Best Student Credit Cards of 2018

Credit cards are a great credit-building tool for college students. They can help you learn about the benefits of responsible credit card use, build your credit score, and potentially reward you with cash back. Our Bankrate editors compiled a list of the absolute best student credit cards of 2018 from our partners — find yours to get off on the right foot with credit.

Editor's Top Picks: Best Student Credit Cards

Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. The offers that appear on this site are from companies from which Bankrate.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site, including, for example, the order in which they may appear within listing categories. Other factors, such as our own proprietary website rules and the likelihood of applicants' credit approval also impact how and where products appear on this site. Bankrate.com does not include the entire universe of available financial or credit offers.

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.

Best for flat-rate cash back and studying abroad

journey-student-rewards-from-capital-one-052218.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Capital One's secure website

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Recommended Credit Score:
580 - 740

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
N/A Purchases intro APR
N/A Balance Transfers intro APR
24.99% (Variable) Regular APR
$0 Annual Fee

Bankrate Score

80 out of 100

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
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for gas, dining & large purchases

discover-it-chrom-for-students-012518.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Discover's secure website

Discover it® Student chrome

Recommended Credit Score:
See Terms

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
0% for 6 months Purchases intro APR
10.99% for 6 months Balance Transfers intro APR
14.99% - 23.99% Variable Regular APR
$0 Annual Fee

Bankrate Score

93 out of 100

Card Details

  • Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 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 14.99% - 23.99%.
Terms and Restrictions Apply | Rates and Fees

Best for rotating cash back bonus categories

discover-it-for-students-012518.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Discover's secure website

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Recommended Credit Score:
See Terms

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
0% for 6 months Purchases intro APR
10.99% for 6 months Balance Transfers intro APR
14.99% - 23.99% Variable Regular APR
$0 Annual Fee

Bankrate Score

93 out of 100

Card Details

  • Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • 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 14.99% - 23.99%.
Terms and Restrictions Apply | Rates and Fees

Best for earning rewards points

citi-thankyou-preferred-for-students-041618.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Citi's secure website

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Recommended Credit Score:
670 - 850

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
0% for 7 months on Purchases* Purchases intro APR
N/A Balance Transfers intro APR
16.49% - 26.49%* (Variable) Regular APR
$0* Annual Fee

Bankrate Score

82 out of 100

Card Details

  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 7 months on purchases from date of account opening; after that the variable APR will be 16.49% - 26.49% based upon your creditworthiness*
  • 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
  • No annual fee*
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

deserve-edu-mastercard-for-students-102417.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Deserve's secure website
Recommended Credit Score:
No Credit History

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
N/A Purchases intro APR
N/A Balance Transfers intro APR
20.74% Variable Regular APR
$0 Annual Fee

Card Details

  • "The Best Credit Card for Students" - Money® Magazine 2018 ©2018 Time Inc. Used under license
  • Amazon Prime for Students on us for one year ($59 value)
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No Annual Fee
  • No security deposit or co-signer required
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Self Lender — Credit Builder Account

self-lender-credit-builder-112717.png Card Image
Apply Now ON Self Lender Credit Builder's secure website
Recommended Credit Score:
No Credit History

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

300 850
N/A Purchases intro APR
N/A Balance Transfers intro APR
12.03% - 15.98% (Varies by Product) Regular APR
One Time $9 - $15 Account Fee (Varies by Product) Annual Fee

Card Details

  • Savings plans start at $25/month and includes credit monitoring
  • Reports to all 3 credit bureaus. No hard credit pull and no credit history required
  • Self Lender helps you get a small loan that you save in a CD for 12 or 24 months (FDIC- insured certificate of deposit bank account)
  • At the end of account term you've built credit history and your CD savings unlocks
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.


Author: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: November 6, 2018

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Table of contents:

Why you should trust Bankrate

Our team of financial experts has been serving readers with objective, well-researched and actionable advice for all stages of life since the 1970s. From mortgages to credit cards, our team crosses the gamut of financial services — we cover the news, review financial services and products, build helpful tools, and more.

We strive to be the best online resource for all your credit card questions. When it comes to credit cards for students, that means reviewing and comparing as many cards as possible to unearth the offers that stand taller than the rest.

Review Criteria
There are a bunch of factors that power our proprietary Bankrate Score, but some credit card features are weighted more than others. The best student cards make it easy to build credit: They’re free to own (it has no annual fee) and have no penalty APR. Here’s a list of the top factors we used to evaluate and score student cards, in order of importance:

  • APR rates: Variable APR and penalty APR (the interest you pay if you miss a payment) can be high and compound quickly.
  • 0% Intro APR offer term length: A long period at 0% APR means that you can charge a large expense (such as a new laptop) to your credit card and pay it off over time without incurring interest.
  • Intro bonus and card perks: Great student cards should offer useful perks, like cash back on certain categories like gas and groceries.

Recap of our top picks for the best student cards of 2018

Card Name Best for
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Flat-rate cash back and studying abroad
Discover it® Student chrome Gas, dining & large purchases
Discover it® Student Cash Back Rotating cash back bonus categories
Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students Earning rewards points
Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students Best for Amazon Prime membership
Self Lender — Credit Builder Account Best for credit building

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

The Journey card offers 1% cash back on all purchases, but you can boost that to 1.25% if you pay your bill off on time. There are premium cash back cards with flat 1.5% cash back rates, so the fact that this card is essentially offering 1.25% to those new to credit is a pretty sweet deal. Of course, there’s no annual fee, but the no fees on foreign transactions is one perk that surfaces this card to the top of student card offers. Take it abroad, pay your bills off on time and in full every month—your credit limit may even increase after five months.

  • Bankrate Score: 80/100
  • Best For: Flat-rate cash back and studying abroad
  • Credit Needed: Average/Fair/Limited
  • Rewards Rate: 1% cash back on all purchases; paying on time boosts rewards rate to 1.25%
  • Annual Fee: $0

Discover it® Student chrome

Discover’s chrome card for students earns 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in purchases at gas stations and restaurants per quarter. For everything else, you’ll earn 1%. Although that may not seem like a huge rewards rate, keep in mind that if you’re a student looking to build credit, the roughly $20 – $30 in rewards you earn every quarter will be a pleasant surprise you can count on for as long as you’re using the card. Not to mention that Discover will match everything you’ve earned in your first year, dollar for dollar.

  • Bankrate Score: 93/100
  • Best For: Gas, dining, and large purchases
  • Credit Needed: Average/Fair
  • Rewards Rate: 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in gas stations and restaurant purchases per quarter, 1% back on everything else
  • Annual Fee: $0

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover’s rotating 5% bonus category card for students can produce an extremely lucrative first year of cash back for savvy spenders. As there’s no annual fee and a $20 reward for each year you maintain a 3.0 GPA, all students can benefit from this card, but those who don’t mind putting in a little strategy can really earn big. Maxing out the quarterly bonuses before the rewards rate drops from 5% to 1% will result in $75 in rewards. At the end of the year, that adds up to $300. Discover matches everything earned in year one, which means that number becomes $600.

  • Bankrate Score: 93/100
  • Best For: Rotating category cash back
  • Credit Needed: Average/Fair
  • Rewards Rate: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year; 1% back on everything else.
  • Annual Fee: $0

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

Citi’s student card is a great introduction to credit card points and flexible reward redemption, but its 29.99% penalty APR is reason enough for most students to stay away. For students that already have a solid credit score and are on the savvy side of redeeming points, this is a great choice for learning the ins and outs of ThankYou® points. For those looking for easy rewards, cash back, and late payment forgiveness, there are better options elsewhere.

  • Bankrate Score: 82/100
  • Best For: Earning rewards
  • Credit Needed: Good
  • Rewards Rate: 2 points per $1 spent on dining and on entertainment, 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • Annual Fee: $0

Other notable options for students looking to build credit:

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Students earn an unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase made with this card. Although that’s a modest rewards rate, it’s a nice benefit in the context of every other perk this card offers. Cardholders are eligible for up to $49 (lifetime total) for Amazon Prime Student, as well as ID theft protection, price protection, and other Mastercard Platinum benefits. It’s also another card without foreign transaction fees, so take it abroad with you.

Highlights:

  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
  • Deserve will pay for Amazon Prime Student (up to a lifetime total of $49)
  • No security deposit required, no foreign transaction fees

Self Lender — Credit Builder Account

Self Lender’s Credit Builder Account is a unique offering in the student credit category. It doesn’t offer cash back or perks on category purchases, but instead offers help in securing a small loan to deposit in a Certificate of Deposit (CD) bank account. For college students in their second or third year especially, this is a huge asset when it comes to unlocking a nice fund upon graduation. Your loan will sit in the CD account for 12 or 24 months, and after that, you will be able to withdraw more than you initially put in.

Highlights:

  • Savings plans start at $25/month, which includes credit monitoring
  • CD account terms at 12 or 24 months
  • No credit history required

What are student credit cards and how do they work?

It’s common for young people, especially college students with mounting loan debt, to be apprehensive about applying for credit cards. In fact, 47% of college students age 18-24 don’t have a credit card simply because they want to avoid debt as much as possible, according to research from Sallie Mae and Ipsos. With a better understanding of credit and how a student credit card can benefit you in the long run, you’ll see that if you are a good candidate, applying for a student credit card is a wise first step in long-term financial wellness.

Student credit cards provide you with a line of credit, usually $1,000 or less. When you use the card, money isn’t directly drawn from your bank account. Instead, the issuer (Capital One, Discover, etc.) pays for the expense and records the amount you charged. The total amount you owe to the issuer is called a balance.

If you pay off the balance in full and on time every month, you’ll never owe more than what you spent. Though, credit card issuers allow you to make small “minimum payments” and carry the rest of the balance month-to-month. When you carry a balance, you’ll have to pay interest on the total amount. Your interest rate is also known as the Annual Percentage Rate or APR. APRs vary across all credit cards, but with a student card, you can expect your rate to be 14-25%.

To put it in perspective, let’s look at a common scenario and consider two possible outcomes:

Let’s say you put $500 on your student credit card to pay for this semester’s books. Your card has a high APR of 24.99% and a minimum monthly payment of $25 on high balances.

  1. If you pay your balance off completely, you’ll start next month with a $0 balance. In total, you’ll have paid $500.
  2. If you can make only the minimum payment at the end of the month, you’ll pay $25. Next month, you’ll start with a $593.7025 balance. If you pay that off, you’ll have spent $618.7025 total on something that only cost $500.

Why get a student credit card?

A lot of people often start out as authorized users on their parent’s credit cards so as they can ‘piggyback’ off their parent’s credit score and their parents can monitor their spending. By getting your own credit card, though, you can begin to have more control over your own finances, grow your credit history, pay your own bills and manage a budget. And, for some people, becoming an authorized user isn’t an option.

There are a lot of good use-cases for your student card:

  • The best way to get used to paying with your credit card, and clearing your balance, is to make somewhat regular smaller payments. Using your credit card for the odd meal here-and-there, or for your morning coffee, you can get you in the habit of using your credit card, paying your bill, and accruing rewards.
  • Charging larger expenses to your credit card, such as flights for a spring break vacation, can be a great way to earn travel rewards and benefit from some of the insurances (such as rental car collision insurance and lost luggage insurance) offered by credit card issuers when you pay with your credit card. These benefits are great, so long as you have the income to pay your bill. Incurring interest will vastly negate the travel rewards or cash back you would get for these charges.
  • It’s good to always be prepared. A credit card can be a great resource in your wallet in the case of emergencies. It’s good to establish clear boundaries of what constitutes an emergency — no, the late night pizza isn’t an emergency, even if you’re really hungry. If your car breaks down, your flight gets canceled on your way home and you need a hotel, or you have a visit to the ER and a medical bill to pay, with a credit card you know you can cover these expenses. Just make sure to pay your bill before you begin incurring interest.

Types of student credit cards

Categorizing credit cards can be somewhat confusing for everyone, especially those who are new to credit, but luckily for those in college, there are essentially two types of credit cards available to students:

  • Rewards cards for students: Rewards credit cards in general offer cash back, points, and other perks based on how much you spend on the card and how often you use it. As student credit cards usually have lower credit limits, the rewards aren’t as lucrative, but they’re still worth collecting. Some cards, like the Discover it® Student Cash Back, even offer statement credits for maintaining good grades. To be approved for a rewards student credit card, you’ll likely need to already have fair credit.
  • Secured credit cards for students: Secured cards are designed for those with little to no credit history. They require an up-front deposit and usually have a low credit line of around $200. You won’t get the special perks of a rewards card, but secured cards do offer reporting to the three major credit bureaus. If you use a secured card responsibly, those reports will show you are creditworthy and actually boost your credit score.

How to decide which type of student credit card to apply for

As a rule of thumb, only consider applying for a student card with rewards if you:

  • Already have fair to good credit
  • Have a steady source of income
  • Feel you can stick to a budget and avoid maxing out your credit limit

Consider applying for a secured student card if you:

  • Have no prior credit history
  • Don’t have a steady source of income, but do have an adult co-signer
  • Can make a deposit of at least $200

Credit card terms students should know

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Interest rate paid on balances carried from one billing period (month) to the next.
  • Penalty APR: The highest APR that will be applied to your account. Penalty APR is usually applied after you miss consecutive payments. To return to your original APR, you’ll need to make six consecutive on-time payments.
  • Credit Utilization Ratio: Your CUR is a measurement of how much of your available credit you are using. If you have a $5,000 credit limit and usually stick to a $500 per month budget, your CUR is at 10%. The lower your ratio is, the better. If you use up a large chunk (or all) of your available credit every month, your credit score may decrease.
  • Annual fees: Some credit cards have annual fees of $50 or more, though most student cards do not. Be sure to check for fees before applying for any card.
  • Credit bureau: Credit bureaus research and track your credit history. In the US, there are three major bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
  • FICO: FICO is the company that compiles all of your credit history reporting and generates your credit score. FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being the best. Credit scores are one factor in determining your creditworthiness.

How students can avoid getting into credit card debt

If you’re spending time gathering information on credit cards for college students, you’re already using the first good strategy for avoiding credit card debt:

  1. Do your research. Credit cards have a lot of terms and conditions. It’s wise to understand exactly what kind of card you need and find a card that best meets those needs. If you don’t own a car and you rarely dine out, it’s probably not in your best interest to apply for a rewards card that offers cash back on gas and dining purchases.
  2. Pay off your balance in full every month. It may seem obvious, but the only way to avoid paying more than you have to is by paying in full every month. Some credit cards will let you choose your own due date, others will establish one for you. Make sure you note when your credit card bill is due and stick to your payment schedule.
  3. Avoid putting large expenses on your credit card. It’s best to not use your credit card to pay for tuition, vacations, down payments on a car, etc. Students get into credit card debt when large purchases are made, causing everyday purchases to pile up and make monthly bills unmanageable.
  4. Look for introductory offers. If you absolutely need to make a larger purchase, look for a student card with a 0% introductory APR. Some cards like the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students have 0% APR for the first several months. During that time, you can make one large purchase and gradually pay it off without any interest. Student credit cards with low APRs do exist, and they can usually be found with good introductory offers.
  5. Use your card for everyday convenience. Use it to pay for food, utility bills, movie tickets, and other small purchases. Having a credit card is incredibly convenient and a positive thing when you use it properly.

Expenses for college students obviously go far beyond tuition. The College Board reports that the average on-campus student at a public, four-year, in-state university spent $1,250 on books and supplies in 2017-18. With the aid of a student credit card, the burden of those secondary expenses can be lessened and fit within a budget and schedule that works for you.

Steps to applying for a student credit card

The first thing to consider before applying for a student credit card is your credit history. Start by answering the following questions:

  • Have you ever had a credit card?
  • Have you ever taken out a loan?
  • Do you have a steady work/income history?

If you have never had a credit card and you currently have no loans or steady income, your best option for getting your own credit card account is to have a parent co-signer. You might also be eligible to be added as a verified user on one of their credit card accounts.

If you already have a credit history, it’s important to know what your score is. Determining your credit score will let you know which cards you are likely to be approved for. Every time you apply for a credit card, your score will briefly drop by five points, so its best to do it as few times as possible. Applying for cards you are declined for will still negatively affect your score.

First, request copies of your credit report, which you can do for free once a year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can also get a free credit report and credit score here.

Once you know your credit score, you’ll have a better sense of what type of student credit card to apply for. If you have a good score, take a look at rewards student credit cards. If you have an average to poor score, consider a secured card.

Also, consider the following:

  • Credit cards usually have foreign transaction fees. Although some don’t, most do. If you plan on studying abroad, take a look at foreign transaction fees, which can vary from 2-4%.
  • You should only apply for one card. Applying for several cards at once indicates risk and tells credit card issuers that you are desperate for credit. Do your research and stick to one application. If you’re denied, take steps to improve your credit (pay down other cards, loans, etc.) and apply for another card in a few months.

Once you have pulled your credit report, checked your credit score, and narrowed your search to one perfect card, you’re ready to apply.

Additional reviews and research

Need to do more reading before you make a decision? No worries, choosing the right credit card as a college student is a big deal. We’ve reviewed pretty much every major student credit card on the market today, with all the latest offer information and in-depth analysis. Check out all of our latest reviews below.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.