Best College Student Credit Cards for 2018: What Are The Top Options?

As a student, your first credit card is an opportunity to begin building a credit history and to establish a good credit score. In addition to developing a credit history, a great student credit card will allow you to earn rewards on the spending you make in your daily life. We surveyed the top credit card issuers in the country to find the best student credit card options, which you can find below.

Credit Cards
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Advertiser Disclosure

Advertiser Disclosure: Some of the card offers that appear on this website are from companies which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The site does not review or include all companies or all available products.

Disclaimer: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone. For a full list of our advertisers, see our disclosure page.

Opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the issuer. We may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program. For a full list of our advertisers see our disclosure page.

Best Student Credit Card for Cash Back: Discover it® Student Cash Back

The Discover it® Student Cash Back treats its users like adults. While most student credit cards out there come with truncated rewards programs, this card offers a cash-back program you might expect from a non-student credit card. This is exactly what many college seniors should be looking for in a credit card. Those who are transitioning to life after graduation will benefit from a credit card that continues to be useful once out of school.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back gets you 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter you activate, up to a maximum spend of $1,500. All other purchases result in the standard 1% cash-back rate. Most student credit cards don't have any rewards at all, let alone ones that can climb as high as 5%.

There's one problem some students may have with this card: You must keep track of the rotating categories. If you don't, you'll likely only earn the measly 1% cash-back rate. If you don't want to track credit card categories on top of your coursework, avoid this card. As long as a quarter of your total purchases falls within the 5% bonus categories, you'll be walking away with a net rewards rate of 2%, which is very good by most standards.

Highlights

  • Get a bonus of $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years
  • New cardmembers will have their rewards doubled at the end of their first year.
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

Runner-up: BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students

For college students who want to save on the essentials—groceries and gas—the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students is the best choice. The card provides the highest cash-back rates we've seen on the two aforementioned shopping categories. Cardholders get 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% cash back on gas. These rewards are capped at the first $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter. All other purchases award just 1% back. On top of all of this, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students provides a sizable bonus. Those who make at least $500 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening receive $150.

The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students shines for those who already have an existing relationship with Bank of America. If you have a checking or savings account with the bank, you can receive a 10% customer bonus on your cash-back redemptions. You can also get higher bonuses through the Preferred Rewards program, although these require you to have $20,000 or more deposited with Bank of America—something most students won't qualify for.

Best Student Credit Card for Travel and Study Abroad: BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students

If you're working while in school, it may be good for you to consider applying for the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students. The card provides a solid 1.5% rewards rate on all purchases, which is good on its own. However, if you also get a Bank of America savings or checking account, you can get a 10% boost to your rewards. This bonus gets better as you deposit more in qualified Bank of America accounts. However, most students won't be able to qualify for the 25% to 75% bonus without assistance from their parents.

Having a job while in college can give you more spending money to do things you enjoy. The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students can help you save on those things no matter what they are, due to its fixed-rate rewards structure. This card also checks off all the other things we've come to expect from top credit cards for college students: It doesn't charge an annual fee, provides free FICO credit scores and comes with a sign-up bonus. That last feature is worth highlighting. This card comes with the best welcome bonus of any of the cards on our list. Cardholders who manage to spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening can earn 20,000 points, which is worth a $200 statement credit.

Highlights

  • Get a 1.5% rewards rate on all purchases.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee.
  • Get a 10% point bonus when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Runner-up: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is one of the few student credit cards to waive foreign-transaction fees for cardholders. Most other credit cards tend to charge a 3% foreign-transaction fee whenever the card is used outside of the U.S. College students who study abroad or simply travel overseas—be it for spring break or family vacations—can enjoy the freedom of using this card with no foreign transaction fees. As far as the rewards program is concerned, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® gives users 1% cash back on all purchases and a 25% bonus whenever they pay on time—essentially making this a flat 1.25% cash back card. While this doesn't stack up against some of the best fixed-rate cash back credit cards, it's better than the average offer available to students.

Best Credit Card for International Students: Deserve® Edu Mastercard For Students

The Deserve® Edu Mastercard For Students is hands-down the best option for international students for two reasons: its rewards program and easy application requirements. First, this is one of the few credit cards that doesn't require a Social Security number to apply. Since many international students aren't authorized to work in the U.S., they will likely not have a Social Security number—making this a must-have feature. This feature alone would make this a great card. However, the Deserve® Edu Mastercard For Students goes one step further and throws in a 1% cash-back reward on all purchases. While that's not great compared to the other options here, it's amazing when compared to options open to international students.

With the Deserve® Edu Mastercard For Students, you'll begin building a credit history—an invaluable feature if you're planning to stay in the U.S. after your studies. If you make timely payments and your credit score improves, you may graduate to the Deserve Pro Mastercard, which offers better cash-back rates and has no annual fee.

Highlights

Best Student Credit Card for Dining Out and Entertainment: Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students

The Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students is one of the best options for students who have common college-life expenses: restaurants and entertainment. The card awards 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent in these two categories. "Entertainment" can include things like concerts, movies and even online-streaming platforms like Netflix. "Restaurants" is also a broad category that includes more than just dining establishments—bars and cafes also qualify. College students are likely to spend heavily in these categories. All other purchases award 1 point per dollar spent.

For students looking for a card at the beginning of the school year, the 2,500-point bonus for spending $500 in the first three months can be easily achieved after buying textbooks for the new semester. All the ThankYou points you earn through this card can be traded in for various prizes, including gift cards and Amazon.com purchases. If you decide to get this card, we recommend reading through our guide to ThankYou points for a more in-depth look at how to optimize them.

Highlights

  • Get a 2% rewards rate on dining at restaurants and entertainment (which includes bars and clubs).
  • Get 2,500 bonus ThankYou® points after spending $500 within the first three months of account opening.
  • ThankYou® points can be redeemed for a number of different options.
  • Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students Review

Compare Student Credit Cards

Assumptions Based On Monthly Spend of: $1,430 Edit
General:
U.S. Gas Stations:
U.S. Supermarkets:
Airlines:
Hotel:
U.S. Restaurants:
Office:
Utilities:
Computing:
Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s welcome bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any welcome bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card and on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students
No Annual Fee 2.08%
$200
20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit towards travel purchases
$715
Graph Card More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 51,480 x $0.01 = $515
Bonuses
20,000 x $0.01 = $200
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 715

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee No Annual Fee
APR 14.99% - 22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit towards travel purchases
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • Redeem points to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees with no restrictions or blackouts
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Smart chip technology provides greater acceptance and added security
  • No limits or expiration dates on points earned
Discover it® Student Cash Back
$0 1.50%
$171
Discover gives a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. (New cardmembers only)
$514
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
171 x $1 = $171
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 514

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 14.49% - 23.49% Variable

Card Details

  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 23.49%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students
No Annual Fee 1.23%
$25
Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou points after you spend $500 within the first 3 months
$423
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.01 = $398
Bonuses
2,500 x $0.01 = $25
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 423

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee No Annual Fee
APR 13.99%, 18.99% or 23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 2 ThankYou points per dollar on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment
  • Earn 1 ThankYou point per dollar on other purchases
BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students
No Annual Fee 1.29%
$100
$100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
$443
Graph Card More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
0 x $1 = $100
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 443

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee No Annual Fee
APR 13.24% - 23.24% Variable

Card Details

  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • 3% cash back on gas, and 2% cash back at grocery stores for the first $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter
  • 1% cash back elsewhere.
  • 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
$0 1.00%
$0
$343
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 343

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 24.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app

Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One® and is not part of our independent analysis.

Summary of Best College Student Credit Cards

If you need help figuring out which card to apply for, check out this table.

Card

Best College Student Credit Card For…
Discover it® Student Cash BackCash back
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for StudentsTravel
Deserve® Edu Mastercard For StudentsInternational students
Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College StudentsDining out, bars and entertainment

How to Choose the Best Student Credit Card

The major credit card issuers, except American Express, offer at least one credit card specifically designed for students enrolled in college with good but limited credit history or no credit history at all. These cards generally have high APRs, charge no annual fees and offer a rewards program. Finding the best one depends on the type of card and features for which you qualify. We offer a quick guide to evaluating your options.

Find the Right Card Type

Generally, there are two types of student credit cards: cash back and generic travel cards. Students with good—but short—credit profiles or no credit at all typically can qualify for these cards. They just need to decide what type of rewards work best for their budget. Cash back cards can help them earn money back on everyday purchases, while a generic travel card can help them pay for flights home or a spring break adventure. If you're a student with poor credit, your only option may be to get a secured credit card that can help rebuild your credit. We break down these three types of cards further below.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Cash back cards, which give you money back on each purchase, come in two types: cards with a fixed cash-back rate and cards with rotating categories. Cards with a fixed rate provide one cash-back rate, such as 1.5% back on all purchases. Rotating-category cards give cash back for different types of purchases that change during the year. For example, a card may offer 5% back on groceries from January to March and then on restaurants from April to June. But the cash-back rate on purchases that don't fall in the rotating categories is typically not very generous. The Discover it student card is the only student credit card with rotating categories. Cash back credit cards also offer easy rewards redemption and higher rewards rates for everyday purchases like groceries.

Generic Travel Rewards Cards

These cards award points for all your purchases that can be redeemed for cash back, flights, hotel stays or statement credits. You'll usually get the highest value when you redeem for travel-related expenses. Generic travel rewards cards typically have higher rewards rates for dining and travel and allow students to find deals that maximize their points. These cards also don't come with annual fees, unlike many rewards cards, because they are designed for students.

Secured Credit Cards

If you're a student with blemished credit, you can qualify for a secured credit card, which requires an upfront security deposit to back the card's credit line. The deposit is generally equal to the credit limit, meaning if you put down a $500 deposit, you'll get a $500 credit line. But a handful of secured cards require only a nominal security deposit for a higher credit line or allow you to make additional deposits to increase the credit line. You can get your deposit back if you close the account with a good payment record and a paid balance. Once the card is opened with a deposit, a secured credit card works like a regular unsecured credit card. For more information on secured credit cards, see our recommendations.

Compare Key Features

APR: Student credit cards typically come with APRs that are higher than the average on all other credit cards—19.8% versus 15%, respectively. That means you should pay off your entire balance every month to avoid these expensive interest charges. Rewards Rate: It's smart to compare the rewards rates of cash back and travel cards to find one that maximizes your individual spending. To calculate this rate, multiply the value of the points by the number of points you'd get for a specific purchase. For example, if the value of a point is 1 cent and you receive 2 points for each dollar spent, the rewards rate is $0.01 x 2 = 2%. Bonuses: Student cards tend to come with small sign-up bonuses. The most common type of bonus requires you spend a minimum amount on the card in the first few months before getting the bonus. The other type of bonus is awarded when you make your first purchase, generally between $25 and $50. Foreign-Transaction Fees: Most credit cards charge a 3% fee when you use it outside the U.S. However, some travel rewards cards don't charge this fee, which could be useful for students studying abroad. Late Fee Forgiveness: Many student credit cards often forgive the first late fee, which is great for those who are learning to manage a credit card. Credit Score: Some student credit cards provide free FICO scores on their monthly billing statements. For young people building a good credit profile, this service is a way to monitor progress.

Get a Parent to Co-sign

If you are 18 to 20 years old, you can open a credit card on your own as long as you have proof of individual income, per federal law. Most issuers ask young applicants to state their salary on the credit card application, but some may require additional documentation such as pay stubs. If you don't have any income as a student, then a friend or family member (who is at least 21) can co-sign a credit card with you.

Co-signers are both responsible for making payments, and both can make charges to the card. The payment history of the card is listed on the credit reports of both co-signers. That underscores why it's important that both co-signers—you and your friend or family member—agree on how much can be charged each month, who is responsible for making the monthly payments and what purchases can be made. This requires ongoing communication between co-signers. If you want to cancel a co-signed card, permission from both co-signers is required.

Best Practices For Your Student Credit Card

Your first credit card is a chance to establish an independent financial history and begin taking advantage of credit. Having a credit card also means taking responsibility for financial decisions that can have a long-term impact on your personal finances. Developing good credit habits early can save you from numerous headaches down the road. Here are a few steps you can take to get off to the right start.

Spend Within Your Means And Pay Off Your Balance

Having access to credit means you can purchase or pay for goods and services without necessarily having the cash to do so. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. While the immediate gratification of swiping your credit card to buy something may feel great, it won't change your financial realities. Whether or not you can afford a purchase is still governed by how much money you make and how much you have. Even the lowest interest rate credit cards can still charge a double-digit APR, higher than just about any other financial product or service in the world. Racking up too much in debt could easily put you in a situation where you're just paying the additional interest instead of actually paying off your accumulated debt.

If there's a purchase you won't be able to pay off, consider whether it's something you need versus something you want. Save yourself the headache of being needlessly trapped by debt.

Review Your Monthly Statements

Take some time each month to review your credit card charges. Aside from tracking how you spend money, reviewing your statements can help you catch fraudulent charges on your card. While card companies do their best to identify these issues, reviewing your own statements is one way to protect yourself.

Periodic reviews are also a good way to see if you're overspending in any areas. This is especially true when it comes to subscription services you're no longer using. It's quite easy to begin paying for things like a Netflix account and forget about it while the charges pile up. Reviewing your spending is a good way to identify services you no longer use.

Comments and Questions

* See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer's website.

Info about the following cards: American Express® Gold Card, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Hilton Honors Surpass® Credit Card, American Express® Blue Sky, American Express® Green Card, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, The Plenti® Credit Card from Amex, Blue from American Express®, Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz, Bluebird, Centurion® Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and American Express Cash Magnet℠ Card has been collected independently by ValuePenguin. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program. 

These responses 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.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: Some of the offers that appear on this website are from companies which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The site does not review or include all companies or all available products. For more information please see our Advertiser Disclosure.