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Best Credit Cards for College Students

Last update: Nov 13, 2014
Best Credit Cards for College Students
For young people, getting a credit card is no longer as easy as walking up to a booth advertising free T-shirts or other swag and providing a bit of basic personal information. Now, with the passage of the CARD Act, college students must either find a co-signer or come up with the income or assets necessary to afford a new credit card’s monthly minimum payment, usually around $15.
While nervous parents — with thoughts of free-T-shirt-wielding, wild-spending teens swirling through their heads — might consider the stricter rules to be a positive development (and they are in certain respects), young people must still find a way to begin building credit before they enter the “real world.” Opening a credit card for college students remains the most efficient way to do so.

Prioritizing Your Credit Needs

When you have an open credit card in good standing, positive information gets relayed to your three major credit reports (Experian, TransUnion and Exquifax) each month, enabling a track record of responsible use to emerge over time. Without this track record and the accompanying solid credit score, creditors as well as certain employers, landlords and insurance companies won’t have reason to trust applicants, let alone offer them attractive rates or jobs that require a security clearance or the ability to handle money. As a result, students must find a way to meet the new credit card law’s approval stipulations and get to work building up their credit standing.
But what is the best credit card for a college student? There are a wide variety of credit cards for college students on the market and deciding which one to get can be difficult.
The first thing you need to do is limit your search to only no annual fee credit cards, assuming that your credit is not somehow damaged already. A student’s top priority for using a credit card is to build credit after all. And most college students have limited budgets, so the best student credit cards are those that are essentially free to maintain.
Other characteristics are secondary and depend on a student’s individual needs. Students who will pay their bills in full every month should focus on rewards, whereas those who will need a bit more time to pay off large purchases should gravitate toward 0% APR student credit cards. The subset of the student population that already has credit card debt should look to minimize its cost with a student balance transfer credit card.
Finally, it’s important to note the role that secured credit cards can play. Secured cards are the easiest type of credit card to get approved for. The reason is this: They require a refundable security deposit that serves as the account’s spending limit and reduces risk from both the student’s and issuer’s perspective. They also are indistinguishable from unsecured credit cards on your credit reports, which means you can build credit and practice responsible habits without running the risk of exacerbating your situation. So, if you have damaged credit, opening a secured card and rebuilding your credit standing is a must.

Editor’s Picks – Best Student Credit Cards

With the above guidelines in mind and after reviewing our database of more than 1,000 credit card offers (some of which originate from CardHub advertising partners), we’ve chosen the following credit cards as the best for college students:
  • Rewards

    This card provides 1% cash back on all purchases in addition to a 25% cash back bonus when you pay your bill on time each month. The net 1.25% cash back that you therefore stand to earn on every dollar you spend is actually more than what’s offered by the average cash back credit card for people with excellent credit, according to CardHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report. It does not charge an annual fee.
  • Rewards

    This card offers relatively lucrative rewards in expense categories that are popular among students, giving you 3% cash back on gas and 2% on groceries (for the first $1,500 of combined net purchases in both categories) as well as 1% cash back on everything else. You’ll also get an online-exclusive $100 initial rewards bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days and a 10% bonus when redeeming rewards as a direct deposit to a Bank of America savings or checking account. There is no annual fee.
  • Low Rates

    Bank of America does not charge interest on this card for the first 15 months, and there is no annual fee, either. It’s therefore a very lucrative financing vehicle as long as you use a credit card calculator to plan your debt payments so that the card’s 10.99% to 20.99% regular APR won’t eat away at your savings. It’s simply a bad habit to get comfortable paying finance charges, especially at a young age.
  • Secured

    Ignore the brand. This is one of the only secured cards on the market that does not charge an annual fee and therefore warrants consideration if you’re seeking a guaranteed-approval, credit-building tool. In addition, this card comes with a rewards program that earns you 1 point for every dollar you spend, which you can redeem toward Harley-Davidson gift cards.
  • Secured

    For students who plan to charge more than $325 per month, this secured card will more than pay for its $39 annual fee — it’ll even earn you extra cash. You’ll do so by earning 1% cash back on all qualifying purchases, all the time. It also offers 2% cash back on gas, grocery and drug-store purchases for the first six months.
  • Partially Secured

    Your means as a student are likely limited, so if you’re averse to the idea of placing a high security deposit, this secured card may be right for you. Certain applicants may only be required to place a security deposit as low as $49 in order to get a $200 credit line. Although you may have a lower deposit than a fully secured card, the drawback is that you’ll pay a $29 annual fee and won’t earn rewards.

Reviews & Discussion

Help others find the Best Credit Card for their needs by providing recommendations, caustions, and insider tips
Our editors' recommendations for the Best Credit Cards for College Students are a reflection of their own subjective opinions, and they should not be relied upon as the sole basis for choosing your credit card. We work hard to present you with the most accurate credit card information, however, the credit card terms and conditions do not originate from us and thus we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information. Before applying for a credit card we recommend that you verify the credit card terms and conditions on the credit card company's web site. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Ad Disclosure: Certain offers originate from paying advertisers, and this will be noted on a card's details page using the designation "Sponsored Card", where applicable. Advertising status does not affect which cards show up on this page but may impact the order in which they appear. At CardHub we try to list as many credit card offers as possible and currently have more than 1,200 offers, but we do not make any representation of listing all available offers.
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