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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, but with rewards and features geared toward a student’s needs.

Additionally, student credit cards tend to be easier to get approved for because they are designed for individuals with limited or no credit history.

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.

Pros and cons of student credit cards

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

Pros of student credit 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 qualify for 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.

Cons of student credit cards

Although there are advantages to student cards, there are also some disadvantages you should keep in mind before signing up for one:

  • Lower credit limits. Since most students don’t have a credit history yet, it’s common for credit card issuers to grant lower credit limits on their student cards. This can be a good thing because it makes it harder for you to overspend and build credit card debt. Once you prove your creditworthiness by making on-time payments, your issuer may consider increasing your credit limit.
  • 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 may be a solid option to consider as an introduction to credit. Student credit cards are designed with students and individuals with no credit histories in mind, so while there may be certain disadvantages (high APRs, low credit limits and limited rewards), there are rewards geared toward students’ needs.

Plus, there are certain safety nets that will help students learn the do’s and don’ts of credit. For example, some student credit cards may waive your first late payment, but a late payment fee will appear later on if you continue to miss payments.

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.

How to choose the right student card

Choosing the right student credit card can be a stressful process because if this is your first credit card, you may not know what exactly you should be looking out for. But for starters, consider the eligibility requirements. What is your credit score? Are you 21 years of age or older? If you are under the age of 21, do you have someone who could be your cosigner?

This process is fairly simple. Once you determine what you qualify for, the rest should be a breeze. And most student credit cards don’t require an established credit history, so don’t let that be a stressor.

Next, you want to choose a no-annual-fee card. You don’t want to take on your first credit card with an annual fee you can’t manage. However, the good news is 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.

When you’re selecting a credit card, try to 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. When you are browsing student credit cards, your options are limited in terms of rewards. However, there are cards that offer cash back on entertainment, Amazon.com, grocery stores, gas stations, popular streaming services and more.

Lastly, make sure your credit card issuer reports your activity to all the credit bureaus. This is particularly relevant if your goal of getting a student card is to build credit.

Qualifying for a student credit card

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

  • Being a U.S. citizen or resident, although a few card issuers accept international students
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Being enrolled in college and providing some proof of enrollment
  • Having sufficient  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.

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 you don’t have a very lengthy credit history, or none at all, then a good student credit 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.
Edited by
Associate Editor