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Best College Student Credit Cards for 2017: What Are The Top Options?

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As a student, your first credit card is an opportunity to begin building a credit history and to establish a good credit score. Your credit score can be used to evaluate your eligibility for loans, auto insurance, renting a house / apartment, and even used during background checks for employment. 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.

Best College Student Credit Cards for 2017:

Our Best Student Credit Cards

These cards are meant for consumers who may have more limited incomes and credit history, are generally fee-free, but may be less rewarding and have higher interest rates. Students with a better financial profile may be eligible for other credit cards. In evaluating the college student cards we focused first on how lucrative the rewards are and how likely a student would actually be able to use/earn the rewards.

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

The Discover it® for Students treats its users like adults. While most student credit cards out there come with truncated rewards programs, this card gives you cash back that you may expect from non-student credit cards. This is exactly what many college seniors should be looking for in a credit card. You are transitioning to your life after graduation, and will benefit from a credit card that will continue to be useful once you’re out of school.

The Discover it® for Students gets you 5% cash back on rotating category each quarter you activate, up to a maximum spending 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%. The Discover it® for Students can also give you 5-20% cash back for purchases through Discover Deals, which includes a large number of online retailers. So, if you are frequently shopping online, the card does offer you additional ways to save money.

The 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 be earning the measly 1% cash back rate. If you don’t want to add tracking credit card categories on top of your coursework, avoid this card. As long as you manage to get 25% of your total purchases within the 5% bonus categories, you’ll be walking away with a net rewards rate of 2%, which is very good by most standards.

Oct-Dec 2016

Jan - Mar 2017Apr - Jun 2017Jul - Sep 2017
Amazon.com, Department Stores & Sam's ClubGas Stations, Ground Transportation and Wholesale ClubsTBDTBD

Highlights

  • The highest potential rewards rate out of any student credit card
  • Bonus $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years
  • New cardmembers will have their rewards doubled at the end of their first year.

Best College Credit Card for Travel: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 their users a 3% FX fee whenever they are used outside of the United States. College students who chose to study abroad can take advantage of this kind of feature. The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® also has its uses if you don’t live abroad. So long as you travel overseas, be it for spring break or family vacations, having a credit card you can use with no added penalties can be liberating.

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 make 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 is better than the average offer available to students.

Highlights

  • 1.25% rewards rate if you pay your bill on time
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • The Capital One® CreditWise® service allows you to monitor your credit score, and learn about how your actions impact it

Best Fixed-Rate Cash Back: BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students

Image of BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students

If you are working, either part time or as an internet, during your undergraduate track, 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% bonus to your rewards. This bonus gets better the more money you deposit with qualified Bank of America accounts. However, most students won't be able to qualify for the 25%-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 reward 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 any annual fees, provides free FICO credit scores and comes with a sign-up bonus. That last one 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. Those 20k points can translate to $200 in statement credit.

Highlights

  • 1.5% rewards rate on all purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees & No Annual Fee
  • 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account

Best for 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 the prototypical college expenses – restaurants and entertainment. The card awards 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar 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 establishment. Bars and cafes also qualify. Incoming college freshmen, and upperclassmen, are likely to be spending heavily on these types of items. All other purchases award 1 point per dollar.

For students looking for a card at the beginning of the school year, the 2,500-point-bonus for spending 500 dollars in the first 3 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 variety of prizes, including gift cards and Amazon 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 use them optimally.

Highlights

  • 2% rewards rate on dining at restaurants and entertainment (which includes bars and clubs)
  • 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of account opening
  • ThankYou® Points can be redeemed for a number of different options down the line

Best Credit Card for Those With Student Loans: Commence™ Mastercard®

Image of Commence™ Mastercard®

The Commence™ Mastercard® from Barclaycard provides provides top-notch rewards for grocery store and utility payments -- two common shopping categories students have to deal with. These rewards are made all the better for anyone who redeems them to pay down any student loan account. Cardholders earn 2% cash back on grocery store and utilities like cable, phone, internet, electric and gas. There's a 25% bonus on redemptions anytime you use the rewards on student loans, effectively raising this card's rewards rate to anywhere between 1.25% and 2.5%. These loans can be for federal, private, undergrad, or even graduate loans.

The Commence™ Mastercard® currently has a modest sign-up bonus of $50 that you unlock after you use your card to make a purchase in the first 90 days after account opening.

Another cool function of this credit card that's specifically useful to college students is the free access to FICO scores. While it's easy to get a free credit score online these days, most are Vantage scores -- these are not as widely used by lenders as FICO. Being able to track your credit score as you begin your credit history can provide a vital learning experience for young adults. With the online interface, the Commence™ Mastercard® allows students to see how their everyday financial decisions impact their credit standing.

Highlights

  • 1-2% rewards rate on all purchases
  • 25% reward bonus when cash back is redeemed to pay back student loans
  • $50 cash back bonus after you use your card to make a purchase in the first 90 days after account opening

Compare Student Credit Cards

Edit Monthly Spend: $1,430
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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.

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s sign-up 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.

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 sign-up 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.

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
Image of BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for Students No Annual Fee 1.99%
$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
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

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
Discover it® for Students
$0 1.43%
$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
Annual Fee $0
APR 13.99% - 22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • New! Free Social Security Number alerts, we’ll monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.*
  • 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 in rotating categories each quarter like Amazon.com, restaurants, ground transportation and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back 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 & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

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
Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students
$0* 1.18%
$25
Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou points after you spend $500 within the first 3 months
$423
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0*
APR 15.49% - 25.49%* (Variable)
*Rates and Fees

Card Details

  • Earn 2,500 bonus points after spending $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • 2,500 ThankYou® Points are redeemable for $25 in gift cards, electronics and other great rewards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • Earn 2X Points on Dining Out & Entertainment
  • Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No annual fee*

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
BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students
Image of BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ for Students No Annual Fee 1.23%
$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
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.

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
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
$0 0.95%
$0
$343
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0
APR 24.99% (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
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you

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

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

Summary of Best College Student Credit Cards

If you want a quick refresher on our list above, and why you should pick one student card over another, the following table will give you the overview you’re looking for.

CardBest College Student Credit Card For...Highlight
Discover it® for StudentsCash Back5% cash back in categories that change each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®TravelNo foreign transaction fees
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® for StudentsFixed-Rate Rewards1.5% rewards rate on all purchases
Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College StudentsDining Out, Bars & Entertainment2 points per dollar on restaurant and entertainment spending
Commence™ Mastercard®People With Student Loans2.5% rewards rate on grocery store and utility purchases when you redeem rewards to pay down a student loan account

Tips On Best Practices For Your Student Credit Cards

Your first credit card is a chance to establish an independent financial history and to begin taking advantage of having access to 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 role. Here are a number of things that you can do to make sure you get off to the right start.

Spend Within Your Means And Pay Off Your Balance

Having access to credit means that you can purchase or pay for goods and services without necessarily having the cash to do so. 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 double digit rates, 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 is a purchase that you won't be able to pay off, consider if its something you NEED instead of something you want. Save yourself the headache of needlessly trapped by debt.

Review Your Monthly Statements

Take some time out each month to review your credit card charges. While it's easier to just pay off your balance, keep track of what you're spending money on can help you in many ways. Credit card fraud is an issue many consumers will face. While card companies do their best to identify these issues, reviewing your statements for charges you haven't made 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 that you may have signed up for but are no longer using. It is quite easy to begin paying for things like a Netflix account and forget about it, while it continues to charge you each month. Reviewing your spending is a good way to go through and remove any 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.

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.