The Best Credit Cards for Students (and Why Students Need One)

Establishing credit while in school can help you create the money habits you need for future financial security.
11/8/19 | By Ashley Chorpenning
girl with a student credit card

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Do you dream about buying your first home or finding your dream job? If so, having a good credit score increases your chances of achieving these goals. A good credit score not only could help you qualify for a loan and land a job, but it can also help you save money and qualify for the best interest rates.

Building credit at an early age can help ease the financial transition from the life of a student into an adult lifestyle. Your credit plays a big role in your financial health and well-being — and credit cards can play a key role in helping you build that credit.

So, if you’re a student and want to start building credit, here are the important things to know, as well as our picks for the best student credit cards.

Why it’s important to build credit as a student

Having good credit can impact several areas of your life, including your employment status (some employers will check your credit score); the price you pay for services, such as your phone bill; your likelihood to be approved for a mortgage; and more.

Here are a few things having a great credit score can help you accomplish:

  • Rental approval
  • Lower utility bill costs
  • Loan approvals
  • Lower interest rates
  • Lower insurance premium payment amounts
  • Credit card approval
  • Career advancement

While it’s tempting to wait until after college to start building credit, you may want to begin as soon as possible. Length of credit history is an important factor in your credit score. Length of credit history takes into account how long you've had credit and the average age of all your accounts. Establishing a credit history early can help you ace this part of your credit score.

Opening your first credit card as a student is a great way to establish your credit early, as long as you can commit to making your monthly payments on time and in full. (Payment history is another important factor in your credit score.) Credit card companies know that many students want to work toward financial security, so many of them offer credit cards tailored to those students.

Can a student apply for a credit card?

The short answer is yes. There are plenty of credit card options geared toward students’ needs. These student credit cards can be great financial tools to help young adults build their credit history. Some even come with financial education tools and resources that aid in the development of positive financial habits. Some cards also come with rewards programs, good-grade incentives, protection options, and other perks customized for students.

But, since many students are just beginning their credit journey, each card may have its own set of qualifications in order to apply. These can include age restrictions, proof of income, or a cosigner requirement. Additionally, some credit card companies may require all applicants to be enrolled in a qualifying higher education institution, while others may not have such strict conditions.

Here are our top picks for student credit cards

Card Annual Fee Rewards Program Other Key Benefits
Discover it Student Cash Back $0 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases Good for someone who loves the flexibility of different reward options every quarter
Discover it Chrome for Students $0 Rewards for gas stations and restaurants Good for students with good grades and who enjoy road trips
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® $0 Earn 1% cash back on all purchases and 1.25% cash back each month you make an on-time monthly payment Good for responsible students who can capitalize on the rewards increase for paying their payments on time
Citi Rewards+ Student Card $0 2X points on supermarkets and gas stations for first $6,000 in purchases each year, and 1X points on all other purchases Good for students who commute to class and grocery shop every week
Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card $0 Rewards for drugstore, gas, and grocery purchases Good for loyal Wells Fargo customers

How to compare student credit cards

Comparing credit cards is a bit of a challenge. With all of the options available, how do you find a suitable credit card for your needs? We’ve broken down some of the important factors to consider when deciding which card is right for you.

Annual fee

Some credit cards come with an annual fee. Credit cards typically charge this fee in exchange for extra rewards and perks or because the borrower has bad credit. This fee is added to your bill and may gather interest if it isn’t paid in full each month. While many credit card annual fees are under $100, some can range higher.

If you’re considering a card with a fee, decide if the extra benefits outweigh the costs. Or, if you have poor credit and can’t get approved for another card, the fee may be worth it in order to build credit.

Reports to all 3 credit bureaus

There are three primary credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — that store and gather your financial data. Lenders use this information to determine if they’re willing to lend you money for a house or car — or for you to open a credit account.

Almost all major credit cards report to all three bureaus on at least a monthly basis. Still, it's a good idea to check your credit score regularly to make sure your card and payments are being reported correctly. Since the purpose of a student credit card is to establish and build credit, you want to ensure your good credit history is properly documented. You can easily check your credit score for free through a service like Credit Karma.

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®


  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Boost cash back to 1.25% with on-time payments
  • No annual fee
  • CreditWise from Capital One for credit monitoring
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