Student Credit Card Reviews and Comparisons of 2014

Cliff Brody and the Reviews.com research team narrowed the list down to 10 student credit cards and reviewed the 4 best cards based on 34 distinct features.

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Cliff Brody

Cliff Brody

Student Credit Cards Expert

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What Student Credit Card Features Matter and Why?

Rewards

Very Important
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Rewards refers to the points or cash back that are earned with each dollar spent on the student credit card as well as any stipulations associated with the rewards. The best cards will have rewards that don't expire and provide multiple ways to earn bonus rewards. The majority of the top student cards are cash back cards, but points-based cards are also available. Rewards is the most important category because it measures how generously students are rewarded with purchases made on the card.

  • 2:1 Rewards or More - The credit card offers 2 Points, 2% Cash Back, or 2 Miles or more for every dollar spent.
  • Additional 2:1 Rewards Categories - The credit card offers 2:1 rewards or more for at least one additional purchase category - like dining, travel, gas, groceries, shopping, or other.
  • Bonus Points Offered - The credit card offers bonus points you can earn throughout the year.
  • No Blackout Dates - There are no blackout travel dates to use your points, miles, or cash back rewards.
  • No Expiration - Your rewards points, miles, or cash back rewards will never expire.
  • Offers Companion Reward - The airline credit card offers a companion airfare reward.
  • Sign-Up Bonus - The credit card offers a sign-up bonus reward.
  • Unlimited Rewards - You can accumulate an unlimited amount of points, miles, or cash back rewards with your credit card.

Benefits

Fairly Important
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Benefits refers to the additional useful features that accompany student credit card ownership. Valuable services like fraud liability protection, 24/7 live service, and access to exclusive events, are included with many cards. Many of the best student credit cards will also include emergency support, a feature parents will also appreciate. Benefits is a less important feature category, but still helps define a quality credit card for students.

  • 24/7 Live Service - You can speak with a live representative at any time of day about your credit card.
  • Emergency Support - The credit card offers emergency support.
  • Exclusive Events - You have access to exclusive events with the credit card.
  • Fraud Liability - The credit card offers fraud liability protection.
  • Partner Point Transfer - You can exchange your points for equal value with participating partners of the credit card, like hotels or airlines.
  • Price Protection - You will be reimbursed the difference of any purchase made within a certain time period if you find a lower advertised price.
  • Purchase Security - You will receive a refund for any item that a retailer doesn't accept as a return within a certain time period.

Reward Redemption

Fairly Important
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Reward Redemption covers the different ways that accumulated credit card points can be redeemed for rewards. Relative to popular points cards, the point redemption options for student cards are fairly limited. The top credit card for students will allow the cardholder to redeem points for electronics, music, cash, and even to help pay off student loans.

  • Redeem for Airline Travel - Rewards can be redeemed for airline travel.
  • Redeem for Car Rental - Rewards can be redeemed for car rental
  • Redeem for Cash Back - Rewards can be redeemed as cash back or statement credit.
  • Redeem for Gift Cards - Rewards can be redeemed for gift cards.
  • Redeem for Hotel - Rewards can be redeemed for hotel.
  • Redeem for Merchandise - Rewards can be redeemed for merchandise.
  • Redeem for Other - Rewards can be redeemed for other categories, such as magazine subscriptions or charity donations.
  • Redeem Online - You can redeem your points, miles, or cash back rewards online.

Application

Less Important
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Application is a straightforward category that identifies the different ways to apply for student credit cards and whether the card offers instant approval. College students are often busy with studies, work, and other activities. Having the ability to quickly go online and apply for a credit card is a very convenient feature. Credit cards can be tricky to navigate, so applying for one by phone and speaking with a representative can also be a helpful option. For those times when money is extra tight, finding an issuer with instant approval can make sure funds are available for the necessities.

  • Apply By Phone - You can complete the credit card application process via phone.
  • Apply In Person - You can apply for the credit card live in person.
  • Apply Online - You can complete the entire credit card application process online.
  • Instant Approval - The card offers instant approval for the credit card.

Balance Transfers

Less Important
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Balance Transfers refer to the different methods of transferring money to a card. Balance Transfers includes information on balance fees and rates, as well as specifying whether transferring from other credit cards is permitted. Some of the best cards allow balances from other credit cards to be transferred to the new card, will offer an attractive balance rate, and will not charge for the balance transfer transaction. Balance Transfers is an important category for those with existing credit balances on other credit cards.

  • Introductory Balance Transfer Rate (APR) - The credit card offers an introductory balance transfer rate (APR).
  • No Introductory Balance Transfer Fee - The credit card doesn't charge a percentage fee on the new balance transferred to the card.
  • Transfer from Credit Cards - You can transfer a balance from another credit card.
  • Transfer from Loans - You can transfer a balance from a loan to the credit card.

Insurance Coverage

Less Important
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Insurance Coverage discusses the additional assurances that are often provided by the credit card issuer. Whether it's back to visit Mom and Dad or backpacking in a distant location, college students are apt to travel and benefits like lost luggage insurance, car rental insurance, roadside assistance, and travel insurance are potentially very useful. Insurance Coverage features can provide a level of security to the cardholder, but the category is less important because these features are more about added personal protection and not fundamental to these cards.

  • Car Rental Insurance - The credit card offers car rental insurance.
  • Extended Warranty - The credit card offers an extended warranty on purchases.
  • Flight Insurance - The credit card offers flight insurance.
  • Lost Luggage Insurance - The credit card offers lost luggage insurance.
  • Roadside Assistance - The credit card offers roadside assistance.
  • Travel Insurance - The credit card offers travel insurance.

What Are the Credit Card Basics that Students Should Know?


For those new to credit cards, it can take some time to understand all the terms, conditions, rates, and fees associated with card ownership. Listed below are some of the common terms used by credit card companies that can help new cardholders better understand credit and make more informed decisions. It may take a little time for these concepts to sink in, but the extra effort can help new student cardholders avoid unnecessary mistakes and successfully establish a solid credit score.

Annual Fee: The annual fee is the charge for using the credit card that is applied every year. Not all credit cards will have an annual fee, and fortunately, none of the top student credit cards charge an annual fee.

Annual Percentage Rate: The Annual Percentage Rate (commonly referred to as APR), is the rate at which interest will accumulate if the credit card balance is not paid off each month. The APR is usually determined by the credit of the applicant and the current Prime Rate. The APR on student cards generally ranges from 12.99% - 23.99%. The most important thing to know is that a low APR is better than a high APR.

Introductory APR: Some credit cards will offer an introductory APR that is lower than the standard APR. In many cases, credit cards will offer a 0% introductory rate for a specified period at the beginning of card ownership. For example, two of the top student credit cards have a 0% introductory rate for the first seven months of card ownership. This means that interest will not be accumulating on any credit balances for the first seven months of owning the card. After that seven months is up, the standard APR will kick in.

Cash Advance Fee: The cash advance fee is a charge associated with getting cash from the credit card or taking out a loan on the line of credit. The cash advance fees for the top student credit cards is $10.00 or 5% per transaction.

Cash Advance Rate: When a credit card is used to make normal purchases like gas or groceries, the standard APR will apply. However, when a cash advance is requested, a different interest rate will be applied. The cash advance APR on many credit cards for students is roughly 25%. Cash advances are a nice convenience, but ideally they will only be used when no other options are available.

Balance Transfer Fee: The balance transfer fee is a charge applied when a credit balance is moved from one credit card to another. This fee is typically either a set dollar amount, or a percentage of the amount transferred. The balance transfer fees on the best credit card for students is $5.00 or 4% of the transactions amount.

Balance Transfer APR: When a balance is transferred to a new credit card, the APR for that transaction is called the balance transfer APR. The balance transfer APR is often higher than the standard APR. With student cards, the balance transfer rate ranges from 12.99% - 23.99%. Some credit cards offer introductory balance transfer rates that will work just like a standard introductory APR, but it will only be applied to the balance of the transfer.

Late Payment Fee: The late payment fee is the charge applied when a payment is not made before the deadline. These fees can vary, but with student credit cards they can reach as much as $35 dollars.

Default Penalty Rate: The default penalty rate is the interest rate applied to a portion of the credit balance (or in some cases the entire balance) when a credit card is in default. Some behaviors that can trigger the default penalty rate include missing a payment, having a payment returned for non-sufficient funds, or exceeding the established credit limit. The default penalty rate is typically the highest interest rate credit card issuers will apply. With student credit cards the common default penalty rate hovers around 29%.

Over-Limit Fee: The over-limit fee is the charge associated with exceeding the established line of credit. Not all credit cards will charge an over-limit fee, and fortunately, none of the top credit cards for students apply these fees.

Foreign Currency Transaction Fee: This is the fee charged when a credit card is used internationally. The foreign currency transaction fee for many cards can be as high as 3% per transaction. This may seem like a small amount, but for students doing a study abroad or heading out on a big trip, these fees can add up and result in an unexpected charge.


What Are the Reasons to Get a Student Credit Card?


The life of a college student can be an exciting and challenging time. Most students find themselves attempting to manage academic studies and part-time employment with new financial responsibilities, like student loans, rent, utilities, groceries, and other expenses. This is also a time when many students should start to establish their own credit history. Unfortunately, when it comes to identifying ways students can establish credit, the options available are limited. Further, learning how credit cards work and understanding what factors are important is an experience that can be beneficial to any student.

Student credit cards provide an excellent way for young students to begin the credit establishment process. The best student credit cards are designed specifically with students in mind, in comparison to more general rewards credit cards targeted more to working adults. Student cards generally come with relatively low lines of credit and often require a cosigner. Similar to general rewards cards, top student cards will still provide rewards for everyday purchases, including things like gas and groceries. These rewards can be redeemed for cash back, gift cards, music, electronics, and other types of merchandise. In addition, these credit cards can include benefits like travel insurance, roadside assistance, fraud protection, and emergency support.

Student credit cards are acquired for a variety of purposes. Some students may be interested primarily in establishing credit while others might appreciate knowing there are resources available in case of an emergency. Students might also lack financial resources, which may mean they have to build the credit card into their monthly budget. Regardless of the reason a student card is acquired, conducting research and comparing available features will help ensure that each student will select the best credit card for their circumstances.

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