How to upgrade your student credit card after graduating

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If you are one of many college students who opted for a student credit card during your time in higher education, you might be wondering what to do with your credit card once you graduate. As your spending habits and financial needs change, a student credit card may no longer be ideal. Consider upgrading your credit card.

An upgraded version of a student credit card can come with a higher credit limit as well as perks and benefits like cash back, rewards and other protections. But there are possible consequences you should understand.

What is a credit card upgrade?

Upgrading your credit card is also known as a product change. Beyond the student credit card conversation, card issuers may allow cardholders to change from one credit card product to another, usually in the same card family. For instance, if you have a  Chase Sapphire Preferred® card, you could upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

When you make this change, be aware of potential impacts on your account or even your credit score. Issues of concern include:

A new hard credit inquiry

In some cases, your issuer may perform a hard credit inquiry before granting your product request. However, that rarely happens—especially if you upgrade to a card within the same product line. When you start the process, you can ask the customer service representative helping you if a credit check is required for the card upgrade.

Change in credit limit

If you are upgrading from a starter credit card like a student credit card, you may be eligible for a credit limit increase. Though a product change and a credit limit increase are two separate requests, they could be granted in tandem. Simply put, after you’ve used your starter credit card responsibly, the issuer may consider an increased credit limit along with your card upgrade.

If you’re nervous about increasing your credit limit, remember it can help your credit score. If you keep your credit card balances low, your credit utilization ratio will improve, which will raise your score.

Retention of card rewards, perks and benefits

If you are upgrading to another credit card, you’ll want to know if your account will be “reset” in any way. This could wipe out rewards you’ve earned or start the clock again for perks and benefits that are only doled out on an annual basis. It’s uncommon to lose rewards when upgrading, but if you notice something amiss, ask what happens to outstanding rewards and benefits when you upgrade your card.

New, higher annual fee

If you are changing credit card products, the new card may have an annual fee. Each issuer has different rules about when and how this new fee will be applied to your account, so make sure you understand when you are on the hook for the new annual fee.

Welcome bonus

Most of the time, when you upgrade your card rather than apply for a new one, you are not eligible for any introductory bonus or APR the card might offer. This can vary by issuer, and sometimes cardholders are targeted for an upgrade offer, but most of the time, choosing to upgrade rather than apply fresh means sacrificing the bonus.

Because of this, you might decide it’s worth it to add a second card to your wallet rather than upgrade. The quick influx of points or cash back—or an introductory period to pay off large purchases or balance transfers without interest—might be worth the new account.

All of these issues may or may not come into play when upgrading your card but you should be aware of them so you can ask how this change will affect your account. Then you can make an informed decision on whether or not you want to go forward with the upgrade.

How a credit card upgrade works

Once you’ve notified the issuer that you want to upgrade your credit card, via phone call to customer service, a representative will typically ask a few questions to make sure you’re eligible for an upgraded card. Provided your upgrade is approved, you should receive a new physical card in the mail.

This new card may or may not have the same card number but you will have a new expiration and CVV number associated with the card.

How to upgrade a student credit card

1. Understand your upgrade options

First, find out if there’s a direct path from your student credit card to another product in the same family.

There are a few student cards that offer such options:

All of these cards have non-student versions with the same rewards structure. Depending on the issuer, you might also be eligible to upgrade to a different card if you find it better suits your needs. For instance, if you have the SavorOne Student card, but aren’t spending much on dining out and would prefer to earn a flat rate of cash back on all purchases, you can ask Capital One if you are eligible to upgrade to the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card instead.

2. Call your issuer’s customer service phone number

Once you are ready to upgrade your student credit card, you can call your issuer to request the upgrade. They may collect updated information from you like your address, income and other details that may have changed since you’ve graduated.

3. Provide the necessary information to customer service for the upgrade application

Upon providing this information, you can generally expect a response about the decision while on the phone. It’s possible your issuer may need more time and information to process your request. If you don’t get an immediate answer, look out for communication via snail mail concerning the decision.

4. Understand your new terms and start using your upgraded card

If you are approved, you’ll receive information about your upgraded card’s new terms (APR, credit limit, rewards structure, and so on), which may or may not be different from your old card.

Most of the time, non-student cards have more benefits and perks than student ones, so make sure you are taking advantage of all available rewards, statement credits, purchase protections and more.

Should I upgrade my student credit card?

This will come down to how your life changes upon graduating. If you’ve got a new job, are preparing yourself for renting, homeownership or other life changes that may require an upgraded credit card, it’s worth considering.

Alternatively, you might decide to keep your existing student credit card and apply for a new credit card.  A new card could come with upgraded benefits, have a positive impact on your credit score and complement your existing student credit card. If your new credit card is in the same card family as your student card, you may be able to maximize your rewards with smart credit card combinations, too.

Either way, if you’d like to continue on your credit-building journey, upgrading or adding a new credit card to your wallet could be in order. Whatever route you choose, exploring your credit card options after graduation is a smart move that can help smooth your transition into the next phase of your adult life.

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Senior Editor, Credit Card Product News