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Best student credit cards for December 2021

Find the right student credit card to start building a positive credit history.

If you're a student, you may not be too concerned with establishing a positive credit history. Yet your credit score plays an important role in financial decisions, such as applying for a loan, financing a car or renting an apartment. Some employers even check your credit before offering you a job. Although it may seem hard to build your credit from scratch, there are credit cards designed for students and first-timers.

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

Best emergency credit card for students

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 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • 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 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

Even if you don't want to put your expenses on a credit card, it might be a good idea to keep one on hand in case unexpected, emergency expenses arise. For this purpose, we selected the Discover it® Student Cash Back*. The introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first six months from account opening (12.99% to 21.99% variable APR after that) could buy you some peace of mind that emergency expenses can be carried interest-free for this period of time. 

And if you do end up needing it for some unexpected expenses, you'll earn cash back on the purchases, as well as the cash-back match offered at the end of the first year.

Best credit card for student commuters

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

If you commute to and from school, the Discover it® Student chrome* offers the best cash-back rates available for student credit cards on gas purchases and restaurants alike. You receive 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, and 1% after that and on all other purchases. Not to mention, Discover's sign-on bonus includes an unlimited cash-back match in the first year, to be credited to your account after your account reaches its one-year anniversary.

Best student card for dining and entertainment

Card Highlights
Intro BonusN/A
APR26.99% (Variable)
Recommended Credit Average, Fair, Limited
Reward Rates
  • Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
  • Earn 1% on all other purchases.
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Balance Transfer APR26.99% (Variable)
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
  • Earn 1% on all other purchases.

Our Take

If you're studying in a city where there is lots to do, the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card* will be a great choice for you. This card offers unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment and popular streaming services, and 1% cash back on all other purchases -- this is competitive with our picks for non-student credit cards for restaurants and dining

Entertainment includes ticket purchases made at movie theaters, sports promoters (professional and semi-professional live events), theatrical promoters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, aquariums, zoos, dance halls, record stores, pool halls or bowling alleys.

Best flat cash-back rate for students

Card Highlights
Intro BonusN/A
APR26.99% (Variable)
Recommended Credit Average, Fair, Limited
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Balance Transfer APR26.99% (Variable)
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

Our Take

Though the Discover student cards might have this one beat for the first year after account opening due to their cash-back match sign-on bonus, the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card* has them beat for a flat rate for the rest of your school career. They offer an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, period. This keeps things simple -- no worrying about which categories you're spending on. Speaking of simplicity, you can also check if you're preapproved before you apply.

Card Highlights
Intro Bonus25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening – which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable
Recommended Credit N/A
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points
Annual Fee$0
Intro Purchase APR0% Introductory APR for the first 15 Statement Closing Dates following the opening of your account.
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
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Penalty APR Up to 29.99% Variable
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points

Our Take

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students* 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. Bank of America is also one of the few card issuers that allows cosigners, who can be a parent, guardian -- or anyone with a good credit score who's willing to share the legal liability.


FAQs

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.

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. Student credit cards don't generally require cash upfront, but these cards typically only offer a small credit line, sometimes just a few 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).

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

A typical non-student 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 issuer may ask you for information regarding any income you may have (even if it's from family), and any checking account or savings account you may have. You do need to prove enrollment generally in a four-year college, community college or other higher education institution.

What are the features of a student credit card?

In addition to more relaxed eligibility requirements, the best student credit cards 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%

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back credit cards, welcome bonus credit cards, travel rewards credit cards and balance transfer credit cards. 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.

*All information about the Discover it Student Cash BackDiscover it Student chrome, Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card and Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students 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.