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Citi Dividend Platinum and Citi Forward for College Students Back-to-School Promo

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Citi is no longer offering back-to-school promotions on two of its best student credit cards, the Citi Forward® Card for College Students and the Citi® Dividend® Card for College Students.

These offers are expired, but will possibly be back next year in time for the next school year. Meanwhile, you can still get these offers, but without the sign up cash back bonus.

Previously (deal below is now expired):

The Citi Forward® Card for College Students is offering $75 back, while the Citi® Dividend® Card for College Students offers $50. We’ll explain both offers below, but in our opinion, the Citi Forward® Card for College Students was and continues to be one of the best choices for college students out there.

Rewards rates old and new

Citi Forward® Card for College Students: The Citi Forward® Card for College Students is having a back-to-school promotion that one-ups the previous $50 cash back deal. It’s offering a $75 statement credit if you spend $150 on back-to-school purchases in the first 3 months. Qualifying buys include apparel, books and electronics. There’s a catch, though: if you get the Citi Forward® Card for College Students with the $75 bonus, you’ll only get 2 ThankYou Points per $1 spent in bonus categories. Still, factoring in the Citi Forward® Card for College Students’s 2% rewards, that’s 52% off on $150 of typical college student purchases, a better Groupon, if you will.

In addition, the Citi Forward® Card for College Students offers 0% APR on purchases for the first 7 months* as well as 1,000 ThankYou points for signing up for paperless statements.

Citi® Dividend® Card for College Students: The Dividend gives $50 cash back after spending $150 in purchases in the first 3 months – on anything, not just back-to-school supplies. Its major promotion, though, is that it gives 5% cash back on groceries, drugstores, gas, convenience stores and utilities for the first six months. It also has the same 0% purchase APR for 7 months promotion as the Citi Forward® Card for College Students. However, and this is a big however, you’re limited to $300 in rewards a year.

Forward rewards: the reason for our affection. The Citi Forward® Card for College Students is one of our favorite student credit cards because it gives high rewards on typical student purchases and has very generous interpretations of its bonus categories. It gives 5 ThankYou points per $1 spent on dining out, movies, music and textbooks, and 1 TY point per $1 spent elsewhere, up to 75,000 points a year. College bookstores count, so you can earn the bonus rewards rate for university-branded apparel, dorm room supplies and whatever else they sell at the campus bookstore. You also earn 100 points a month for staying under your credit line and paying on time, which do not count towards the 75k-point cap. Should you take the bonus in exchange for a lower rewards rate? It depends on how much you spend and how long you’ll hold the card. If you spend more than $2,500 in bonus categories over the course of the card’s lifetime, the difference between the 5-point rate and the 2-point rate will outweigh the initial $75 bump. Otherwise, low spenders should stick with the bonus.

Dividend rewards: great in the short term, less than ideal in the long runThe Dividend has a great introductory offer: 5% back on groceries, gas, drugstores, utilities and convenience stores for the first six months. As these are typical college student spending categories, you’ll probably get good value. Subsequently, the card gives 1% in those categories and 2% in quarterly rotating bonus categories, which can include restaurants and department stores. While you can rack up a not-insubstantial amount during the first 6 months, the Citi Forward® Card for College Students offers 5% back ongoing and has a 75k-point rewards cap compared to the Dividend’s max $300 cash back. It also lacks the 100-points per month deal.

The details, and the downside of ThankYou points

The Citi Forward® Card for College Students has an ongoing, variable APR ranges from 13.99%-22.99%* (Variable). The Citi® Dividend® Card for College Students has a variable APR of 13.99%-23.99%* (Variable). Neither has an annual fee, which is helpful for building your credit score. Keeping your credit card accounts open, even if you’re not actively using the cards, helps your FICO score for a number of reasons:

  • It adds to the average length of time your accounts have been open
  • It increases the number of accounts you haven’t made late payments with
  • It lowers your debt utilization ratio, or the amount of your debt compared to your total credit limit

Since one of these is likely to be your first credit card, you can keep it open for a long time without having to worry about bleeding annual fees.

The downside of the Citi Forward® Card for College Students is that it pays out in ThankYou points, which are annoying to redeem. We estimate their value at 0.83 cents apiece, though depending on how you redeem, you can get between ½ a cent and a full cent. In order to get the full value, you have to do done of the following:

  • Redeem for music downloads (as of this writing)
  • Redeem for a student loan payment
  • Trade your points for a donation to the Red Cross
  • Squirrel away 10,000 points before cashing in for a $100 gift certificate

And, of course, the 75,000-point yearly cap is annoying.

The Dividend Select pays out in Dividend Dollars, essentially cash back. The benefit of cash back is that, unlike with the ThankYou points, you’re guaranteed to get full value. On the other hand, they pay out in $50 increments only at your request, and you’re limited to $300 in rewards a year. That works out to an equivalent of 30,000 points – a much lower cap than the Citi Forward® Card for College Students’s. For that reason, as well as the higher overall rewards rate, we recommend the Forward over the Dividend.