Student Credit Cards: Best Picks for Spring 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

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Deserve® Edu Credit Card

  • On Mastercard's Secure Website

No Annual Fee

20.24%

Fair

  • No SSN required for International students-Available to students (enrollment verification is required)
  • Amazon Prime Student on us (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59)
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
  • Credit limits up to $5,000
  • $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees
  • No security deposit or co-signer required
  • Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted
  • Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Roadside Assistance, Travel Assistance Services, Price Protection, Extended Warranty and ID Theft Protection
  • Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600
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Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

No Annual Fee

26.74%

Fair

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Deserve® Edu Credit Card

  • On Mastercard's Secure Website

No Annual Fee

20.24%

Fair

  • No SSN required for International students-Available to students (enrollment verification is required)
  • Amazon Prime Student on us (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59)
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
  • Credit limits up to $5,000
  • $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees
  • No security deposit or co-signer required
  • Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted
  • Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Roadside Assistance, Travel Assistance Services, Price Protection, Extended Warranty and ID Theft Protection
  • Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600
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1. Discover it® Student Cash Back

Out of all the cards available in the U.S., the Discover it® Student Cash Back comes with the highest cashback rewards for students that we've seen. In fact, the card's extremely generous rewards rate overshadows cards in all other categories, which is why we recommend this for most students. Cardholders earn 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter, up to a quarterly maximum each time you activate.

Whether you're living at home or in a dorm, the card's rotating cashback shopping categories will save you the most money out of all the cards on the market. These are common and useful shopping groups that include gas, groceries and restaurant dining. For 2020, the categories included grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS (January-March), gas stations, Uber & Lyft, and wholesale clubs (April-June), restaurants and PayPal (July-September), Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com (October-December).

The Discover it® Student Cash Back rewards students in some other unique ways, too. For instance, students are able to earn a $20 statement credit annually for up to five consecutive years for maintaining a 3.0 or higher GPA.

There's just one problem some students may have with this card. You must opt-in to the rotating categories every quarter to maximize your cash earnings. If you don't, you'll earn a measly 1% cashback rate (compared to this card's optimal 5% rewards). If you're too busy throughout the semester to remember to activate your rewards online, you'll get better results with a simpler cashback card like the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students.

2. Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

For college students who want to save on the essentials — groceries and gas — the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students is a good option. The card provides the highest cashback rates we've seen for these categories: 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3% on a category of your choice, which can include gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores, or home improvement/furnishings.

The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students has one of the more flexible and generous cash-back rewards programs we've seen on a student card, in addition to a generous cash bonus offer for new cardholders. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students offers a bonus of $200 to those who make at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first 90 days of their account opening.

3. Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Whether you're studying abroad or need a credit card for spring break, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students is the best student credit card option for travel. The card provides a respectable 1.5% rewards rate on all purchases, which is the highest rewards you can get on everyday purchases from a student card. More importantly, this is one of the few student cards to have no foreign transaction fees, making it ideal for travel. Other cards may charge a 3% fee on purchases made with the card abroad.

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students also comes with chip and pin technology, making it well suited for international use. Other credit cards in the U.S. use chip and signature, which may not work in small towns throughout Europe or South America.

4. Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

If you're having difficulty qualifying for the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students, or if you prefer banking with Capital One over Bank of America, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is another decent student travel card. This card has a worse rewards rate (1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time versus the 1.5% you get with the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students) and your card will be chip and signature instead of chip and pin, so you might have trouble using it in off-the-beaten-path towns abroad.

If you're about to spend a semester abroad, try to find out whether the place you're traveling to uses one or the other, as this may be a huge determining factor in which card you should apply for.

Still, we recommend the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® because it checks off two major requirements for a travel card for students. It's on a popular credit card network (Mastercard) that you can use both at home and in other countries, and it also has a a foreign transaction fee of: None .

5. Deserve® Edu Credit Card

  • On Mastercard's Secure Website
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The Deserve® Edu Credit Card is hands-down the best option for international students for two reasons: It has a rewards program (most credit cards geared towards non-US citizens don't), and it doesn't require a Social Security number (most credit card applications do). International students will likely not have a Social Security number or any sort of credit history — making it nearly impossible to get approved for a credit card.

This feature alone would make this a great card. However, the Deserve® Edu Credit Card goes one step further and throws in 1% cashback reward on all purchases. While that's not great compared to other student credit cards, it's pretty good compared to the lack of other card options available to international students.

6. Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card

The Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card is a solid student credit card because it awards 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases. Furthermore, the card comes with no annual fee, meaning students can rack up points without putting a dent in their budget.

In terms of a sign-up bonus, the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card currently offers 2,500 bonus points after users spend $500 within the first three months. That's enough for a $25 gift card at Citi's thankyou.com. Currently, users can also receive 10% points back on the first 100,000 ThankYou points they redeem per year.

Info about the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card has been collected independently by ValuePenguin. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

The selection criteria for our best student credit cards

Cards must be available to applicants with little-to-no credit history. Since most college-age individuals haven't had the time to build up a credit score, this is a must-have for any credit card we recommended.

Rewards rate of at least 1.5%. Today, most of the top credit cards have a rewards program, and the standard everyone should expect (including students) is a 1.5% rewards rate. The only time it is acceptable for a card to have lower return on your purchases is if there are some extenuating circumstances that severely limit your options (such as a bankruptcy on your credit file or being an international student).

No annual fees. A majority of students face tough financial situations and work on tight budgets, so an ideal student credit card shouldn't be charging any annual fees. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those under 25 make up the only age bracket for whom expenditures dwarf income. That means optional expenses, like credit card or foreign exchange fees, should be avoided as much as possible.

Cards must help build credit history. Besides earning rewards, the goal of any credit card should be to build and establish credit. That's why when we examined student credit cards we checked whether the banks issuing them reported the accounts and its activity to the credit bureaus. Without this feature, all the timely payments and responsible financial behavior will go unreported. It would like doing the extra credit homework, and never submitting it to your professor. Note that if an international student does not obtain a SSN, then the Deserve® Edu Credit Card will not be able to report the account or payment activity to the credit bureaus.

How to choose the best card for college students

No matter what credit card you end up choosing, there are a few things you should look for in a student card.

First, it shouldn't have an annual fee. Student credit cards don't provide high enough rewards or bonuses to charge their users annual fees. Also, since most students operate on a tight budget, an annual fee would be a big financial pain.

You should also always check whether a credit card company will report your account and all your behavior to at least one of the credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion or Experian. All of the credit cards from major banks do this. But if you get an offer from a small regional bank or some other company, this may not always be the case. As a student, your priority above all else should be building out your credit history by making timely payments — this has major financial implications for life after college. You can't do that if your bank isn't reporting your credit card to a credit bureau.

Student credit cards are typically designed for people with no credit history or thin credit files (less than 1 year old). If you already have a bad credit score, or a bankruptcy in your past, you should apply for a secured credit card instead. You'll likely get denied from any student credit card you apply for.

Do not get a credit card if you don’t think you can pay off what you charge each month. Student credit cards are unforgiving in this regard, and most charge extremely high interest rates and don't come with 0% intro APR offers like non-student cards do.

For most students, a cashback credit card is the best option. These are the simplest credit cards to use, and they generally are good at providing the highest rewards in the shopping categories that matter most to students. Expenses don't change all that much whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, so most of the credit cards we recommend above should be a good fit for your budget.

Anyone planning on studying abroad or traveling a lot overseas throughout the year, we recommend you get a travel rewards card. These cards will be easiest to use when you leave the country, plus they won't charge you extra fees when you do it. Cashback credit cards may impose a 3% surcharge every time you swipe them outside of the U.S.

FAQs about student credit cards

Below are some common questions about applying for a credit card as a student.

Can I get a credit card if I am a student?

Yes. There are dozens of credit cards issued by popular banks that are specifically designed for students. To qualify for a card, most banks require you to be over 18 and have some income.

Should a college student get a credit card?

Yes. We recommend that college students open a credit card as early as possible. Not only will this help you build good financial habits, it will also put you on the road to having excellent credit, as one of the main components of your credit score is average age of accounts. Just be sure to pay your bills on time and never charge what you can’t pay off by the end of the month.

Can you get a student credit card with no income?

Generally, no. Some card issuers may allow you to claim investment income or other, nontraditional income sources, but otherwise you will be required to show some sort of income to qualify for a credit card. If you have savings from a summer job or internship that you're using to fund your school-year purchases, you can likely use this to qualify for a student credit card. However, we don't recommend applying for a credit card if you're using student loans to fund your living expenses.

Yowana is a former product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages, banking and insurance for the website. Yowana graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

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.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from 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). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).