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
Full Review
Apply Now
On Bank of America's Website
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 (%) 14.99% - 22.99% 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

    The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students 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
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 25,000 points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points.
    • Preferred Rewards members earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase That means you could earn up to 2.62 points for every $1 you spend, everywhere, every time.

Best for Cash Back

Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students

Rating as a Student Card
4.5
Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students
Full Review
Apply Now
On Bank of America's Website
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 12 Billing Cycles
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER 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 (%) 3%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Bank of America 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
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Online $200 cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
    • 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings.
    • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs.
    • 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%.

Best Bonus Offer

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Rating as a Student Card
4.3
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Full Review
Apply Now
On Discover's Website
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
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% 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 3% if completed by October 10, 2020, and up to 5% for transfers made thereafter.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • 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 what 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 an extra 25% in cash back 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
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Cashback Match - Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. There's no limit to how much they'll match.
    • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
    • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
    • Get $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next five years.

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®
Full Review
Apply Now
On Capital One's Website
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.
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    More than any card we reviewed, the Journey Student 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 or trips 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
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month.
    • $0 annual fee.
    • With Credit Steps your account will be reviewed for a credit limit increase after making your first 6 monthly payments on time.
    • Enjoy unlimited access to your credit score and tools to help you monitor your credit profile with CreditWise.

What Are Student Credit Cards?

Student credit cards are essentially starter cards for a specialized audience of those enrolled in accredited four-year colleges or universities. Compared with other cards designed for first-time cardmembers, student cards generally offer lower fees and interest rates. Also, rewards are often available, where very few general starter cards offer those. Why would card issuers give such breaks to users who are newbies to managing money, and may as yet have very little of it? In short, 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 issuer that motivates them to give student customers a much better deal than they give 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 using a 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 are out of school. 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 of course 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. It 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 that 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 with 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 for you or your student.

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 of course could be a significant sum that wipes out any rewards you earn, and probably more. Another disadvantage to 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, like 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, no, 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

Information Gathering

In order to track and assess the U.S. domestic credit card market, we gather scores of data points on more than 300 cards. This data is collected manually from both card-issuer websites and publicly available sources. 

To ensure our information is as up-to-date as possible, we deploy automated tools that monitor changes in such key data as annual percentage rates, introductory rates, introductory periods, bonus offers, rewards earnings rates, fees and card benefits. We then rapidly make any needed updates to our card listings, reviews, and recommendations to ensure that readers have the most reliable information and advice. 

Initial Scoring

Once we collect credit card data we organize it in our database according to features, which roll up into feature sets (such as rewards, interest, fees, benefits and Security/Customer Service). Each individual card feature is assigned a star rating score on a 1 to 5 scale using a formula. For instance, for a one-time bonus score we would use a formula like (if bonus is $500 or greater, then assign a score of 5; if $300-$499 then 4, and so forth). Weighting of scores. Once all of each card’s features have received a score we apply a weighting factor to each feature to arrive at a weighted average score for each card (according to the general category in which it resides, such as travel rewards). 

This weighting process allows us to assign significantly more emphasis to the attributes important to a particular category, and downplay those that are less relevant to it. That allows us to objectively identify cards that stand out in their category, and why they do. For example, we apply significantly higher weight to such travel-specific features as airport lounge access or primary rental car insurance than we do to attributes such as interest rates or fees that might be more strongly considered for other categories, such as balance-transfer cards.

Earnings rates

Another critical factor we consider when rating and ranking travel cards and other types of rewards cards are the cards’ effective earnings rates. We first calculate the average value of points or miles for all the rewards cards in our database, a painstaking process that entails collecting all airline fare data by carrier across scores of popular domestic and international city-pairs along with per-night hotel charges at all major hotel brands. 

The required points and miles for air travel or hotel stays from the various reward programs is then used to calculate an effective earnings rate for each card. That allows our readers to make the most informed choices. By putting a card’s large one-time bonus or earnings rates into context across many dimensions and card features, they can more readily weigh the card’s benefits relative to its costs. Uncovering the true but often opaque redemption value of rewards points or miles is, we feel, the only reliable way to make cogent choices among competing value-based cards.  

Card Features We Score

As mentioned in our methodology explanation, we place significant weight on certain travel-related features in determining our ratings for each card. Specifically, we place over 50% of our overall assessment score on the combination of the following factors:  

  • Maximum value of any one-time bonus, whether in points or miles.
  • Initial card spending required to earn any bonus.
  • Redemption value of the bonus miles or points.
  • Global card acceptance, as detailed by the four card networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover).
  • Options to redeem points or miles with travel partners, both airline and hotel.

Another consideration are the cards’ coverage, if any, in these travel-related areas: 

  • Car-rental collision insurance, whether primary or secondary.
  • Travel accident insurance.
  • Lost or delayed luggage insurance.
  • Insurance for trip cancellation, interruption, or delay.
  • Cell phone loss or damage.
  • Roadside assistance and towing.
  • Emergency travel medical/dental benefits.

General, non-travel related features that we consider and score include:

  • Interest rates, including both introductory and regular APRs for purchases and balance transfers.
  • Fees, including those for annual membership, late payments, cash advances and foreign transactions.
  • Security/customer service features.
  • Other non-travel benefits, such as free credit scores, ID theft protection and contactless payment capability.

How We Reach Our Final Assessments

We rely mostly on the objective scores created by our rating algorithms to determine which card is chosen as the best travel rewards credit card, as well as the ones deemed best for one-time bonuses and as co-branded airline and hotel choices. 

However, we may make some adjustments from time to time, to both features and weightings that could affect rankings, which can be influenced by subjective input from our credit card experts. Any potential modifications will be consistent with Investopedia’s belief that consumers are best served by travel cards that:

  • Provide superior value in earning awards travel.
  • Charge reasonable interest rates in the event that balances are carried month to month.
  • Charge fewer and/or more reasonable fees.
  • Provide solid customer service, based on the number and quality of customer service features
  • Have helpful and protective security features.