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Which Credit Card Should I Use to Purchase College Textbooks?

Sept. 17, 2014
Credit Cards
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This page includes information about one or more products not currently available on NerdWallet.

  • Sallie Mae MasterCard
  • Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card
  • Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

As a result, offers described on this page may be out of date. See our best credit cards page for updated offers.

Aw nerds! Looks like this page is out of date. Check out our Best Cash Back Credit Cards page for other options.

If you’re a parent getting your college student ready for the semester, you might be balking at the high price of textbooks these days. According to a 2014 article in U.S. News & World Report, the average college student is spending as much as $1,200 per year on textbooks and other supplies. Ouch!

But the good news is that there are some credit cards out there that can help offset that cost by offering stellar rewards. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!

Nerd note: This guide is meant for parents who will be purchasing books for their kids, or adults who are going back to school to work on another degree. If you’re an undergraduate under age 21, you probably won’t be able to qualify for these cards. Check out our student credit cards tool for a card that will better meet your needs.

If you’ve taken out a Sallie Mae student loan: Sallie Mae MasterCard

If you’ve borrowed money for your child’s (or your own) education from Sallie Mae and you want to earn big rewards on your textbook spending, the Sallie Mae MasterCard is a card to consider. With it, you’ll earn:

  • 5% cash back on up to $750 spent per month at bookstores (and Amazon counts as a bookstore)
  • 5% cash back on up to $250 spent per month at gas stations
  • 5% cash back on up to $250 spent per month at the grocery store
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

The Sallie Mae MasterCard carries a small signup bonus: $25 Cash Back Bonus - after first purchase, made within 90 days of account opening, and the $0.

One of the really great perks it offers for Sallie Mae borrowers is the opportunity to redeem your rewards toward paying back student loans. You don’t have to use them for this purpose – you can also redeem for cash into your Upromise account or just get a statement credit. But this is a good card to keep in mind if you’re trying to get your debt paid off as fast as you can.

If you’re a dedicated Amazon shopper: Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card

These days, a lot of shopping for textbooks happens online. If you rely on Amazon for books and other household items, the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card is a good pick.

With it, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent at Amazon, 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants and drug stores, and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. When it comes time to redeem, you can use your points at checkout at Amazon (one point equals $.01) or cash them in through Chase for a statement credit, gift cards or travel.

The $0 for the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card, and Amazon junkies will love the sign-up bonus: an Gift Card will be instantly loaded into your account upon the approval of your credit card application.

All in all, if textbooks are just one of the many things you’re likely to buy from Amazon, this card makes it easy to shop with your favorite retailer.

If you’ll need more than a month to pay off the books: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Given how pricey textbooks have become, it’s understandable that you might need more than a month to pay them off. If this is the case, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a good option.

With this card, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all your purchases, then an additional 1% back when you pay them off. Plus, you’ll get 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR – this will give you some breathing room if you can’t scrape together the funds to pay off your textbooks in full within 30 days. And remember: As you chip away at repaying the purchase, you’ll be racking up rewards.

When you’re ready to redeem your rewards, you have a few choices: You can request a statement credit, get a gift card or request a check in the mail. Since you’ll probably be dealing with lots of college expenses for the next few years, a check might be the best option – that way, you can use your rewards to offset other costs.

But should you be buying textbooks at all?

The Nerds love telling our readers about a good credit card deal, but it’s also important to remember that buying college textbooks at full retail price isn’t the only way to get your hands on them. Here are a few tips for parents and students looking to save money on books:

  • Peruse sites like Amazon, Craigslist, and for used books.
  • Consider renting textbooks. Amazon has a textbook rental program, and you can also check out
  • Ask around – if you or your child know other students who have taken the course you need the book for, see if someone is willing to lend it out.
  • Wait and see – unless the reading load is enormous and you or your child needs to get started before classes begin, hold off on buying books until the end of the first week. It might be the case that a textbook isn’t strictly necessary.

And as always, be sure to check in often with the Nerds for more financial tips and tricks!

>>More: How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards When Shopping

College student with textbooks image via Shutterstock