Best of

Best College Student Credit Cards of August 2019

Melissa LambarenaAugust 9, 2019

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NerdWallet's Best College Student Credit Cards of August 2019

Our pick for

Cash-back rewards

Discover it® Student Cash Back

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

This card offers 5% cash back (on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter) in categories that change every three months and that you activate. Recent categories have included Amazon, gas stations and restaurants. It pays 1% cash back on all other spending. New cardholders will get their cash back matched at the end of their first 12 billing periods, and students who maintain a 3.0 GPA are eligible for an annual $20 statement credit. There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee and no late fee for your first late payment. Also, late payments will never increase your interest rate.

Cons

Activating the bonus cash-back categories every quarter is a hassle. And Discover isn’t as widely accepted as Visa and MasterCard overseas, so beware if you’re studying abroad.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24%.
  • View Rates and Fees

Our pick for

No credit history and international students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

on Deserve's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

20.74% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

Students who might not qualify for other cards have a chance here, as this card's issuer uses its own underwriting process to evaluate applications based on alternative criteria. Cardholders get unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases, a statement credit for a 12-month Amazon Prime Student subscription (up to $59) and a $30 statement credit every time you refer a friend who qualifies for the card. The annual fee is $0.

Cons

Rewards are redeemable only for statement credit, and you’ll have to wait until you have $25 in rewards (equal to $2,500 in spending) before you can redeem. Other cards offer higher rewards rates, if you can qualify for them.
  • No SSN required for International students.
  • Available to students (enrollment verification is required).
  • Amazon Prime Student on us (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59).
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases.
  • Credit limits up to $5,000.
  • $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees.
  • No security deposit or co-signer required.
  • Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence.
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted.
  • Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Travel Assistance Services, Extended Warranty, and ID Theft Protection
  • Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600.

Our pick for

Incentives for responsible use

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

26.96% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The cash-back rewards are easy to understand and might help you develop good credit habits. You earn 1% cash back on all purchases, and when you pay your bill on time, you’ll receive an extra 0.25% cash back as a bonus. Make your first five payments on time, and you may gain access to a higher credit line. The annual fee is $0, and there are no foreign transaction fees. And you don’t even have to be a student to apply.

Cons

The maximum rewards rate of 1% or 1.25% is lower than the top rate on some other student cards.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone

Our pick for

Gas and restaurant rewards

Discover it® Student chrome

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The Discover it® Student chrome earns 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The annual fee is $0, and there is no late fee for the first late payment. Students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher can earn a $20 statement credit each year for up to five years. There's also Discover's signature bonus for new cardholders: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.

Cons

Although there's no foreign transaction fee, Discover isn’t as widely accepted abroad as other cards. If you plan to travel internationally, make sure you have a backup plan.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24%.
  • View Rates and Fees

Our pick for

Big rewards on small purchases

Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card

on Citibank's application

on Citibank's application

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.49% - 26.49% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases for 7 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

You get 2 ThankYou points per dollar spent at supermarkets and gas stations (for the first $6,000 spent per year) and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. All purchases are automatically rounded up to the nearest 10 points, so a $1 cup of coffee, a $5 notebook or a $9.75 meal would each earn 10 points. Assuming a value of a penny a point, that's a great rate of return on small purchases. The card also offers a 0% APR period and a modest sign-up bonus for an annual fee of $0.

Cons

ThankYou points aren't very flexible. You can redeem them for gift cards at a value of 1 cent per point, but you can't get cash back. The rounding-up feature gets less valuable as the amount of a transaction goes up. For example, a $1 purchase rounds up to 10 points for a 10% rewards rate, but a $201 purchase rounds up to 210 points for a 1.04% rate.
  • The Citi Rewards+SM Student Card – the only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase – with no cap
  • Earn 2,500 bonus points after you spend $500 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for a $25 gift card at thankyou.com
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 7 months. After that, the variable APR will be 16.49% - 26.49%, based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases.
  • Get 10% Points Back for the first 100,000 ThankYou® Points you redeem per year
  • No annual fee

Our pick for

Limited credit

State Farm Student Visa Credit Card Credit Card
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The rewards on this $0-annual-fee card aren't the greatest, but the issuer accepts applications from students with less-than-good credit. That makes it a viable option for those looking to build credit. Rewards come in the form of State Farm Loyalty Rewards points. You get 1 point for every $2 spent on most purchases. You also get 3 points per $1 spent on insurance premium payments, on up to $4,000 spent annually. Cardholders are eligible for student discounts from Visa.

Cons

You can't redeem points for cash, only for merchandise, gift cards, travel, charitable donations or payments for State Farm products. The 3% foreign transaction fee also makes this card less than ideal for those studying abroad.
  • Earn 1 State Farm Loyalty Rewards® point for every $2 spent on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on insurance premium payments, up to $4,000 annually.
  • Competitive annual percentage rates.
  • Many student discounts provided by Visa.

Our pick for

Secured card

Capital One Secured Mastercard Credit Card

on Capital One's website

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

26.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

This is a secured credit card, so you must put down a deposit. But you might be able to get a $200 line of credit with only a $49, $99 or $200 deposit. Make your first five monthly payments on time, and the issuer could raise your credit limit without requiring an additional deposit. The annual fee is $0.

Cons

Although secured cards are easier to qualify for than regular unsecured cards, approval isn't guaranteed. You'll need to be able to show you can pay your bill, and, of course, you'll have to tie money up in a security deposit.
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Capital One:

Summary of Best College Student Credit Cards of August 2019

Credit CardIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

on Deserve's website

N/A

20.74% Variable

$0

on Deserve's website

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

on Capital One's website

N/A

26.96% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Discover it® Student chrome

Discover it® Student chrome

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card

Citi Rewards+ Student Card

on Citibank's application

0% on Purchases for 7 months

16.49% - 26.49% Variable APR

$0

on Citibank's application

State Farm Student Visa Credit Card Credit Card

State Farm® Student Visa® Credit Card

N/A

17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

$0

Read review
Capital One Secured Mastercard Credit Card

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

on Capital One's website

N/A

26.99% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Credit CardIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

on Deserve's website

N/A

20.74% Variable

$0

on Deserve's website

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

on Capital One's website

N/A

26.96% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Discover it® Student chrome

Discover it® Student chrome

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

15.24% - 24.24% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card

Citi Rewards+ Student Card

on Citibank's application

0% on Purchases for 7 months

16.49% - 26.49% Variable APR

$0

on Citibank's application

State Farm Student Visa Credit Card Credit Card

State Farm® Student Visa® Credit Card

N/A

17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

$0

Read review
Capital One Secured Mastercard Credit Card

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

on Capital One's website

N/A

26.99% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Why it’s wise to build credit as a student

Building credit might not seem like an urgent priority when you're still in school, but the earlier you start the clock on your credit history, the better. Having good credit will be important down the road when you want to buy a home or get a car loan, but there are even more immediate benefits. For example, good credit can improve your chances of landing a job or renting an apartment.

Your credit history, detailed in your credit report and summarized by credit scores, shows how well you've handled borrowed money — and using a credit card responsibly is one of the quickest and easiest ways to build credit. Among the situations in which good credit comes in handy:

  • Borrowing money. Whether you’re applying for a credit card, car loan, personal loan, mortgage or other loan, good credit can be the difference between approval and rejection. Further, good credit can qualify you for lower interest rates, which saves you money.
  • Renting an apartment. When you submit an application to rent an apartment, the landlord may look at your credit score to gauge how likely you are to pay your rent on time.
  • Setting up utilities. Utility companies commonly check customers' credit history. If you have bad credit or no credit history, your power company or water utility might require you to pay a deposit or get a letter of guarantee from someone who agrees to pay your bill if you can't.
  • Getting hired: Depending on your profession, you might need good credit to pass an employment screening. Some employers check credit, especially for jobs that require handling other people's money.
  • Starting a business: Some creditors look at your personal credit score when you’re trying to establish business credit. If you dream of starting a business or want to keep the door open to this possibility, a good credit score can keep interest rates affordable.

See and track your credit score

NerdWallet gives you free access to your credit score. Checking doesn't affect your score.

» MORE: 5 questions on applying for a student credit card

Who should apply for a student credit card

Simply being a college student isn't enough by itself to qualify for a student card. Here's what you need to know.

  • Student status might (or might not) matter. Check the card's terms and conditions on the issuer's website for application eligibility. For example, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® does not have an explicit student requirement, while the rules for the Discover it® Student Cash Back say "You must be a college student."
  • Federal law limits who can get credit cards under age 21. Issuers are prohibited from providing cards to people under 21 unless they have proof of independent income or a co-signer — someone who agrees to be responsible for the debt if the primary cardholder doesn't pay the bill. This can be a roadblock since most major credit card issuers don’t allow co-signers.
  • Those 21 or over are also required to provide proof of income. However, they can list any income to which they have “reasonable expectation of access.”
  • Bad credit is usually a dealbreaker. Student credit cards are designed for people with little or no credit history. If you have bad credit because of missed payments or other missteps, you probably won’t qualify for a student card on your own. In that case, look to a card specifically designed for people with bad credit.

» MORE: How to report income on your credit card application

Alternatives to student cards (and options for non-students)

  • If you're under 21 and can't qualify on your own: Have a parent add you as an authorized user on one of their cards. Authorized user status can help you build a credit history. You'll get a card with your name on it that you can use for purchases, but your parent is legally responsible for the debt.
  • If you're over 21 and still have trouble qualifying: Even with a full-time income, it can be hard to qualify for a traditional credit card if you lack a credit history.
    • Some startup companies have begun offering credit cards for people with no credit or limited credit. These issuers use alternative methods to evaluate applications — looking at income, employment status and assets rather than credit history, for example.
    • Secured credit cards are another excellent option. They're easier to qualify for because they require a security deposit, which reduces the risk for credit card issuers. Use one to build a credit history, then move up to a better card. See our best secured credit cards.
  • If you can’t clear any of these hurdles and you want to start building credit: Some rent-reporting services will report your rent payments to credit bureaus for a fee. It can be more affordable than coming up with a deposit for a secured credit card. Being able to prove a good payment history might even help you qualify for a credit card in the future.
  • If you've already established credit and have independent income: Consider bypassing student cards entirely. You might qualify for a credit card that offers better rewards, a generous sign-up bonus or lower interest. If you don't yet meet the criteria for such cards, you can look forward to these options once you establish good credit.

» MORE: What to do if you can't get a student credit card

How to compare student credit cards

Student credit cards generally don't offer the same rewards and perks as “regular” credit cards. That's OK — the main purpose of student cards is to build credit with the goal of qualifying for better cards down the line. A good student credit card will save you money and report to all three credit bureaus (more on that below); rewards on top of that are just a bonus.

» MORE: How to choose a student credit card

Here are some factors to consider as you shop around.

Credit reporting

The student credit card you choose should report to all three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. These companies gather the information used to calculate credit scores. That's why you want your good payment history recorded by all of them. All of our recommended student cards report to all three bureaus, with the exception of the Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students, which says it reports to Experian and TransUnion.

Annual fee

It’s ideal to avoid an annual fee when you're on a student budget. In addition to keeping costs low, a no-annual-fee card makes it easier to keep an account open once you build enough credit to move on to better credit cards. Without an annual fee, you can keep your original credit card open to keep the length of your credit history and benefit your credit score.

Introductory and ongoing interest rates

Cards designed for people new to credit tend to have higher interest rates, so it's best to pay your bill in full each month, which allows you to avoid paying interest entirely. However, some student cards give you an introductory 0% interest period, which can be helpful if you have a big purchase you'll need a few months to pay off.

Rewards

If you’re hoping to earn points or cash back for your spending, look for a card that offers a rewards rate of at least 1%. Some student credit cards are more generous, but 1% is a decent rate for a starter card. You’ll get more value if you choose a card whose rewards align with your spending. Some cards also offer a sign-up bonus. These incentives can potentially defray the cost of your college expenses, but only if you’re not overspending to earn them. If you do choose a student credit card with rewards, use it only for those purchases you already make within your budget.

Foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees are surcharges on purchases made outside the country, usually 1% to 3% of the total amount of a transaction. That can represent a serious hit to a student budget if you're spending a full semester in a study abroad program. If you plan to travel outside the U.S., look for a student credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. Some issuers, including Discover and Capital One, don't charge these fees on any of their cards.

International acceptance

Another consideration when studying abroad is how easily you can use your credit card. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted worldwide, but American Express and especially Discover are less so.

» MORE: The study abroad student's guide to credit cards

Security deposit (for secured cards)

If you're having a hard time qualifying for a student credit card, consider a secured card. These cards require a security deposit, which is usually equal to your credit limit. Minimum deposit requirements tend to be $200 to $300, but some can be as high as $500. Pulling together the deposit can be an obstacle on a student income, so you may have to save up for it, or ask someone to help out. You get your deposit back when you close your account in good standing or upgrade to a “regular” credit card with the same issuer.  See our best secured credit cards.

Making the most of your student credit card

Once you've been approved for a credit card, you’re ready to get to work building credit. Here’s how to use your card to your advantage:

  • Buy only what you can afford. It can be tempting to charge a night out with friends, for example, when you don't have the cash on hand to cover it. But if such spending becomes a habit, it will be costly.
  • Pay on time and in full every month to avoid interest. Use your card as a tool for building good credit, not for spending money you don't have. Use it for small purchases you can afford to pay back on time and in full every month to keep your card’s grace period in effect. You’ll maintain control of your budget and save money on interest.
  • If you can’t pay your full balance, pay more than the minimum. In circumstances when it’s not possible to pay your full balance, at least pay more than the minimum amount due. You’ll make more progress toward eliminating your debt.
  • Use only a portion of your available credit. Your card might have a credit limit of, say, $1,000, but it's not wise to use the full $1,000. Keep your balance under 30% of your limit to maintain a good credit utilization ratio and protect your score. As a student, you probably won’t get a high credit limit anyway, so use your card primarily for smaller purchases.
  • Be strategic with your sign-up bonus and rewards. If your student credit card offers a sign-up bonus, planning your application around upcoming expenses can help you meet the bonus requirements without additional spending. Choosing a credit card with rewards that match your spending will also prove more fruitful for your wallet.
  • Keep your account open if possible. If your credit card doesn’t charge an annual fee, keep it open to maintain the length of your credit history and your credit score. Closing a credit card can end up hurting the score you’ve worked hard to build.

» MORE: 5 Common credit card mistakes that students make — and how to avoid them

What to do with your student credit card after graduation

Once you boost your credit score into the good-to-excellent range, you're more likely to be approved for regular, non-student credit cards with richer rewards and enhanced features. After you graduate and begin working (or move on to graduate school), consider your options with your student credit card:

  • Keep using it. In most cases, you can hold onto your student card even after you graduate. If there's no annual fee on the card, there's no harm in keeping the account open and continuing to use it. However, a different card might provide better rewards or a lower interest rate.
  • Upgrade it. Ask your issuer whether you can switch your account to a different card through a so-called product change. Doing so allows you to move to a card that better suits your needs while keeping the account open. That's beneficial to your credit score because it helps preserve the length of your credit history.
  • Replace it. If you're paying an annual fee on a student card you don't plan to continue using, and the issuer won't upgrade you, you're probably better off applying for a better card and (once approved) closing the student card account.
  • Keep it — but in a drawer. If you can't (or choose not to) upgrade the card but you aren't paying an annual fee, it's smart to keep the account open even after you apply for other cards. Your credit score will benefit. Use a simple "autopay and everyday" strategy to keep your account active with one purchase — or several — throughout the year.

» MORE: Top 5 credit card tips for students

How our favorites stack up

Card Our pick for ... Key benefits
Discover it® Student Cash Back Cash-back rewards • 5% cash back in rotating categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending
• 1% cash back on all other purchases
• $20 annual statement credit available for good grades
Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students No credit history and international students • 1% cash back on all purchases
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Incentives for responsible use • 1% cash back on all purchases
• 1.25% cash back for any month when you pay on time
Discover it® Student chrome Gas and restaurant rewards • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter
• 1% cash back on all other purchases
• $20 annual statement credit available for good grades
Citi Rewards+ Student Card Big rewards on small purchases • 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations and supermarkets on up to $6,000 in combined spending per year
• 1% cash back on all other purchases
• Rewards on all purchases round up to the nearest 10 points
Capital One® Secured Mastercard® Secured card • Potential access to a higher credit line without additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time.
• Reports to all three credit bureaus
State Farm® Student Visa® Credit Card Limited credit • 3 points per $1 spent on insurance premiums
• 1 point per $2 spent on other purchases

Last updated on August 9, 2019

Methodology

NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best credit cards for college students based on overall value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of students. Factors in our evaluation include annual fees, rewards programs (both earning rates and redemption options), promotional and ongoing APRs, bonus offers for new cardholders, incentives for responsible behavior, free credit scores and other credit education, availability to applicants with thin or no credit history, and other noteworthy features such as a path to upgrade to a different product later on.