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Student credit cards are meant to ease new borrowers into the world of credit, allowing them to use and pay off a simple, straightforward card with a relatively low credit limit.
You typically have to be a student in order to qualify for such cards, and in fact, many issuers will verify your college enrollment.
However, there are some student credit cards that do accept nonstudent applicants. And there are alternative credit card options that can help nonstudents who are new to credit.
Generally, student credit cards are for students
Student credit cards are designed specifically for students, who typically lack the kind of established credit history that other traditional credit cards require. Because of this, the underwriting on student cards tends to be more lax, meaning in some cases you may be able to qualify with no credit.
However, the card's issuer will still typically require you to be enrolled in school.
If you apply for the Chase Freedom® Student credit card, for example, the issuer notes that it may verify your enrollment status. And the terms for the Discover it® Student Cash Back state that you must be a college student to be eligible for the card.
There are certain student cards that accept nonstudent applicants. One notable example is the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One.
The card considers applicants with fair credit (FICO scores of at least 630). It offers 1% cash back on all purchases, plus a 25% cash-back bonus for paying your bill on time each month — all of which make it a great option for students and nonstudents alike.
Not in school but looking for a first credit card?
If you're not a student, there are still several starter credit cards that you might qualify for.
Secured credit cards
Unlike traditional credit cards, secured credit cards require an upfront refundable cash deposit that is usually equal to your credit limit. This deposit limits the risk to the issuer, which makes such cards easier to get for individuals with poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or lower).
Some of them, like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, even earn rewards.
With responsible card use, you’ll be able to get your deposit back when you close your secured card or upgrade to a traditional "unsecured" card.
Cards for fair credit
Compared to those with poor or no credit, individuals with fair (aka "average") credit will typically have better card options, although it's still not a very lengthy list.
Such cards may feature annual fees and high interest rates, and they usually don't come with exceptional rewards rates, if they come with any at all.
A good example is the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which earns an industry-standard flat rate of 1.5% cash back but also charges an annual fee of $39.
Still, with responsible use, the best credit cards for fair credit can help you strengthen your credit and eventually qualify for better cards.
Alternative credit cards
Rather than relying solely on FICO scores, some so-called alternative credit cards can use nontraditional underwriting methods to determine your eligibility, based on things like employment, bank account balances, income and more.
For example, the bank that issues the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card can choose to also evaluate factors like your income, savings and spending.
The card doesn't require a security deposit or annual fee, and it reports to all three major credit bureaus, which is important when it comes to your credit scores. On top of that, the card also earns rewards.
'Authorized user' status
To become an authorized user, a primary cardholder must add you to their existing account. You’ll receive your own credit card tied to that account and will be able to make purchases with it, but the primary cardholder is the one who's liable for those charges, not you.
The major advantage of being an authorized user is that you may be able to benefit from the primary cardholder’s good credit habits, particularly if the card issuer reports authorized user activity to the three major credit bureaus.
Benefits of establishing credit early
If you can use it responsibly, getting a credit card as soon as you can is a good idea for several reasons:
It helps build good habits. The way to establish good credit is to use borrowed money responsibly. Practicing good credit behavior such as paying your bill in full and on time each month will ultimately save you money in the form of access to lower interest rates in the long run.
It gives you more time to establish credit. The length of your credit history is a major factor in your credit scores, so the longer you have accounts in your name, the better. Of course, simply having accounts open for a long time will not excuse bad credit behavior in other areas. But establishing good credit earlier on can help when it comes time to buy a house or finance a car in the future.
You can get better credit cards earlier. If you're a student who maintains sound credit habits, you'll eventually have the opportunity to move on to higher-tier credit cards with better features. Those kinds of credit cards usually come with big sign-up bonuses and rich rewards that can save you money on everyday purchases.