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Fortunly's Guide

Best Student Credit Cards - Top Picks

By
Julija A.

May 27,2021


Applying for a student credit card is an important first step in establishing your credit history. Used responsibly, the best student credit cards can serve as a foundation to help you qualify to buy a house or finance a car. Let’s take a look at the best cards on the market and what it takes to get them.

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Reviews of the Best Credit Cards for Students

Discover it® Student Cash Back Logo
Discover it® Student Cash Back
4.5 stars Our Rating
APPLY NOW Read Full Review
CREDIT LIMIT: $500+
REWARDS RATE: 1%-5% cash back
APR: 12.99%-21.99% (variable)
ANNUAL FEE: N/A
KEY FACTS
PRODUCT DETAILS
Pros & Cons

The Discover it® Student Cash Back is one of the best credit cards for students who have just started building their credit profiles. The card especially appeals to those who can’t justify paying an annual fee and don’t mind spending in quarterly bonus categories to maximize rewards.

Deserve®  EDU Mastercard for Students Logo
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
4.5 stars Our Rating
APPLY NOW Read Full Review
CREDIT LIMIT: Up to $5,000
REWARDS RATE: 1% cash back
APR: 18.74% (variable)
ANNUAL FEE: N/A
KEY FACTS
PRODUCT DETAILS
Pros & Cons

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is an excellent choice for those who aren’t eligible for other options because they don’t have a Social Security number or a US credit history. As one of the most popular student credit cards, it doesn't have security deposit requirements or annual fees. The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students offers 1% cash back on all purchases.

Petal 2 Visa Credit Card Logo
Petal 2 Visa Credit Card
5 stars Our Rating
APPLY NOW Read Full Review
CREDIT LIMIT: $500-$10,000
REWARDS RATE: 1%-1.5%
APR: 12.99%-26.99% (variable)
ANNUAL FEE: N/A
KEY FACTS
PRODUCT DETAILS
Pros & Cons

If you’re hoping to avoid fees, the Petal 2 Visa could be the card for you. Unlike most student credit cards, the Petal 2 Visa doesn’t require a security deposit. It offers high credit limits and delivers cashback rewards on all purchases.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Logo
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
4 stars Our Rating
APPLY NOW Read Full Review
CREDIT LIMIT: $300+
REWARDS RATE: 1%-1.25% cash back
APR: 26.99% variable
ANNUAL FEE: N/A
KEY FACTS
PRODUCT DETAILS
Pros & Cons

Capital One’s Journey Student Rewards card offers cashback rewards on all purchases and a bonus for on-time payments. The card is available to average-credit consumers, so you can consider it even if you’ve just left college.

Evaluation Criteria

Choosing the Best Credit Cards for College Students: Our Methodology

Even the best student cards generally don’t offer the same rewards and premium benefits as “regular” credit cards - and that’s fine. The main reason to apply for a credit card as a student is to start building your credit history so you can qualify for better cards and other financial products in the future. Look for a credit card that reports to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), rewards on-time payments, and saves you money through cashback programs and other benefits. 

Here’s a breakdown of the factors we suggest you consider while shopping around for the best student credit card.

Introductory and Ongoing APR

Cards designed for consumers who are new to the credit world tend to have higher-than-average interest rates. Paying your bill in full each month is the only way to avoid high interest charges, and that’s exactly what we suggest you do. Still, some student credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR period for six months or a year. We recommend these cards if you have big upcoming purchases you'll need more than a month to pay off.

Fees

When you're on a student budget, the last thing you need is high fees on college credit cards. While it’s ideal to avoid these charges altogether, no-fee credit cards are very rare. However, there are options that will give you a chance to keep your costs low. Most credit cards for students don’t have annual membership charges. If you decide to open a no-annual-fee card, you’ll be able to keep the account open for a long time and thus improve your credit score. 

Other costs to watch out for include foreign transaction fees, balance transfer charges, cash advance fees, and penalties. If you are on the hunt for travel credit cards for students, we suggest you apply for a card that won’t incur a surcharge each time you make a purchase outside the country.

Credit Limit

Much like the credit cards issued to applicants with fair credit, student cards generally have low credit limits. Given that the maximum amount a credit card issuer will let you borrow depends on your creditworthiness, we suggest you choose a card that guarantees periodic reviews of your account and offers credit-line increases in less than a year.

Rewards

If you think of the best first credit card for students as the one that will let you earn cash back or bonus points, look for a card that comes with a rewards rate of at least 1%. Although there are more generous student credit cards out there, we consider this a good starter rate. 

You may get more value if you choose a card that offers higher rewards on purchases in specific spending categories - restaurants and travel arrangements, for example. However, such cards won’t do you any good if they don’t align with your consumer habits.

International Acceptance

If you’re planning to study abroad for a semester or longer, you need to consider whether you’ll be able to use your card internationally. The best student credit cards for you are likely to be the ones that are widely accepted worldwide.

Quick Breakdown

Best Student Credit Cards of 2021:

Detailed Student Card Reviews

Credit limit:
$500+
Rewards rate:
1%-5% cash back
Intro APR:
0% on purchases for six months; 10.99% on balance transfers for six months
Regular APR:
12.99%-21.99% (variable)
Annual fee:
N/A

Available to applicants with limited or no credit history, the Discover it® Student Cash Back card allows you to build your credit profile while delivering cashback rewards of up to 5%. As one of the most widely used credit cards for students, the Discover it® Student Cash Back is well known for offering a 0% introductory APR for six months and not charging an annual fee. 

APR and Fees

This Discover student card comes with a lower introductory APR for both purchases and balance transfers. New cardmembers are welcomed with a 0% APR on purchases for the first six months and a 10.99% APR on balance transfers for six months counting from the date of the first transfer. After the promotional period on this student credit card expires, your APR will be 12.99% to 21.99% (variable) for purchases and balance transfers and 24.99% (variable) for cash advances. 

One of the most significant advantages of the Discover it® Student Cash Back card is that it doesn’t have an annual membership fee. However, you’ll be charged 3% of the amount of each balance transfer during the introductory APR period and 5% of the amount of each transfer after that. There’s also a cash advance fee of $10 or 5%. Returned payment and late payment fees can go up to $40, while the latter is waived the first time you don’t pay your bill on time.

Rewards Policy

As one of the best student credit cards, the Discover it® Student Cash Back card allows students to earn cashback rewards while helping them practice responsible credit habits. 

Cardmembers earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases in categories that are disclosed each quarter. To maximize your rewards, you’ll need to be aware of the qualifying purchase types. Options include shopping at Amazon; making transactions at grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants; using services provided by Uber and Lyft; and making payments via PayPal. Keep in mind that the rewards on this first-time credit card are high but limited: There’s a $1,500 quarterly maximum. But you’ll still get 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Another great thing about the Discover it® Student Cash Back card is that it offers an unlimited dollar-for-dollar cashback match on the rewards you earn before your account’s first anniversary. There are no minimum spending requirements or other strings attached. 

Redemption options include direct deposits, statement credits, gift cards, and donations. You get $5 extra if you redeem your rewards for a gift card. 

Reasons to Choose the Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card

There are quite a few factors that earned this Discover credit card a place among Fortunly’s top credit cards for students. The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers 5% cash back on eligible categories and 1% on all other purchases. Moreover, there’s a good grades rewards program that lasts up to five years. It gives you a $20 credit as long as your GPA is 3.0 or higher.

There are no annual charges, foreign transaction fees, or penalty APRs, and the card offers a low introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers. 

As a Discover cardmember, you can use the “Freeze it” feature, which works as an on-off switch for your account and helps you prevent unauthorized activity if you misplace your card.

Reasons to Look Elsewhere

Although it’s one of the best student credit cards on the market, the Discover it® Student Cash Back has a few disadvantages. 

While the unlimited 1% cashback rewards are earned automatically, you won’t receive the 5% rewards unless you activate the bonus categories every three months. Not only can this be a hassle for those who are just getting started with credit cards, but some of the purchase categories may not be a good fit for a student’s spending habits. 

You should also keep in mind that while this credit card for students doesn’t come with a foreign transaction fee, Discover isn’t widely accepted outside the United States. If you are studying abroad, we suggest you explore other options.

Reasons to Apply

  • 5% cash back on specific purchases
  • Dollar-for-dollar cashback match in the first year of card membership
  • $20 annual credit for a GPA of 3.0 or higher
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Credit Limit:
Up to $5,000
Rewards rate:
1% cash back
Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
18.74% (variable)
Annual fee:
N/A

A rare college student credit card that is oriented toward foreign students, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is a solid choice for those who lack typical application requirements. Its underwriting system is based on alternative criteria, so you can get approved even if you don’t have a Social Security number or a US credit history. As it doesn’t require a security deposit or a cosigner, the Deserve card is also a good option for young consumers with limited credit. To top it off, the Deserve EDU Mastercard doesn’t have an annual fee and it offers 1% cash back on every purchase. 

APR and Fees

This credit card for no-credit-history applicants doesn’t have an introductory APR. The ongoing APR for purchases is 18.74% (variable), which is slightly higher than the average rate charged by a student card. There are no annual percentage rates for balance transfers and cash advances, as Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students doesn’t allow these transactions.

This card doesn’t have an annual membership fee or foreign transaction charges. There are, however, penalty costs - late-payment fees can go up to $25 per item, while returned payments could set you back up to $37 per incident. 

Rewards Policy

As one of the credit cards for an 18-year-old with no credit history, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students offers 1% cash back on all purchases. Compared to the bigger rewards and welcome offers promised by competitors, this card’s policy may seem fairly bare-bones. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about activating bonus categories or reaching a certain threshold to qualify for rewards. 

When it comes to redemption, the deal is simple. Once you have accrued a minimum of $25 in cash back, the rewards are redeemed for statement credit automatically. 

Reasons to Choose the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Because it has a unique underwriting procedure and doesn’t require a stellar credit history, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is one of the best credit cards for young people. To start the application, you’ll need to be over 18 and enrolled in college. You must also have a US bank account in your name.

This card comes with a long list of valuable perks, which is quite unusual given the consumer group it targets. If you pay for your mobile phone using your Deserve card, you get up to $600 in insurance coverage should your device be damaged or stolen. New Deserve EDU card members receive 12 months of Amazon Prime Student membership after making their first purchases. Students also get a $100 subscription discount for Feather, a furniture rental service, and a $10 statement credit for Lemonade, a homeowners/renters insurance provider. 

This credit card for college students also offers standard benefits such as roadside assistance, price protection, and extended warranty protection. 

Reasons to Look Elsewhere

While the eligibility requirements for the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students are easy to meet, the APR is quite high. Moreover, there isn’t an introductory purchase APR and the card doesn’t allow cash advances or balance transfers.

While a 1% cashback reward on every purchase is quite generous, redeeming the rewards comes with a catch. You’ll need to earn at least $25 in rewards to meet the redemption minimum, and that could take a while. 

While the Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students may be the best starter credit card to use as your history builds and your credit score improves, we suggest you also explore other options with higher rewards.

Reasons to Apply

  • Valuable perks for students
  • No credit history required
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
+ Show more
Credit limit:
$500-$10,000
Rewards rate:
1%-1.5% cash back
Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
12.99%-26.99% (variable)
Annual fee:
N/A

If you’ve been on the hunt for fee-free college student credit cards, we’re happy to inform you that your search has come to an end. The Petal 2 Visa credit card helps you build your credit, lets you earn cashback rewards, doesn’t require a security deposit, and doesn't charge any type of fees. The Petal 2 is also relatively easy to qualify for, as WebBank - the card’s issuing bank - doesn't rely solely on credit scores when determining creditworthiness.

APR and Fees

The Petal 2 Visa doesn’t offer a lower introductory APR. The standard APR is variable between 12.99% and 26.99%. 

As you have probably deduced from its name, this Visa student credit card charges no fees at all. Cardmembers don’t have to worry about annual membership costs, foreign transaction charges, or late fees. 

You also won’t be assigned a penalty APR if you don’t pay your credit card bill on time. Bear in mind, however, that late payments may affect your credit score. To keep your credit profile in good shape and avoid interest charges, we suggest you pay your bill in full each month.

Rewards Policy

Most other credit-building cards don’t offer much when it comes to rewards. On the other hand, as one of the best credit cards for a college student, Petal 2 has a unique cashback program that encourages you to make consistent on-time payments.

As a new Petal 2 cardholder, you’ll start by earning 1% cash back on all purchases. If you make six on-time monthly payments in a row, the rate will increase to 1.25%. After paying your monthly bill on time for the 12th time, you’ll qualify for the 1.5% cash back rate. This card also allows you to earn 2% to 10% in cash back rewards from select merchants. 

As one of the best student credit cards, the Petal 2 Visa makes redemption pretty simple. Provided that your account is in good standing, you can redeem your rewards as a credit anytime - or wait until you’ve accrued at least $20 and request a check. 

Your rewards won’t expire as long as you keep your account open. But you can’t redeem your rewards when your payment is overdue.

Reasons to Choose the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card

One of the things that landed the Petal 2 a spot among the best credit cards for student cardholders is that even if you have just started the clock on your credit history, you’ll probably be able to qualify. Instead of looking only at an applicant’s FICO credit score, the card’s issuing bank employs its own proprietary algorithm when determining eligibility. Information about your income, spending, and savings will be assessed during your application process. 

Considering that it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (or any other administrative or penalty fees), the Petal 2 is one of the most convenient credit cards for international students or those who frequently make transactions with foreign merchants. Additionally, because this is a Visa card, it’s widely accepted internationally.

Unlike most other starter cards, which generally offer low credit lines, the Petal 2 Visa comes with a limit of up to $10,000. Not everyone gets a $10,000 credit limit, of course. It is your creditworthiness that will determine your credit limit. 

Reasons to Look Elsewhere

If you’re new to credit, as most students are, building your credit profile should be more important to you than earning cash rewards. However, reward-earning programs are still a factor, and good credit cards for students should offer them. The rewards policy of the Petal 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa is quite basic - you earn 1%-1.5% on everything. While flat-rate cards are popular for minimal effort, a card that offers higher rewards in certain categories may be a better fit for your spending habits. Another rewards-related drawback of the Petal 2 is that it doesn’t come with a welcome offer.

While holders of this Petal 2 Visa card don’t have any fees to worry about, there’s a potentially high APR to consider. You should also keep in mind that you can’t draw a cash advance against this unsecured credit card for students.

Reasons to Apply

  • No fees of any kind
  • High credit limits
  • Considers average-credit applicants
+ Show more
Credit limit:
$300+
Rewards rate:
1%-1.25% cash back
Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
26.99% (variable)
Annual fee:
N/A

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One allows you to begin your credit-building journey as a college student while earning flat-rate cashback rewards - no spending category acrobatics required. Offering bonus rewards to those who pay their bills on time, this card makes it easy to establish and maintain a good credit history. As one of the best credit cards for building credit, this Capital One card doesn’t even require you to be a student to apply.

APR and Fees

Like most of the other credit-building cards on the market, the Capital One Journey Student Rewards card doesn’t offer a lower introductory annual percentage rate. And the regular APR is quite high - 26.99% (variable) for all uses, including purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. A late payment won’t increase your APR, but that’s small consolation when you’re paying an interest rate that high.

If you are thinking about applying for this student credit card, you’ll be happy to hear that you won’t face annual membership or foreign transaction fees. Still, keep in mind that you’ll be charged either $10 or 3% for cash advances and up to $40 for late payments. 

Rewards Policy 

This Capital One student credit card’s starting rewards rate is 1% cash back on every purchase. However, that’s just the beginning with this card’s rewards program. Each billing cycle, cardmembers are presented with an opportunity to boost their rate by 25% (for a total of 1.25% cash back) if they pay their bills on time. As all good credit cards for college students should, the Journey Student Rewards incentivizes on-time payments and helps you save even more. 

Redemptions are very flexible. You can redeem any amount of the accrued cash back in the form of a statement credit, checks, or gift cards at any time. 

Reasons to Choose the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

One of the best things about this credit-building card is that you can automatically be considered for a higher credit limit in six months, provided that you haven’t missed a payment due date.

Moreover, you get free access to CreditWise, a Capital One credit-monitoring app for iOS and Android devices. Use the app to keep track of your credit score and you’ll get notified of any changes to your profile - and possible threats to your personal data.

As the best international credit card for students, this Capital One card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. It offers multiple travel- and retail-related benefits, including rental car insurance, travel accident coverage, 24-hour travel assistance services, and extended warranty protection. 

In addition to the rewards program, the Journey Student Rewards card allows you to earn a $5 credit every month toward streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. The credits are awarded for 12 months, each time you make an on-time payment. 

Reasons to Look Elsewhere

The Journey Student Rewards card from Capital One offers a good deal, but it may not be the best credit card for all college students. Some of its biggest drawbacks include below-average reward rates and above-average interest rates.

Moreover, if you lack a US credit history, a Social Security number, or both, you’ll be better off with a credit card whose issuer won’t make you meet traditional credit score requirements. Although the Journey Student Rewards card is meant for young consumers who have just started their credit-building journey, you’ll still need at least a fair credit score to qualify.

Reasons to Apply

  • Credit limit increase potential in 6 months
  • Higher rewards for on-time payments
  • No annual or foreign transaction fees
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Why You Should You Start Building Your Credit History Now

Amid the hustle and bustle of studying, exams, buying books, and socializing with interesting strangers, establishing your credit history may not seem like a top priority. But when it comes to credit, the sooner you start, the better. It’s smart to apply for credit cards for students with no credit. Someday, when you’re looking to buy a house or a car, you’ll be glad that you started making small monthly payments when you were young. Years of responsible use will qualify you for more loans at lower interest rates.

Who will be impressed by your long credit history?

  • Banks and other lenders know that the best way to assess an applicant’s creditworthiness is to look at how the applicant has handled money in the past.
  • Your credit history can impress the loan officers who decide if you get the money for a home, car, or other big purchase - and what interest rate they’ll extend to you. The best student credit cards help you build a positive history so future lenders will know you can be trusted. 
  • Employers sometimes run credit checks as part of their background investigations of potential employees. A bad credit rating could cost you a job.
  • Investors and business lenders may look at your history with other people’s money before deciding whether to support a project you are working on.
  • Landlords want to know as much about you as they can learn before allowing you to take possession of what is often their most significant assets. A poor credit rating could cost you your dream home.
FAQ
What is the best credit card for a student? +

We’ve complete our search and made a list of the best student credit cards for no credit:

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for high cash-back rewards
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students: Best for international students
  • Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Best for avoiding fees
  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best for flat-rate rewards
Should I get a student credit card or a regular credit card? +

That depends on your credit profile and your goals. Regular credit cards offer valuable rewards, but they require higher credit scores and established credit histories. On the other hand, you can apply for the best student credit cards with no credit history and use them to build a profile.

Can a student with no income get a credit card? +

If you don't have any form of income, you won’t be able to apply for a credit card on your own. However, you can still open a credit card account in your name by having a family member co-sign. A joint account can help establish your credit profile while also giving you access to all the benefits that a student credit card provides. All the best student credit cards allow joint applications.