College can come with a whole host of expenses outside of the cost of tuition — from books and rent payments to groceries and gas. If you’re paying for these costs with cash or a debit card, you may want to consider applying for a student credit card to earn rewards for your spending while establishing a credit history that you’ll inevitably need.

A student credit card is a normal credit card, but it’s intended for students who are new to credit. If used responsibly, student credit cards can help you build your credit history. They often have no annual fees, cardholder benefits and rewards programs, to boot.

You should consider student card options that offer decent rewards structures, credit-building opportunities or student-specific perks that can ease your day-to-day life on campus. While we’ve done our best to weed out cards that have high fees, unfavorable terms or other red flags for starter credit cards, we encourage you to closely compare benefits before submitting an application.

Why should I get a student credit card?

Perhaps one of the best reasons to get a student credit card is to help cover school-related costs and start your credit-building journey sooner rather than later. Once you graduate, you may have immediate needs for a car, housing or other large purchases, which could require an established credit profile. A student credit card can be easier to get because the credit score requirements are usually not as stringent as with a regular rewards credit card.

If you’ve got financial goals, like saving money or using credit for larger purchases, a student credit card could help. Some offer ongoing rewards in the form of cash back or points, which can help you save money on many college expenses. Other student credit cards may also offer introductory 0 percent APR periods on balance transfers, purchases or both.

On the flip side, you should know the limitations of student credit cards. The credit limit on these cards is often pretty low — around $300 or $400 to start. However, issuers may review your account and increase your credit limit after you’ve proven that you can use the card responsibly.

Also, interest rates on student cards can be much higher than the average credit card interest rates. With this in mind, do what you can to avoid carrying a large balance, which will keep your interest charges low. If you can pay your balance in full each month to avoid paying interest, even better.

Perks to look for on student credit cards

While the top student credit cards offer cash back or points on your purchases, they also offer perks like waived late fees and recognition for maintaining a good grade point average. Here, we take a look at a few common benefits to keep an eye out for when you’re shopping for a student card to apply for.

Automatic credit line reviews

One appealing feature of student credit cards is the opportunity to get an automatic account review, which could lead to an increase in your credit limit. As mentioned above, your credit limit will be low, but if you look for a card with this feature, it may help you build up your available credit. With more available credit, you can lower your utilization ratio and, in turn, improve your credit score.

Bonuses and boost rewards for responsible card use

Another feature of some cards might include bonuses and rewards for using your credit card responsibly. For example, the Chase Freedom® Student credit card (highlighted below) offers a $20 Good Standing bonus after making 10 months of on-time payments. Further, the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One actually boosts your ongoing rewards rate from 1 percent cash back to 1.25 percent back when you pay your monthly bill on time.

Welcome bonuses

Also known as sign-up bonuses, welcome bonuses on student cards typically come in the form of cash, points or a statement credit once you meet certain spending requirements. Almost every single student card highlighted below offers a welcome bonus — which can be an easy way to boost your rewards early on to use toward things like school supplies, dorm essentials or to simply pad your savings.

Introductory APRs

An introductory APR offer can be in the form of a low or 0 percent APR — which means you can pay little to no interest on your card balance for a specific length of time — and they typically apply to purchases, balance transfers or both. The two Discover student cards featured below offer such perks and can help you to pay down a large purchase over time or reduce interest on any debt you may have.

Credit-building education tools

One of the best things you can do as a student credit card owner is stay on top of your credit profile. The healthy credit habits you develop today can serve you down the road, so anything that can promote this goal can be a great asset.

For example, Capital One’s suite of student cards have access to CreditWise, a service that helps you monitor your credit profile and protect you from identity fraud — from access to Experian and TransUnion credit report change alerts to dark web scanning and Social Security number tracking.

Top student credit cards to consider

If you’re interested in getting a student credit card, there are more than a few out there to choose from. Here’s our take on the top student credit cards to consider:

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards rate: Unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target); 5 percent back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 8 percent back on Capital One Entertainment purchases; 1 percent back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus: $100 cash bonus when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: None
  • Regular APR: 17.99 percent to 27.99 percent variable

The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card was brought on as a new addition to Capital One’s suite of student credit cards in August 2021. Not only can you rack up rewards for spending on “food and fun,” but there are other benefits to consider. The card offers extra perks like price protection, rental car coverage and no foreign transaction fees. Most importantly, after six months, you may qualify for an increased credit limit.

Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Rewards rate: 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases; 5 percent back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • Welcome bonus: $100 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: None
  • Regular APR: 17.99 percent to 27.99 percent variable

Another card from the Capital One student suite, the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. Like the SavorOne card, you can be eligible for a credit limit increase after six months.

The Quicksilver Student has additional perks like extended warranty and price protection coverage. It also comes with travel benefits like rental car insurance, 24/7 access to a pay-per-use roadside assistance program and complimentary concierge services.

It’s also worth noting that Capital One now has a preapproval tool for its student credit cards, which includes the Quicksilver Student, SavorOne Student and Journey Student Rewards from Capital One.

Chase Freedom Student credit card

  • Rewards rate: 1 percent cash back on general purchases; 5 percent back on Lyft rides (through March 2025)
  • Welcome bonus: $50 bonus after your first purchase within three months of account opening
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: None
  • Regular APR: 17.99 percent variable

While the Chase Freedom® Student credit card is advertised as a cash back card, it technically earns Ultimate Rewards points — making it a great option for those looking to gain entry into the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Cardholders earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases (plus rewards on Lyft rides through March 2025), as well as a $50 cash back bonus (equal to 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after simply making a purchase with the card in the first three months.

The Freedom Student is one of the best Chase student credit cards — and is actually the only Chase card directly tailored to students. Additional perks offered with this card include free access to your credit score, the potential for a credit line increase after making five on-time payments over the course of 10 months and a $20 “Good Standing” bonus, as discussed above.

Discover it Student Cash Back

  • Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back on each quarter’s activated rotating categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1 percent); 1 percent back on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: All cash back earned within the first 12 months will be matched
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: 0 percent intro APR for six months on purchases; 10.99 percent intro APR for six months on balance transfers
  • Regular APR: 15.99 percent to 24.99 percent variable

The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers plenty of cash back on rotating bonus categories that often include purchases students can spend tons on. Examples of cash back categories include grocery store spending, Walgreens, CVS, restaurants, Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com. Further, the card’s introductory periods on both purchases and balance transfers can be useful for students with large purchases to make or previous debt to pay off.

Like other Discover credit cards, the Student Cash Back offers a year-first Cashback Match — meaning after your first 12 months of card ownership, Discover will match all of the cash back you’ve earned.

Discover it Student chrome

  • Rewards rate: 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter); 1 percent back on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: All cash back earned within the first 12 months will be matched
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: 0 percent intro APR for six months on purchases; 10.99 percent intro APR for six months on balance transfers
  • Regular APR: 15.99 percent to 24.99 percent variable thereafter

Similar to the Student Cash Back, the Discover it® Student chrome offers rewards, but in a slightly different way. The cash back categories are fixed rather than rotating — cardholders earn cash back for spending on gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, after which they earn 1 percent.

The Student chrome also has a Cashback Match welcome offer and the same introductory APR periods as the Student chrome. The better Discover student card option for you will depend on if you prefer a set rewards structure or rotating categories every three months.

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

  • Rewards rate: 1 percent cash back on all purchases
  • Welcome bonus: Up to $59 of Amazon Prime Student subscription reimbursement after spending $500 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: None
  • Regular APR: 22.49 percent variable

With the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, you earn a flat 1 percent cash back on any purchases you make (for no annual fee). While there’s no introductory APR offer, you can get up to $59 back on your Amazon Prime Student subscription after spending $500 in your first three months of card ownership.

This card can also be a great option for international college students studying in the U.S., since no Social Security number is needed to apply. And if you plan on studying abroad one semester, you’ll appreciate the card’s lack of foreign transaction fees.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases — boosted to 1.25 percent for the month when the card is paid on time; 5 percent back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • Welcome bonus: None
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro APR: None
  • Regular APR: 28.49 percent variable

Lastly, the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is a good student card option for those looking for a little extra incentive to pay on time. When you pay your bill on time each month, your cash back rate on those purchases will automatically boost from 1 percent to 1.25 percent.

While this card doesn’t offer a welcome bonus, there’s no annual fee, either. And similar to other Capital One student cards, you’ll get access to CreditWise and receive an automatic credit line review after your first six months.

The bottom line

While earning rewards for your spending is ideal and building credit is necessary, these benefits can be easily negated if you don’t use your student card responsibly.

Once you choose and apply for a student card, make developing healthy credit card habits a priority. Be sure to spend only what you can afford with your card and pay off your balance each month. Carrying debt can cancel out any rewards you earn if you’re paying interest charges. Also, carrying high balances relative to your credit limit could harm your credit score.

Overall, you can use your student credit card to help support your credit-building journey and reach other financial goals. Once you master these concepts with your student credit card, you can apply your good credit management skills to other areas of your financial life as well.