Easier to qualify for than a traditional credit card, a student credit card can give you a useful payment option for school costs and emergency expenses. And, using your card and making all of your payments on time will help you establish good credit for the years ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • Student credit cards are designed for college students and are generally easier to get than other kinds of credit cards.
  • The issuer may ask for proof of enrollment and of your income.
  • Depending on your age and income, you may need a co-signer to qualify.
  • Using your card responsibly can help you build a good credit score.

How to Get a Student Credit Card in 6 Steps

Getting a student credit card is easier than you may think. You can usually apply online and be approved (or not) within minutes. 

To make sure the application process goes as smoothly as possible, follow these steps: 

1. Check Your Credit Report

Before applying for a credit card, make sure to review your credit reports for accuracy. If there is incorrect information, especially anything that puts you in a bad light, that can make it difficult to qualify for a credit card. The information in your credit reports is also used to calculate your credit score.

There's no need to pay for a credit report. You can view your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you do discover an error, you should dispute it with that credit bureau. You can find instructions for how to do that on each of the bureau's websites.

2. Compare Student Credit Cards

There are many different student credit cards on the market. When comparing your various options, pay particular attention to these details: 

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR). The APR on student cards can be quite high. If you carry a balance from month to month, the APR will affect how much interest you have to pay and how your debt grows over time. 
  • Fees. Some cards charge annual fees, setup fees, or monthly maintenance fees. There are many cards today without these fees, so search around to avoid wasting money.
  • Rewards. Some student credit cards allow you to earn rewards on certain purchases, such as gas or groceries. Depending on the card you choose, you could earn cash back, airline miles, or points you can redeem for gift cards or merchandise. If you're interested in rewards, look for a card with a rewards program that aligns with your spending habits.

3. Review the Issuer's Eligibility Requirements

Student credit card eligibility requirements can vary from issuer to issuer. But in general, you'll have to meet the following requirements: 

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must be currently enrolled in college
  • You must have a source of income or a co-signer
  • You must have a Social Security number

4. Collect Documentation

Depending on the card issuer, you may have to provide proof of income and college enrollment. To save time, collect documentation in advance. That could include your W-2 tax forms, a recent pay stub, and your college acceptance letter or transcripts. The issuer may not require you to submit the actual documents, but you can use that paperwork to fill out the application. 

5. Ask a Parent or Relative to Co-Sign Your Application, if Needed

If you are under 21 and without sufficient income of your own, you'll need someone who has a reliable income and good credit to co-sign your credit card application. A co-signer can be a parent, relative, or even a close friend, as long as the person is over 21.

Before asking someone to co-sign an application, be aware that the co-signer is responsible for making payments on your card if you fall behind, so it's not a responsibility they (or you) should take lightly. 

6. Submit Your Application

You can usually complete a student credit card application online. Once you submit it, you'll typically receive a decision within a few minutes. If your application needs further review, it can take longer to process, but if you're approved, you will find out quickly and your card will be mailed to you. 

If the card issuer rejects your application, it will send you a letter explaining why you were denied. This is formally known as an adverse action notice, and while it may be disappointing to receive, it can also point you toward what you need to do before applying next time.

A debit card from a bank or credit union can also be convenient to have in your wallet, but it won't help you build a credit history. Debit cards don't report your transactions to the credit bureaus because no credit is involved.

How to Improve Your Odds of Qualifying for a Student Credit Card

Here are some things you can do to increase your chances of being approved for a card:

  • Get a part-time job. While juggling classes and work can be difficult, having a source of your own income will make you a more attractive applicant. Even a part-time job where you work just a few hours a week can help. 
  • Make all of your payments on time. If you're responsible for paying any bills, set reminders or sign up for automatic bill payment so you never miss their due dates. Your payment history plays a big role in determining your credit score. 
  • Ask a relative to add you as an authorized user. If you have a parent or relative with good credit and an active credit card, ask them to add you as an authorized user. Even if you're not given a card to use, being added to their account will let you piggyback onto their credit history, building your credit. 

Once you get your student credit card, remember to practice good credit habits. That means making payments by the due date—ideally paying the balance in full each month—and keeping your outstanding balances low. By doing that, you can build your credit and have a solid credit score already established by the time you leave college.