Best Student Credit Cards of 2021

Student credit cards are an excellent tool to help build your credit and earn rewards while enrolled in school. But which is the best? We’ve narrowed the choices down for you to find the best student credit cards out there.

A first-time credit card can be an intimidating commitment for some and, more so, a difficult one to navigate and understand. With a long list of options, finding the student credit card that best works for your needs and spending habits can be challenging. When analyzing starter credit cards for students, there are a few key benefits and elements to keep in mind.

First, a credit card is an excellent way to build your credit history. By using a credit card, you can demonstrate an ability to manage credit responsibly. Over time, that history — expressed through your credit score — will help prove to potential lenders that you are capable of repaying your loans. And you’ll have an easier time qualifying for things like a car loan or an apartment. Even your future employer may decide to check your credit history. Some card issuers offer several benefits that you may qualify for as a student, including lower interest rates and extra perks for earning good grades!

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MoneyGeek Quick Tip: Before applying for a student credit card, it’s important to analyze your level of financial responsibility. If you understand the principles behind credit cards and know the risks and rewards of utilizing credit, then an unsecured student credit card may be a good fit for you. If you struggle to control your spending, a prepaid debit card or secured credit card may be a better solution.

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MoneyGeek’s Take: Top Credit Cards for College-Aged Students & Adults

College-aged students interested in learning how to use credit responsibly and building their credit history may find it useful to have a credit card in their wallets. That way, even everyday purchases, like textbooks and meals out with friends, can help set them up for their future success. To help find the card that best fits your needs, we evaluated about 21 different student credit cards and analyzed their offers and benefits. From these cards, we selected a handful of the best starter cards for students and young adults.

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BEST FIRST CREDIT CARDS FOR STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS
  • Capital One’s Journey Student Rewards card is our top credit card pick because of its flat 1% cash back rate and excellent features that cater to currently enrolled students.
  • The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students will earn you 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases, and cardholders receive one year of Amazon Prime Student after spending $500 in the first three billing cycles with your EDU card.
  • The Chase Freedom Student card offers a solid 1% cash back on all purchases. Whether you’re purchasing textbooks or grabbing a quick dinner on campus with friends, every dollar you spend will earn the same cash back rate.
  • The Destiny Unsecured Mastercard has a relatively low credit limit of $300. But the issuer will report your payment history to all three credit bureaus each month, which makes it great for young adults who are just starting to build their credit.
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MONEYGEEK QUICK TIP:

If you are a young adult not currently enrolled in school, a secured credit card could be a good option. These can equally help build your credit score while giving you purchasing flexibility.

Best Student Credit Card Offers for December 2021

Every month, we evaluate and analyze the best student credit card offers. Many credit cards offer introductory offers as an incentive to get new customers. These offers are a great way to benefit from a new credit card product in your wallet. The introductory offers can range from matched cash back to travel rewards.

The best student credit cards combine valuable introductory offers and benefits that extend throughout card membership so that students can benefit throughout college from each card.

Best First Credit Cards for Students and Young Adults

The top starter credit cards for active students are based on a few factors: low fees, offers to earn cash back and incentives to pay on time. These factors are a great way to encourage responsible credit use and keep fees and interest to a minimum.


  • creditApproved icon

    FEATURED

    Chase Freedom Student
    A solid card with rewards students are sure to appreciate

    • Fair-GoodCredit Needed
    • 1% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 14.99%Reg APR

  • Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students
    Outstanding student credit card with cash back opportunities and Amazon Prime benefits

    • No Credit HistoryCredit Needed
    • 1% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 18.74%Reg APR

  • Capital One Journey Student Rewards
    Best student credit card with up to 1.25% cash back

    • Limited-AverageCredit Needed
    • 1.25% Cash BackRewards Rate
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 26.99%Reg APR

  • Destiny Unsecured Mastercard
    A solid no-frills credit card with opportunities to repair or build credit

    • Poor-FairCredit Needed
    • NoneRewards Rate
    • $59-99Annual Fee
    • 24.90%Reg APR

How We Rank Student Cards

Our lists of the best credit cards are based on publicly available data from card issuers and other reputable sources like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. We review each card's fees, interest rates, rewards, benefits and more to assign a rating for each feature. These ratings are stack ranked and weighted for each card category to determine our top selections for each type of user. Learn more about our data collection and ranking process.

Top Ranking Criteria for Student Credit Cards

lowInterestAPR
Regular APR
noFee
Total Fees
rewards
Rewards & Benefits

Quick Tips for Comparing Student Credit Card Offers

Comparing credit cards can be a daunting task, but it is important to keep these questions in mind when examining credit card products:

1

How likely is it that you will be approved for the card based on your credit score?

2

What benefits does each card offer (i.e., cash back, travel rewards, etc.)?

3

Do the card(s) you are looking at offer features that are important to you, such as cell phone insurance or travel coverage?

4

What fees does each card have (i.e., annual fee, foreign transaction fee, APR)?

Once you have a list of each card’s features and fees, find out what information is needed to apply for each card. It will likely include the applicant’s name, address, phone number, email, Social Security number, proof of income and college/university information.

>> MORE: Can You Get a Student Credit Card With No Income?

 

When comparing offers, the best rule of thumb is to always keep in mind your needs and wants and then select the card that best matches those needs.

Student Credit Cards Compared

Quickly compare the top credit cards for students in the table below.

Scroll for more

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  • Card Name
    Rewards Rate
    Annual Fee
    Reg APR
  • Chase Freedom Student
    1%
    $0
    14.99%
  • Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students
    1%
    $0
    18.74%
  • Capital One Journey Student Rewards
    1.25%
    $0
    26.99%
  • Destiny Unsecured Mastercard
    None
    $59-$99
    24.90%

What Parents & Students Should Know When Applying for a Credit Card

When first applying for a credit card, there are several factors to take into consideration. A credit card, despite what many financial pundits say, is a financial tool. However, that tool can be used properly or abused.

≫ More: How Do Student Credit Cards Work?

Pros & Cons of Student Credit Cards

So the first thing parents and students should understand is the pros and cons of using a credit card.

Pros & Cons of Student Cards

Pros

  • Earn rewards on purchases
  • Build credit history
  • Learn financial responsibility
  • Spending flexibility
  • Access to credit card benefits, such as travel insurance

Cons

  • Some can lose control of spending
  • High interest rates for consumers who have revolving balances
  • Improper use could lead to mounting credit card debt
  • Has the potential to harm your credit score significantly

How to Find & Apply for A First-Time Credit Card

Once you fully understand the pros and cons of having a credit card in college, you can begin the next steps of analyzing your spending habits and researching the different card options to find the best student credit card for you.

1

Analyze Spending Habits & Responsibility

While in college, your income may be limited, and having a student credit card may tempt you to spend beyond your means. Before applying for a student credit card, it’s important to analyze your level of financial responsibility. If you understand the principles behind credit cards and know the risks and rewards of utilizing credit, then a student credit card may be a good fit for you. If you struggle to control your spending, a prepaid debit card or secured credit card may be a better solution.

2

Gather Personal Information

After that, the next step is to gather basic personal information. A student will need their address, Social Security number, income, employer information (if applicable), and school information to apply for a credit card. Depending on the credit card issuer, you may only need some of this info.

3

Compare Different Offers & Card Options

Then begin analyzing the different student credit cards available. It is important to not simply apply for the first one you find as each card will offer different benefits, rewards, features, APR and bonuses (if applicable). So take the time to read through a few cards to find one that best fits your spending habits and offers the best benefits for your needs.

4

Find the Right Card & Apply

Once you have selected a card that fits your needs, go ahead and start the application process. A student credit card application process should take no longer than 10 minutes. Once you hit apply, the credit card issuer will review your application, check your credit score using your Social Security number, and will likely give you a decision within 30 seconds of applying.

What to Do if You’re Declined for A Student Card

If you have been approved, congratulations! Your card will be sent to you in the mail, and you should receive it within a few days. If you were declined, don’t fret. There are a few steps you can take from here.

1

Call or Submit Reconsideration Request

In some cases, if this is your very first credit application and you have no credit history at all, the card issuer may need to verify your identity and other information before they can approve you.

To do this, search for “______ (insert card issuers name) reconsideration line.” You will likely find a phone number you can call to speak with customer service about your application.

2

Apply for a Different Card or Get a Secured Card

If this method still does not work, you can always try applying to a different credit card issuer or start building your credit through a secured credit card.

3

Become an Authorized User

Another option is simply to have a parent add you as an authorized user on their credit card. However, they are ultimately responsible for your purchases, so if they are open to the idea, be sure to speak with them about a payment plan to repay them for your purchases.

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HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?

As for parents, there are several things you can do in regards to a decision about a student credit card.

  • You can decide to cosign onto the student credit card. However, know that you will be held financially responsible if your child does not pay the bill.
  • If you currently have a credit card of your own, consider adding them as an authorized user, even if you don’t plan on giving them access to the card. It will help build their credit history and bring their credit score up over time.

Benefits to Establishing Credit Early On

Focusing on school and your academic performance is incredibly important, but considering your life post-college is just as important. And while a student credit card may seem like a small task, starting with baby steps such as this can open up financial doors in the future. Keep in mind that there are also immediate benefits to having a student credit card.

Immediate Benefits of Having a Student Card

cashCard

Spending flexibility: Unlike a debit card that immediately pulls money out of your checking account, a credit card statement is not due for several weeks after the purchase, thus giving you spending flexibility when needed.

rewards

Rewards potential and other perks: Depending on the type of credit card you choose, you can earn valuable rewards, like cash back or travel rewards, for your purchases while building or improving your credit score at the same time.

Everyone must start somewhere, and building your credit is a financial milestone that will help open doors for students after graduation.

>> MORE: What Happens to a Student Credit Card After Graduation?
Long-term Benefits of a Student Credit Card

bigHouseRent

Better buying or leveraging power: Paying bills on time and managing your student credit card responsibly can eventually set you up for success post-college because it is the core component that financial institutions refer to when you are applying for things such as a mortgage, car loan, leasing an apartment and refinancing your student loans.

unemployment

Better employment opportunities: This does not mean a great credit score will land you a great job, but a bad credit score can impact employment opportunities for some companies. Depending on the job, an employer may check your credit score during the application process.

Common Questions Students Have About Credit Cards

Starting the journey down the line of credit cards can be intimidating and tricky, but it can be done. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about student credit cards to hopefully help answer any remaining questions you may have about student credit cards.

How Parents Can Help Their Student Better Understand & Manage Credit

Parents have an excellent opportunity to teach their children about the importance of credit and how to use and manage the credit allotted to them properly. While getting approved for a credit card for the first time can be exciting to a young adult, it can also quickly turn into a financial disaster if misused or mismanaged. So you’ll want to make sure to have several discussions with them on how credit works beforehand.

1

Share Personal Experience & Importance of Credit

Go over the importance of credit and how properly managing their credit score can give them the financial foundation to have more financial choices rather than less. In addition, reflecting on your own experiences with credit cards may give great insights that your child can use.

2

Discuss Budgets & Implications of Poor Money Management

Talk to them about managing credit, including what cosigning means, budgeting tips and responsible spending habits. Without these insights, it could leave them vulnerable to making crucial mistakes with their credit.

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TIP FOR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS

Keep in mind as the parent or guardian, if you decide to become a cosigner, that there are risks.

  • The largest risk is that if the person who is the primary cardholder is unable to pay their statement, the cosigner is equally responsible for paying the balance.
  • And if the primary cardholder were to default, debt collection agencies can contact you and place an unfavorable mark on your credit report.

Common Questions Parents Have About Student Credit Cards

While we have provided extensive information about student credit cards, it’s natural to have many questions. Here are some of the most common.

Student credit cards are great tools for your everyday spending while you are enrolled in school. It allows you payment flexibility, the ability to earn cash back rewards and build your credit score early into adulthood. However, make sure not to spend more than you can afford, as the interest penalties can quickly grow.

But if you can manage your spending responsibly and avoid interest charges, the benefits of using a student credit card can be outstanding.

Tips From the Pros: Finding & Using the Right Student Card

To help you make wise decisions about student credit cards, MoneyGeek consulted with professionals and subject matter experts with a wide range of backgrounds. All views expressed are those of the contributor.

  1. Many students are not educated on credit card use, managing spending and debt. What tips do you have for new credit card holders or parents looking to teach their students how to properly use a credit card?
  2. International or immigrant students and DACA recipients may face barriers when applying for a credit card in the U.S. What should they expect when applying for a student credit card and what can they do to increase their chances of approval?
  3. What are the most important factors a student should consider when comparing credit cards?
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About the Author


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Brett Holzhauer is a personal finance reporter that has written for several leading publications and mentioned in many others such as Forbes Advisor, Lending Tree, CNBC and ValuePenguin. An alum of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State, when he is not reporting, Brett is likely scuba diving, golfing or watching college football. He tweets regularly at @brett_holzhauer.


*Rates or fees may vary or include specific stipulations. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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