While in college, you have the opportunity to learn about using credit—in particular, credit cards—responsibly. By doing so, you’ll also build the credit history that may be invaluable just a few years down the road.
While it can be difficult to get approved for a new credit card with a limited credit history, there are several major banks that offer credit cards designed specifically for college students.
Why choose a student credit card?
Basically, being in college can help make up for the fact that you don’t have much of a credit history yet. Banks may be willing to extend a small amount of credit to college students in the hopes of winning a long-term customer who will be graduating into a well-paying job.
But wait: Isn’t that kind of evil? Don’t they just want me to go into debt that I won’t be able to pay off for years and years so they can collect hundreds in interest?
Well, the truth is: Yes, credit card companies make money when you charge things you can’t pay off right away. You have to know yourself.
Might you be tempted to overspend with a credit card in hand? Then you might want to wait until you’re working to get one. If you’re responsible, however, a student credit card can help you build credit and earn rewards on your purchases at no cost to you.
About student credit cards and the law
For the obvious reason we mentioned above, student credit cards were once seen as a predatory lending product. Colleges were inundated with representatives from the banks that were happy to offer t-shirts, duffel bags, and other gifts to students in exchange for a completed application. Furthermore, students were routinely granted lines of credit without any consideration of their ability to repay. Ultimately, many parents ended up reluctantly paying off their adult children’s debt. Worse, many students graduated saddled with thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
But since the CARD Act of 2009 took effect, credit card issuers are effectively banned from offering merchandise on campus. Adults between the ages of 18 and 21 now have to show a means to repay a loan before they can be granted a new line of credit.
This means that students have to have a part-time job, be part of a work-study program, or show some other means of income. Alternatively, some card issuers such as Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank will allow students to apply for a credit card with a co-signer.
Keep in mind that both people on the application become equally responsible for the repayment of the loan, even if one of the other fails to pay anything.
Overview of the best credit cards for college students
|Card Names||Best For|
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card||Building credit|
|Discover it® Student chrome||Gas stations|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card for Students||Travel|
|Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card||Gas stations and grocery|
4 of the best credit cards for college students
Not all issuers offer student credit cards. You’ll also have to keep in mind that the rates and benefits of student credit cards aren’t as competitive as those on cards marketed to consumers with longer credit histories. But college students can still snag a card with no annual fee and a rewards program. You just need to know where to look.
Here are four credit cards for college students to consider:
What We Like:
$50 Bonus after making your first purchase within three months from account opening
Keep your account in good standing and receive a $20 award each account anniversary for up to five years
No annual fee
- $50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
- No annual fee
- $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years
- Earn a credit limit increase after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria
- No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
- Free credit score with Chase Credit Journey
The Chase Freedom® Student credit card offers a great way to build credit while you’re spending. With each on-time payment, you show that you’re a reliable cardholder, helping build a solid credit history. You can even take a peek at your credit score at any time to see if it’s improving.
When you sign up for the Chase Freedom® Student credit card, you’ll qualify for a $50 bonus. Just make a purchase within the first three months of account opening and you’ll get 5,000 bonus points that you can redeem for cash back.
But you won’t just be building your credit. Students also get 1% cash back for every dollar spent on the card. There are also special offers that will earn you extra points, as well as a $20 bonus on every one-year anniversary for your first five years. You’ll just need to continue to pay on time each month to qualify (which you should be doing anyway!).
In addition to cash back and bonuses, here are a few other benefits you’ll get with the Chase Freedom® Student credit card:
- Credit limit increase: Get a bump in your credit limit after making five monthly payments on time. The offer’s only good for the first 10 months after your account opening, so you’ll need to make some purchases that first year.
- No annual fee: You’ll pay no annual fee for your Chase Freedom® Student credit card.
- Competitive interest rate: Even as a new cardholder, you’ll enjoy a reasonable variable interest rate of 16.49% Variable.
Discover it® Student Chrome
This card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined spending each quarter. Users get 1% back on all other purchases.
Discover it® Student chrome also gives you See Terms of See Terms APR introductory financing on new purchases. Other benefits include 24/7 fraud monitoring and price protection. After the intro rate expires, the ongoing APR becomes See Terms.
Discover has no penalty interest rate and will automatically waive your first late payment fee. There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Learn more about Discover it® Student chrome
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
This student card offers rewards for spending that are competitive with non-student cards. You earn and unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, and points are worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel reservations.
There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card
This card offers students both a low introductory interest rate and cash back rewards. New cardholders receive six months of 0% APR introductory financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee.
You also get 3% cash back rewards on all gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first six months after opening your account, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
There’s no annual fee for this card.
Other starter credit cards
Not a full-time student? You can still find many good starter credit cards. If you have some established credit history (for example, a student loan or car loan), check out the best credit cards for young adults and young professionals. If you’ve never had a loan or credit card before, you may need to start with a secured credit card.
Not sure you want a student credit card? Finding the right credit card for you is much simpler if you know your credit score, and can narrow your search to only the cards you know you’ll get approved for. We’ve made it easy for you. If you don’t already know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool – then find the perfect card for you!
- Best credit cards for a credit score over 750
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 700 – 749
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 650 – 699
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 600 – 649
- Best credit cards for a credit score under 599
Minimum Credit Needed
|Chase Freedom® Student credit card|
$50 bonus for purchases made within the first three months
1% cash back for every dollar spent
No credit history required
|Discover it® Student chrome|
Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
1% cash back on all other purchases
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students|
If you have a Bank of America® checking or savings account, you receive additional customer bonus points equal to 10 percent of what you’ve earned
Unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases
|Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card|
Six months of 0 percent APR introductory financing on both new purchases and qualifying balance transfers
3% cash back rewards on all gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first six months after opening your account, and 1% cash back on all other purchases
*5% cash back categories have a $1,500 max spend and require quarterly activation
Student credit cards offer a low-risk way for young people to establish a credit history before entering the “real world”. Building up your credit history may seem unimportant when you have things like finals or finding a summer internship to think about, but starting early and building up your credit history is one of the best things you can do for your future self.
Without a credit history, you will find it impossible to get approved for a large loan (like a mortgage or auto loan) because your credit history is a critical factor in determining your overall credit score.
Opening a credit card account is the best way to build credit history, and opening a student credit card while you’re still young offers the additional chance to make responsible credit card habits second nature. Even if you don’t need (or want!) a credit card, you should use it monthly to buy some groceries or a tank of gas, making sure that you pay it off in full every month before your monthly statement.
Don’t apply for a credit card until you have some income coming in and you feel you can handle the responsibility. But when you’re ready, the cards mentioned here are some of the best available for enrolled college students.