Best Credit Cards for Students of June 2020

Lyle is a writer specializing in credit cards, travel rewards programs, and banking. His work has also appeared on MSN Money, USA Today, and Yahoo! Finance.

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If you're in college, our list of the best student credit cards will help you find a card that fits your needs and has the benefits you want. Your GPA may be your priority while you're in school, but it's also smart to get an early start on building a strong credit history. By the time you graduate, you can have the kind of credit that ensures you qualify on housing applications and gets you better deals on credit cards and loans.

High cash back
Discover it® Student Cash Back

Apply Now

Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.

Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.

Rewards

Earn 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories you activate ($1,500 quarterly spending cap), 1% back on all else

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 6 months
Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Ongoing APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable

Bonuses & Perks

Double cash back in the first year -- that's worth up to 10% back, FICO score for free

Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when 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 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
Discover it® Student chrome

Apply Now

Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.

Apply Now

On Discover's Secure Website.

Rewards

2% Cash Back At Gas Stations And Restaurants ($1,000 Spend Cap Each Quarter), 1% Cash Back On All Else

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, 6 months
Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Ongoing APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable

Bonuses & Perks

Double cash back in the first year, FICO score for free

Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
Rewards

Earn 1% cash back on all purchases

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A
Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

20.24%, variable

Bonuses & Perks

Sign up for an Amazon Prime Student subscription and get reimbursed up to a life-time total of $59, no credit history required, no deposit or cosigner required

Highlights
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Sign up for an Amazon Prime Student subscription and get reimbursed up to a life-time total of $59
  • Up to $5,000 credit limit
  • No credit history required
  • No social security number required for international students
  • No deposit or cosigner required
Rewards

Have cash automatically deposited into your Wells Fargo savings account in $25 increments or apply rewards as a credit to a qualifying Wells Fargo product.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: 0%, six months
Balance Transfers: 0%, six months

Ongoing APR

11.15% to 21.15%

Bonuses & Perks

Earn 3% cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore net purchases up to $2,500 spent for the first 6 months and 1% cash back on all other net purchases. Also, extra cash rewards earning potential and deals at participating merchants of the Earn More Mall®.

Highlights
  • Earn 3% cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore net purchases up to $2,500 spent for the first 6 months and 1% cash back on all other net purchases.
  • Have cash automatically deposited into your Wells Fargo savings account in $25 increments or apply rewards as a credit to a qualifying Wells Fargo product.
  • Request a paper check or redeem in $20 increments at a Wells Fargo ATM.
  • Redeem rewards for travel, gift cards, and more.
  • Extra cash rewards earning potential and deals at participating merchants of the Earn More Mall®.
This offer is temporarily unavailable on The Ascent. All information was collected independently from the issuer. Some items may be out of date.
Rewards

1% cash back on all purchases. Pay on time for a total of 1.25% cash back for that month.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR

Purchases: N/A
Balance Transfers: N/A

Ongoing APR

26.99% Variable

Bonuses & Perks

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, free credit monitoring with the CreditWise® app

Highlights
  • 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
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is temporarily unavailable on The Ascent. All information was collected independently from the issuer. Some items may be out of date.

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What is a student credit card?

A student credit card is a card intended for college students, with lower income and credit history requirements than most other cards. These cards often have benefits specifically tailored for students, such as bonus rewards if the cardholder gets good grades.

You can typically get approved for a student credit card with no credit history. Card issuers understand that student cards are often people's first credit cards. You do need income to qualify for any type of credit card, including a student card. If you don't have any income, then you'll need a cosigner on your application.

Student credit cards tend to have fewer benefits and lower credit limits than the best credit cards. After all, they're starter cards for consumers who don't have much income or credit yet. But if you use your student card wisely, you could qualify for better options later.

How do student credit cards work?

A student credit card allows you to borrow money from a line of credit to make a purchase, then pay back what you borrowed later. Your card will have a credit limit, which is the most that the bank will let you borrow at any one time.

For example, imagine you have a student credit card with a $500 credit limit. You spend $100 on textbooks, and $50 on other school supplies. That leaves you with $350 of available credit.

After that month's billing cycle ends, the card issuer will send your statement. Your full statement balance, assuming you didn't spend any more money, would be $150. Your minimum payment would be much less, but if you only pay that minimum, the card issuer could then charge you interest on your balance. To avoid paying interest, you should make it a goal to always pay your entire statement balance.

You can learn more about the basics in our beginner's guide to credit cards.

What makes a good student credit card?

Here are the must-have features for a good student credit card:

  • High approval rate: A student credit card shouldn't be difficult to get, or have stringent application requirements. You don't want to waste your time applying for a card, only to get declined.
  • No annual fee: College usually isn't a time when you have lots of disposable income, so your credit card shouldn't be adding to your bills. It's also important that your first credit card be one you can keep for the long haul to build your credit history, and no-annual-fee cards are easier to hang on to.
  • Account activity reported to the credit bureaus: To build credit, you need your credit card's payment activity reported to the major credit bureaus.

Another good student credit card feature is a free credit score you can view in your online account -- then you can monitor your credit score to see if it's improving. This isn't a necessity, though, because there are quite a few free ways to check your credit.

Some of the best student credit cards offer extra perks, such as rewards on your spending and 0% APR intro offers. These features are nice, but they're not things a student card absolutely needs.

Who should apply for a student credit card?

Students who are responsible with money and follow good financial habits will benefit the most from student credit cards. Specifically, consider a student credit card if all of the following are true:

  • You always pay your bills on time.
  • You won't spend more just because you're paying by credit card.
  • You can trust yourself to pay your full balance each month.
  • You have a source of income to cover what you spend.

Whether you benefit or end up in financial trouble from a student credit card all depends on how you use it. If you spend responsibly and consistently pay your balance in full, you'll have a secure payment method that can build your credit history. But there are also plenty of ways you can get into trouble with a student credit card. You could rack up high-interest credit card debt by overspending, and any missed payments could negatively affect your credit for years.

Why should you build credit as a student?

Good credit can save you money and make adulthood much easier for you. By building credit as a student, you'll have a big advantage when you graduate compared to someone who is starting with no credit history.

To better illustrate this, let's look at some common situations young adults experience after college, and how much more difficult they are when you haven't built credit yet:

  • Renting a home: Most landlords require credit checks on potential applicants. You'll likely need someone to cosign on your application, and if a landlord is choosing between you and an applicant with good credit, they'll probably choose the latter.
  • Getting your own cell phone plan: The service provider may want you to pay a security deposit.
  • Financing a car: If you need a new vehicle and you can't pay in full, your only option is an auto loan. You'll pay a much higher interest rate if you don't have good credit.
  • Paying for car insurance: It's bad enough that you need to pay more for an auto loan, but in most states, consumers with lower credit scores also pay much more for car insurance.

Those are just a few of the ways your credit history can be a help or hindrance after college. You can build credit at any time in your life, but earlier is always better. If you start while you're in college, you can avoid a lot of the stress of extra costs for credit-invisible young adults. You also won't need to start out with secured credit cards, which require a security deposit to open.

What should you do with your student credit card after graduation?

After you graduate, you should keep your student credit card. It's good to have a long credit history, and one way you can build that credit history is by keeping cards open instead of canceling them. Don't forget to update your income with the card issuer if that changes, because that could lead to a higher credit limit.

Just because you're hanging on to your student card doesn't mean it has to be your only credit card. You should also review your credit score when you graduate, and see if you qualify for other cards with more benefits.

FAQs

  • Student credit cards are a type of credit card offered specifically to college students with limited income and credit histories. They're often seen as starter credit cards that students can use to develop credit for the first time.

    The tradeoff with these cards' more relaxed qualifications is that they also have fewer benefits. There are, however, student cards with some solid features that can save students money and assist them as they build credit.

  • Like any other credit card, a student credit card allows you to pay for transactions through a line of credit, then pay back the balance later.

    The bank that issues your student credit card is also issuing you a revolving line of credit up to a certain amount. That amount is the credit limit, and it's the most you can spend using the card.

    Every billing cycle, the bank will send you a statement with your transactions and any previous unpaid balance. You can choose to make a minimum payment, pay the full statement balance, or pay a different amount. As you pay down your balance, you'll have more available credit you can use again.

  • The two key things to look for in a student credit card are that it has no annual fee, and that the card issuer reports your payments to all three credit bureaus. It's also important that the card has a high approval rate, so you won't have trouble qualifying because of low income or no credit history.

  • A student credit card is a good idea for any student who needs to build credit and doesn't have a credit card or isn't satisfied with the credit card they have. You should only apply if you have steady income, because that's a requirement to get approved for a card.

  • The reasons you should build credit as a student are that it's easier to start while you're young, and good credit puts you at a big advantage in life.

    Your payment history is the most important factor in your credit score. The simplest way to improve this is to establish a track record of on-time credit card payments, but that process takes time. If you start when you're a student, you could have years of on-time payments under your belt by graduation.

    That credit you build as a student can help you in many ways. You'll be more likely to qualify for a home rental on your own, without needing a cosigner or a much larger security deposit. You'll qualify for better credit cards, and, if you need to borrow money, lower loan terms. Your credit comes into play in all kinds of situations, so it's wise to start building credit early.

  • You should hang on to your student credit card after graduation, even if you don't plan to use it much. It helps your credit to keep the cards you've had the longest, and your student credit card is likely one of, if not the first credit card you got.

The Ascent's picks for best student credit cards:
Card Rating Great For
Discover it® Student Cash Back Graphic of Discover it® Student Cash Back
Rating image, 4.5 out of 5 stars.
4.5 stars
ToolTip Icon for Star Rating. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
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Great For:

Highest cash-back card for students

Discover it® Student chrome Graphic of Discover it® Student chrome
Rating image, 4.5 out of 5 stars.
4.5 stars
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Great For:

Gas stations and restaurants

Deserve Edu Mastercard for Students Graphic of Deserve Edu Mastercard for Students
Rating image, 4.0 out of 5 stars.
4.0 stars
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Great For:

Cash back and Amazon® Prime Student

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ card Graphic of Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ card
Rating image, 4.0 out of 5 stars.
4.0 stars
ToolTip Icon for Star Rating. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor.
Great For:

Gas and groceries cash back

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Rating image, 3.5 out of 5 stars.
3.5 stars
ToolTip Icon for Star Rating. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor.
Great For:

Unlimited cash back

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