It’s easy to see why student credit cards appeal to lots of consumers who are just starting their credit journey. They’re easier to qualify for than traditional credit cards, and many even let applicants check their approval odds online without any impact on their credit scores.

But do you have to prove you’re currently enrolled in a college or university to get one?

The answer to this question is far from simple, mostly because different card issuers have their own requirements for student cards. If you’re considering getting a student credit card and you’re wondering what you need before you apply, read on.

Who qualifies for a student credit card?

Like any other type of credit card, the approval requirements for student credit cards vary by issuer. Generally speaking, you need to be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen to get approved for a student card.

From there, the rules are different for different cards. For example, marketing materials for the Discover It® Student Cash Back state that you can qualify for this card without having a credit score. In the meantime, the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One says applicants can be approved if they have fair credit or better, which typically entails having a FICO score of 580 or higher.

Beyond your credit score, other factors that are considered when you apply for a credit card include your income, your debt-to-income ratio and the length of your credit history.

When it comes to income, however, it’s smart to know what sources of income you can list on your student card application.  If you’re 21 or older, you can include your own income when you apply, as well as sources of income to which you have a “reasonable expectation of access,” which could include a spouse’s income.

If you’re 21 or under, on the other hand, you can only include the following sources of income on your application for a student credit card:

  • Personal income from your job
  • Allowances
  • Residual amounts of income from scholarships and other financial aid (not student loans) after paying tuition and other college expenses

If you’re under the age of 21 and you don’t have any income, your best option might be becoming an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. You’ll still build credit this way, but the barrier to entry is much lower than applying for your own card.

Most student credit cards actually require you to be a college student, and you’ll have to prove it. For example, the credit card application for the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card for Students requires you to list which school you attend and whether you attend part-time or full-time.

screenshot of bank of america customized cash rewards for students credit card application

Similarly, the Chase Freedom® Student credit card application states that the issuer will verify your enrollment status.

screenshot of chase freedom student card application

Student credit cards that don’t require you to be a student

Very few student cards don’t ask for your higher education enrollment status.

The Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One is one exception, and it’s available for applicants with fair credit. Cardholders also get the chance to earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases, or 1.25 percent cash back when they pay their bill on time. There’s no annual fee, and the card comes with a $60 annual statement credit offer for subscription services, doled out in increments of $5 per month.

Alternative starter cards

If you’re not yet a student or you’re just looking for a first credit card that works either way, there are plenty of options to consider. For example, you can begin building credit with a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral.

Cards in this niche make it easy to get approved if you have bad credit or no credit history, and they report to the three credit bureaus, thus helping you boost your score. Some secured credit cards, including the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured, even let you earn cash back on your spending without an annual fee.

Other alternative cards to consider if you have limited credit history include the Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card and the Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card. These cards are unsecured, meaning they don’t require a cash deposit upfront.

If you have a “fair” credit score or better, on the other hand, a larger range of credit cards may be available to you. In fact, there are many excellent credit cards for fair credit that offer rewards with no annual fee, such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®.

The bottom line

Getting a student credit card is a smart first step to take if you want to build credit you’ll need later in life. Qualifications can vary widely from card to card, but most student credit cards will require you to be enrolled at a university.

If you aren’t a student, there are still plenty of good starter credit cards to choose from. And if your credit score is fair or better, you can also branch out to more traditional credit cards that offer higher limits and better perks.