2017's Best Credit Cards for College Students

Jun 02, 2017 | 18 Comments

If you're in school and looking to build credit, student credit cards are the way to go. These credit cards are made to make it easier for students with little to no credit history to build credit. They function just like regular credit cards, but with higher interest rates. Higher rates are customary since new cardholders have not yet shown a history of credit usage and repayment behavior.

To qualify for the best credit cards for students, you must be able to show an “independent means” of making monthly payments. For example, your part-time job can help. Otherwise, you may need a co-signer. (The co-signer can be anyone over 21, though many ask a parent or other family member.)

As with all credit cards, there are many options to choose from. In our opinion, here are the best credit cards for students this year:

Best for Rewards and Generous Perks

Discover it® for Students offers the best student credit card for cash back with no annual fee. This card has a great cash back program that pays up to 5% cashback on purchases. The categories change quarterly but they're often season-appropriate. Think things like more cash back at restaurants and movie theaters during the warmer months.

It also features benefits that encourage responsible credit card behavior with perks such as free monthly FICO credit scores, no penalty APR, no first-time late fee, and $20 cash back during each school year if your GPA is 3.0 or higher.

Best Card to Improve Credit Management

The Journey® Student Rewards Credit Card from Capital One® is a student credit card that helps teach good credit behavior. Capital One will increase your credit line when you make on-time payments. There's also a free tool that provides a credit score to help student track their credit improvement.

A credit score simulator shows what happens when certain credit activity occurs. For example, a student can see how their credit score changes when they miss a payment, pay off balance, and more.

Best Student Card With No Credit History

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® is a great credit card for college students with no credit history. This card has no annual fee, but it requires a security deposit to act as collateral. Use this card responsibly for at least 12 months and you may be able to then qualify for a regular credit card.

Bonus: this card comes with free credit scores. That means you can track your credit score progress as you go.

How to Qualify for Student Credit Cards

Due to the financial regulations, many college students will still need income or a co-signer to be approved for a credit card. Credit card companies will view your credit report to see your income or assets and debt. They'll look at things like your debt-to-income ratio and debt-to-assets ratio to assess your ability to repay debt. Unfortunately, issuers don't reveal the exact requirements needed to become eligible.

When applying for any credit card, including student credit cards, you'll be asked a variety of questions. That could include your annual income, a source of income, and monthly housing costs. You may also be asked about any liquid assets you have.

Without enough income or assets, you may need a co-signer. A co-signer agrees to take on responsibility for the card in the event that you miss payments. The co-signer can be anyone who is at least 21 years old with good enough credit to be approved. You could ask parents, guardians, family members, significant others, and friends to co-sign for you.

Why You Should Know Your Credit Score

Many credit card issuers provide free ways for customers to track their credit scores. The belief is that people who track their scores are going to be more responsible with their credit. Although there are many credit scores out there, the FICO credit score is the industry standard.

FICO

A FICO score ranges from 300 to 850. The higher, the better. This score takes five different factors into the calculation.

Credit Score Ranges and Quality

Credit Score Ranges Credit Quality Effect on Ability to Obtain Loans
300-559 Very Bad Extremely difficult to obtain traditional loans and line of credit. Advised to use secured credit cards and loans to help rebuild credit.
560-649 Bad May be able to qualify for some loans and lines of credit, but the interest rates are likely to be high.
650-699 Average/Fair Eligible for many traditional loans, but the interest rates and terms may not be the best.
700-749 Good Valuable benefits come in the form of loans and lines of credit with comprehensive perks and low interest rates.
750-850 Excellent Qualify easily for most loans and lines of credit with low interest rates and favorable terms.

So, if your credit score isn't on your credit report, how can you view it? More and more credit card issuers are giving their customers free access to their scores. This is a great perk for students who want to start building their credit and monitor their progress as they go.

That way, when the times comes, it will be easier to qualify for major loans such as mortgages and car loans. With these major loans, your credit score will make a huge difference not just in your approval, but in how much you'll pay in interest.

APRs on Student Credit Cards Depend on Credit Score

The interest rate you receive on a credit card will vary based on your credit score. With higher credit scores, you’re more likely to get a lower APR. As a student, you may think that you have no credit history because you’ve never had a credit card before. However, if you've taken out a student loan or a car loan, you're already building credit.

Stick with student credit cards in the beginning. Keep showing positive payment behavior, and you'll move on to an even better credit card with a lower APR.

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Student Credit Card on Time

If you don't make your minimum payment on time, you'll get charged a late fee. The first time this happens, you might get it waived, but not usually after that. The late fee will vary depending on the credit card, but it's usually capped at $35.

When a late payment is made, the credit card issuer may also decide to hike up your interest rate to the penalty APR. This is not as easy to get waived as a late fee - and it can cost you big. Once you get charged the penalty APR, that becomes your new purchase APR.

If you forget to make a payment on time, the repercussions can be extremely detrimental.

How to Check Your Free Credit Reports

The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are responsible for maintaining credit reports for everyone in the country. If you’ve never opened a credit card or taken out a loan, your credit report is essentially blank. That means you have no credit history.

A credit score is calculated based on the information on a credit report. They are not the same thing.
When lenders check your credit reports and don't see a history, many of them will be hesitant to give you a credit card or loan.

If this happens to you, a secured card is the best way to go.

Unlike a regular credit card, a secured credit card requires you to deposit cash as collateral. This cash is what makes you more likely to get approved. It acts as insurance for your lender in case you should default. Just like a regular credit card, the secured card is reported to the credit bureaus. It only takes a year or less of responsible usage of a secured card to improve your credit score enough to be approved for a traditional card.

How to Choose and Use Your Student Card

Picking the right major, earning good grades, and carving a career path are some of the most important things a college student can do. And so is building a credit history. Until it comes time to pay student loans, a mortgage, or an auto loan, a credit card is your tool to build credit.

Thinking of applying for a student credit card but still not sure about using credit? Here are a few credit card tips to help.

1. Choosing Between Low APR and Rewards

There is a large variety of student credit cards that offer travel rewards, cash back, or other perks. However, most credit cards that offer rewards and perks come with higher interest rates. Generally, that's okay if you're able to pay off your monthly balances in full. That's the only way to avoid the danger of high interest charges.

If you don’t pay off your balance at the end of the billing cycle, the interest charges you pay can easily outweigh the value of the rewards. Therefore, you’d save more money by getting a low APR credit card. For many college students who are just starting to learn about credit, it may be wiser to not get a rewards credit card and instead opt for a low-interest credit card.

2. How To Pick The Right Student Card

Don’t assume that because your credit history is limited that your choices of a credit card should be. Think about what your immediate needs are and how the card can benefit you best.

You could consider a secured card to build credit. Then, you can graduate to a card with more benefits. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to have a revolving balance to earn credit. All you have to do to earn credit is use it - so use your credit card but pay it in full every month. That way you can build credit and avoid debt.

3. Buy Small, Not Big

Speaking of purchases, it can be tempting to put some big-ticket buys on your card. After all, the money doesn’t need to be paid back right away. But this can put you at risk for debt, which can damage your credit score and your financial health.

Instead of using the credit card for big purchases, try using it for small, everyday items like gas and groceries. By keeping your purchases frequent but your balance manageable, you’ll be able to ensure that you can pay your bill in full every month.

4. Don’t Juggle Too Many Cards

Less can sometimes mean more, especially when it comes to credit cards. While it may seem that it’s better to have more cards, that’s not always the case. No matter how much you want to impress future lenders, it’s more important to create habits that will keep your finances healthy and growing.

It can sometimes be beneficial to have multiple cards for different rewards, but when you’re just getting started, keep it simple. Stick to just one or two for now (perhaps one secured card and one basic student rewards card) and switch them up from month to month and purchase to purchase.

Top Credit Cards for Students

Best Credit Cards for Students Notable Feature Who It's Best For
Discover it® for Students Earn 5% cash back on certain categories that change every quarter. Students who want to earn high amounts of cash back on various spending categories.
Journey® Student Rewards Free credit education tool. Students who to learn responsibly credit card usage.
Capital One Secured MasterCard® A secured credit card with an extremely low initial deposit requirement to help rebuild credit immediately. People who have poor credit and don't have a lot of cash for a big security deposit.

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SimonMBT
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 6:31 PM
<p>The minimum starting security deposit is $49. With that, you get a $200 credit line.</p><p>However, if you want a credit line of more than $200, you'll have to increase your security deposit.</p>
Sunday, 22 May 2016 5:56 PM
<p>Hi, what is minimum security deposit for Capital One secured card? $200 credit line sounds so low!</p>
MyBankTracker
Monday, 02 May 2016 4:38 AM
<p>Katia, the balance transfer APR falls to the regular balance APR, which is the same as regular purchase. You can always check what the APR becomes after the introductory period by viewing the card's terms and conditions.</p>
katiayoung
Saturday, 30 Apr 2016 12:29 PM
<p>Hi, I'm interested in the Discover It card, and see that they're interest for balance transfers is 10.99% for 6 months. Do you happen to know what it is after the 6 months is up? I'm not seeing it on there. Thanks.</p>
MyBankTracker
Friday, 29 Apr 2016 8:53 PM
<p>Ana, the exact income criteria to qualify for a credit card is unknown to the public, so it is difficult to say whether or not she can get a student credit card without a co-signer. The best approach is to be able to prove as much income as possible in the months prior to applying for a student credit card.</p>
MyBankTracker
Friday, 29 Apr 2016 8:47 PM
<p>Justin, unfortunately, there is usually no shortcut to making your credit score increase quickly (unless you remove a major negative mark such as a bankruptcy from your credit report).</p><p>If you're not under the age of 21, you may be able to qualify for a fair-credit credit card with a FICO credit score of around 650 (the exact number will vary greatly by card and lender).</p>
MyBankTracker
Friday, 29 Apr 2016 8:29 PM
<p>Lucy, the Discover it card for Students is a great all-around student credit card with rewards and great perks for a young adult. As for building credit quickly, there is no special card that will speed up the process.</p><p>Here is an article on the ways that you can boost your credit score to 700+: <a href="https://disq.us/url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mybanktracker.com%2Fcredit-cards%2Fcredit-score%2Fhow-raise-credit-score-above-700-254098%3AQDz25gQZcOMfcMBAG1hWAm9iCIk&amp;cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener">https://www.mybanktracker.c...</a></p>
MyBankTracker
Friday, 29 Apr 2016 8:12 PM
<p>Piper, even if you have enough money for a security deposit, you'll have to pass the lender's standards for issuing credit cards to students. So, without a co-signer, the lender will review your income and expenses to determine if you'll qualify for a secured credit card.</p>
disqus_IYKrUxW1Xy
Thursday, 28 Apr 2016 7:20 PM
<p>My younger sister is starting college in the fall, and she's had her job throughout high school. Would that be enough for her to be able to get a credit card without a co-signer? She works more hours during the breaks and summer.</p>
MrJustinBradshaw
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 3:04 PM
<p>I am just now starting to build my credit, and have a full-time job and in school. Is there a card you would suggest to build it faster, or is it all dependent on the use and payments of it? And how long would it normally take to get a good enough credit to NOT have a co-signer?</p>
disqus_IK833n1mzI
Monday, 25 Apr 2016 7:36 PM
<p>What is the best recommended card to build credit, and quickly for students?</p>
Friday, 22 Apr 2016 2:28 PM
<p>So, after reading this, even if you pay a cash collateral on some of these cads, you may still have to get a co-signer? I have no family, and no friends I know well enough to ask to co-sign for me. But I have worked at my job since high school. If I put a collateral of a couple thousand, can I get one of these cards without a co-signer?</p>
MyBankTracker
Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016 2:24 PM
<p>Fernando, you can first review your credit reports through <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2FAnnualCreditReport.com%3Atsu6h_VLi77GgNvm5eYTDXPaqxs&amp;cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener">AnnualCreditReport.com</a> (a goverment-sanctioned site). If you don't find any negative marks there, you should be fine to apply for any student credit card.</p><p>Just make sure, however, that the law requires that you prove you have sufficient income or a co-signer to qualify for a credit card if you're under the age of 21.</p>
MyBankTracker
Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016 2:22 PM
<p>Jack, we would recommend that you visit our Credit Cards FAQs page for a great general overview of credit cards: <a href="https://disq.us/url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mybanktracker.com%2Fcredit-cards%2Ffaq%3AvTSuVL2nvPVm9Y2L2FHu4u1P_RA&amp;cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener">https://www.mybanktracker.c...</a></p>
Saturday, 16 Apr 2016 8:02 PM
<p>Hi I'm looking to apply for my first credit card, I'm not sure what is my credit score, should i check it first or just try it? I'm thinking to go with capital one student credit card. Advice please!</p>
Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 8:46 PM
<p>I'm very new to credit cards, where could I find more info about all this?</p>
MyBankTracker
Tuesday, 12 Apr 2016 5:51 PM
<p>Allison, for students who happen to have bad credit early on, a secured credit card is probably better option than a regular student credit card. The Capital One Secured MasterCard, for instance, is a solid choice. Check out some of the best secured credit cards: <a href="https://disq.us/url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mybanktracker.com%2Fcredit-cards%2Fsecured%2Fbest%3Al0-rcShl2j-bziQau6ZzPqzSTDg&amp;cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener">https://www.mybanktracker.c...</a></p>
Sunday, 10 Apr 2016 4:43 PM
<p>Are there any other student credit cards for bad credit?</p>