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Best Credit Cards For College Students Of 2019: Money Under 36’s Top Picks

You can trust the integrity of our balanced, independent financial advice. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Opinions are the author's alone, and this content has not been provided by, reviewed, approved or endorsed by any advertiser.

When you’re young, you’ve got a lot to learn, especially about using and building credit. Here are the best student credit cards to get you started.

The best credit cards for college students

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.

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 NamesBest For
Discover it(R) Student Cash BackCashback
Discover it(R) Student chromeGas stations
Journey(R) Student Rewards from Capital One(R)All around rewards
Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards credit card for StudentsTravel
Wells Fargo Cash Back College CardGas stations and grocery

5 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 five credit cards for college students to consider:

1. Discover it(R) Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Credit Needed: Fair
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time 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.
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
0%6 months10.99%6 months15.24% - 24.24% Variable$0

The Discover it(R) Student Cash Back has many of the same perks as the Discover it(R) Student chrome (which comes in at our #2 slot, see below), but employs a different cash back strategy. Instead of a flat 2 percent on gas and restaurants up to $1,000, plus 1 percent elsewhere, this card offers 5 percent on up to $1,500, though the category eligible for cash back changes every quarter and you must enroll in the program each quarter.

It includes appreciable benefits for students such as no annual fee and an introductory 0 percent APR on purchases for six months, then the regular rate of 15.24% - 24.24% Variable will apply. Students are also exempt from foreign transaction fees and over limit fees. Late payments don’t raise APR or charge fees for the first occurrence.

Alongside a free FICO score in each statement, Discover makes it easier for students to practice financial discipline.

  • Good Student Bonus: Earn $20 cash back for each year that your GPA is above 3.0 for up to the next five years.
  • Rolling Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 every quarter in a different purchase category including gas stations, wholesale clubs, restaurants, and Amazon.com. Quarterly activation required.
  • Discover automatically matches the total amount of cash back earned at the end of your first year

Learn more about the Discover it(R) Student Cash Back

2. Discover it(R) Student chrome

Discover it® Student chrome

Credit Needed: Fair
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • 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.
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
0%6 months10.99%6 months15.24% - 24.24% Variable$0

This card offers 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined spending each quarter. Users get 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Discover it(R) Student chrome also gives you six months of 0 percent 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 15.24% - 24.24% Variable.

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(R) Student chrome

3. Journey(R) Student Rewards from Capital One(R)

This offer requires Average/Fair/Limited credit.

This card features 1 percent cash back rewards on all purchases, and those rewards increase to 1.25 percent when you make your payments on time.

New applicants also receive access to a higher credit line after making their first five monthly payments on time. You can also track your credit score with Capital One’s CreditWise program.

There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

Learn more about Journey(R) Student Rewards from Capital One(R)

4. Bank of America(R) 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.

If you also have a Bank of America(R) checking or savings account, you receive additional customer bonus points equal to 10 percent of what you’ve earned.

There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

5. Wells Fargo Cash BackSM College Card

This card offers students both a low introductory interest rate and cash back rewards. New cardholders receive six months of 0 percent APR introductory financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3 percent balance transfer fee.

You also get 3 percent cash back rewards on all gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first six months after opening your account, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

There’s no annual fee for this card.

Summary

Card Name
Unique Features
Rewards
Minimum Credit Needed
Proceed With Application
Discover it(R) Student Cash Back
Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher
5% cash back at different places each quarter
1% on all other purchases
700+
Discover it(R) 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
700+
Journey(R) Student Rewards from Capital One(R)
Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
1% cash back on all your purchases
650+
Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
If you have a Bank of America(R) 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
650+
Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card
Six months of 0 percent APR introductory financing on both new purchases and 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
700+

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.

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!

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About Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards, travel and personal finance since 2008, and is passionate about using his cards to travel for free. Jason contributes to many of the top personal finance and travel sites and has been widely quoted in mainstream media as a credit card expert. Jason lives in Denver Colorado where he enjoys bicycling, snowboarding and flying. You can follow Jason on Twitter, Facebook or on his website.

Comments

We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 36.

  1. Gary says:

    I’ve never owned a credit card, but when I checked my score, it came up pleasantly high! Is that possible, and if so why is that?

  2. Joanne says:

    I’m going to be traveling abroad for a student exchange program as my junior year in college. Which credit card will help me out the most while I’m not in the states?

    • Money Under 36 Staff says:

      If you’re going to be abroad, you want a credit card that is globally recognized. You don’t mention where you’re going, but most countries and vendors will accept Discover cards, so we recommend the Discover it(R) Student chrome. It’s a great credit-building card that offers good cash back rewards and a Good Grades credit as well. You’ll also get 24/7 fraud monitoring, a godsend if your card is stolen on foreign soil.

  3. Michael Smith-Ellen says:

    Is it a good idea to transfer my tuition balance to a lower interest credit card? If so, which one?

    • Money Under 36 Staff says:

      If you’re currently paying off your student loan via a credit card with high APR, your best choice is to switch it over to a good, low-interest card. The more interest you have to pay, the less money you have to put towards your loans, and the longer you will be paying off your loans. One thing to look out for is the balance transfer rate.

      Check out our balance transfer cards page to see if you can qualify for a good card – https://www.moneyunder36.com/best-balance-transfer-credit-cards

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