When it comes time to finance a car, apply for a loan, or rent an apartment after graduating, having good credit is key. Some employers will even check your credit before making you a job offer. But it can be hard to build credit from scratch — and that’s why the student credit card system exists. 

Like a bike with training wheels, a student credit card helps students learn how to manage credit cards and begin building credit while limiting risk. Compared with a regular credit card, spending limits are relatively low. That means the chance of debt spiraling out of control, resulting in bad credit, is smaller with a student card. 

There are a handful of great student credit cards out there. This list — which we’ll update periodically — will help you choose the one that’s best for you. Check out the best offers below. 

The best student credit card overall

Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99% variable (0% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months)
Penalty APR: None
Late payment fee: Up to $40
Annual fee: $0
Cash-back rewards: 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter; 1% on all other purchases
Foreign transaction fee: 0%
Standout feature: No late fee for first late payment (up to $40 thereafter)
Eligibility requirements: No credit history required, proof of income 

The Discover it® Student chrome* offers a winning combination of cash back and other rewards as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won’t get dinged by the credit card company for a late payment — at least the first one (no late payment fee on the first late payment, up to $40 thereafter) — or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. And, of course, getting 1 to 2% back in rewards each month is an additional bonus. Note that Discover offers another similar student credit card, the Discover it® Student Cash Back*, but the rotating bonus categories make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

Features and rewards

Most student credit cards offer 1% cash back. The Discover it Student chrome card bests that with 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%), plus a generous cash-back match at the end of the first year. The match effectively doubles your first year’s bonus rewards, so if you receive $75 in cash-back rewards during the first 12 months, Discover will chip in an additional $75. We also like that the Discover it Student chrome incentivizes good grades: You can earn a $20 statement credit for each school year you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher (up to five years). 

Rates and fees 

Discover’s rates and fees are generally lower than competitors’. The APR charged on purchases ranges between 12.99 and 21.99% variable, and there’s an introductory six-month period with 0% APR on purchases (12.99% to 21.99% variable APR thereafter). Students with the Discover it Student chrome also don’t have to worry about a penalty APR, which some issuers will institute if a card holder misses a payment. There’s no late fee for the first late payment, but for the second instance the credit card company charges up to $40, which is comparable to what other cards charge. 

At the moment, most study abroad programs have been put on hold. That noted, the Discover it Student chrome has no foreign transaction fees — though Discover isn’t as widely accepted outside of the US as Mastercard and Visa.

Best for students without a credit history

Standard APR: 18.74% variable
Penalty APR: None
Late payment fee: Up to $25
Annual fee: $0
Cash-back rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases 
Foreign transaction fee: 0%
Standout feature: Low late payment fee
Eligibility requirements: No credit score required; no Social Security number required for international students 

The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students* positions itself as an alternative to the traditional banks and credit card issuers, and specializes in credit cards for students and first-timers. And the Deserve EDU student credit card checks many of the boxes: It offers 1% cash back on all spending, features a relatively low late-payment fee and comes with an 18.74% variable APR. While it offers a lower student rewards rate than others, its relaxed eligibility requirements are well suited for students with a brief or nonexistent credit history or other potentially disqualifying limitation — like not having a Social Security number, if you’re an international student. 

Features and rewards

The Deserve EDU student credit card offers 1% cash back on all purchases, which can be redeemed for statement credits in increments of $25. Card holders also get one year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles — worth around $59 — and up to $600 of credit toward cell phone protection coverage when you pay your monthly bill with it. 

Rates and fees

The 18.74% variable APR is relatively low for a student credit card, and it’s not tied to your credit score, so you know exactly what the APR is at the outset. Rather, the APR is “variable” because it’s tied to the “prime rate” — a benchmark interest rate used by lenders that changes over time. With most other cards, you won’t know the exact APR for certain until you’ve been approved, and if you have a limited or nonexistent credit history it could be on the higher end of the range of what the issuer advertises. If you miss a payment, there’s no penalty APR, though you may be charged a late payment fee of up to $25. (Still, that’s about $15 less than the fee charged by most other student cards.) Deserve doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.

Best for students who plan to carry a balance

Standard APR: 14.99% variable
Penalty APR: Up to 29.99% variable
Annual fee: $0
Late payment fee: Up to $40
Cash-back rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases; 5% cash back on Lyft through March 2022
Foreign transaction fee: 3%
Standout features: Free, unlimited access to credit score. Earn a credit limit increase after making five monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria
Eligibility requirements: No co-signers, proof of income

The student version of one of our favorite cash-back credit cards, the Chase Freedom Student credit card has a lot to offer. The 14.99% variable APR is one of the lowest available for student credit cards, and you get a $50 bonus when you sign up and make your first purchase within the first three months from account opening, a $20 good Standing bonus every account anniversary (for the first five years) and can earn a credit limit increase after five on-time monthly payments within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria.

Features and rewards

Chase offers cardholders free and unlimited access to their credit score, which can be an important tool for those building credit from scratch. The credit limit increase is another nice feature as credit use is a primary factor in a credit score. Most credit experts recommend using less than 30% of your total credit available, so the higher the limit, the easier it is to keep your credit use low.

Its 1% cash back on all purchases is consistent with the category average and the 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022 is nice (though less practical for many in the coronavirus era). The $50 sign-on bonus can be triggered by making a single purchase in the first three months so you need not worry about hitting a high spending threshold. And the $20 annual reward can be redeemed for up to five years — as long as your account remains in good standing.

Rates and fees

Every cardholder gets the 14.99% variable APR — so you know what you’re signed up for at the outset. It’s best not to maintain a balance month to month, but if it happens once or twice, the interest can be lower than with other cards.

A few words of caution: This card’s late payment fee can run as high as up to $40 for a first late payment; most other student cards have a lower penalty or no penalty for first-time offenders; and if you’re planning on studying abroad, this card will subject you to a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Best for students who have a co-signer

Standard APR: 13.99% to 23.99% variable
Penalty APR: Up to 29.99% variable
Late payment fee: Up to $40
Annual fee: $0
Rewards: 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases
Foreign transaction fee: 0%
Eligibility requirements: Allows co-signers

Bank of America is one of the few card issuers that allows co-signers, who can be a parent, guardian — or anyone with a good credit score who’s willing to share the legal liability. On the other hand, any late or missed payments or high outstanding balances will also negatively affect the co-signer’s score. 

Features and rewards

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students* is essentially the same as the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card*, which means it offers higher risks and rewards than most other student cards. You get a higher rewards rate — 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases — but fewer of the relaxed requirements for credit novices. And points can be redeemed as statement credits against travel purchases — flights, baggage fees, hotels, rental cars, buses, trains, restaurants, bars, amusement parks, campgrounds and more — at $0.01 per point (2,500 points = $25). You can also opt to redeem points as cash rewards deposited into an eligible Bank of America checking or savings account at $0.006 per point (2,500 points = $15). 

Bank of America will grant you 25,000 online bonus points, equivalent to a $250 statement credit toward travel and dining purchases, when you sign up if you spend $1,000 during the first 90 days. That’s a higher threshold than you’ll find with other student cards, but also a higher reward. Bottom line: If you can time your credit card application with a large purchase, it’s worth it.

Rates and fees 

Bank of America offers an introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 billing cycles (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR thereafter) and no foreign transaction fees. That being said, this student credit card doesn’t mess around when it comes to penalties: The standard APR runs between 13.99% and 23.99% variable depending on your credit score, but if you’re late with a payment, you could be hit with the up to 29.99% variable penalty APR. That’s exorbitant — and it comes with up to a $40 late payment fee. Students at risk of paying late should avoid this card at all costs.

In the table below, we’ve broken down the key features of each card to help you determine the best credit card for students.

Best student credit cards compared

Best overall Best for students without a credit history Best for students who plan to carry a balance Best for students with a co-signer
Discover it Student chrome Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students Chase Freedom Student credit card Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
Annual percentage rate (standard / penalty) 12.99% to 21.99% variable, with 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months / None 18.74% variable / None 14.99% variable / up to 29.99% variable 13.99% to 23.99% variable, / up to 29.99% variable
Late payment fee None for first late payment, then up to $40 Up to $25 Up to $40 Up to $40
Cash-back reward rate 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter), 1% on all other purchases 1% cash back on all purchases 1% cash back on all purchases; 5% cash back on Lyft through March 2022 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases
Eligibility requirements No credit history required, proof of income required No credit score required; no Social Security number required for international students Co-signers not allowed, proof of income required Co-signers allowed
Annual fee $0 $0 $0 $0

How does a student credit card work?

Student credit cards offer those with limited or no credit a way to start building credit and create a credit history. They generally come with lower credit limits than typical credit cards and don’t charge annual fees. And they often have novice-friendly features, including late payment forgiveness, incremental credit limit increases over time and credit education resources. Reward rates may be lower than for standard cash-back and travel credit cards, however, making student credit cards a lower-risk, lower-reward financial tool.

Are student credit cards a good option for first-time credit card holders?

Student credit cards offer those with limited or no credit a way to start building credit and create a credit history. They generally come with lower credit limits than typical credit cards and don’t charge annual fees. And they often have novice-friendly features, including late payment forgiveness, incremental credit limit increases over time and credit education resources. Reward rates may be lower than for standard cash-back and travel credit cards, however, making student credit cards a lower-risk, lower-reward financial tool.

How is a student credit card different from a secured credit card?

 While some people choose to build credit with a secured credit card — that is, a card where you’ve backed your credit limit with a cash deposit, student credit cards work a bit differently. These cards typically only offer a small credit line, sometimes just a couple hundred bucks. That way, the student can use the card to build credit without the risk of racking up too much credit card debt (which leads to bad credit), while the card issuer hopes that the card holder will transition into full-time employment and will use their card for everyday purchases for years to come.

What do you need to qualify for a student credit card?

A typical credit card application requires a high credit score (around 650 or so) and at least a few years of credit report history. To get a student credit card, however, you don’t necessarily need either, though some proof of financial experience and responsibility helps when it comes to securing a credit card offer. The card issuer looks at sources of income — even from part-time work or deposits from parents — as well as information about checking and savings accounts to get a sense of an applicant’s saving and spending. Luckily, once a student is able to get a card, simply making everyday purchases is an easy way to build credit (so long as the student is able to pay off their purchases).

What are the benefits of a student credit card?

In addition to more relaxed eligibility requirements, the best student credit card will offer some of the following features:

  • Special rules for credit newcomers such as minimal late fees and no-penalty APRs
  • Lower credit limits — usually between $500 and $2,000
  • Cashback rewards program on spending
  • A “reasonable” APR — usually between 15 and 20%

How do cash-back rewards work?

For all the cards listed above, “cash back” refers to a statement credit that’s applied to your account to lower your balance. For most cards, cash rewards can be applied toward a balance regardless of expense type.

How we chose the best student credit cards

We evaluated 19 credit cards marketed specifically to students, and we selected four that stood out across a range of criteria, including APR, forgiveness for credit mistakes, cash rewards and lenient eligibility requirements. We urge students to consider important factors like interest rate, whether the card has an annual fee and if the card offers a cash advance before they make a decision. 

Cards we researched

  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Discover it® Student chrome 
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back 
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students 
  • Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
  • BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students 
  • State Farm Student Visa 
  • Wells Fargo Cash Back℠ College Card
  • Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
  • Chase Freedom® Student credit card
  • Capital One Platinum Credit Card
  • Discover it® Secured Credit Card
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®
  • Citi® Double Cash Card
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including program features, program fees and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time to time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider’s website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

The comments on this article are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

*All information about the Discover it Student chrome, Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students, Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students, Discover it Student Cash Back, and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by Throneofgadget and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.



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