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Should I get a student credit card?

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Going to college isn’t just about getting a degree and taking the first steps toward a rewarding career. It’s also about learning how to make the right choices in life, including those related to personal finance.

One choice most college students have to make is whether or not to get a student credit card. A credit card can come in handy for emergencies or when you need to make a large purchase, and it can help you build your credit history.

But before you sign up for one, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of student credit cards so you can make an informed decision. We’ll take a look at what student credit cards are all about and help you decide if one is right for you.

What is a student card?

As its name suggests, a student card is a credit card designed specifically for college students. Student cards operate much like a standard credit card with the difference that, to qualify for one, you must be enrolled, either full- or part-time, in a college-level institution.

While there’s no set definition of what makes a student credit card different from a regular one, several unique traits set the student cards apart, including lower credit limits, higher interest rates and a lower age limit.

Student cards pros and cons

Student cards have pros that may appeal to you and cons that may drive you away. It’s important to know both when deciding if a student card is right for you.

Advantages of student cards

Some of the main reasons why you may want a student card include:

  • They’re easier to get than standard cards. The eligibility requirements of most student credit cards are a lot easier to meet than standard credit cards. Minimum income requirements are normally lower, and there are several sources of income you can list as a student apart from having a job.
  • You can get one without a credit history. Besides income requirements, a credit score is one of the reasons most students don’t have access to standard or premium credit cards. Student cards require a lower credit score or even no credit score at all for you to apply, making them a good option for a first credit card.
  • They’re a great way to start building your credit. A student card is still a credit card, so how you use it impacts your credit score. This makes these cards one of the best options to start building your credit early on.
  • Some offer special perks for students. While some student cards don’t offer rewards, some do. In most cases, these rewards are tailored to the average student’s spending habits, and redemption options are tailored to their needs.
  • You can upgrade to a standard card upon graduation. Some credit card issuers and credit unions will let you upgrade to a standard card after graduation, giving you access to a higher credit limit and the chance to build your credit score even more.

Disadvantages of student cards

Although there are advantages to student cards, there are also some disadvantages you should be aware of before signing up for one:

  • Lower credit limits. Since most students don’t have a credit history yet, it’s common for them to get lower spending limits on their student cards than with normal credit cards. This can be a good thing because it makes it harder for you to overspend and build credit card debt.
  • Higher interest rates. College students are considered high-risk borrowers. Credit card companies will charge higher interest rates (above 27 percent, in some cases) to compensate for the risk of lending you money.
  • Fewer rewards. Although some student credit cards come with rewards programs, they usually offer fewer benefits than their regular counterparts. If you’re interested in getting free flights or hotel stays through your student card, you’ll likely be disappointed.

Is a student card right for me?

For most students, a student card is one of the few real options for having their own credit card, especially if they’re under 21. Therefore, if you’re a student and you need a credit card for any particular reason, it’s an option you definitely need to consider.

It’s also the right choice for those who want a fast and reliable way to pay for certain recurring payments and daily expenses while building your credit at the same time.

If you’re worried about the higher interest rate, this drawback can easily be avoided by spending responsibly and paying off your balance every month. If keeping tabs on your daily expenses seems like too much of a hassle, then you’re probably not ready for a student card, let alone a regular one.

Qualifying for a student credit card

Even though being approved for your first student card is relatively easy, you must meet some eligibility requirements. The most common are:

  • Being a U.S. citizen or resident, although a few card issuers accept foreign students
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Being enrolled in college and providing some proof of enrollment
  • Having enough income. If you’re 21 or older, any income will do. But if you’re under 21, you’ll need to prove you have an independent income. If you’re unsure what qualifies as income, this post will make it all clear.

How to choose the right student card

  • Check eligibility requirements. This means checking age, income and credit history requirements as stated above.
  • Choose a no-fee credit card. There are many good student cards without an annual fee out there, so there’s no need to add credit card fees to your budget.
  • Choose one that rewards you for your typical spending. This means making sure to choose one that gives you the best rewards in the purchase categories you spend the most on.
  • Make sure it reports to all credit bureaus. This is particularly relevant if your goal getting a student card is to build credit.

How to use a student credit card

If you decide that a student card is right for you, here are five tips to help you avoid falling into a credit card debt trap and build your credit score quickly:

  • Avoid maxing out your card.
  • Avoid spending more than you can afford to pay at the end of each month.
  • Pay your balance in full every month to avoid the high interest rates these cards impose.
  • If you carry a balance from one month to the next, always make your partial payments on time.
  • Don’t apply for too many cards at once. This is a red flag for most issuers.

The bottom line

If you’re a college student, getting your first credit card might be the next logical step in preparing for adulthood. If don’t have much credit history, or none at all, then a student card might be just what you need. Student cards are easier to get than traditional credit cards, and great tools for students who want to start building their credit history while earning rewards in the process.

Student cards come with lower limits and higher interest rates than other types of accounts, but if used properly, the benefits can outweigh those risks over time. After graduation, you may even be able to upgrade your account to a standard credit card with higher limits and lower interest.

Written by
Jordan Bishop
Personal finance writer
Jordan Bishop is a former contributor for Bankrate. He discovered the power of credit cards at a young age. His first splash into travel hacking came with the wildly viral launch of Yore Oyster, which landed him national media attention and more than a million frequent flyer miles.
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