Best Student Credit Cards

The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students tops the list

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Very few students are likely to have built a credit history that’s sufficient for them to secure a general-use credit card. But student credit cards help students do just that with an accessible card regardless of credit history and lower income requirements.

We've done a deep dive into credit cards in order to identify the best cards for students. The best credit cards for students are easily obtained on a student's income and creditworthiness. They also have low annual fees and offer some type of rewards that students can use for travel or cash back.

Best Student Credit Cards for October 2021

Best Overall, Best for Travel : Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students


Rating as a Student Card
4.8
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Current Offer

25,000 bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening - which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 13.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
Why We Chose This Card:

The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students is our pick for the best overall student card and best student travel card because of the high earning rate on its rewards program that you can then redeem for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees. It also has a long introductory APR on purchases and no annual fee which add to the card's strong rating. Plus, the lack of foreign transaction fees makes this an ideal card for student travel outside the U.S.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Decent (1.5 points per dollar spent) travel-rewards earnings, and no tiers to manage

  • Pay off purchases for 12 months with no interest

  • Friendly to foreign travel

Cons
  • Rewards aren't transferable

  • No 0% APR balance transfer offer

  • Relatively high spending ($1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening) required for 25,000-point introductory one-time bonus

Read the full Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students credit card review

Best for Cash Back : Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students


Rating as a Student Card
4.6
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students
Current Offer

$200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 13.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3% cash back in the eligible category of your choice, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined categories each quarter, then 1%.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Statement Closing Dates
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER APR 0% for 15 Statement Closing Dates
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
Why We Chose This Card:

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards for Students is our pick for best student cash-back card because it offers a strong cash back rewards program, along with a compelling one-time bonus (a relative rarity for a student card), and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers—all with no annual fee. Its cash-back rewards program is competitive with the best non-student cash back cards. As an added benefit free FICO scores are provided, which students can use to track how they are doing at improving their credit which will potentially allow them to qualify for a broader range of cards in the future.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • 3% cash back on the category of your choice and 2% on groceries up to a quarterly combined spending cap

  • 12-month 0% APR offer on purchases and balance transfers from the time of account opening

  • Overdraft protection and rewards bonuses for banking customers

Cons
  • Foreign-transaction fee is less than ideal for those studying abroad

  • Highest rewards earnings are capped

  • Relatively high spending ($1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening) required for $200 introductory one-time bonus

Read the full Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students credit card review

Best Bonus Offer : Discover it® Student Cash Back


Rating as a Student Card
4.3
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.99% - 21.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — automatically.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER APR 10.99% for 6 Months
Balance Transfer Fee 5% of the amount of each transfer.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
Why We Chose This Card:

The Discover it Student Cash Back is our pick for the best bonus offer because it offers a match of all cash back earned during the first year of usage. If you were to be strategic with the purchases you planned to make during that time, then that offer could have substantial benefit. The card also has no annual fee and offers a 5% cash back (with an earning cap) on rotating spending categories so it's not only good for that first year. Students who maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or better receive a $20 statement credit each year for up to five years which is a unique incentive for keeping your grades up.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • High rewards on rotating spending categories, such as groceries and restaurants

  • Potential for a large bonus the first year with cash back match

  • Introductory 0% APR for six months on purchases

  • Reward for maintaining good grades

Cons
  • Rotating-category rate requires quarterly registration

Read the full Discover it® Student Cash Back credit card review

Best for Credit Education and Credit Monitoring : Journey Student Rewards from Capital One


Rating as a Student Card
3.9
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time. Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
Why We Chose This Card:

More than any card we reviewed, the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is designed to help students learn about credit and to monitor their credit scores over time with CreditWise. That tool helps students understand their credit score, keep up with changes via alerting, and monitor their credit information—all of which is critical when trying to improve your credit score. The card’s credit limit may be raised after just six months of use and there are no foreign transaction fees, which can be helpful to keep costs down on semesters abroad.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Offers cash back, unusual for a student card

  • Cash-back for the first year is matched

  • Credit limit may rise rapidly

Cons
  • Low 1% cash-back rate with no bonus categories

Read the full Journey Student Rewards from Capital One credit card review

Final Verdict

Getting a credit as a student is a great time to start building credit while also having a card for emergency or travel purposes. Cards generally don’t start with a high credit limit but will be periodically reviewed to increase limits for students with good usage and payment history. The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students is our choice as the top card thanks to its generous bonus offered in the first 90 days, no annual fee, and unlimited rewards points.

Compare The Best Student Credit Cards

Card Minimum Credit Score Regular APR % Annual Fee
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Best Overall, Best for Travel
670 14.99%– 22.99% $0
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students
Best for Cash Back
670 13.99%– 23.99% $0
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Best Bonus Offer
350 12.99%-21.99% $0
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Best for Credit Education and Credit Monitoring
350 26.99% $0

Editorial Picks for Best Student Credit Cards

Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students

Best Overall, Best for Travel

This card gets the nod for best overall and best for travel because it comes with a massive 25,000 point bonus with only $1,000 spent in the first 90 days. Cardholders can earn up to 2.62 points for every dollar spent when they become Preferred Rewards members.

Read the full Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students Review.

Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students

Best for Cash Back

Cardholders can amass rewards quickly with up to 3% cash back on a category of their choice, 2% back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% on all other purchases. This card also offers an attractive bonus reward of $200 when at least $1,000 in purchases is made within the first 90 days.

Read the full Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students Review.

Discover it Student Cash Back

Best Bonus Offer

Students can get all of their cash back earned throughout the year matched with no limit to the matching amount. We also like that Discover gives a $20 bonus for each school year with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Read the full Discover it Student Cash Back Review.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Best for Credit Education and Credit Monitoring

Students can quickly build credit with an account review for credit limit increases within the first six months. Cardholders also get the benefit of credit monitoring with CrewditWise.

Read the full Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Review.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Student Credit Cards?

Student credit cards are essentially starter cards meant specifically for those enrolled in accredited four-year colleges or universities. Compared with other cards designed for first-time card members, student cards generally offer lower fees and interest rates. Also, rewards are often available, where very few general starter cards offer those. Card issuers offer these breaks to users who are newbies to managing money, in short, because they want them as potentially valuable long-term customers.

Statistically, those with college degrees earn more money and have better credit than those who don’t. Card issuers also know that people often keep their first credit card (or at least first credit card issuer) for a long time. Collectively, these factors create a huge lifetime value for the card company that motivates them to give student customers a much better deal than they offer others who lack a credit history and established income.

Is It a Good Idea for College Students to Have a Credit Card?

Like any tool, a credit card can become problematic if not used responsibly. And students have little experience with credit to draw on in order to card in moderation. That said, for most students, the benefits of receiving a credit card outweigh its drawbacks. There’s the convenience of ongoing credit for starters. Also, building a positive credit history during one’s college years can lend a student a huge head start in qualifying for other types of credit once they graduate. Future credit needs include car loans and mortgages, certainly, but even prospective landlords and employers often check credit reports and credit scores. It’s possible that a bad experience with a student credit card could be costly, both financially and in terms of the student's credit history. But that’s a risk worth taking for the potential benefits of acquiring a credit card early in adult life.

What Is Required to Apply for a Student Credit Card?

For many years, student credit cards were easily obtained from card issuers who aggressively marketed them on college campuses as well as through direct mail promotions that proffered pre-approved cards. However, rising concern at what many felt were irresponsible marketing and lending practices causing undue amounts of student card debt led to passage of the Credit CARD Act of 2009 which imposed strict new requirements. Applicants must now be at least 21 years of age or be able to prove they have sufficient independent income to service the account. If someone is under 21 and lacks sufficient income, they must obtain a co-signer who is over the age of 21 (usually a parent or guardian).

Is It Possible to Get More Than One Student Credit Card?

Acquiring multiple student credit cards is possible but not advisable. Opening multiple student credit card accounts, with little experience managing them, is a recipe for amassing more credit card debt than is healthy and for mismanaging multiple accounts. The purpose of a student credit card is less to gain access to extensive credit than to build a credit history. Many excellent cards in this category can serve almost anyone’s needs. It’s, therefore, best to find just one card that does so.

Can Tuition Be Paid With a Student Credit Card?

Some colleges and universities do accept credit cards for tuition payments, but there’s a catch. The institution will impose a charge for the merchant interchange (also known as the card-swipe fee) in the form of a “convenience fee.” This is usually an expense of 2%-3% of the tuition charge. And that could be a significant sum that wipes out any rewards you earn, and probably more. Another disadvantage of putting tuition on a card is that the hefty charges would likely max out your credit line. That could leave you with little leeway for other purchases, and might even impair your credit score by increasing your “credit utilization.” Then there’s the possibility that you might not be able to pay off a massive tuition charge in time to avoid paying interest, which even for a month could be substantial.

For these reasons, tuition is best covered by other forms of payment, such as the proceeds of a student loan or a check from your bank account.

It could certainly make sense, though, to use a student credit card to purchase textbooks, school supplies, and other more modest expenses. This is especially appealing if you’re enjoying an initial period of 0% APR on purchases. Just be sure to have a plan for paying down the balance before interest charges kick in after the promotional period ends.

Do Student Credit Cards Graduate When You Do?

There is really no reason to part with a student credit card once you graduate unless it carries an unusually high interest or fees. Indeed, there’s actually a strong case to be made for hanging on to the account. That’s because an individual’s credit score is based in part on the average age of their various credit accounts, and a student card account is likely to be the longest-standing piece of credit history most people will ever have. Card issuers often have a graduation strategy for student credit cards that essentially converts them into regular consumer cards with higher credit lines and other valuable features. In some cases, you can upgrade to a different card the issuer offers while retaining the same account, with its long and beneficial credit history.

What Are the Best Ways to Use a Student Credit Card?

  • Only use the card for convenience and not for long-term borrowing.
  • Limit yourself to purchases that can be paid off each month.
  • Always pay your monthly bill on or before the due date.
  • Try never to pay only the minimum amount due.
  • Never make a payment late. Mark the monthly due date in your calendar, and set a reminder alert on your phone or computer a week ahead of the date.
  • Try to use no more than one-third of your credit line to keep its utilization low.
  • Never use the card for a cash advance, unless it’s an absolute emergency. These usually involve a percentage fee (usually 3%-5%) and sky-high interest rates that kick in from the moment you get the cash (that is, there is no grace period in which to pay it back interest-free).

Can You Pay for Student Loans With a Credit Card?

Generally, loan processors don’t accept credit cards for monthly payments. Technically, however, it could be possible to access the cash credit line of your credit card by either withdrawing cash from an ATM with your card or by requesting a convenience check from your issuer and using that to make a student loan payment. However, this type of transaction would be considered a cash advance and would be very ill-advised, since the interest rates on cash advances are astronomical.

What to Put for Income on a Credit Card Application if You Are a Student

According to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, credit card issuers are supposed to require an adult consignor for a student credit card applicant who is under 21 unless the student can verify an income source. Student credit card applications request an estimate of gross income that you reasonably expect to earn each year. This includes wages, salary, and tips from full-time or part-time work, internships, and summer employment. If you are under 21, you may also include the annual estimated amount of another person’s income that is deposited into an account that you control.

Methodology

Our database collects data points on more than 300 credit cards. Our system is constantly updating this data that is reviewed in order to draw the conclusions of the best cards in any particular category. We look for cards with no annual fees, strong rewards, and low interest rates to pick as the best in any one area. Getting a card with an easy point of entry with moderate credit requirements is an added bonus.

Meet Our Credit Cards Expert

Ben Woolsey is Investopedia's Senior Editor for Credit Cards. He has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including marketing for banking and financial institutions such as Associates First Capital and Bank One. Prior to Investopedia, he managed credit card content for CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. U.S. Government Publishing Office. Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. Accessed January 13, 2021.