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Best Debit Cards for College Students in February 2024

Earn rewards and even build your credit with a debit card designed for college students.

  • For 1% cash back on all purchases
    Discover® Cashback Debit
    Discover® Cashback Debit
  • For frequent Target shoppers
    Target RedCard Debit Card
    Target RedCard Debit Card
  • For climate-friendly choices
    FutureCard
    FutureCard
  • Best college debit card for investing
    Stash Stock-Back Card
    Stash Stock-Back Card
  • Build your credit with this debit card
    Extra Debit Card
    Extra Debit Card

Unlike credit cards, debit cards typically link to a checking account and won’t charge interest or require a credit check. Most banks will issue you an ATM or debit card when you open a checking account (and sometimes even a savings account) so that you can withdraw cash, but you won’t be able to access a line of credit. 

Debit cards give you low-risk access to your money, with your purchases drafted right from your linked bank account, but they generally won’t offer rewards or incentives like a student credit card will. Still, there are a handful of third-party and bank-issued debit cards that let college students earn some rewards and even build credit risk free. 

An advantage to debit cards over credit cards is that you can’t accumulate debt, and you don’t have to worry about making on-time payments. But you still have to be careful not to go below your bank’s minimum balance requirements in order to avoid overdraft fees.

Some debit cards have monthly or annual fees, but most of our picks for college debit cards do not. Keep in mind that not all of these cards allow you to withdraw cash, so you may need to hang on to your bank-issued debit card for cash access. Though this list is tailored toward cards that maximize rewards on your college expenditures, you don’t have to be a student to take advantage of these debit cards

Read more: Best Prepaid Debit Cards

Discover® Cashback Debit

Discover® Cashback Debit

For 1% cash back on all purchases

Rewards: 1% in cash back on up to $3,000 in purchases per month (see website for details).

Fee: None

Checking account: Discover only

ATMs: 60,000 fee-free ATMs in the US

The Discover® (Member FDIC) Cashback Debit earns you 1% on all qualifying purchases for up to $3,000 in spending per month (see website for details). While there are other debit cards for college students that offer 1% cash back, many come with a monthly fee or require you to maintain a sizable minimum checking account balance. Though there’s a monthly cap on the rewards you can earn, it’s much higher than some competitors -- plus, you won’t be limited to getting rewards on only certain purchases as with other cards.
One drawback is that you’ll need a Discover checking account to use this card -- it doesn’t connect to any check account like other debit cards picks on this list. If you don’t mind switching banks, this checking account is free, has no overdraft fees and has access to over 60,000 fee-free ATMs.

Read more: Discover Cashback Debit

Target RedCard Debit Card

Target RedCard Debit Card

For frequent Target shoppers

Rewards: Save 5% on all Target purchases

Fee: None

Checking account: Any

ATMs: Not applicable; Cash withdrawal up to $40 at Target checkout

With supplies such as notebooks and project materials, clothing, snacks and dorm furnishings, Target sells a wide range of the biggest needs for college students. The Target RedCard debit card earns the same rewards as the Target RedCard credit card -- you’ll save 5% at checkout on all Target purchases, online or in store. Other perks include free shipping on most Target.com purchases and an extra 30 days to make returns. Payments may take two to three business days to reflect in your checking account though, so if you’re not on top of your spending, it’s easy to accidentally overdraw with this card.

Because you’ll only earn rewards on Target purchases, and can’t use this card outside the US or at nonparticipating retailers, it’s not exactly a good substitute for all of your debit card needs. If you’re not a frequent Target shopper, you should review the other picks on our list.

FutureCard

FutureCard

For climate-friendly choices

Rewards: 5% cash back on

  • Trains, buses, subway, metro, light rail & commuter rail
  • Online marketplaces for gently-used clothing & thrift stores
  • Electric vehicle charging
  • Bike shops (bikes, e-bikes, cycling accessories and repairs)
  • Electric scooters, mopeds and bikeshares

1% on everything else

Fee: None

Checking account: Any

ATMs: No fees to withdraw cash at tens of thousands of ATMs

FutureCard aims to incentivize climate-friendly choices by rewarding purchases at secondhand shops, electric-vehicle charging stations, public transit, bicycle shops and more. You’ll earn 5% on those climate-oriented purchases, and 1% on all other purchases. If you think a purchase qualifies for 5% cash back, you can email Future to ask for a rewards adjustment.

You can use this card to make purchases anywhere, and you can use it to withdraw cash at any ATM, meaning you can ditch you regular bank-issued debit card.

For more information, see our full review of the FutureCard.

Stash Stock-Back Card

Stash Stock-Back Card

Best college debit card for investing

Rewards: Earn 0.125% stock on all of your everyday purchases, and up to 5% at certain merchants with bonuses.

Fee: $1, $3 or $9 per month depending on your subscription

Checking account: Stash banking account and brokerage account

ATMs: 19,000 fee-free ATMs in US network; otherwise a $2.50 charge

The Stash debit card lets you earn cash back on every purchase you make, ranging from 0.125% to 5% back, depending on where you shop. You also have the option to invest your rewards automatically if you’re a college student interested in building up your investment portfolio. The program defaults to give you partial shares of stocks relevant to your purchases -- so, a slice of $HD when you make a Home Depot purchase -- though you can adjust your preferences to gear toward stock of your choice in the app. Stash automates this process for you, so it’s a good option if you prefer to passively invest.

You need both a checking and brokerage account with Stash, so if you’re not interested in opening another bank account, this may not be the right debit card for you. If you don’t mind opening a new account, Stash is FDIC-insured, though you will need to pay a monthly fee ranging from $1 to $9 per month, depending on the investment plan you choose.

Extra Debit Card

Extra Debit Card

Build your credit with this debit card

Rewards: Up to 1% on your transactions with the upgraded plan

Fee: $8 or $12 per month depending on plan

Checking account: Any

ATMs: None, purchases only

The Extra Debit Card straddles the line between debit card and credit card. You get all the upside of credit building without the downsides of a credit check or interest charges. At the end of each month, the company summarizes your transactions and sends the information to the three major US credit bureaus that oversee your credit score -- Experian, Equifax, and Transunion -- just as a credit card would. But your payments are automatically drafted from your bank account like a debit card, so you don’t need to worry about making payments. The credit bureaus register this as responsible behavior, so over time using this card will help improve your credit score.

There are some disadvantages to consider. First, charges can take a day or more to hit your account after your purchases, so you’ll want to pay attention to your spending to prevent accidentally overdrawing. This card aIso isn’t free. There are two plans you can choose from: credit building, or credit building plus rewards. The credit building plan costs $8 per month and lets you build credit, but does not earn rewards. The credit-building-plus-rewards option costs  $12 per month and earns up to 1% back on each purchase.

If you spend more than $400 per month with this card and earn 1% in rewards, you can earn back the extra $4 you pay for this plan. If you spend less than that per month, you’re better off with the $8 subscription. You can also save 25% on either subscription if you pay yearly, upfront.

The rewards you earn also can only be redeemed for merchandise and gift cards, rather than cash back or statement credits. You also cannot use this card outside of the US. Overall, it’s not a great option for earning and redeeming rewards, but it’s worth considering if you want to build your credit without opening a credit card.

FAQs

Debit cards don’t rely on your credit score or credit history for approval because there is very little risk of the issuer not getting paid. While banks don’t require a credit check, they do require you to link a checking account to your debit card so your transactions automatically pull from your available cash balance. Depending on your bank, there may be a minimum balance you need to maintain in your checking account.

Whether you opt for a debit card or credit card will depend on your financial goals and risk appetite. Debit cards don’t hurt your credit, run up interest charges or late fees, and can’t get you into debt -- though you could incur overdraft fees if you spend more than is available in your checking account. While credit cards have these risks associated with them, they also offer more freedom for a disciplined user: You can cover a charge you might not have the cash for right away, build your credit and earn better rewards and perks. Decide which set of benefits and risks better suits your personal situation.

secured credit card shares some similarities with a debit card, however they do come with the risk of running up debt and accruing interest charges. Secured credit cards are designed for anyone looking to build their credit. They require a security deposit as collateral that acts as the credit line, and your payments are automatically drafted from your security deposit every month. After you build your credit for a while, you may be able to graduate to an unsecured credit card, or traditional credit card, which does not require a security deposit and may offer better rewards and perks.

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.

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.

Jaclyn is a CNET Money editor who relishes the sweet spot between numbers and words. With responsibility for overseeing CNET's credit card coverage, she writes and edits news, reviews and advice. She has experience covering business, personal finance and economics, and previously managed contracts and investments as a real estate agent. Her tech interests include Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and Neuralink.