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NerdWallet’s Best College Student Credit Cards, 2015

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Best College Student Credit Cards

Who knew that credit cards could be so rewarding? With a college student credit card, you can earn awesome perks and rewards on money you’d spend anyway. Plus, having a student credit card can help establish your credit score, which will be helpful down the road. The thought of graduation is scary enough — arming yourself with a great credit score is a sure fire way to start your post-grad life off on the right foot.

With a student credit card, you won’t need a cheat sheet to know how to get all the best rewards. These cards pay back on common student expenses like textbooks, restaurants and even music. Take a look at NerdWallet’s top picks for the best student credit cards.

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card
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on Capital One's
secure website

To be fair, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is Capital One’s only student credit card, but it’s still a pretty good offering. You receive 1% cash back on all your purchases, plus 0.25% back when you make your monthly payment on time, for a grand total of 1.25% cash back. That isn’t too bad, especially for a student card. The annual fee is $0, and your rewards will never expire. Since this is a student credit card, Capital One may be more forgiving of a short credit history.

Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards

Discover It for Students Credit Card
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on Discover's
secure website

Like its grown-up counterpart, the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards offers 5% cash back on a broad range of categories, up to $1,500 spent a quarter, plus an unlimited 1% cash back everywhere else. But what sets the this card apart from other student cards isn’t what it has, but what it doesn’t: No penalty interest rate, and a waived first late payment fee. Look, you’re in college, you do dumb stuff sometimes — it’s nice to know your rates won’t be jacked up if you miss your first-ever credit card payment. As an aside, if you’re going to study abroad, the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards might be a good traveling companion: Though it’s only accepted in certain countries, the card has no foreign transaction fee, which can set you back 3% of whatever you spend overseas with other cards.

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Citibank ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students Credit Card
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on Citibank's
secure website

Like the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards, this card also has a “big sister” version: the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card — Earn 20,000 Bonus Points. The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students offers 2X Points on purchases for dining and entertainment, and one ThankYou Point on other purchases. While the ThankYou Points aren’t on the high end in absolute terms, a rewards rate of up to 2% on dining and entertainment (depending on how you redeem) is still a great deal for a first credit card. The card comes with a modest sign-up bonus: Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership. Frequent international travelers will surely appreciate the EMV chip, but should watch out for the foreign transaction fee.

How do I choose a credit card? 

This is the part where the professor drops the big hint that something will be on the midterm. If there’s anything you should know about credit cards, pay attention to the following:

Choosing a credit card:A rewards card will only be beneficial if you pay off your bills every month. These cards usually have a higher interest, but if you’re a smart and responsible spender, you’ll enjoy extra points and cash back on your purchases. If you carry a balance, don’t even worry about rewards – a low APR (annual percentage rate, or interest rate) card is the way to go.

Qualifying for a credit card: If you’re a student, there’s a good chance you won’t have a full-time income just yet, so you’ll need a co-signer. This person would apply for the card with you, allowing you borrow off their credit score to get lower interest rates and higher credit limits than you’d get on your own. It’s also important to note that the Credit Card Act of 2009 requires those without an income to have a co-signer.

Need-to-know vocab: The important credit card features

0% Intro APR: The back to school season usually means you’ll be making a lot of big purchases all at once, so a 0% intro APR period would be something to look out for. This allows you to make all these purchases and have 6+ months to pay it off without interest. Just make sure you pay off all your debt during the intro period, or else you could take a huge hit from sky-high interest rates.

Rewards: We all like to be rewarded every once in a while – why not reward yourself every time you swipe? Most rewards cards will offer 1% cash back on all purchases, with special categories earning you 2%-5% back. Pay attention to these categories so you can earn the maximum rewards for your most frequent expenses.

Ongoing APR: If you plan to carry a balance (which you shouldn’t, ahem ahem), look for a card with a low ongoing APR. Rarely will you find a card that offers both rewards and a low APR, but there will be a few with rewards in addition to a 0% APR intro period. Credit unions are worth checking out since they usually offer the lowest ongoing interest rates, and are more likely to lend to students or others with little or no credit.

  • Steven

    HI, so I applied to a discover card and journey card and got denied by both. I am going to be a freshman in college and right now i have a part time job. I dont have a credit history but I’m getting denied to student credit cards. I want to build my credit but dont know how if I cant get a student credit card. Any advice?

    • Adam Stamper

      Listing get a secured cared 3oo and pay it off every month for five moths them the sky’s the limit

      • Steven

        Alright, Discover offered me a secured card should i do it?

  • Noah

    I applied for the Discover student card and was offered to have a co-signer which I declined as I have better credit than my parents. I was declined because of my lack of credit history. I do have an unsecured card through my bank with an $800 limit which I had no problem getting when I had absolutely no credit at all. Got it with no co-signer. I called Discover and asked if there was anything they could do, they all said no (I talked to several agents) I asked if they could approve me with a lower limit, they said no to that too. I’m responsible with my current credit card, always make my payments in full and early. I also have a checking and savings account with a decent amount of money, I woke part time for about 10k a year. I have a score of 673, never been late or missed a payment. Any suggestions? Don’t want to apply for too many cards, would like one with cash back on gas as I’m going to be commuting to school everyday. Thanks in advance! :)

    • Dallie Ho

      Discover card also declines based on income which is stupid!

      If your part-time and a college student what do they expect? The salary of established $50,000 adults?

  • Noah

    Applied for Discover and was denied. Applied for Capital One and was instantly approved for a $500 limit! TU score of 670 EQ score of 664!

  • Tina Duong

    I got approved for the Discover It student card right when I graduated high school with $1000 limit. I’ve only been working for less than a year and my credit score was 681 when I applied. It also helps that I was an authorized user for several of my mom’s credit cards which made my credit history look 5 years old. One month later… my credit score skyrocketed to 733 after I applied for the Citi ThankYou Preferred for students. I know I should’ve waited longer than a month but I got approved for that card with a $2000 limit and it really helped with my credit utilization. Hope this helped you (:

  • Shawn Yang

    I applied for a capital one card, got instantly approved with ZERO credit. I had 300 credit limit but i paid it off every month (i was 17 only charging it to about 100-150) but then when my credit was there, It was 700, then i got an auto loan. Now my credit is about 760 (im 22) just dont get charge happy and big credit cards 1000+ limits get scary when ur a student.

  • Halle Culbertson

    Did you have any credit history when you applied for your chase credit card? I’ve applied to Citi and Discover and both denied me.

  • Laura

    It affects you because their debt to income ratio affects you as well. It shows up on your credit report as if it yours… But it is a good way to build credit… If your parents credit is good.

  • M Pascual

    Capital One Journey

  • Mary Frances Spence

    Trying to help my young adult children find the best credit card for them- thanks for all the tips posted here. Can you tell me which of the student credit cards DON’T levy international transaction fees? I know my Capitol One card does not, but I don’t know if it applies to all their products, including their Journey card.