The Best Credit Cards for College Students

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Last updated on August 23rd, 2023

Entering the world of credit cards for the very first time can be intimidating – not to mention financially risky – without the proper knowledge. For that reason, many students put off applying for credit cards until graduation. Despite that, the college years are one of the best times to build a positive credit score – and student credit cards are the perfect tool for this task. Here are some of the best credit cards for college students to help you build credit and save money at the same time.

At a Glance

What is a Student Credit Card?

Student credit cards are a unique variant designed specifically for young adults in high school or college. Student cards are an ideal option for those over the age of 18 and who are new to credit. Because student cards are similar to other credit cards, they sometimes offer rewards points, interest-free periods, and introductory bonuses.

Despite their similarities to different types of credit cards, however, student cards differ in a few key areas:

  • Student cards usually have lower credit limits than other types of credit cards.
  • Many student credit cards offer good grade discounts or rate reductions.
  • Student credit cards have easier application underwriting, making them more accessible to those new to credit.
  • Welcome bonuses with student cards are typically much lower than those of rewards credit cards.

What are the Best Credit Cards for College Students?

So, what are the best student credit cards for someone looking to build credit for the first time while in college? Here is a rundown of some of the top picks by the BestCards team:

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
Fair
BestCards refers to a variation of FICO Score 9, which is one of many different types of credit scores. A financial institution may use a different score when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card. Please note that the range shown here is our own estimation and not a guarantee of credit needed to be approved for any given card. Recommended Credit: Fair
Visa Processing Network
None Annual Fee

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

  • 18.24% to 28.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Regular Purchase APR
  • 18.24% to 28.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Balance Transfer APR
  • 21.24% to 30.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Cash Advance APR
  • 0% for 15 months Intro Purchase APR

At a Glance

The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students is the ideal mix of excellent rewards, a decent sign-up bonus, and a competitive APR. The card, which has no annual fee, also gives students the credit building tools they need to succeed – including FICO Score and Bank of America’s financial education program access.

  • Best Benefits
  • Rates & Fees
  • Why Should You Apply?
  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • Build credit with responsible use
  • 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening
  • Intro Purchase APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Regular Purchase APR: 18.24% to 28.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Intro Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months for transactions made within 60 days of account opening
  • Balance Transfer APR: 18.24% to 28.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer Transaction Fee: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater
  • Cash Advance APR: 21.24% to 30.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Cash Advance Transaction Fee: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of the U.S. dollar amount of each transaction in U.S. dollars
  • Late Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $40
  • Return Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $29
  • You’re a college student
  • You want an accelerated cash back earning rate
  • You plan to make use of the financial education tools
  • You don’t want to pay an annual fee
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Terms & Conditions

Bank of America offers some of the best student credit cards, with the Unlimited Cash Rewards as one of our favorites. The card, which charges no annual fee, earns an accelerated (and unlimited) 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases. Rewards are redeemable as deposits into Bank of America checking or savings accounts, or as a statement credit to offset monthly bills.

The Unlimited Cash Rewards for Students from Bank of America also comes with a quality sign-up bonus: College students can earn $200 in cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of opening their account. That introductory offer is essentially the same as getting 20% in cash back.

Other notable features of the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students include digital wallet technology and Visa Zero Fraud Liability protection.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back
BestCards refers to a variation of FICO Score 9, which is one of many different types of credit scores. A financial institution may use a different score when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card. Please note that the range shown here is our own estimation and not a guarantee of credit needed to be approved for any given card. Recommended Credit: Fair / No Credit Required
Discover Processing Network
None Annual Fee

Discover it® Student Cash Back

  • 18.24% to 27.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Regular Purchase APR
  • 18.24% to 27.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Balance Transfer APR
  • 2974% variable based on the Prime Rate Cash Advance APR
  • 0% for 6 months from account opening date Intro Purchase APR

At a Glance

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is ideal for college students hoping to earn 5% cash back on rotating categories and 1% unlimited cash back on everything else. All the cash back they’ve earned at the end of their first year will automatically be matched by Discover.

  • Best Benefits
  • Rates & Fees
  • Why Should You Apply?
  • No annual fee, and no late fee on the first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Discover automatically matches all the earned cash back at the end of the first year, with no limit to the amount that is matched
  • $20 statement credit when GPA is 3.0 or higher every school year for up to five years
  • Cash back rewards can be redeemed at any time and never expire
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases automatically
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months
  • Intro Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months from account opening date
  • Regular Purchase APR: 18.24% to 27.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Intro Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% for 6 months from date of first transfer
  • Balance Transfer APR: 18.24% to 27.24% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer Transaction Fee: Up to 5% of the amount of each transfer
  • Cash Advance APR: 2974% variable based on the Prime Rate
  • Cash Advance Transaction Fee: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater
  • Late Payment Penalty Fee: None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $41
  • Return Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $41
  • You want to earn 5% back in rotating categories
  • You plan on using your card to purchase products online
  • You expect to earn a 3.0 or higher GPA
  • You do’t want to pay an annual fee
  • You want a card with no foreign transaction fees

Discover offers two student credit cards (with the other being the Discover It Chrome for Students), but the Student Cash Back is the winner for us. The Discover It Student Cash Back is great because it offers 5% cash back on a selection of quarterly categories and an unlimited 1% back on all other purchases.

Discover’s Cashback Calendar is one of the most popular reasons people choose its products, with the rest of 2023 shaping to provide another excellent opportunity to earn 5% back on the first $1,500 in spending each quarter.

Here’s the full Discover 2023 Cashback Calendar:

5% Cash Back Category
January – March 2023 Grocery stores, drug stores, and select streaming services
April – June 2023 Restaurants and wholesale clubs
July – September 2023 Gas stations and digital wallets
October – December 2023 Amazon.com and Target

Like the Discover It Chrome for Students Card, the Student Cash Back Card comes with a special introductory APR. New accounts receive a 0% interest rate on purchases for the first six months. This bonus offer allows you to open the account, maximize your rewards in the 5% category for that quarter, and pay down the balance over the semester. Say, for instance, you needed to buy school supplies or wanted to stock up on necessities for your dorm. By making purchases in the correct categories, you can earn 5% back without the hassle of paying off the entire balance right away – a nice little perk.

Lastly, the other main appeal of Discover cards is the Cashback Match benefit. All cash back earned during your first year as a cardholder will be matched by Discover at the end of that year. This is a great opportunity to really max out cash back earnings to essentially come away with double the rewards at the end of that first year.

Chase Freedom Rise

Chase Freedom Rise
Fair-Poor
BestCards refers to a variation of FICO Score 9, which is one of many different types of credit scores. A financial institution may use a different score when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card. Please note that the range shown here is our own estimation and not a guarantee of credit needed to be approved for any given card. Recommended Credit: Fair / Poor
Visa Processing Network
None Annual Fee

Chase Freedom Rise

  • 26.74% variable based on the Prime Rate Regular Purchase APR
  • 26.74% variable based on the Prime Rate Balance Transfer APR
  • 29.99% variable based on the Prime Rate Cash Advance APR

At a Glance

The Chase Freedom Rise Visa is a credit builder card that can help you earn cash back rewards and double your credit line fast. The card works best with an eligible Chase checking account, as having one can greatly improve your approval odds.

  • Best Benefits
  • Rates & Fees
  • Why Should You Apply?
  • Earn 1.5% in cash back for all of your purchases
  • Earn a $25 bonus for enrolling in in the first three months
  • $0 annual fee
  • Increase your credit line with 6 on-time payments
  • Regular Purchase APR: 26.74% variable based on the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer APR: 26.74% variable based on the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer Transaction Fee: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Cash Advance APR: 29.99% variable based on the Prime Rate
  • Cash Advance Transaction Fee: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of the amount of each transaction in U.S. dollars.
  • Late Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $40
  • Return Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $40
  • You have a Chase checking account with a $250 balance
  • You want to earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • You are new to credit cards
  • You don’t want to pay an annual fee

The Chase Freedom Rise Visa is a credit-builder card and an ideal first credit card for Chase customers. It offers unlimited cash back rewards, no annual fee, and improved approval odds for select Chase checking customers. Unlike other Chase credit cards, the Freedom Rise is only available at Chase branches, where bankers can help guide you through the application process.

The Freedom Rise earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, which is on par with the old Chase Freedom Student Card (which the Rise replaced). Even better, there’s a $25 statement credit offer for new applicants, additional incentives from Chase partners, and ground-floor access to the Chase Freedom family of credit cards.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
Fair
BestCards refers to a variation of FICO Score 9, which is one of many different types of credit scores. A financial institution may use a different score when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card. Please note that the range shown here is our own estimation and not a guarantee of credit needed to be approved for any given card. Recommended Credit: Fair
Mastercard Processing Network
None Annual Fee

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • 19.99% – 29.99%% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Regular Purchase APR
  • 19.99% – 29.99%% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate Balance Transfer APR
  • 29.99% variable based on the Prime Rate Cash Advance APR

At a Glance

The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card provides college and graduate students with the tools they need to build credit – and the rewards they want to enjoy campus life. The card from Capital One features 3% back on select entertainment and everyday purchases and features no annual fee, balance transfer fees, or foreign transaction fees.

  • Best Benefits
  • Rates & Fees
  • Why Should You Apply?
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), with 1% on all other purchases
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn $50 when you spend $100 in the first three months
  • Earn 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats, plus complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you wo’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Enjoy no annual fee, foreign transaction fees, or hidden fees
  • Lock your card in the Capital One Mobile app if it’s misplaced, lost or stolen
  • Earn up to $500 a year by referring friends and family when they’re approved for a Capital One credit card
  • Earn 8% cash back on entertainment purchases when you book through the Capital One Entertainment portal
  • Build your credit with responsible card use
  • Whether you’re at a 4-year university, community college or other higher education institution, this card might be an option for you
  • Regular Purchase APR: 19.99% – 29.99%% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer APR: 19.99% – 29.99%% variable based on creditworthiness and the Prime Rate
  • Balance Transfer Transaction Fee: 3% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that we may offer you.; None after that
  • Cash Advance APR: 29.99% variable based on the Prime Rate
  • Cash Advance Transaction Fee: 3% of the amount of the cash advance, but not less than $3
  • Late Payment Penalty Fee: Up to $40
  • You’re a student
  • You frequently dine out or make purchases in the entertainment category
  • You want a cash back credit card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You want to build credit while earning quality rewards
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

Terms & Conditions

The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, groceries, and select streaming services purchases. Such a wide variety of categories makes it an ideal cash back card for students living off-campus, though even dorm dwellers can enjoy value here.

Eligible streaming services with the student version of the SavorOne include big names in music, TV, and film streaming – including Hulu, Dinsey+, and Netflix. However, unlike other streaming credit cards, audiobook services like Audible, plus some services, such as Prime Video, AT&T TV, and Verizon Fios On Demand, are excluded from the 3% back category. Additionally, box stores (like Walmart or Target) may be excluded from grocery store purchases.

Other notable features of the SavorOne Student Card include no annual or foreign transaction fees and Capital One’s 24/7 concierge service. Plus, once you graduate from college, you can keep your card (and rewards) and enjoy the benefits of the regular version of the Capital One SavorOne Card.

What to Look for In a Student Credit Card

Before applying for your next student credit card, take some time to investigate each card offer and its suitability to your needs. Here are some common features to look out for with a student credit card:

The Most Important Things to Look for:
Academic incentives A perk unique to student credit cards, some products offer cardholders account statement credits if their grades meet a certain threshold. That means that with the right credit card in your wallet, you may be entitled to a credit on your balance simply for keeping your grade point average above 3.0, for example.
Rewards Many student credit cards feature relatively minimal benefits when compared to general rewards credit cards, but that’s not always the case. Shopping around will show you that there are indeed credit cards with rewards programs that match all the cash you spend dollar for dollar, as well as some with a generous earning rate of 3 or even 5 points per dollar spent.
Financial tools It’s important to select a student credit card that grants you the ability to conveniently check your balance online at any time, as you can spot potential fraudulent charges before others are made on your account. 24/7 tracking is also useful when budgeting yourself to ensure that you are able to pay off your balances each month and keep your credit score as spotless as possible.
Other Things to Look For:
Debt forgiveness When learning how to use credit cards and navigate debt, especially at a young age, it’s important to look for a card that offers debt forgiveness. If you’re striving to be financially independent and free of your family’s safety net, you will want a card with debt forgiveness to prevent your credit score from being negatively affected. Between school, work, and your social life, you may forget or be unable to pay the minimum amount due on your card each month (if you’re not paying the balance off completely). Spending within your means can help in this regard, but just in case, it’s comforting to know that you have at least one opportunity to keep your slate clean with debt forgiveness.
Fraud protection Credit card fraud can occur anywhere at any time and to anyone, whether making a purchase on campus at a vending machine or paying for parking when you head downtown. If you shop online with your credit card using your smartphone, a site that has been hacked can also prove to be a problem for your identity and account. Making purchases with a student credit card that offers fraud protection keeps you free of the financial burden you’ll otherwise be responsible for if your card gets lost or stolen. This is an integral feature that you should look into when signing up for student credit cards and any credit card in general.

Typical Features of Student Credit Cards

What are the other common features of a student card? Before you apply, make sure the card you prefer offers many of the following features:

① Rewards While not common, there are plenty of good student rewards cards on the market. Many student credit cards feature lesser benefits in comparison to general rewards credit cards, but that’s not always the case.
② No annual fee Generally speaking, signing up for a credit card without an annual fee makes financial sense. This rule doesn’t apply, though, if the benefits that you earn while using the credit card are higher than the cost you’re paying each year.
③ Academic incentives This is a perk unique to credit cards for students. Some cards offer cardholders account statement credits if their grades meet a certain threshold, such as meeting GPA minimums each academic school year.
④ Debt forgiveness When learning how to use credit cards and navigate debt, especially at a young age, it’s essential to look for a card that offers debt forgiveness. You’ll want a card with debt forgiveness to prevent your credit score from being negatively affected.

Other Credit Options for College Students

Not sure if a student credit card is right for you? Maybe you have concerns that you won’t be approved for an unsecured credit card. Not to worry, as there are other credit-building options for students. Beyond student loans, which won’t help your credit score until after college, secured credit cards and unsecured options where you join an already open account are two great ways to build credit in college.

Secured Credit Cards

secured credit card differs from a traditional credit card in that it requires a security deposit to open. In exchange for a cash deposit, secured cardholders gain a reasonable credit line and other perks to help them boost their credit scores. This deposit makes the cards much easier to be approved for, making them faster to obtain for individuals with no credit history or a low credit score.

Become an Authorized User

Another option for building credit is to become an authorized user from a parent or other trusted person’s existing credit card account. As an authorized user, you can benefit from the primary cardholder’s positive credit history, which can help improve your own credit score.

There are key differences between being an authorized user on a credit card and being a joint account holder. Authorized users can be added to a credit card at any time, do not have to go through a credit check, and are not financially responsible for paying any debts owed. On the other hand, joint account holders must apply at the same time as the other user and have the same responsibility to pay back balances on the card.

The downside of being an authorized user is that if the primary cardholder misses payments or carries a high balance, it could also negatively impact your credit. Keep this in mind before asking your family if you can become an authorized user on their accounts.

More Tips to Help Build Credit While in College

Building credit requires more than just opening a credit card account and making purchases. Here are some essential tips to help you establish a positive credit history during your college years:

Essential tips for building credit in college
Always pay on time Paying your credit card bill on or before the due date is crucial. Late payments can lead to late fees, increased interest rates, and negative marks on your credit report.
Try to pay in full Aim to use only a small percentage of your available credit. Ideally, keep your credit card balances below 30% of your credit limit, as issuers tend to view credit usage over that level as risky. If possible, pay your bill in full, as this can help you avoid missed payments, interest charges, and late fees. This also demonstrates responsible credit management to lenders and positively impacts your credit score.
Monitor your credit score Regularly check your credit report to ensure accuracy and detect any potential errors or fraudulent activity. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) annually.
Create a budget – and stick to it Create a budget and use your credit card for planned expenses. Avoid using credit cards for impulsive buys or unnecessary purchases, as it could lead to overspending and financial hardship down the line. Take the time to calculate what you are spending on food, entertainment, transit, streaming, utilities, and other services. Doing this can help you identify areas of waste and can even give you more pocket money.
Graduate (to better cards) A student credit card is just that: a credit card for students. As you build your credit history and demonstrate responsible credit management, you can apply for credit cards with more attractive terms and benefits. Consider proprietary cards with rewards programs, like Chase Unlimited Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, or American Express Membership Rewards.

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Student Credit Cards

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Editorial Disclosure – The opinions expressed on BestCards.com's reviews, articles, and all other content on or relating to the website are solely those of the content’s author(s). These opinions do not reflect those of any card issuer or financial institution, and editorial content on our site has not been reviewed or approved by these entities unless noted otherwise. Further, BestCards.com lists credit card offers that are frequently updated with information believed to be accurate to the best of our team's knowledge. However, please review the information provided directly by the credit card issuer or related financial institution for full details.

About: Cory Santos
Cory Santos

Cory is the senior credit card editor at BestCards, specializing in everything credit card-related. He’s worked extensively with credit cards and other personal finance topics, including nearly five years at BestCards. Cory’s extensive knowledge is an essential part of the BestCards experience, helping readers to live their best financial lives with up-to-date insights and comprehensive coverage of all facets of the credit card space, including market trends, rewards guides, credit advice, and comprehensive credit card reviews.

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