your balance in full each month to avoid accruing interest and getting into debt.
Who Issues Credit Cards?
Banks and credit unions both issue credit cards. Banks are for-profit institutions, but credit unions are member-owned nonprofits — so credit union credit cards tend to have lower interest rates.
Credit card networks also sometimes issue credit cards, although they also handle the transaction processes for cards offered by other issuers. It’s the credit card network that processes transactions and to which cardholders make payments.
What Are Interest Rates?
Interest is what you pay to borrow. Credit card interest rates vary depending on your creditworthiness and the market. If you pay your balance on time in full each month, you won’t be charged interest.
Credit cards have different interest rates, including the following:
- The general purchase interest rate is a percentage applied to most transactions made with a credit card. Let’s say you buy $100 of supplies during a billing cycle, and your general interest rate is 15%. The interest owed would be $15 in addition to the $100 that was spent; however, this interest is not applied if the balance on the loan is paid in full during the billing cycle.
- Balance transfer interest rates are assessed whenever you transfer debt between credit accounts. Some cards offer promotional 0% balance transfer rates, so a balance transfer can temporarily reduce the interest paid on debt.
- Cash advance interest rates apply when you use your credit card to access cash, either from an ATM or a check issued by your card servicer. The interest rate is usually higher on cash advances than for general purchases.
What is a Credit Limit?
A credit limit is the maximum amount of money you can borrow from your credit card issuer. With a credit card limit of $1,000, you can only spend up to $1,000 on that card. These limits are set to keep consumers from borrowing too much. Cardholders with good credit histories and steady income are typically assigned higher credit limits.
Make sure you know the difference between your total credit limit vs. your available credit. In general, most starter credit cards for first-time applicants have low limits.
Are These Fees Associated With Credit Cards?
Different cards charge different fees, which may include the following:
- Annual fees, which is a charge for merely having the credit card (note: there are also credit cards with no annual fees)
- Over-limit fees, which are assessed when you exceed your credit limit
- Foreign transaction fees, which equal a percentage of any purchases made outside the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions About Student Credit Cards
How to Get Approved for a Student Credit Card
Credit cards — including student cards — are only issued to applicants aged 18 or over. Would-be cardholders between the ages of 18 and 21 must provide additional documentation that verifies their income and ability to repay.
If you’re old enough, applying for a student credit card can usually be done online in minutes. Applications typically ask for your name, address, phone number, email address, and Social Security number. Applications also typically inquire about your employment status and salary.
When you apply for a card, card issuers will verify this information and check your credit score. You may have a limited credit history, but card issuers take this into account for student cards, so approval is more likely if you’re going to school.
After the approval process is completed, you are either approved or not approved. If you are not approved, you’ll receive an adverse action notice that outlines the reason for the denial. If you are approved, you will be assigned a credit limit; the credit card will be sent in the mail within two weeks.
There’s also another option for those who can’t get approved for a standard credit card: a secured card. Secured credit cards require a security deposit for approval. They don’t offer as many perks and benefits as traditional cards — but for a new credit card applicant, this type of card may be the only option. The good news is secured cards help you establish a credit history that could later qualify you for some of the best unsecured credit cards.
How to Properly Use Student Credit Cards
When using your first credit card, you must make all payments by your due date and in full to avoid incurring late fees, paying excessive interest charges, or damaging your credit. To make sure you can afford to do so, avoid excess spending, and use your card only for necessary purchases. You should also take advantage of many student cards’ tools that make it easier for you to track both expenses and your credit score as you demonstrate responsible use.
Look for a credit card offering generous rewards to earn free airfare, cash back, or other perks. Some of the best cash back credit cards offer bonus rewards in specific spending categories, such as gas stations, grocery stores, or restaurants.
Dangers of Misusing a Credit Card
Damaging your credit score by maxing out your card or making late payments is one of the biggest dangers of misusing a student card. If you hurt your score, you could have a hard time renting an apartment or qualifying for future loan products, such as a mortgage or auto loan, with favorable terms.
Charging too much is a significant risk, as you could end up wasting thousands of dollars in interest and taking many years to pay back what you owe. And if you get too deeply into debt, you may become unable to dig yourself out of the hole. This could lead to collections calls, lawsuits, and — in some cases — bankruptcy.
How Do You Upgrade Your Student Credit Card?
A student credit card is helpful while attending school. But after graduation, it may be beneficial to upgrade to a non-student credit card with a higher credit limit or better rewards.
You may be able to upgrade to a new card after college by requesting a different credit card from the same bank or issuer. Some credit card issuers require a new application to qualify for different rewards credit cards, while others may simply accept the request for a change so long as you’ve maintained a positive account history.
Can You Add an Authorized User to a Student Credit Card?
An authorized user is a secondary cardholder who can use the card to make purchases but isn’t responsible for making payments. Authorized users can help you earn additional rewards with their spending. Still, most student credit cards do not allow cardmembers to add an authorized user, at least at first.
Your credit card agreement should provide information about authorized users, including when they’re allowed and the process for adding one.
Is a Cash Advance Available on a Student Credit Card?
A cash advance allows you to access cash from your credit card. Although cash advances are available with many credit cards, student credit cards are less likely to offer them.
Your credit card agreement will lay out the terms of cash advances, including how much is available to borrow, applicable fees, and the interest rate charged (which is usually higher than the rate applied to regular purchases). Some credit card issuers may only let you obtain cash advances up to a certain percentage of your available credit line.
Students should only use a cash advance as a last resort in emergencies.
Can You Get Approved for a Student Credit Card If You Have Fair or Bad Credit?
Most student credit cards are designed to meet borrowers’ credit needs with little to no credit history. If a student has not had any accounts reported to the credit bureaus, their credit history will be minimal. Credit card issuers understand it takes time to build a strong credit profile, so they often have less stringent qualifications for student credit cards than other cards.
However, a record of bad credit could make it challenging to qualify for even a student card. Missed payments, accounts in collections, or other credit missteps make getting any new credit card a challenge.
Can You Apply for Multiple Student Credit Cards at Once?
Students should take their time to determine the student credit card that best fits their needs instead of applying to several cards at once. Although you technically can apply for more than one student credit card at a time, you likely won’t need to have more than one — especially if you’re trying to avoid going into too much debt.
Each time a credit card application is submitted, it creates a hard inquiry on the student’s credit report. When too many hard inquiries appear on a credit report over a short period, creditors could consider you too much of a risk and may decline your application. To avoid problems, research how long you should wait to apply for another credit card.
What Should You Do If You’ve Been Denied a Student Credit Card?
Although most student credit cards have less strict credit qualification requirements than other credit cards, you can still get denied. If this happens to you, review your credit history to see how you can improve the odds of approval next time.
You may also have the option to add a cosigner to your application or submit a deposit to secure the credit line. These options vary from issuer to issuer but may be a viable solution to getting approved for a new student credit card.
Should You Consider Student Credit Cards from Credit Unions or Community Banks?
Student credit cards are available from various lenders and issuers, including community banks and credit unions. These financial institutions are often more locally-focused, so they take the time to get to know their customers and their financial needs.
If you get a student credit card from a community bank or credit union, you’ll have the ability to build a relationship with that financial institution. You may even gain access to other financial products and services with better terms for merely being a cardholder.
In some cases, having a credit union credit card may mean fewer rewards than other credit card issuers, but the interest rate may also be lower.
Should You Close Your Student Credit Card After College?
Although upgrading your card after graduation is often a good idea, it’s not always smart to close your student credit card in the process.
A student credit card is often the first significant credit account reported to the credit bureaus. Having a long credit history is important to boost your score, so you don’t want to lose the record of this old account. The exception would be if the card has an annual fee — in that case, closing the card might save you money in the long term.
Additional Resources for Students
Now you know why finding the best credit cards for college students is important, and you have a guide to help you get started. Check out the cards on our list, find one that’s a good fit, submit an application, and use it responsibly. You’ll be glad you did when your college credit card helps you earn a good credit score that helps you in the future.
College Student Credit Card Survey
LendEDU conducted a study and found that current college students struggle to understand credit scores and reporting basics. Our team traveled to three different college campuses to survey even more college students. Over that course of surveying, we asked current college students a series of questions about credit cards.
Credit cards are a powerful tool when used correctly. Student credit cards can help young adults build credit, earn rewards, and learn financial responsibility. However, when misused, credit cards can be as crushing as high-interest student loan debt. The New York Federal Reserve reported in May 2018 that credit card balances had reached $815 billion.
In our survey, we collected responses from 468 undergraduate and graduate students at three four-year institutions (two public, one private). We surveyed at two colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area and one institution on the East Coast.
Our goal was to find out what current college students do and do not know about credit cards. Here are the results of our survey:
1. Do you have a credit card in your name?
38.46% of students surveyed had a credit card in their name.
Questions 2 through 9 were asked only to individuals with credit cards.
2. Do you know the current interest rate on your credit card?
9.44% of students surveyed reported that they knew the current interest rates on their credit cards.
3. Do you know the late payment charges on your credit card?
20.56% of the students surveyed reported knowing the late payment charges on their credit cards.
4. Do you know your current credit card balance limit?
58.89% of the students surveyed reported knowing the balance limits on their credit cards.
5. Do you know the over-limit fee?
28.89% of the students surveyed reported knowing the over-limit fees charged on their credit cards.
6. Do you currently have a balance on your credit card?
67.78% of the students surveyed reported having a credit card balance.
7. Do you know, approximately (within $100), what your credit card balance amount is?
93.33% of the students surveyed reported that they knew their current credit card balance within $100.
8. Does paying your credit card on time impact your credit score?
71.11% of the students surveyed believed that paying their credit card bill on time would affect their credit scores.
9. Do you have more than one credit card account?
23.33% of the students surveyed reported that they currently have more than one credit card account.
Questions 10 through 12 were asked only to individuals without credit cards.
10. Have you considered opening up a credit card account?
43.75% of the students surveyed reported that they have considered opening up credit card accounts.
11. Are credit cards an important tool for building consumer credit?
71.53% of the students surveyed believed that credit cards are an essential tool for building consumer credit.
12. Would you consider yourself afraid of the possibility of accumulating credit card debt?
46.53% of the students surveyed considered themselves fearful of the possibility of accumulating credit card debt.
We were surprised to find that such a low percentage (38.46%) of current college students had credit cards. Memories of the financial crisis and rising student loan balances may be deterring young Americans from getting credit cards. Additionally, in 2009, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (aka the Credit CARD Act) clamped down on marketing at colleges and universities and put stronger requirements in place for applicants under 21 to qualify.
Also, surprising was that only a fraction (9.44%) of current college students with credit cards knew their current interest rates. In another survey, we found that only 7.9% of current college students with student loan debt knew their interest rates. Yet, two-thirds of the students with credit cards reported carrying a balance.
On a positive note, many respondents believed credit cards were important when building credit. However, those two questions (No. 8 & No. 11) were asked in a positive bias.
Though we may be starting to sound like a broken record here at LendEDU, our nation has a serious issue. Personal finance education is crucial for young adults, especially at the high school level.
Special thanks to our surveying team for walking over 100,000 steps to collect these responses.
LendEDU has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. LendEDU and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
Author: Christy Rakoczy
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