Best Student Credit Cards

Student life can be tough – studying, juggling, budgeting…It's an expensive but important transitional period in almost every young person's life. And with this transition comes getting a grip on personal finance.

When starting on your personal finance journey, usually the first step is getting a student or beginner-level credit card, which can be beneficial in multiple ways. It's key to establishing your credit score and responsible spending habits early on.

Let's take a look at the benefits and potential roadblocks that can come with applying for your first student credit card.

Student credit card benefits

Having your first credit card isn't just another way of spending money – it's an important tool in setting yourself up for success, both in the short-term and long-term.

Build your credit score

The main benefit of getting a student credit card as a young adult is to build your credit score, since you most likely don't have one yet.

What is a credit score, you ask?

Your credit score is a 3-digit number that's calculated by either TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian – the 3 major credit bureaus in the United States. This can give a clue into your debt repayment habits.

This number may seem insignificant, but it will follow you around your whole life...no pressure.

Having a good credit score is crucial in your personal finance journey – it will help you get better APR rates, better credit cards, and higher credit limits by showing that you're financially responsible. Not just with credit cards, but with any kind of loan – even signing a lease for an apartment.

The good news is it's easy to have a good credit score – just pay your credit card on time and in full each month, and it's smooth sailing ahead.

Earning rewards

Some student credit cards will offer you rewards for your spending, usually in the form of cash back or travel points. Either way, rewards allow you to get ahead little by little.

With a cash back rewards credit card, you'll get small percentages of your purchases right back into your pocket.

And with a travel rewards credit card, you'll get miles or points that can be redeemed against flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and much more.

Some credit cards will even offer statement credits when you maintain a certain GPA average.

Free access to credit score

Most student credit cards will give you free access to your credit score, so you can check at your leisure and see if you're on the right track.

Just be sure not to become obsessed with your score. It can dip and rise all the time – that doesn't mean you're about to go bankrupt. Check every once in a while but try not to make it a habit. As long as you're paying your balance off every month, you have nothing to worry about.

Student credit card downsides

Though having a student credit card can be super beneficial, getting one might not be as easy at it seems.

Non-existent credit score

Chances are, if you're a young student, you don't have a credit score at all yet.

Ironically, if you don't have a credit score, it can be much harder to get accepted for some of the better student credit cards available.

Lack of income

When you apply for a credit card, generally you need some kind of income to show that you're able to repay the charges you put onto the card.

But chances are, if you're a student, you won't have an income (unless you work a part-time job while attending your studies).

Credit cards under the age of 21

If you're under the age of 21, getting a student credit card can be a bit more complicated. You'd need proof of income or a co-signer, which not all big banks allow.

The danger of irresponsible spending

Even if you're able to get your credit card, it can be hard to completely grasp what it means to borrow money – and what the real consequences are if you fail to pay what you owe.

Credit card debt is an especially vicious beast that could put your student loans to shame if left alone for long enough. 20% interest isn't unheard of among credit cards.

So before going on that shopping spree with the idea that you'll figure out how to pay it later, make sure you have the money in your account to pay it now.

Use your cards as a tool to increase your credit score and earn rewards, not a vessel for free money – because it's not free money, it's very expensive if used incorrectly.

Student credit cards for bad credit

If you've been applying for student credit cards but keep getting denied because you either:

  • don't have a credit score yet,
  • don't have an income, or
  • don't have someone who is able to co-sign for you,

...a secured credit card might be your only option (for now).

How secured credit cards work

Secured credit cards work differently than regular credit cards – they require a deposit. The deposit will usually become the credit limit on the card and works as a safety net for the banks in case you're unable to repay your debt.

Once you've established a credit report with your secured credit card, you can try applying for better cards.

Back to the books

Although personal finance can be a daunting topic to tackle when you're just getting started, the steps to take are simple and straightforward – get a student credit card, pay it off on time, and build your credit along the way.

Compare Student Credit Cards

The creditcardGenius algorithm calculates an estimated dollar value for all rewards and bonuses by using a typical point value a person can realistically achieve by redeeming their rewards in a reasonably optimized way. The "Welcome Bonus" is the dollar value obtained by combining all one-time bonuses available to new cardholders within the first year. To qualify for the full bonus you may need to make purchases, meet minimum spending requirements, or complete special actions. Terms and conditions apply.

* Conditions apply.