5 Best Credit Cards for Students

March 2, 2023

The best credit cards for students have lenient application requirements, help build good credit and offer cash back or discounts at frequently visited retailers.

Research shows most Americans get their first credit card between the ages of 18 and 20. This is a critical moment in a student’s life, as it kicks off their credit journey and establishes their relationship with handling credit responsibly.

In this post we’re going to highlight the best credit cards for students. We’ll also cover how credit scores work in general and why picking the right credit card as a student is important.

Best Credit Cards for Students

Discover IT Student Cash Back 🏆

The Discover IT Student Cash Back is one of the most highly recommended student credit cards. Why? Because it has a $0 annual fee, awesome cashback opportunities as well as a double-bonus for the first year.

Discover IT Student Credit Card

That’s right, a double bonus welcome offer. For all purchases made in year 1, Discover will match your entire cash back amount. For example, if you generate $150 in cash back throughout the year, that turns into $300. Not too shabby!

Discover IT Student Cash Back details:

  • NO annual fee 
  • Earn 5% cash back on rotating categories. (Here is the calendar for categories each quarter. It includes places like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations)
  • 0% APR on anything bought within first 6 months
  • Can apply with no credit score or history

Although Discover is a well known credit card issuer, their cards are not universally accepted by all retailers (like Visa and Mastercard are). So you might want to apply for a couple alternative credit cards as well, giving you flexibility at the checkout counter!

Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards

Our next best credit card for students is the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards card. It gives you an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, plus 5-10% back on other categories like Travel and Uber Eats.

Quicksilver Student Credit Card

Oh, and there’s a quick and easy 50 bucks you can earn with the welcome offer. Just spend $100 in the first three months of having the card, and you’ll earn $50 cash back as a bonus!

Summary features for Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards:

  • $0 annual fee
  • Earn a flat 1.5% on all purchases (unlimited)
  • Get 10% cash back on Uber & Uber Eats
  • Free Uber One membership (via statement credits through 11/14/2024)
  • Unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Cap One Travel
  • $0 Fraud Liability

If you’re a frequent Uber passenger (or order a lot of takeout from Uber Eats), this credit card is a no brainer. Over the long term, it’s a great idea to build a relationship with Capital One. They provide a number of great financial products that you can advance into, including online checking and savings accounts.

Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card

The Chase Freedom Student Credit Card has no annual fee, and a $50 welcome offer after making just 1 purchase in the first 3 months.

Chase Freedom Student

Although the cash back percentage isn’t as high as the aforementioned Capital One card (1% vs. 1.5%), this Chase Freedom card gives you a $20 account credit each year for the first 5 years. They call it a “Good Standing Reward” which is an incentive to make payments on time and use the card responsibly.

Here are the Chase Freedom Student main features:

  • No annual fee
  • $50 welcome credit for making 1 purchase in first 3 months
  • Earn 1% cash back on ALL purchases
  • $20 “Good Standing Reward” after each account anniversary (first 5 years)
  • Credit limit increase is optional after making 5 monthly payments on time within the first 10 months.

If you’ve got relatively low spending, The Chase Freedom Student card might be a great fit. This is a card you’ll want to keep open forever, or upgrade it to another $0 annual fee Chase card after the 5 year anniversary credit lands. Chase is notorious for offering awesome incentives (especially with their travel rewards credit cards), so it’s a trustworthy bank to partner with over the long-term.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards

This is the perfect “all-around” credit card for students that spend a lot on food and entertainment. The Capital One SavorOne Student Card has some of the biggest cash back incentives, and it’s also eligible for referral credits!

SavorOne Student Credit Card

In addition, there’s a $50 welcome bonus! You just need to spend $100 within the first 3 months, and the credit will be applied directly to your account.

SavorOne Student Cash Rewards benefits:

  • No annual fee!
  • 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, and most streaming services
  • 3% cash back at all US grocery stores (excludes superstores like Walmart® and Target®)
  • Get 10% cash back on Uber & Uber Eats (and a free Uber One membership via statement credits through 11/14/2024)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

Another perk of this card is that it allows you to refer friends and get paid a cash bonus! You can make up to $500 per year by referring your fellow students to sign up for this card.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

What we like most about the Journey Student Rewards Card is that it encourages responsible credit usage. And rewards you when you’re doing a good job!

Best credit cards for students Journey Capital One

You’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases, but when you pay your bill ON TIME each month, this boosts your reward to 1.25% cash back.

Capital One Journey Student Rewards Benefits:

  • No annual fee, no hidden fees
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases
  • Boosted cash back to 1.25% when bills are paid on time for the month
  • Eligible for referral program (up to $500 each year)

Another cool thing with this card is that you get to choose your billing due date each month. Depending on how you earn money and get paid, this lets you sync up your bills to make sure everything is paid on time, every time.

At the end of the day, that’s the utmost important habit for students to build when using credit cards… Paying your bills on time, every time. This single habit will reward you more financially than any other benefits listed in this post. We can’t stress this enough. If you have trouble paying your credit card bill on time, it’s better to avoid them altogether.

How Good Credit is Built:

Healthy credit scores help secure better rates when you’re buying a home, applying for loans, or even getting cheaper insurance rates! And believe it or not, picking the right first credit card as a student can make a big difference when kicking off your credit journey and building your credit score.

There are several factors that affect your credit score. Here are the more important ones that students can take advantage of while getting their first credit card…

Length of credit history: The longer you keep a credit line open, the more it helps your credit score. So, consider that whatever credit card you first open in your teens, you should plan to keep it open – FOREVER! All our recommended best credit cards for students have no (or a very low) annual fees, are hosted by reputable banks, and have flexible reward options. They are designed to be kept open forever, even if you go long periods without using them much.

Payment history: If you miss one single credit card payment, no matter how small or late it is, this has a MASSIVE impact on your credit score and will drag it down for years. From the get go, we recommend all first time credit card holders establish a habit of paying on time, every time. Setting up auto-payments and connecting your checking account is highly advised.

Credit utilization ratio: This is basically the amount you owe, compared to the overall available credit you have access to. It’s important to keep your credit utilization as low as possible, either by paying your bills early to carry a lower balance, or having a much larger credit line than you actually will ever use.

Credit score factors

Best Credit Cards for Students FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions to help you navigate the world of student credit cards. It’s also important to note that guidelines differ a little between credit card companies. It never hurts to contact card issues directly to inquire about stuff!

Main Differences Between Student Credit Cards vs. Regular Credit Cards?

Most regular credit cards are built for people with established credit history. Since students are typically just beginning their credit journey, financial companies created a suite of Student Cards to cater specifically to that demographic.

Student credit cards typically have lower spending limits, easier application requirements, and slightly smaller incentives. They also come with hefty interest rates, so beware! The good news is, many student credit cards come with additional tools and apps to help students learn about their credit scores, how to build credit history, and ultimately stay out of trouble!

As students continue to demonstrate good usage, not only will their credit scores increase over time, they will become eligible for credit limit increases.

Do you have to be a student to get a student credit card?

Yes, in most cases you need to be an enrolled student to apply for student credit cards. This is because these cards are intentionally created for students and how they spend.

If you’re not a student and are looking for similar cards, check out these best credit cards for unemployed people and low income earners. These cards all have similar rewards categories and lenient application standards.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Get a Student Credit Card?

You’ll need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a student credit card.

For folks younger than 18, you might want to chat with your parents or legal guardian. There might be a way for them to add you as an authorized user to their account, giving you benefits and helping you build your credit score.

Do You Need Income to Apply For A Student Credit Card?

There’s actually no minimum amount of income needed to apply for a student credit card. BUT… you’ll have a much better chance of being approved for a card with a larger credit limit if your income is higher.

It’s important to never inflate your salary on an application. But, you can list any regular deposits you receive from family, financial aid after college expenses are paid, as well as any side hustle income you make in your spare time!

What Happens If Your Application Gets Rejected for a Student Credit Card?

There are a number of reasons why your application might not get approved. Some banks have customer service phone numbers you are able to call to discuss your eligibility. And in some cases you might be able to provide additional information over the phone to get approved.

There are also other options you could look into, such as secured credit cards, prepaid credit cards, or credit builder cards.

The Bottom Line

Getting your first credit card is an important choice. You’ll want one that has no annual fee, decent rewards for the type of spending you do, and one that helps build your credit. All of our best credit cards for students meet this criteria, so you’ve got a few options at your disposal.

And remember, no matter what type of credit card you get, it is extremely important that you use it properly and responsibly. You always need to have a strategy in place for paying off your debts.

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**Feature pic by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

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