MacBook Pro 16-inch M1 Max review The Facebook Papers: How to read all MacBook Pro 14-inch M1 Pro review MacOS Monterey is here World Series 2021: How to watch Guardians of the Galaxy game review
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you apply through our links, we may get a commission. Advertiser Disclosure

Best student credit card for October 2021

The best cards for first-timers and students with a limited credit history.

When you're a student, building a positive credit history might not be your top priority. But when it comes time to apply for a loan, finance a car or rent an apartment after graduating, having good credit is important. Some employers will even check your credit before offering you a job. However, it can be hard to build credit from scratch. That's why the student credit card system exists

Like a bike with training wheels, a student credit card helps students learn how to manage credit cards and start building credit while limiting risk. Compared with a regular credit card, spending limits are relatively low with a student credit card. That means the possibility of debt spiraling out of control, resulting in bad credit, is lower with a student card. 

There are a handful of great student credit cards out there. This list -- which we'll update periodically -- will help you find and apply for the student credit card that's best for you. Check out the best offers below.

The best student credit card overall

See Rates and Fees
Card Highlights
Intro BonusIntro 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! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
APR12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Fair/New to Credit
Reward Rates
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% for 6 months
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR10.99% for 6 months
Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Balance Transfer APR12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $40.
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

The Discover it® Student chrome* offers a winning combination of cash back and other rewards as well as lenient terms for first-time credit card holders. You won't get dinged by the credit card company for a late payment -- at least the first one (no late payment fee on the first late payment, up to $40 thereafter) -- or have to deal with an exorbitant penalty APR. And, of course, getting 1 to 2% back in rewards each month is an additional bonus. Note that Discover offers another similar student credit card, the Discover it® Student Cash Back*, but the rotating bonus categories can make things overcomplicated, especially for first-time cardholders. 

Most student credit cards offer 1% cash back. The Discover it Student chrome card bests that with 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%), plus a generous cash-back match at the end of the first year. The match effectively doubles your first year's bonus rewards, so if you receive $75 in cash-back rewards during the first 12 months, Discover will chip in an additional $75. 

Best for students without a credit history

The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students positions itself as an alternative to the traditional banks and credit card issuers, and specializes in credit cards for students and first-timers. And the Deserve EDU student credit card checks many of the boxes: It offers 1% cash back on all spending, features a relatively low late-payment fee and comes with an 18.74% variable APR. While it offers a lower student rewards rate than others, its relaxed eligibility requirements are well suited for students with a brief or nonexistent credit history or other potentially disqualifying limitation -- like not having a Social Security number, if you're an international student. 

The Deserve EDU student credit card offers 1% cash back on all purchases, which can be redeemed for statement credits in increments of $25. Card holders also get one year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles -- worth around $59 -- and up to $600 of credit toward cell phone protection coverage when you pay your monthly bill with it. 

Best for students who plan to carry a balance

Card Highlights
Intro Bonus$50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening
APR14.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good Credit
Reward Rates
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR14.99% Variable
Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years

Our Take

The student version of one of our favorite cash-back credit cards, the Chase Freedom Student credit card has a lot to offer. The 14.99% variable APR is one of the lowest available for student credit cards, and you get a $50 bonus when you sign up and make your first purchase within the first three months from account opening, a $20 good Standing bonus every account anniversary (for the first five years) and can earn a credit limit increase after five on-time monthly payments within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria.

Its 1% cash back on all purchases is consistent with the category average and the 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022 is nice (though less practical for many in the coronavirus era). The $50 sign-on bonus can be triggered by making a single purchase in the first three months so you need not worry about hitting a high spending threshold. And the $20 annual reward can be redeemed for up to five years -- as long as your account remains in good standing. You'll also receive free and unlimited access to your credit score, which can be an important tool for those who want to build their credit. 

Best for students who have a co-signer

Card Highlights
Intro Bonus25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire

Our Take

Bank of America is one of the few card issuers that allows co-signers, who can be a parent, guardian -- or anyone with a good credit score who's willing to share the legal liability. On the other hand, any late or missed payments or high outstanding balances will also negatively affect the co-signer's score. 

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students* is essentially the same as the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card*, which means it offers higher risks and rewards than most other student cards. You get a higher rewards rate -- 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases -- but fewer of the relaxed requirements for credit novices. Bank of America will grant you 25,000 online bonus points, equivalent to a $250 statement credit toward travel and dining purchases, when you sign up and spend $1,000 during the first 90 days. That's a higher threshold than you'll find with other student cards, but also a higher reward. 

Bottom line: If you can time your credit card application with a large purchase, it's worth it.

FAQs

What's the best student credit card right now?

The Discover it Student chrome is our pick for the best student credit card right now due to its lenient terms for first-time cardholders, including no penalty for the first late payment (late payment fee up to $40 thereafter), and a combination of cash back and other rewards. The Deserve EDU Credit Card is best for students without a credit history, while the Chase Freedom Student is a sound choice for students who plan to carry a balance. If the student has a co-signer, we recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students.

How does a student credit card work?

Student credit cards typically offer those with limited or no credit a way to start building credit and create a credit history. They generally come with lower credit limits than typical credit cards and don't charge annual fees. And they often have novice-friendly features, including late payment forgiveness, incremental credit limit increases over time and credit education resources. Reward rates may be lower than for standard cash-back and travel credit cards, however, making student credit cards a lower-risk, lower-reward financial tool.

Are student credit cards a good option for first-time credit card holders?

Student credit cards typically offer those with limited or no credit a way to start building credit and create a credit history. They generally come with lower credit limits than typical credit cards and don't charge annual fees. And they often have novice-friendly features, including late payment forgiveness, incremental credit limit increases over time and credit education resources. Reward rates may be lower than for standard cash-back and travel credit cards, however, making student credit cards a lower-risk, lower-reward financial tool.

How is a student credit card different from a secured credit card?

 While some people choose to build credit with a secured credit card -- that is, a card where you've backed your credit limit with a cash deposit, student credit cards work a bit differently. These cards typically only offer a small credit line, sometimes just a couple hundred bucks. That way, the student can use the card to build credit without the risk of racking up too much credit card debt (which leads to bad credit), while the card issuer hopes that the card holder will transition into full-time employment and will use their card for everyday purchases for years to come.

What do you need to qualify for a student credit card?

A typical credit card application requires a high credit score (around 650 or so) and at least a few years of credit report history. To get a student credit card, however, you often don't necessarily need either, though some proof of financial experience and responsibility helps when it comes to securing a credit card offer. The card issuer looks at sources of income -- even from part-time work or deposits from parents -- as well as information about checking and savings accounts to get a sense of an applicant's saving and spending. Luckily, once a student is able to get a card, simply making everyday purchases is an easy way to build credit (so long as the student is able to pay off their purchases).

What are the benefits of a student credit card?

In addition to more relaxed eligibility requirements, the best student credit card will offer some of the following features:

  • Special rules for credit newcomers such as minimal late fees and no-penalty APRs
  • Lower credit limits -- usually between $500 and $2,000
  • Cashback rewards program on spending
  • A "reasonable" APR -- usually between 15 and 20%

How do cash-back rewards work?

For all the cards listed above, "cash back" refers to a statement credit that's applied to your account to lower your balance. For most cards, cash rewards can be applied toward a balance regardless of expense type.

How we chose the best student credit cards

We evaluated 19 credit cards marketed specifically to students, and we selected four that stood out across a range of criteria, including APR, forgiveness for credit mistakes, cash rewards and lenient eligibility requirements. We urge students to consider important factors like interest rate, whether the card has an annual fee and if the card offers a cash advance before they make a decision. 

Cards we researched

  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Discover it® Student chrome 
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back 
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students 
  • Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
  • BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students 
  • State Farm Student Visa 
  • Wells Fargo Cash Back℠ College Card
  • Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
  • Chase Freedom® Student credit card
  • Capital One Platinum Credit Card
  • Discover it® Secured Credit Card
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®
  • Citi® Double Cash Card
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including program features, program fees and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time to time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider's website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

The comments on this article are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

*All information about the Discover it Student chrome, Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students, Discover it Student Cash Back, and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

More personal finance recommendations

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.