Advertiser Disclosure

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.

Keep in mind that simply being a college student may not be enough to qualify you for a “student” card. You’ll generally need access to income, and if you have shaky credit or no credit history at all, you may find it hard to get approved. In that case, consider a secured credit card. These cards require you to put down a cash deposit as collateral. The deposit protects the issuer in case you fail to pay your bill, which reduces the risk of approving you for a card.

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

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Pros

  • Qualify with average credit
  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months
  • No foreign transaction fee

Bonus Offer

Discover matches all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year - automatically. Only for new cardmembers.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

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

APR

  • APR: 13.24% - 22.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Discover matches all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year - automatically. Only for new cardmembers.
  • Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club and more, on up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back 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 & FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements & online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.24% - 22.24%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

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 and 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 13.24% - 22.24% Variable APR.

Benefits of the Discover it® for Students:

  • If you spend according to the bonus categories of the Discover it® for Students, you’ll enjoy a rewards rate much higher than the typical 1% or 1.5% back.
  • Discover is one of the few issuers that allow co-signers, which is important if you’re applying for your first card and you’re a student under the age of 21 without a steady income.
  • The Discover it® for Students allows room for error with a 0% introductory APR period, a waived first late payment fee and no penalty APR. 
  • The Discover it® for Students gives you access to your free FICO score, so you can make sure you’re making the right moves for a healthy credit profile.
  • If your GPA is 3.0 or higher, Discover will give you an extra $20 cash back each school year for up to 5 years.

Drawbacks of the Discover it® for Students:

  • While the card 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 a lot in 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 doesn’t have a signup bonus.

Bottom line:

For young students just starting out with credit, the Discover it® for Students 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

Apply Now on Citibank's secure website

Pros

  • No annual fee

Bonus Offer

Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on purchases for 7 months

APR

  • Min APR: 14.24%, Variable
  • Max APR: 24.24%, Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership.
  • 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point on other purchases.
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points with this card
  • Redeem ThankYou Points for merchandise, travel rewards, gift cards, cash and more
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No annual fee*

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 14.24% - 24.24% Variable.

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 redemption yields a low 0.5 cents per point.
  • A straight cash back card may be simpler for many people than a rewards system based on points.

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 point.

Best for responsible students

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Apply Now on Capital One's secure website

Pros

  • Qualify with average credit
  • High rewards rate
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • High APR

Bonus Offer

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

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 20.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 20.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • 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
  • There’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards don't expire
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you

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.

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

  • You’ll be rewarded 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.
  • It’s got a flat-rate rewards program, meaning no complicated rotating bonus categories to keep track of and activate.
  • 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.

Bottom line:

If you need a student card for average credit, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is definitely a contender. 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, too.

Best secured card for students

U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card

Apply Now on US Bank's secure website

Pros

  • Qualify with limited / bad credit

Cons

  • Has annual fee
  • No rewards
  • High APR

Bonus Offer

None

Annual Fee

$29

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • Purchase: 19.24%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 24.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • No rewards offered

The annual fee is $29. You’ll pay a security deposit ranging from $300 to $5,000,
which is kept in an interest-earning savings account.

Benefits of the U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card:

  • U.S. Bank offers an unusual perk — you may be able to move up to an unsecured card with no deposit required after 12 months of good credit behavior.
  • The U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card reports to all three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. That means your responsible use of this card will help boost your credit score over time.

Drawbacks of the U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card:

  • Secured credit cards require that you pay a deposit. That’s not ideal, but students with no credit may need to use a secured credit card for a while to build a positive credit history.
  • If you have a lot of negative marks on your credit history, you may not be able to qualify for this card.

Bottom line:
Secured credit cards sometimes come with high fees just to activate the card, not to mention steep annual fees to keep them open. The U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card does not. The card’s moderate annual fee is $29, and you may be offered the rare chance to convert it to an unsecured card after a year if you use it responsibly.

To recap all of our selections:

NerdWallet’s best student credit cards

Best for … Card
Credit newbies Discover it® for Students
Social butterflies Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students
Responsible students Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Secured U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to win in multiple categories.  

Last updated January 14, 2015. 

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.