As credit newbies, college students have thin, if not nonexistent, credit profiles.
Although it might not be a big deal while you’re in school, having no credit when you graduate can make it hard to rent an apartment, finance a car, or even get a cellphone contract.
Here are the best credit cards for college students looking to build credit in school so they can get a head start financially when they graduate.
At a glance: The best credit cards for college students
Depending on your spending habits and preferences, compare these best credit cards for college students to find out which one suits you.
1. Discover it for Students: Best for bonus rewards
If you want to maximize your rewards, the Discover it for Students can help you do it better than any other student credit card.
Stellar rewards options: The card offers 5 percent cash back on certain categories that change every three months, up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter.
Historically, these categories have included gas stations, restaurants, Amazon, and more. Remaining purchases net you only 1 percent back.
To add more value, Discover will double the cash back you earn during your first year. So, you’re essentially getting 10 percent back on bonus categories and 2 percent back on everything else for the first year.
Decent 0% APR promotion: If you have a big purchase coming up and need time to pay it off, the Discover it for Students offers a 0% APR promotion for six months. After that, the APR is 13.99% to 22.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
No foreign transaction fees: If you’re planning a trip abroad, you can bring this card along. Most credit cards charge a fee of 3 percent on every transaction you make overseas, but this card doesn’t charge anything.
Poor international acceptance: Although the Discover it for Students doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, you might not even be able to use it overseas.
Unfortunately, Discover isn’t widely accepted internationally. So, if you’re planning to study abroad, consider the BankAmericard Travel Rewards for Students instead.
Beyond acceptance issues, there aren’t any other major drawbacks to this card.
2. BankAmericard Travel Rewards for Students: Best for studying abroad
If you’re planning to spend a semester abroad or you want to save up for a senior trip, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards for Students is a solid option.
Standout rewards: With this card, you’ll earn 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase regardless of the category. You’ll also get a 20,000-point sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. That’s worth $200 if you redeem your rewards for travel.
You’ll also get 10 percent more miles on your purchases if you have a Bank of America checking or savings account.
Solid 0% APR promotion: Like the Discover it for Students, this card offers a 0% APR promotion. This one is longer, however. You’ll get an introductory 0% APR on all purchases for 12 billing cycles. After that, the APR will be 15.99% to 23.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
No foreign transaction fees: This card also charges no foreign transaction fees, but the main difference is it’s issued as a Visa, which is accepted virtually everywhere. So, you likely won’t run into issues using it while spending time overseas.
Poor choice for cash back: This card is perfect if you want only travel rewards. If you try to use it for cash back, though, you’ll get only half the value. For example, the 20,000-point sign-up bonus would be worth $100 in cash back versus $200 in travel.
Beyond this issue, there aren’t any major cons to the card.
Commence Mastercard: Best for paying off student loans
The Commence Mastercard ranks as a best credit card for college students for one reason: It rewards you for paying down your student loans.
Bonus rewards for student loan payments: The card offers 2 percent cash back on grocery store and utility purchases and 1 percent back on everything else. You’ll also get a sign-up bonus worth $50 after your first purchase.
What really sets the card apart, though, is the fact that you’ll get a 25 percent bonus if you use your cash back to pay down your student loans.
While you’re in school, you generally don’t have to make student loan payments. But this card is a great way to get ahead while interest isn’t accruing.
Balance transfer promotion: If you already have a credit card with a balance, you can transfer it to the Commence Mastercard and pay no interest for 15 months while you pay it off. Keep in mind, though, that the card charges a balance transfer fee of 3 percent or $5, whichever is greater.
Low rewards rate: College students typically don’t have huge grocery and utility bills, so you might find that most of your purchases net you only 1 percent cash back.
What’s more, you still can use cash-back rewards from other cards to pay down student loans. You just don’t get the special bonus.
No 0% APR promotion on purchases: The card’s balance transfer promotion is great if you need it. But unlike the other cards in this roundup, there’s no promotion for purchases.
Getting the best credit card for you
The best credit card for a college student depends largely on their preferences, but there are other things to consider as well.
Getting approved for a credit card isn’t always easy when you’re in college. Federal law requires that credit card issuers consider your ability to make the required monthly payments on the account.
However, since issuers don’t specify their minimum income requirements, it’s important to know what you can (and can’t) count as income. For students under the age of 21, income from jobs, scholarships, and grants are included.
If you’re 21 or older, however, you have more options:
- Earned income
- Allowances and gifts
- Scholarships and grants
- Trust fund distributions
- Retirement income
- Social Security income
Keep in mind that you must have reasonable access to this income to claim it. So, you can’t claim your parents’ income as your own, even if they’re footing the bill for your college education.
If your income doesn’t meet an issuer’s requirements, you might need a co-signer — someone with more income and a solid credit history — to apply with you.
Not every issuer allows co-signers, though, so make sure to call the issuer beforehand to confirm co-signing is available.
Do your research
Before you sign up for any of the best credit cards for college students listed above, take the time to research other options to make sure you’re getting the right card for you. You might find a different credit card with features that suit your needs better than the ones listed here.
In the end, though, the biggest priority is to build credit, and most major credit cards can help you do that. So, if you apply for a card and regret it, don’t fret. Once you’ve established a solid credit history in a year or two, you can apply for a better one.
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