Best for rotating cash back bonus categories

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Intro offer
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 5% Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 1.5% Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Intro offer
$100 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Fair to Good (580 - 740)
Apply now
On Petal's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.
Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 29.24% (Variable)
Recommended credit
No Credit History 
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 8% Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats
  • 5% Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 3% Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®)
  • 1% Earn 1% on all other purchases.
Intro offer
$100 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Fair to Good (580 - 740)

Best for gas, dining & large purchases

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Intro offer
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Best student card for benefits

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 1% Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years
Intro offer
$50 Bonus 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for local cash back offers

Apply now
On Petal's secure site
Rewards rate

N/A

Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
22.24% - 31.74% (Variable)
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Best for students with no credit history

Apply now
On Deserve's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 1% Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard
Intro offer
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
20.99% Variable
Recommended credit
No Credit History 

Compare Bankrate’s top student credit cards

Card name Best for Annual fee Bankrate review score
Discover it Student Cash Back Rotating cash back bonus categories $0 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card Flat-rate cash back $0 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card Student starter card $0 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card Overall student card $0 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it Student chrome Gas, dining and large purchases $0 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Student credit card Student card for benefits $0 3.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card Local cash back offers $0 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students Students with no credit history $0 2.5 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at the best credit cards for students

Discover it Student Cash Back: Best for rotating cash back bonus categories

  • What we love about the Discover it Student Cash Back: Students can build credit, earn top-of-the-line rotating cash back rewards and take advantage of one of the best sign-up offers around. It’s rare to find a student credit card with a welcome offer, let alone the same offer available on rewards cards for people with good-to-excellent credit.
  • Who this card is good for: Students looking to earn cash back in categories typically offered as part of Discover’s rotating cash back calendar — such as dining, online shopping and gas. Back-to-school shoppers who need to stock up on college supplies can also take advantage of an intro APR offer for six months from account opening (then a variable APR of 14.49 percent to 23.49 percent applies)
  • Alternatives: If you’re looking for a simpler way to earn rewards, a flat-rate credit card like the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card or the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card could be easier to keep up with while still offering you consistent cash back on all of your purchases.

Read our full Discover it Student Cash Back review.

Jump back to offer details.

Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate cash back

  • What we love about the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: The card’s 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases is one of the highest base rates available on a student card. This is also one of the few cards that offers more than 1 percent back on general purchases as well as bonus rewards in other categories — 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
  • Who this card is good for: Student travelers looking for a hassle-free way to earn rewards on all purchases. Students who plan to study abroad or make online purchases with foreign merchants will also love that this card lets you avoid foreign transaction fees.
  • Alternatives: If you typically spend more on food and entertainment than hotels and rental cars, the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good alternative thanks to its impressive rewards rate in popular categories like grocery stores, restaurants and streaming services.

Read our full Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Jump back to offer details.

Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Best student starter card

  • What we love about the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: It has a relatively low barrier to entry and is accessible to students and other people with a limited credit history. And thanks to its great flat rewards rate of up to 1.5 percent cash back (after 12 on-time monthly payments) and a mobile app packed with helpful features, this card could be a good long-term option even after you’ve graduated.
  • Who this card is good for: People with no credit or a limited credit history who want to avoid a security deposit and annual fees. Just note that you may need to look elsewhere if you have a history of late payments or bankruptcy.
  • Alternatives: If you can’t qualify for an unsecured student rewards credit card, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a good option that will help you build credit and earn rewards in the popular everyday categories of gas and restaurants.

Read our full Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card review.

Jump back to offer details.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best overall student credit card

  • What we love about the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: This card offers the same great cash back rate and has many of the same features and benefits as the non-student version of the SavorOne. That means students can build credit without sacrificing rewards on food, entertainment and more.
  • Who this card is good for: Students looking for a single card that earns rewards on everyday staples like groceries and dining as well as extras like concert tickets, travel and streaming services.
  • Alternatives: If you’re looking for even more category variety or spend heavily outside the food and entertainment category, you might have an easier time racking up rewards with a rotating cash back card like the Discover it Student Cash Back Card.

Read our full Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Jump back to offer details.

Discover it Student chrome: Best for gas, dining, and large purchases

  • What we love about the Discover it Student Chrome: Instead of forcing you to deal with rotating categories, this Discover card lets you earn cash back year round on gas station purchases and dining — two popular spending categories for students.
  • Who this card is good for: Students who want to focus on building credit while also earning cash back on everyday essentials. And if you need to make a large purchase, this card’s intro APR offer can give you time to avoid interest charges.
  • Alternatives: You may be able to earn more cash back with a flat-rate card like the Petal 2 or Capital One Quicksilver Student card, especially if you tend to spend a lot of money in categories other than gas and dining, such as groceries.

Read our full Discover it Student chrome review.

Jump back to offer details.

Chase Freedom Student credit card: Best student card for benefits

  • What we love about the Chase Freedom Student credit card: This card’s features encourage students to develop good financial habits. You can get a credit limit increase after making five monthly on-time payments within 10 months of account opening (if you meet the score requirements) and earn a $20 reward each year on your account anniversary if your account is in good standing (for up to five years). It’s also a bit safer for beginners since its APR is just 16.49 percent variable — far lower than the rate you’ll find on most student cards.
  • Who this card is good for: Credit-building students more interested in being rewarded for their solid financial habits than for spending money.
  • Alternatives: The Petal 2 is another great credit-building card that rewards good financial habits, boosting your rewards rate from 1 percent back to up to 1.5 percent back after you make your first 12 on-time monthly payments.

Read our full Chase Freedom Student credit card review.

Jump back to offer details.

Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card: Best for local cash back offers

  • What we love about the Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card: The Petal 1 mobile app comes loaded with credit-building tools like access to your credit score, a calculator to see how much interest you may face based on your balance and a tool that can help you avoid paying for subscriptions you no longer use. There’s also a map that shows local offers that earn 2 percent to 10 percent cash back at select merchants.
  • Who this card is good for: Credit builders who prefer an unsecured credit card and could benefit from an approval process that factors in alternative data like their income, bill payment and banking history in addition to their credit report.
  • Alternatives: If you have negative marks on your credit report and struggle to qualify for student cards, there are a number of secured and unsecured credit cards for bad credit that have more lenient credit score requirements and can help you build your credit.

Read our full Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card review.

Jump back to offer details.

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students: Best for students with no credit history

  • What we love about the Deserve EDU Mastercard: This card has a nice perk for students: Cardholders who spend $500 in their first three billing cycles will receive a credit for a one-year Amazon Prime Student subscription, valued at $59. It’s also accessible for international students as it doesn’t require a social security number to apply.
  • Who this card is good for: Students who need a more accessible card. For example, international students may have an easier time qualifying for this card, as there is no minimum credit score requirement and a Social Security number isn’t required for the application.
  • Alternatives: If you want to boost our rewards earnings, the Discover it Student Cash Back card might be a better choice for you. Cardholders are rewarded with 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter (then 1 percent, enrollment required) in rotating categories—whereas EDU Mastercard holders earn just 1 percent cash back on all purchases.

Read our full Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students review.

Jump back to offer details.


What are student credit cards and how do they work?

If you’re enrolled in college and have little or no credit history, a student credit card can help. Like traditional credit cards, student cards give you access to a line of credit you can use to make purchases. How you use the card is then reported to one or more of the three major credit bureaus.

If you pay your bills on time and don’t use too much of your available credit, you can begin to build up a positive credit history and grow your credit score. This will go a long way toward showing creditors that you know how to use credit responsibly. Once you graduate, the hard work you’ve put in building and maintaining good credit can pay off in a number of ways, as you’ll likely qualify for more rewarding credit cards and have an easier time financing a car loan or mortgage at an affordable rate.

Why building credit is important for a college student

A credit card is one of the best ways to build credit, but it can be hard to get approved for one if you have limited or no credit history. Without access to credit, you’re more likely to face numerous financial challenges. 

Student credit cards give you a chance to get a head start on building credit, which can help you overcome some of these obstacles. Here are the benefits that come with using a student card:

Pros and cons of student credit cards

Pros

  • Less strict credit requirements— Student credit cards are designed for those who are just starting out, so a lack of credit history is less likely to prevent you from approval.
  • Student-centric rewards—While some credit cards with lower credit requirements are lacking in the rewards department, plenty of student cards offer cash back or points in popular student spending categories.
  • Specialized benefits—Student credit cards often feature perks designed to appeal to credit beginners, like lenient late fee policies, automatic review for a credit line increase, and credit education tools.
  • Low cost—Many students want to avoid credit cards that cost money to carry. Luckily, many of the top student credit cards are free of annual fees.

Cons

  • Less robust rewards programs—While plenty of student credit cards offer modest rewards, the highest-earning rewards cards generally require good-to-excellent credit.
  • Potential for high interest rates—In general, lower credit requirements tend to mean higher interest rates.
  • Lower credit limits—Students are often considered a higher-risk borrower for lenders and these lenders may offer lower credit limits until student borrowers prove creditworthiness with responsible card use.
  • Borrowed funds—Remember that money on a credit card is borrowed and must be repaid, so it’s important to carefully monitor credit card spending.

How to choose the best student credit card

Picking the right credit card as a college student isn’t always an easy task. When evaluating different student credit cards, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Still unsure if a student credit card is right for you? Check out our Credit Card Spender Type Tool where you can get personalized credit card recommendations based on your credit score, spending habits and daily needs.

How students can avoid credit card debt

The average American holds over $5,000 in credit card debt. To make matters worse, once you’ve fallen into debt, it’s not easy getting out. You may not be able to control all the factors that get people into debt, but there are some moves you can make that can help you avoid it or be ready to manage it efficiently. Here are five tips to help you with credit card debt.

  • Choose the right card for you. Your credit history, finances and lifestyle will all play a role in helping you narrow down your choices for a student credit card. If possible, pick a card that has a low ongoing APR in case you end up needing to carry a balance.
  • Have a budget. If you know how to budget, you can avoid some of the common missteps that lead to debt.
  • Pay on time. Late payments wind up as negative marks on your credit report and can come with late fees as well as trigger penalty APRs, which could lead to more debt.
  • Pay off your balance in full whenever possible. Paying more than the minimum payment due and even trying to pay in full each month will help you avoid excessive interest charges that push people deep into credit card debt.
  • Try to avoid cash advances. A cash advance creates an unnecessary burden on your finances, thanks to excessively high interest rates that begin to add on to your debt the moment you withdraw funds.
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Bankrate insight
It’s best to not use your credit card to pay for tuition, but some schools will allow you to do it. However, be aware that you may be charged a convenience fee, and interest will stack up quickly if you don’t pay it off right away.

Alternatives to student credit cards

Whether you struggle to gain access to credit or don’t want to deal with the disadvantages of using a credit card, there are a number of alternative options out there that can help.

Secured credit cards

If you’re searching for a way to build your credit with a lower barrier to entry, secured credit cards provide a good alternative. The best secured credit cards have much more lenient requirements. Some don’t require you to even have a credit score when you apply

Credit-builder loans

For some, a credit-builder loan is one of the best ways to build credit without a credit card. Since you’ll have to pay off the amount of the loan before you actually get to use the loan amount, you not only build credit but also put money aside in savings. Credit-builder loans are accessible to many people, even those with bad credit. According to a study done by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this alternative is best for people with limited or no credit history.

Authorized user

When you’re an authorized user on the account of a parent, partner or trusted friend, their credit habits can impact your credit profile. If the primary account holder has a long history of good credit behavior, their credit history can help improve a thin credit file, while their credit limit can help improve your credit utilization. Each of these factors can help boost your credit score.

Checking account

A checking account won’t help you grow your credit score, but how you use it will go a long way to preparing you to manage funds efficiently. And once you’re a pro at handling your own finances, you’ll be ready for a credit card. Your bank may even have its own line of credit products. If so, your loyalty and good financial habits could make it easier to gain access to credit.

How to apply for a student credit card

If you’ve picked out the credit card that best suits your student lifestyle, then the next step is to get it. When you’re ready, here’s how to apply for a student credit card.

  1. Check your credit score. Determining your credit score will let you know which cards you are likely to be approved for.
  2. Go to the issuer’s website and find the card’s application. Once you know what card you like, simply head to the issuer’s website and find the application for that card. You may be able to check if you prequalify for the card before you apply (with no impact to your credit score), which can give you some extra peace of mind about submitting an application.
  3. Fill out the application. Be sure to have all of your application information ready before getting started. Besides your name, address and identifying information, you’ll need to state your income, which can be more than what you earn at a job if you are over 21. This includes a partner’s income or any allowance, as long as you have reasonable access to the funds.
  4. Receive the application decision. Sometimes issuers will send out an instant decision, but it could also take a few days. If your application is denied, the issuer is legally required to send a letter explaining the reason for denial.
  5. Have your budget and repayment plan ready. Responsible credit use starts with a stable budget and a concrete plan to repay what you spend. Make note of your payment due date and your minimum payment amount so you can always pay on time.
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Bankrate insight
Want to know which credit cards you may prequalify for and unlock special offers from our partners? Use our CardMatch™ tool to find your personalized matches in 60 seconds or less with no impact on your credit score.

In the news: How to prepare for back-to-school shopping as a college student

Back-to-school shopping isn’t just for parents. Whether it’s your first or last year of college, you’ll have to prepare for the upcoming school year. But your needs go a lot further than notebooks and Sharpies.

As a college student, you’ll face a number of expenses beyond classroom staples like textbooks and a laptop. You may also have to think about dorm life, and that means having to buy bath and bedding supplies, laundry bags, and other essentials. All of this can get pretty expensive, and if your parents aren’t footing the bill, these costs could make it harder to manage your money.

Make sure to map out your finances before you start shopping and take advantage of any opportunities to save money. This includes keeping an eye out for the back-to-school shopping sales and student discounts. Cash back apps like Rakuten and Capital One Shopping can make it easy to shop around and find the best deals. And a student credit card like the Discover it Student Chrome can help thanks to an intro APR offer that gives you a limited time to pay for any big-ticket items without having to deal with interest charges.

How we chose our top picks for student credit cards

Credit cards reviewed by Bankrate receive scores based on a unique 5-star rating system. Our evaluation of best student credit cards focuses closely on specific qualities and benefits including:

Credit requirements

The typical person shopping for a student credit card might not have excellent credit or even much credit history at all. Most of the cards on our list are open to new-credit, fair-credit or limited-credit applicants.

Fees

If you don’t yet have a full-time career, obviously you would be better served by a credit card that goes easy on the fees and charges. Annual fees, foreign transaction fees and other charges make the card more expensive to own, especially if it doesn’t have a rewards program that helps offset those costs.

Rewards

Some of our top student credit cards have rewards programs that earn cash back for gas, groceries and other everyday purchases. Rewards offer a surefire way to get more value from your card.

Additional reviews and research

Need to do more studying before you make a decision? No worries. Choosing the right credit card as a college student is a big deal. Check out these resources from Bankrate.

Learn more: Easiest credit cards to get in 2022


Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

Frequently asked questions about student credit cards

about the author
As a staff writer for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Sarah offers sound advice that will improve your financial life and help simplify topics like travel hacking and credit card rewards.
about the editor
Courtney Mihocik is an editor at Bankrate Credit Cards and CreditCards.com specializing in credit card news and personal finance advice. Previously, she led insurance content at Reviews.com and worked as the loans editor at The Simple Dollar.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.