The Best Student Credit Cards
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 and we found six delivering low interest rates, cash back, travel points, and more.
5% cash back on rotating categories, plus 1% cash back on everything else.
BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students
3% cash back on gas and 2% on groceries, plus 0% APR for 12 mths
Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students
Rewards come as points only redeemable in their (extensive) catalogue
The Best Student Credit Cards
- BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students -
Best for Building Credit
- Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card -
- BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students -
Best for Travel Rewards
- Discover it® for Students -
Best for Cash Back
- BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students -
- Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students -
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. 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 annual percentage rate (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. 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.
Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards for Students
Best for Building Credit
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 11.49% – 21.49%, which is the lowest of any of the student-friendly cards on our list. You don’t get any cash back rewards or points, which means 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 this card? 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.
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 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.
The Capital One® Journey Student Credit Card also encourages on-time payment through cash back bonuses. You earn 1% cash back on all purchases, but that cash back jumps to 1.25% if you make your payments on time.
The drawback is that this card has a hefty variable APR of 20.49%. If you don’t pay off your balances as soon as possible, you’ll be paying a significant amount of interest.
The Discover it® for Students and the Discover it® Chrome for Students are also available to people with average credit. While not specifically designed to help you build credit, the Discover it® cards offer better rewards and the potential to pay a lower APR.
Best for Cash Back
You actually have two really great options if you want a student-friendly cash back credit card: the Discover it® for Students and the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students. There are a lot of ways in which these cards are similar — they don't require an annual fee, they have roughly the same variable APR, for example, and they offer different percentages of cash back depending on the types of purchases you make.
Here's an overview of what each card offers:
|Discover it® for Students||BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students|
|0% Intro APR Period||6 months for all purchases||12 months for all purchases and for balance transfers made in the first 60 days|
|APR||13.49% - 22.49%||13.49% - 23.49%|
So what gives the Discover it® for Students the edge? Well when you calculate the potential rewards from each card, it offers significantly more in cash back. To demonstrate the differences, below are three charts showing how much cash back could you earn from these cards, if you max out your rewards potential, plus spend an additional $1,000 per quarter. The Discover card does require you to activate your cash back each quarter. You’ll receive an email asking you to click a button to activate your 5% cash back categories. If you don’t activate the higher percentage, you’ll just get 1% for everything. 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.
|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|
|Plus GPA bonus||$360|
|Plus Discover doubles your cash back at the end of the first year||$720|
If you don’t like the idea of rotating categories, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students may be your better bet. If you have a car, you get a gas bonus, 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.
|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||$418|
Best for Travel
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 and 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. You also 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 cent, 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.)
The last thing to consider? The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students has a variable APR of 15.49% – 23.49%, 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.
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. That said, the catalog is pretty extensive, including gift cards, electronics, and travel.
How much is a ThankYou point worth? 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. (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.)
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 you’re nervous about using credit, keep your purchases small and make sure to pay them off in full before you get charged interest. 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.
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. 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.
If you’re carrying a high debt balance, consider making a balance transfer.
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.