NerdWallet’s Best College Student Credit Cards 2015 - NerdWallet
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NerdWallet’s Best College Student Credit Cards 2015

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Best College Student Credit Cards

A student credit card can help you earn rewards and enjoy short-term, interest-free financing. What’s more, a student card is a great first step toward establishing a good credit history, which is crucial for obtaining favorable rates on future loans, renting your own apartment and getting low insurance premiums.

If you’re enrolled in school and in the market for a new card, here are some of our favorite student card offers:

Best for credit newbies: Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards

Earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in spending each quarter) and 1% back on all other purchases. $0 annual fee; no late fee on your first late payment; no over-the-limit fees; no foreign transaction fees; no penalty APR if you miss a payment. Free FICO score. Introductory APR of 0% on purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on balance transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 21.99% Variable.

Discover It for Students Credit Card
Apply Now

on Discover's
secure website

Benefits of the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards:

  • If you spend according to the bonus categories of the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards, you’ll enjoy a rewards rate much higher than the typical 1% or 2% back.
  • Discover is one of the few issuers that allow co-signers, which is very important if you’re applying for your first card and you’re a student under the age of 21 without full-time income.
  • The Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards allows room for error with a 0% introductory APR period, a waived first late payment fee and no penalty APR. So while you should aim to make every payment on time and pay your balance in full each month, you won’t be heavily penalized if you mess up.
  • The Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards gives you access to your free FICO score, so you can make sure you’re making the right moves for a healthy credit profile.

Drawbacks of the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards:

  • While the card comes with an EMV chip and has no foreign transaction fees, Discover isn’t widely accepted overseas, so it isn’t the best card to take with you on summer trips overseas or for a semester studying abroad.
  • If you don’t spend on Discover’s rotating bonus categories, the card’s earning rate is low.
  • Many cards offer new cardholders cash or points bonuses after reaching a spending milestone, but the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards doesn’t have a signup bonus.

The bottom line:

For young students just starting out with credit, the Discover it® for Students-New! Good Grades Rewards is hard to beat. It allows you to get a co-signer, while also giving you potentially high rewards, few fees and a 0% introductory APR. Skip it if you plan on traveling overseas or if you don’t spend according to Discover’s bonus categories.

Best for social butterflies: Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Earn 2 points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and entertainment, 1 point per dollar on everything else. Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership. $0 annual fee. Introductory APR of 0% for 7 months on purchases, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable .

Citibank ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students Credit Card
Apply Now

on Citibank's
secure website

Benefits of the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students:

  • You can earn extra points at merchants coded as takeout or sit-down restaurants, bars, amusement parks, concerts, movie theaters and more.
  • ThankYou points can be redeemed for certain gift cards, travel and student loan payments at a value of 1 cent each, which is the industry standard.

Drawbacks of the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students:

  • While there are a lot of redemption options for ThankYou points, many of them don’t offer the average point value of 1 cent. Cash rewards are redeemable at the low value of 0.5 cents per point.

The bottom line:

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students is a good card for students who spend frequently on dining out and going out. The ThankYou rewards program isn’t the best, but if you use your points on items like booking travel and paying off your student loans, you can get 1 cent out of each of them.

Best for study-abroad students: BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card for Students

Earn 1.5 points on every dollar you spend; 100 BankAmericard Travel Rewards Points Bonus after spending $500. $0.00 annual fee; no foreign transaction fees. Introductory APR of 0% for 12 months on purchases, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 22.99% Variable .

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now

on Bank of America's
secure website
Or call (800) 211-3740

Benefits of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card for Students:

  • The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card for Students has the triple crown of travel benefits — $0.00 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and an EMV chip — making it a great choice for students heading abroad for the semester.
  • The card’s rewards rate is high for a card without an annual fee.

Drawbacks of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card for Students:

  • Points are redeemable for travel purchases only; you can’t get cash back or gift cards.

The bottom line:

The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card for Students is a great card for travel spending and redemption. Students studying abroad will enjoy that it’s EMV-equipped and doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. But opt for another card if you prefer the flexibility of cash rewards.

Best for bookworms: Sallie Mae MasterCard

Earn 5% back at bookstores (up to $750 spent per month), 5% back on gas and groceries (up to $250 in combined spending each month), and 1% back on all other purchases. $25 Cash Bonus - after first purchase, made within 90 days of account opening. The annual fee is $0. Introductory APR of 0% for 15 months on balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% Variable .

Benefits of the Sallie Mae MasterCard:

  • Amazon is coded as a bookstore, so you can earn 5% back on your Amazon purchases (up to $750 spent per month).
  • The Sallie Mae MasterCard has the longest introductory APR period among our top cards if you need extra time to pay off your initial purchases.
  • Rewards are redeemable for statement credit, cash back into your Upromise account or a payment toward your Sallie Mae loan, allowing you to use rewards to lower your debt obligation or free up cash to put toward your education.
  • You don’t need to have a Sallie Mae loan or Upromise account to get this card.

Drawbacks of the Sallie Mae MasterCard:

  • Rewards don’t typically post for six to eight weeks from the day you redeem them.
  • Sallie Mae and Upromise customers won’t get any special perks for using this card.

The bottom line:

Big readers — or Amazon shoppers — can get great rewards out of the Sallie Mae MasterCard. And even if you don’t have a Sallie Mae or Upromise account, you can get these rewards back as a statement credit. However, you won’t see extra perks for being an account holder.

Best for punctual pupils: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Earn 1% back on every purchase; rewards bonus on cash back for each month you pay on time. $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now

on Capital One's
secure website

Benefits of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®:

  • You’ll be rewarded for punctual payments with an increased credit line after making your first five payments on time, plus an on-time-payment bonus that brings your rewards up to 1.25% back on every purchase.
  • The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® allows you to choose the due date that works best for you.
  • You don’t have to be a student to qualify, and you may be able to get this card with average credit.

Drawbacks of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®:

  • Even with the on-time-payment bonus, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has a low rewards rate.

The bottom line:

If you need a student card for average credit, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is tough to beat. It rewards you for paying on time with higher rewards and a higher credit line. You don’t have to be a student to get it, so those with average credit who are looking for a rewards card may want to consider it.

How do I choose a credit card?

The credit card you choose will depend on factors that include your credit history and payment habits. We recommend only applying for cards marketed toward individuals in your credit score range, which will improve your chances of being approved for a credit card.

When it comes to your payment habits, pick a card that will benefit your finances the most. If you pay off your entire balance each month — which is what the Nerds recommend — then get a rewards card. However, if you know you’ll roll over some of your balance from one month to the next, apply for a card with no rewards but a low APR.

As we noted, students starting out with credit will likely need a co-signer. However, if you earn a full-time income, you may be able to get a card on your own. Failing that, you may choose a secured credit card, which is backed by a cash deposit but works the same as an unsecured card.

Important credit card features, defined

0% introductory APR: A 0% introductory APR typically means 12 months or more of no interest on your purchases and/or balance transfers. Once the introductory rate expires, the interest on the card increases to the ongoing APR and accrues on your average daily balance. Aim to pay off your balance in full before this time, especially because some cards may charge you retroactive interest on your initial balance.

Ongoing APR: If you carry a balance, you should look for a card with a low ongoing APR. Credit unions are worth checking out because they usually offer the lowest ongoing interest rates and are more likely to lend to students or others with little or no credit.

If you pay your balance in full each month, the interest rate shouldn’t matter. Instead, you can focus on other card perks, like high rewards and no fees.

Rewards: Some credit cards offer cash or travel rewards on every purchase. While most of these cards give you 1% to 2% back, some cards offer additional rewards on certain spending categories. Pay attention to these categories so you can earn the most rewards for your most frequent expenses.

Last updated September 2, 2015.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @Erin_Lindsay17.

Image via iStock.

  • 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 (:

  • Karyn

    If I’m an online student, do I still qualify for a student credit card?

    • NerdWallet

      Hi Karyn – Thanks for reaching out to us! Someone from the NerdWallet team will follow up with you directly :)

  • Mackenzie

    How do you figure out which cards will work with your credit score. I dont want to apply for a ton and have the attempts on my credit score as well. I have a fair credit score . Thanks!

    • NerdWallet

      Hi Mackenzie – feel free to use our credit card comparison tool which will recommend cards based on a few pieces of info (credit score, annual fee/no annual fee, etc.)! Here’s the link If you have more specific questions, feel free to email us at :)

  • Stephanie

    Where could I find the link to the Sallie Mae Mastercard? This looks like my best option but I only seem to find a UPromise creditcard on the site.

  • Jen

    If you’ve had credit for 3 years and have never defaulted, check out the Capital One Venture.

  • NerdWallet

    Hi SammiFalvey! There are tons of great travel cards in the market right now, which can make choosing a credit card both exciting and overwhelming. A few things you should consider when selecting a travel card:

    (1) Are you willing to pay an annual fee? Cards with an annual fee typically have higher rewards rate. If you spend enough per year, then it’s often worth it to get the higher rewards rate. Some cards even waive the annual fee for the 1st year.

    (2) Does the card have a foreign transaction fee? If you’re planning on using the card when you’re out of the country, you should look for one that has no foreign transaction fee so that you don’t rack up fees!

    If you’re happy with Capital One, I would suggest taking a look at the Capital One Venture Card. As of December 2014, it earns an unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, which is super easy to redeem as a statement credit against travel expenses (flights, hotels, rental cars, gas, etc.) Right now, there’s also a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Also, no foreign transaction fee for when you travel out of the country.

    Here’s some more info if you’re interested:

  • BB

    Probably. He should have answered no. He does not have any outstanding loans unless he already graduated from college and missed payments on those loans. As long as he is in college, he doesn’t need to be paying back his loans and they are all NOT outstanding.

  • Ideamonger

    I have heard nothing but horror stories about Wells Fargo. I would advise that you steer clear in general.

  • NerdWallet

    Hi Emma! The Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card has a lot of things going for it. As of December 2014, it had $0 annual fee, and a flat 1% rewards rate on all of your purchases. If you already have a Wells Fargo bank account, it has the added benefit of keeping all of your finances in one place so that it’s easy to manage. A few things to watch out for: There are high late payment fees (up to $35), so make sure to pay on time! Also, there is a foreign transaction fee. If you’re planning on studying or traveling internationally, you may want to consider another card without these fees.

  • kauainative

    Capital one has the Venture card, that’s a good card it let’s you use the points on any airlines. You should call CO and get more info since you are already a customer.

  • JRD

    I am in a similar situation as you, a student with a part time job making 10k a year with significant savings. Discover game me a $800 CL, and i have been very happy with the service. I wonder what was different?

  • bcollett

    Im in the same boat as you – Part time 10-15k year – But my experience w/ discover was far different. They approved me right away and gave me a $750 credit limit.

  • Ashton

    No, he would’ve been denied anyways. I answered no to that question and was still denied.

  • Georgette Gomez

    Agreed! I’m looking for other cards now because I was with Wells Fargo. They’ll charge you for everything!

  • Briant

    First-year college student here.

    I pay on time and have had no problems in the 4 months that I’ve had it. Paying is so easy if you have a debit account with them since you can do it in less than a minute over the internet.

    Compared to other credit cards I’m not too sure how “good” it is, but its good enough for me and for being my 1st one. I jumped no hoops to get it either, just waited some days for approval and about two weeks to get it over the mail.

  • jeremy

    how much did you put for annual income ? and did they require proof ?

  • Mannan Qazi

    Hi, I applied for the discover card last week and didn’t make any security deposit nor did have any cosigner and I got approved (NOTE: I don’t have ANY credit history and this is my first Credit Card and don’t even have a job/part-time at the moment). Although the credit line is low ($500), but that is good enough for me. What is best about Discover is that they have a US based customer service, so no foreign accent problems( Don’t mean to sound like an idiot, but I have a hard time understanding foreign Accents)

  • Jose Dominguez

    I just got a full time job last month and before that had basically no income (student). I applied for a card and put my new job salary as my annual income even though I’ve only been here for a month and I was approved for the card. It worked for me and nothing bad has happened so far so I say you should go for it and put your new salary if you have already been guaranteed a spot at your new job.

  • Marco

    When I applied for the Journey card, I was approved without having any credit established and I did not need a co-signer… Overall, it’s a great card and their customer service is great. Plus, every 5 months of making your minimum payment on time they’ll raise your credit limit. Hope I was able to help.

  • Sasha Milstead

    Yes. Just make sure NOT to spend what you don’t have. Everybody has gone those last couple of days until payday in which they needed gas or maybe a meal. I have a 713 credit score right now and plan to improve it even more. Some people say that you should keep a rolling balance(owe the bank money and not pay back in full), but that doesn’t make sense to me so I don’t personally do that.

  • hanafunwatcher

    Really girls? Ask your financial go to gal

  • hanafunwatcher


  • hanafunwatcher


  • Teresa Blosser

    You want to show lots of on time payments and so using the card but keeping it low or paid off , then make a small purchase. (This accomplishes that.)

  • Meet Patel

    Get discover it students card. They will apprive you for sure. BUT before applying look aroun your town if discover card is accepted or not..

  • Meet Patel

    I think wells fargo

  • meow

    I first applied to a citi card (denied) last Saturday and then the same day I applied to Chase Slate credit card and was approved. So it doesn’t matter.

  • 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.