NerdWallet’s Best College Student Credit Cards, Winter 2014

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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.

Discover it for Students

Discover It for Students Credit Card
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Like its adult counterpart, the Discover it for Students 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 Discover 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 some 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 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.

Citi Forward for Students

Like pizza and beer? Of course you do. Then the Citi Forward card is the answer to all your student spending needs. You’ll get 5 ThankYou points for every $1 spent on entertainment and at restaurants (yes, that includes bars and fast food). You’ll also get 1 ThankYou point for every $1 spent elsewhere.

As an added bonus, there’s no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR for the first 7 months. The Citi Forward lets you ease into the process with a chance to take your first steps into the financial world interest free. You’ll also get rewarded for good behavior – make all your payments on time and stay below your credit limit, and Citi will lower your purchase APR by 0.25% every three months, up to 2%. As a cherry on top, count on an additional 1,200 points for every year you comply.

The only setback is the 75,000 ThankYou point cap each year, and the point values aren’t the best in the biz. Just save up your points and spend wisely to get your full point value.

How do I choose a credit card? 

This is the part where the professor drops the big hint-hint-nudge-nudge 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.

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