Best Credit Cards for College Students in 2021
Student credit cards are ideal when used responsibly for those who want to start building credit early. Look for cards with no fees, including annual fees or foreign transaction fees (for that spring break trip to Cancun).
However, mistakes happen, which is why it's advantageous to look for error forgiveness features in credit cards for students:
- 0% APR introductory rate so that students have time to practice paying off the entirety of a balance
- No credit overlimit fees
- No late fee for first time missed payment
- No interest rate increase for first time missed payment
Use the tool below to find the best credit card for a student looking to get a leg up on establishing a solid credit history while learning money management skills and financial responsibility.
|Name||Rewards||Intro Bonus||Learn More|
Discover it® for Students
|5% cash back in categories that change each quarter, 1% on all other puchases (must sign up for the 5% rewards each quarter), Good Grade Rewads $20 each school year GPA 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years||none||Sign Up|
Discover it® Chrome for Students
|1% cash back, 2% on gas and restaurants, up to $1000 every quarter||none||Sign Up|
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
|1% cash back on net purchases, extra 0.25% (for a total of 1.25%) cash back for on-time payment||none||Sign Up|
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Review
Best Credit Cards for Students
College is one of the most exciting times most people experience. While establishing independence and working towards a great education are a student’s primary responsibilities, learning personal financial independence is an important step too.
One of the most important lessons learned in personal finance is responsible use of a credit card. Credit cards can be used as a tool to unlock cash back and travel rewards for your spending, but they can also lead down a path to debt and credit woes. As a student, you should focus on using your card responsibly, always paying off your balance in full each month, and staying out of debt.
Choosing the credit cards you carry in your wallet is a tough job, so we put together a list of the best credit cards for students to help you along your journey.
How Credit Cards Work
Credit cards are a revolving line of credit attached to a physical plastic (or sometimes metal) card. While a debit card takes money from a checking account, each credit card purchase adds debt to your credit account attached to the card.
Cardholders can pay off the entire balance at the end of the month in full to avoid any interest charges or pay a minimum payment. If you pay only the minimum, you are charged interest on the outstanding balance. This interest rate varies based on the card, and can easily exceed 20% per year.
You can pay off your balance or make extra payments at any time. You can also use your card to continue to grow your balance up to the credit card limit. Missed or late payments show up on your credit report for seven years, which lowers your credit score. This can prevent you from getting better credit cards or even buying a house later on, so always make on-time payments, and pay off your balance in full for the best credit score and to save money on interest.
Features of the Best Credit Cards for Students
High earning adults can comfortably seek out credit cards with an annual fee if it leads to bigger and better rewards. At this point in your financial journey, however, you are best off avoiding annual fees. Good credit cards for students do not charge annual fees, which can easily cost $50, $100, $500, or more.
Some cards also charge balance transfer fees and cash advance fees. If you ever plan to take a cash advance or transfer your balance between cards, check to see how much they cost. If you are a regular globetrotter, be on the lookout for foreign exchange fees. You don’t want to get stuck paying an extra 2-3% on those Spring Break cervezas in Mexico!
Online banking and mobile apps
The best college student credit cards come from companies who understand college students. Today’s students grew up with technology at home, and want to handle things like checking card activity and making payments on their phone or from their laptop, not over the phone or by sending a check in the mail. The best cards offer simple, easy-to-use online banking platforms.
Some credit cards just let you spend money and pay off your balance. Those are features every single card has. Some cards, however, pay you each time you use them. Remember that each time you use a card you are taking on debt, so don’t let credit card rewards inspire you to spend more than you would have anyway. Use your card for typical spending, like groceries and going out to the movies, not expensive Jimmy Choo shoes or an in-car Xbox.
Rewards can come in the form of cash back, points, or travel rewards miles. There is no right or wrong in a preference of cash back or miles. It is up to you, your needs, and your spending habits to decide which type of reward is best.
Forgiveness and Support
Sometimes we have the best of intentions and still make mistakes. As a college student your focus is on school first, and busy schedules can lead to an occasional late payment. The best credit card for students takes this into account, and offers late payment forgiveness to waive fees and keep problems off of your credit history. Remember that you are responsible first, but a little extra help never hurt anyone.
The best credit card for students may also include access to personal finance education resources on how to use your card responsibly and how your credit report and credit score works.
The value of good customer service should not be overlooked. Some banks and card issuers are notorious for bad customer service, while others get glowing reviews. Both online and phone support are going to be needed from time to time, and the ability to reach a real person who can answer questions and help fix issues is an important feature of any card.
Best Student Credit Card Signup Bonuses Bait
Walking around campus, you may come across a friendly person standing at a table with a clipboard. They have a stack of pizzas, Frisbees, t-shirts, and or other giveaways for anyone who signs up for a new credit card. Be wary of offers like this.
In the old days, any college student over 18 years old could just sign the form and get a new card. This led countless students to big piles of debt they couldn’t dig out of, and all for a free $7 pizza or a $1 Frisbee. In 2009, Congress passed a law that requires students be able to prove income or have a parent co-sign for a card. Most of the best credit cards for students include this provision.
- Proving Income – To prove your income, you must be able to submit a tax return or paystub showing you have regular income from a full-time or part-time job.
- Co-Signing with a Parent – A parent can open the account as a co-signer. If you have no credit history, this can improve your chances of approval. However, it also puts your parents on the hook to pay off the balance if you stop paying, and any late or missed payments show up on their credit history as well as yours.
If you are able to open the card on your own, that is best for your parents as they have no liability if you make a mistake. If you can’t and your parent is generous and offers to co-sign to open the account, handle things responsibly and prove that you are ready to manage your own finances.
Focus on Building Credit
Student credit card rewards will not make you rich, so why bother with credit cards at all? Good credit cards for students are the first step in a long journey of building and maintaining your credit, so this opportunity should not be ignored.
Building and maintaining an excellent credit report and score can open up the doors to the best credit cards, lower interest rates on auto and home loans, and many employers even look at your credit history before offering you a job. Your credit is a big deal!
The best student credit cards help you get started with credit responsibly. They teach you to handle regular monthly bills and give you the option to pay everything off at once or borrow from the card issuer to make big purchases and pay over time.