The Best Credit Cards for Students

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The 30-Second Review

College is a great time to start building a solid credit history. If you do it responsibly now, you’re setting yourself up for a future of rock-bottom APRs and credit cards loaded with rewards. (And if you’re renting, a good credit score can mean the difference between snagging that great apartment and losing it to someone else.) But the best credit cards for students aren’t without their own perks: We found and analyzed seven that boast low interest rates, cash back, travel points, and more.

Lowest APR

Variable 11.24% – 21.24% APR, plus a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers.

Best to Build Credit

Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card
Get rewards when you pay on time.

Best for Cash Back

5% cash back on rotating categories, plus 1% cash back on everything else.

Best for Travel Rewards

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students
1.5 points for every dollar you spend.

College students aren’t limited to credit cards designed “for students,” but those cards often offer terms and benefits designed to help you build credit responsibly, such as low credit limits, bonuses for good grades, and the ability to simply use a credit card even if you have only an average credit score.

Lowest APR

BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students Variable 11.24% – 21.24% APR, plus a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers.

Choosing the best one ultimately comes down to your goals (as well as what you qualify for). If you’re looking to just get started building up some credit history, the BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students is streamlined and simple: a low APR, plus 18 months of interest-free payments on balance transfers made in the first 60 days. The Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card is another good option, especially for students with average credit. It’s designed to help elevate that score: Make your first five payments on time, and you’ll be rewarded with an increased line of credit — and therefore a better credit utilization ratio, and eventually, a better credit score (more on that later).

If you’ve got all that down already, you’ll want to consider a card with rewards built in. There are a handful of great options that offer students cash back and points, but the one with the highest rewards potential is the Discover it® for Students, which ponies up 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter, and 1% cash back on everything else. Going abroad? The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students offers 1.5 points for every dollar you spend, which you can then apply to travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars — even baggage fees.

How We Found the Best Credit Cards for Students

We focused our search on the big-name credit cards designed specifically for students, looking for which ones offered the best value in terms of APR, cash back, travel points, and the opportunity to build credit; there are seven we feel good about recommending. The pool of contenders isn’t huge — you won’t find as many cards designed for students as you would, say, travel — so we also suggest checking in with your local bank or credit union and comparing their offerings to our picks. You may be able to find even better rates and rewards.

Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards for Students

Lowest APR

BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students Variable 11.24% – 21.24% APR, plus a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers.

If you’re looking for a basic, low-APR credit card, the BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students is a good choice. The variable APR is 11.24% – 21.24%, which is the lowest of any of the student-friendly cards on our list. You don’t get any cash back rewards or points, but for some people, that’s a good thing — you can focus on building your credit with affordable purchases and on-time payments instead of overspending and trying to maximize your credit card bonuses.

The other good reason to choose the BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students? If you’re already trying to pay off credit card debt, you can transfer your balance within the first 60 days of opening your card and get 18 months to pay it off interest-free.

Think of it as either the card to get when you’re first learning how to use credit — or the card to get when you’re trying to pay off your other credit card balances.

  • Fixed payment due date so you’ll always know when your payment is due.
  • Paperless statement option
  • Mobile banking, text or email alerts to keep you on top of your finances, quick access to your account information with text banking
  • ShopSafe® – add an extra layer of protection when you shop online
  • Overdraft protection – An optional service to help prevent declined purchases, returned checks or other overdrafts when you link your Bank of America® checking account to your credit card
  • Smart chip technology lets you make purchases with ease and confidence in over 130 countries outside of the U.S.
  • $0 Liability Guarantee

Best for Cash Back

Discover it® for Students 5% cash back on rotating categories, plus 1% cash back on everything else.

You actually have three really great options if you want a student-friendly cash back credit card: the Discover it® for Students, the Discover it® chrome for Students, and the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students. But which one is the best? Let’s do a little Advanced Credit Card Math. First, let’s take a look at what each card offers:

Discover it® for Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students

0% Intro APR Period

6 months for all purchases

6 months for all purchases

12 months for all purchases and for balance transfers made in the first 60 days

APR

13.24% - 22.24%

13.24% - 22.24%

13.24% - 23.24%

Base Rewards

5% cash back on categories that change every quarter, on up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter

1% cash back on all other purchases

2% cash back on gas and restaurants, on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter

1% cash back on all other purchases

3% cash back on gas and 2% cash back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs, on up to $2,500 in combined purchases per quarter

1% cash back on all other purchases

Additional Rewards

$20 each year (for five years) if your GPA is 3.0 or higher

Cash back doubled at the end of the first year

$20 each year (for five years) if your GPA is 3.0 or higher

Cash back doubled at the end of the first year

$100 cash back after making $500 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

10% cash back bonus if you redeem into a Bank of America® checking or savings account

All three cards also require no annual fee.

There are a lot of ways in which these three cards are similar — they all have roughly the same variable APR, for example, and they all offer different percentages of cash back depending on the types of purchases you make — so we’re going to focus on the big differences: how much you can earn with their cashback rewards programs.

Since we don’t know how much you spend per year, let’s imagine a situation in which you max out every quarter’s high-level rewards, plus spend an additional $1,000 per quarter on purchases that don’t qualify for the highest level of cash back. Time to compare some numbers:

Discover it® for Students

Cash Back Received

5% cash back on qualifying categories, up to $1,500 per quarter

$75 (per quarter)

1% on $1,000 in purchases per quarter

$10 (per quarter)

Multiplied by four quarters per year

$340

GPA bonus

$20

Plus Discover doubles your cash back at the end of the first year

Total: $720

Discover it® chrome for Students

Cash Back Received

2% cash back on gas and restaurants, up to $1,000 per quarter

$20 (per quarter)

1% on $1,000 in purchases per quarter

$10 (per quarter)

Multiplied by four quarters per year

$120

GPA bonus

$20

Plus Discover doubles your cash back at the end of the first year

Total: $280

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students

Cash Back Received

3% cash back on gas and 2% cash back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs, on up to $2,500 in combined purchases per quarter (we’ll say you spend $1,000 on gas and $1,500 on groceries and wholesale clubs)

$30 on gas, $30 on groceries/wholesale clubs (per quarter)

1% on $1,000 in purchases per quarter

$10 (per quarter)

Multiplied by four quarters per year

$280

Plus the $100 bonus you get for spending $500 in the first 90 days of opening your account

$380

Plus the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash in a Bank of America® checking or savings account

Total: $418

The numbers don’t lie: If you maximize your potential rewards, you’ll earn the most from the Discover it® for Students.

Remember to activate your cash back. If you do go for one of the Discover cards, there’s one email you won’t want to ignore: the quarterly email it sends out asking you to click a button to activate your 5% cash back categories.

Sure, not all of us are going to spend $1,500 every quarter on the Discover it® for Students’ 5% earning categories — especially because the categories change every quarter. Sometimes you can earn 5% on Amazon purchases, which is a great category if you’re a student, and sometimes you’ll get stuck with something like “home improvement stores.” Discover always gives you two or three categories to choose from, though, so let’s hope there’s at least one category that includes something you want to buy!

If you’re not that much of a risk-taker, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students may be your better bet. If you have a car, you get a better gas bonus (3% cash back, compared to Discover it® chrome for Students’ 2% cash back), plus you get a 2% cashback bonus on groceries. Just make sure you sign up for a Bank of America® checking or savings account, too, so you can get that 10% redemption bonus.

There’s one more thing to keep in mind: Not all merchants accept Discover. That won’t affect your ability to build a credit history with a Discover card, but it might mean making sure you have a backup form of payment, like a debit card from your bank, in your wallet.

Honorable Mention

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students It's up to you if points are better than cash.

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students is another rewards card, but it uses points instead of straight-up cash back. You earn 2 ThankYou points for every dollar spent on restaurants or entertainment, and 1 ThankYou point for every dollar spent on other purchases.

Why does this card only get an honorable mention? First, the APR is a little higher than our other cash back rewards card options. Second, you can only use your points on items distributed through Citi’s ThankYou Rewards catalog. Granted that catalog is pretty extensive — gift cards, electronics, travel — but sometimes you just want cash.

How much is a ThankYou point worth? Citi lets you buy a $25 Macy’s Gift Card for 2,500 points, which suggests that one point is worth about one cent. That puts it on par with our other cash reward options — if you spend $1,000 on restaurants or entertainment, you’d earn 2,000 points or roughly $20; if you spent that $1,000 on non-restaurant purchases, you’d earn 1,000 points or about $10 — but since you’re limited to items in the ThankYou Rewards catalog, it’s like you’re doing all that work just to make some discretionary purchases. (If you want a World’s Best Dentist mousepad, for example, Citi sells it for 1,830 points, plus taxes and shipping. Yes, you read that correctly: a dentist-themed mousepad.)

Best for Travel

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students Earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend.

Your student years often involve travel, whether you’re flying home for the holidays or jetting off for a semester abroad. Why not get a credit card that’ll help you offset some of those travel expenses? The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students lets you earn points, which can then be put towards travel expenses — flights, hotels, rental cars, even bag fees.

You earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend on your BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students credit card. You also earn 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, and you can get a 10% points bonus if you have an active Bank of America® checking account.

Once you’ve started collecting points, you can redeem them for statement credits on travel purchases. A “statement credit” means you use the points to pay for an expense that is already on your credit card statement — so you have to buy the flight with your BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students card, wait for your transaction to appear on your credit card statement, and then use your points to pay for some or all of the cost.

Each point is worth roughly one penny, so if you put $1,000 on your BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students card, you’ll earn 1,500 points, or about $15. (If you have a Bank of America® checking account and get the 10% bonus, that $15 will turn into $16.50.) If you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get that 20,000-point bonus, you’ll have $200 worth of points to put towards travel expenses.

However, it’s worth considering whether you’d get a better deal from a cashback rewards card. Since we’ve already established that charts are great, here’s a quick rundown of what you could earn from each of the rewards cards we’ve covered:

Rewards for Spending $500

Discover it® for Students

$25 (on a 5% cash back category)

$5 (on all other purchases)

Discover it® chrome for Students

$10 (on 2% cash back gas or restaurant purchases)

$5 (on all other purchases)

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students

$15 (on 3% cash back gas purchases)

$10 (on 2% cash back grocery or warehouse club purchases)

$5 (on all other purchases)

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

1,000 points (on restaurants or entertainment), or about $10

500 points (on all other purchases) or about $5

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students

750 points, or about $7.50

The last thing to consider? The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students has a variable APR of 15.24% – 23.24%, which is super high compared to our other student card options. That said, you do get a 12-month 0% intro APR, which offsets that high APR for a little while — and remember that if you always pay off your balance right away, you never have to pay interest at all.

Best for Students Who Need to Build Credit

Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card Get rewards when you pay on time.

Building credit is a journey, and the Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card is ready to guide you in the right direction. This card is specifically designed for students with average credit who want to improve their credit score and increase the amount (and types) of credit available to them.

The Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card uses a system called Credit Steps to get you access to a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is an important credit-building tool — first because it helps you build a history of on-time payments, and second because it increases what is called the credit utilization ratio.

Credit scores take into account the amount of credit you use vs. the amount of credit available to you. If you put $400 worth of purchases on a card with a $500 credit limit, that’s a high credit utilization ratio and it doesn’t look good on your credit history. If your credit limit increases to $1,000, that $400 in purchases is only a small percentage of your available credit — which makes you look like a more responsible borrower and helps improve your credit score.

The Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card also encourages on-time payment through cashback bonuses. You earn 1% cash back on all purchases, but that cash back jumps to 1.25% if you make your payments on time.

What’s the drawback? The Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card has a hefty variable APR of 20.24%. That’s not a range; everyone who gets this credit card pays that APR, and if you don’t pay off your balances as soon as possible, you’ll be paying a significant amount of interest.

Be aware that two of the other student cards on our list — the Discover it® for Students and the Discover it® chrome for Students — are also available to people with average credit. The Discover it® cards offer better rewards and the potential to pay a lower APR, so you might be better off trying to apply for those cards first, and considering the Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card as a backup option.

Did You Know?

Don’t be afraid of credit cards.

Some college students avoid applying for credit cards because they’re afraid of getting into debt. If that’s you, consider overcoming your fear by applying for a credit card, making one or two small purchases per month, and paying the card off in full every month. You begin to establish a credit history as a responsible borrower, but you also avoid buying anything you can’t afford — just make sure to pay everything off before the credit card interest kicks in.

Know what goes into your credit history.

This is something they really should teach in college, but until they start offering Credit 101, here’s what you need to know: Your credit history is made up of a number of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The amount of credit you have available
  • Your credit balances
  • How long you’ve had credit accounts open
  • Your history of on-time payment

Your credit score is a numerical value derived from the items in your credit history. (You actually have at least three different credit scores, but that’s Credit 201.) If you have a lot of available credit, low balances, accounts that have been open for a few years, and a history of on-time payment, you’re going to have a higher credit score than a person who regularly misses payments and maxes out their credit cards.

A higher credit score gets you access to lower interest rates and better credit card offers. Landlords often consider credit scores before deciding to accept you as a tenant. The credit decisions you make now can have a significant effect on your life, so take credit seriously and do your best to make on-time payments and be a responsible borrower. (If you accidentally miss a payment, don’t panic. It happens to all of us. Just get back on track and keep building that solid credit history.)

If you’re trying to earn rewards, make sure you can pay off those balances.

It’s really easy to justify making a purchase because “you can earn 5% cash back.” If you’re trying to earn rewards, make sure you can pay off your balances in full every month. Carrying a balance without paying it off means paying interest — and if those interest payments exceed the cash back you’re getting from your credit card, you’re actually losing money.

Best for Cash Back

Discover it® for Students 5% cash back on rotating categories, plus 1% cash back on everything else.

Let’s use the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students as an example: if you make $1,000 in purchases on that card in one month, you earn 1,500 points, or about $15. If you have a 15.24% APR, which is the lowest APR that card offers, you could pay around $12.60 in interest on that $1,000 balance every month that you don’t pay it off — and chances are you’re not nabbing that lowest APR.

If you’re carrying a high debt balance, consider making a balance transfer.

Nobody told us about balance transfers when we were in college, so we’re telling you: If you have a high debt balance on a credit card, consider transferring that balance to a card that offers a lengthy 0% intro APR, like the BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students — or check out some of our other best balance transfer credit card options.

You will nearly always pay a small balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance — if you use the BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students, you’ll pay 3% of the amount transferred, or $30 for every $1,000 — but that’s often worth it to be able to pay off your debt interest-free.

The Bottom Line

College is a great time to start learning how to use credit responsibly. If you’re nervous about using credit, keep your purchases small and make sure to pay them off in full before you get charged interest. Learn what goes into your credit history and credit score, and use that information to keep your credit score high — then use our list of the best credit cards for students to pick the card that’s right for you.

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