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Best Credit Cards for Back-to-School Shopping in November 2022

These credit cards will earn you the most rewards and perks on your school necessities.

Schoolchildren and college students alike need books, new wardrobes and even dorm room furnishings -- and the costs can add up quickly. To stretch your back-to-school budget, you can use the right credit cards to earn cash back, welcome bonuses and even promotional financing. The picks below all feature no annual fee or a low annual fee, and can optimize your school shopping and beyond.

Read more: Best Student Credit Cards

Best overall credit card for school shopping

9.5/10 CNET Rating
See Rates and Fees
Card Highlights
Intro OfferEarn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
APR18.74%, 23.74%, or 28.74% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers
Balance Transfer APR18.74%, 23.74%, or 28.74% Variable APR
Balance Transfer Fee up to 5%; min: $5
Foreign Transaction Fees 3%
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

Our Take

The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card has a top cash rewards rate for your spending, regardless of which brands you prefer or whether you shop online or in physical stores. It's low maintenance with no annual fee, and you can likely unlock the welcome bonus between your school shopping and day-to-day purchases. And if you need a little extra time to pay off books, dorm room furnishings or other school supplies, you can make use of the introductory APR. Just make sure to make all your minimum payments on time and pay off the balance by the end of the introductory period to avoid interest charges.

See more details in our full review of the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card.

Read our Wells Fargo Active Cash Card review.

 

To incentivize good credit behavior

7.25/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR17.74% - 27.74% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Balance Transfer APR17.74% - 27.74% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. A balance transfer fee of 5% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies if completed after 4 months of account opening.
Late Payment Fee Up to $41
Foreign Transaction Fees 3%
Penalty APR Up to 29.99% (Variable)
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

Our Take

While you won't get an introductory APR on purchases like with the Active Cash, you can still earn a top cash-back rate on all of your school spending with the Citi® Double Cash Card. The catch is that you earn the first 1% when you make the purchase, like with most rewards credit cards, but you don't earn the second 1% until you pay off those purchases. While this could be seen as inconvenient, it can help incentivize cardholders to pay off their card on time and in full, which can in turn boost your credit

Check out our full review of the Citi Double Cash Card for more details.

For school supplies on Amazon

9.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferUp to a $150 Amazon gift card instantly upon approval
APR17.24% - 25.24% Variable
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market with eligible Prime membership*
  • 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores*
  • 1% back on all other purchases*
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Balance Transfer APR17.24% - 25.24% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Late Payment Fee Up to $39
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market with eligible Prime membership*
  • 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores*
  • 1% back on all other purchases*

Our Take

You can stock up on fashion, supplies and dorm furnishings for the new school year on Amazon. The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card* will earn you top rewards on Amazon even beyond the annual sales holiday. It's one of the few retailer credit cards that lets you earn cash back on other spending categories, too. While there's no annual fee, you'll need to have a Prime membership ($139 annually) to maintain this card. Otherwise, you'll get the rewards with the non-Prime version: the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card*.

Check out our full review of the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card for more information.

Furnish a dorm room at Target

5.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferGet a coupon for $40 off a qualifying purchase over $40 when you are approved for a debit or credit RedCard in-stores and at Target.com between 09/18/22 - 10/08/22
APR25.90% Variable
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Good/Excellent
Reward Rates
  • Save 5% in store and online at Target
  • For each eligible purchase you make in gas or dining merchant categories, you earn rewards at a rate of 2% of the eligible purchase amount.
  • For each eligible purchase you make at a merchant that is not in a gas or dining category, you earn rewards at a rate of 1% of the eligible purchase amount.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $41
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Save 5% in store and online at Target
  • For each eligible purchase you make in gas or dining merchant categories, you earn rewards at a rate of 2% of the eligible purchase amount.
  • For each eligible purchase you make at a merchant that is not in a gas or dining category, you earn rewards at a rate of 1% of the eligible purchase amount.

Our Take

The REDcard credit card* can earn you 5% off your purchases online, in-store and at Starbucks located within Target stores. This can come in handy particularly if you're furnishing an apartment or a dorm room. The card comes with plenty of perks that regular Target shoppers can make use of, long after the school season is over. Among them is free shipping for most Target.com purchases and an extra 30 days for returns. 

Rotating categories for the whole school year

7.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferIntro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. 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. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
APR14.99% - 25.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR0% for 15 months
Recommended Credit Good/Excellent
Reward Rates
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 15 months
Balance Transfer APR14.99% - 25.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $41.
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

The Discover it® Cash Back* offers some flexibility for your school spending. The flagship rotating rewards category typically includes brands that many shoppers already use for their school necessities. For example, in October through December, you can earn 5% cash back (on up to a combined $1,500 in spending for the fiscal quarter, then 1%) for Amazon.com and digital wallets purchases -- helpful categories for just about any school needs. And the welcome offer will make your rewards for the first year even better.

Check out more details in our full review of the Discover it Cash Back.

FAQs

How much do people typically spend shopping for school?

The average family with school-age children in the US spent roughly $850 a year on school supplies in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation. This figure is up 7% year over year from 2020.

According to the College Board, for the 2020 to 2021 school year, college students in four-year institutions averaged $1,240 just in books and other course materials. Other expenses, like room and board, transportation and tuition, add up to tens of thousands of spending in a year.

How can I save money while school shopping?

Avoid overspending by creating a budget based on the supplies you need and how much you're willing to spend. Stick tight to your plan and avoid getting swayed by trendy school fashion or sought-after gear. A budget is the best way to avoid spending more than you can afford -- when you stick to it.

It's also smart to comparison-shop. Look online, in-store and in ads to find the best prices on the items you or your kids need. You may need to group supplies by retailer to get the best deals -- it might involve buying some items online and others at specific retailers, but the extra effort may be worth the savings.

Can I use credit cards combined with gift cards to save even more?

To maximize rewards hacking and minimize overspending, draw on the power of gift cards by buying one for the amount of your school supply budget. You won't be able to go over the limit, helping you control your spending. And if you're smart about where you buy the gift card, you can also earn more cash-back rewards.

Erik Budde is CEO of GigaPoints, a platform that provides personalized credit card recommendations based on your spending. He suggests buying a gift card for your school shopping at a high-rewards category store, such as a grocery store. 

"Since Amazon [and other types of] gift cards are sold at so many different types of retailers, this tactic works in a variety of different places," Budde says. "Many credit cards offer bonus points at office supply stores, drug stores and more." 

Essentially, you may be able to earn points when you buy a gift card at a high rewards category store, while limiting your spending to the gift card amount. 

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles -- with the understanding that everyone's financial situation is different -- and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the "welcome bonus" and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card's respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

More credit card advice

*All information about the Target Redcard Credit Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card and the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.