Full Review of Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students
Choice of the cash-back category that earns high rewards
0% introductory APR offer on purchases and balance transfers
Overdraft protection and rewards bonuses for banking customers
Foreign transaction fee is less than ideal for those studying abroad
The highest rewards earnings are capped
Relatively high minimum spending required for introductory bonus
- Choice of the Cash-Back Category That Earns High Rewards: While some student cash rewards cards offer a single flat cash back rate, the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit cards for students tiers its rewards. We'll dig into how rewards work but in a nutshell, students have the option to choose an eligible category of purchases that earns the highest rewards rate, and can change the category if they wish. That's a nice perk you don't always find with a cash-back card.
- 0% APR Offer on Purchases or Balance Transfers: This card offers an introductory 0% annual percentage rate for the first 12 billing cycles. That's good for students who have large purchases planned that they need time to pay off, or a balance to transfer from another card. There is a balance transfer fee of 3%, with a minimum fee of $10.
- Overdraft Protection and Rewards Bonuses for Banking Customers: Students who also have a checking account at Bank of America can link their card to it to use as a line of credit for overdraft protection. While a $12 fee applies for each overdraft protection transaction charged to your card, that’s less than a typical overdraft fee for your bank account. Be aware, however, that the bank considers overdrafts it covers to be cash advances, and so begins charging an APR of 27.74 variable from the date of the transaction. Holding a Bank of America bank account or Merrill investment account with a high balance also sweetens the rewards with this card. A balance of at least $20,000 earns you a bonus of 25% and up on the card’s cash-back rewards.
- Foreign Transaction Fee is Less than Ideal for Those Studying Abroad: If you're seeking a card to use a lot outside the U.S., the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for students isn't a great choice. Like many cards—but unlike the best student cards for foreign study, which have no such fee—this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. That charge will really add up over the course of a semester or year, essentially canceling out the card's cash-back rewards.
- Upper-Tier Rewards Earnings are Capped Each Quarter: Some cash back cards offer unlimited cash back earning potential at their higher earnings tiers. This one doesn't. The highest rewards tiers are subject to a quarterly spending threshold of $2,500. That limits the amount of cash back you can earn at those higher rates, at least in theory. In practice, the relatively high cap will not hamper many students, who likely wouldn’t charge more than $800 or so a month to the card for groceries, gas, and the like.
- Relatively High Minimum Spending Required for Introductory Bonus: A distinct perk to getting a new credit card is the ability to earn an introductory rewards bonus that puts some cash into your pocket right off the bat. The catch, of course, is that there is a minimum spending requirement to meet, and within a certain period. Requiring $1,000 in charges within the first 90 days, the offer with this card is more challenging to earn than those of some other student or regular cash back cards.
This Card is Best For
Seeks to maximize cash back earnings across spending categories
Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
Currently enrolled in an accredited four year college or university
This card could be a good fit for students who want to earn cash rewards on everyday purchases, and without paying an annual fee. The rewards categories cater primarily to the types of things students often spend money on, including groceries, dining, entertainment, and online shopping.
It could also make particular sense for students who already bank with Bank of America and or use their credit card as overdraft protection for a checking account, and perhaps want to stay loyal to that bank, as well. The introductory APR period makes it equally promising for students who have credit card debt that they want to make more manageable with a lower rate or want time to pay off purchases without interest.
Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students One-Time Offer
As mentioned, this card does offer a one-time offer. The bonus is currently worth $200 in cash back rewards. To qualify for the bonus, students must make $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening their account. That breaks down to around $333 and change for each of the first three months.
At a glance, $1,000 doesn't seem like a significant number to hit. But there are other student rewards cards that offer a comparable one-time offer, either in cash back or points, and only require a minimum of $500 in spending. Aside from that, charging $1,000 in purchases is something students should think through to make sure they can afford to pay it back, at least at the end of the introductory 0% APR period.
Rewards Earning Details
There are three rewards tiers for earning cash back with this card. First, is the 3% cash back rewards rate which applies one category of your choice from this list:
- Online shopping
- Drug stores
- Home improvement/ furnishings
You can choose which category you want to earn 3% cash back in each calendar month. If you don't make a selection, your default choice is automatically set to gas. You can make changes to your category through the Bank of America mobile app or online banking.
In other words, you have the freedom to change things up, based on your spending patterns. So if you spend more on online shopping during the last three months of the year leading up to the holidays, you could choose that to be your 3% category from October to December. Or if you're planning to move into a new apartment over the summer, you could switch it to furniture stores/ home improvement for a month or two.
While travel is on the list, keep in mind that you'll earn cash back on travel purchases. You won't get any points or miles, which might be a drawback to you if you're looking for a card that lets you transfer travel rewards to airline or hotel loyalty programs.
At the next tier down, members earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. You don't need to choose this category or activate any bonuses; you'll earn this rewards rate on those purchases automatically.
Be aware of some fine print, though. Members earn 3% and 2% cash back only the first $2,500 every quarter of combined spending in their category of choice and grocery store/wholesale club purchases. Once you reach that threshold, you continue earning cash back on those purchases at a rate of 1% until the next quarter begins. While that's a reasonably high quarterly cap—these can be as low as $1,500 with some cards—you should still be aware that your cash-back earning potential in those categories isn't unlimited.
You can, however, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases outside the category of your choice and grocery store/wholesale club purchases.
Rewards Redemption Details
You have several ways to redeem cash rewards earned with this card. Those options include:
- Redeeming cash rewards for a statement credit in any amount.
- Depositing the money into a Bank of America checking or savings account.
- Depositing the money into an eligible Merrill Lynch of Merrill Edge account.
- Redeeming for contributions to a qualifying 529 account to help pay college costs.
You just need a minimum of $25 in cash back rewards to redeem. You can log in to your Bank of America account to see how much you've accumulated in rewards.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
Maximizing rewards with this card begins with qualifying for the introductory bonus. Again, it takes an average of $333 and change in purchases for each of the first three months to meet the $1,000 minimum. Another option could be to charge a large one-time purchase, such as textbooks, school fees or some new furniture for your dorm room or apartment.
The best way to maximize ongoing rewards is to be strategic with category choices, while keeping the $2,500 quarterly spending cap in mind. For example, say you're spending from October to December, earning 3% in cash back on online shopping during that quarter. If you charge $1,000 in groceries over that time period and $1,500 in online shopping, you'd earn $65 in cash back during that time period.
An even better way to maximize rewards would be make sure that as many of the purchases made under the $2,500 quarterly threshold qualify for the 3% cash back rate. If you were to max out the spending threshold at that rate, you'd earn $75 back per quarter, or $300 cash back for the year. Those numbers don't include cash back you could earn on all other purchases at the 1% rate.
If you happen to already have a hefty amount in cash or investment earnings, you can also earn further benefits through the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program. This program offers additional rewards bonuses for Bank of America checking and savings account owners as well as those with Merrill investment accounts. Students can receive a rewards bonus of 25% to 75% on top of their base rewards, but the program’s required balances are high, starting at $20,000. The higher the balance, the higher the bonus.
Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students Standard Benefits
- Free FICO credit score access
- Overdraft protection
- Digital wallet technology
- Mobile and online banking access
- Account alerts
- Paperless statements
Bank of America ranked third out of 11 national card issuers and scored a bit above average in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study. Bank of America did win Money magazine's Best Bank for College Students award back in 2019. They did not however maintain that title in 2020.
Students can manage their accounts online or through the Bank of America mobile banking app. Help is available through customer service live chat, at a Bank of America branch or by calling 1-800-732-9194. Customer service is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This card has the standard security features you'd expect in a student credit card. That includes EMV chip technology, the ability to set up account alerts to monitor activity, digital wallet capability, continuous fraud monitoring and a $0 liability guarantee if your card is lost or stolen and used to make fraudulent purchases.
Fees to Watch Out For
The fee that might be of most concern to students is the 3% foreign transaction fee. Using this card for a semester abroad or a vacation outside the U.S. could make those purchases more expensive. It's also worth mentioning the balance transfer fee again in case you're looking for a card with a low balance transfer fee.
The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for students is a solid choice for a cash back rewards card with no annual fee. The introductory bonus is on par with what other regular cash back rewards cards offer, although the $1,000 minimum spending requirement might be a bit high for students who aren't heavy spenders.
While it can also double as a travel rewards card, this card wouldn't be our first choice for earning rewards for hotel stays or flights. There are other cards that are better suited for earning and redeeming points and miles for free travel. The 3% foreign transaction fee isn't great either, since it can effectively cancel out the 3% cash back rewards you could earn by selecting travel as your chosen category when you spend outside the U.S.
Overall, this card may be preferable for students who will charge $2,500 or more to a card each quarter and tend to do most of their spending on typical college student expenses.