With most student credit cards, you need to provide proof of enrollment to apply.
Do You Have to Be a Student to Get a Student Credit Card?
You might qualify to get a student credit card if you’re over 18 years old and are currently enrolled in college. If you are below 21 years of age, you need to show that you have adequate independent income to repay the debt you might incur. Alternatively, you can get a student credit card with a cosigner.
Since student credit card issuers provide cards to individuals with little to no credit history, such cards tend to come with lower credit limits than regular credit cards. In most cases, they come with higher interest rates as well.
Upon receiving your card, you can use it to meet short-term requirements for extra money as well as to build your credit history. If you’re unable to qualify for a student credit card, you may want to consider getting a secured credit card or an alternative credit card.
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You need to show proof of enrollment to qualify for most student credit cards.
You must meet additional eligibility requirements if you're between 18 and 21 years old.
Students under 18 can become authorized users on their parents' credit cards.
Qualifications for a Student Credit Card
Credit card requirements for students are not the same as those for adults. You may qualify for a student credit card if you meet these conditions:
- You are at least 18 years of age.
- You are a citizen or a resident of the U.S.
- You have a Social Security number. (There are exceptions to this requirement.)
- If you are under 21 years old, you need to show that you earn enough independent income to meet the card provider’s income requirement.
- You are currently enrolled in a college. (There are exceptions to this requirement.)
If you already have a good credit score because you’ve made your rent, bill and student loan payments on time, it increases the chances of approval.
Do You Have to Be Enrolled in College to Get a Student Credit Card?
Most student credit cards require applicants to be enrolled in educational institutions when they submit their applications. However, not all credit card providers follow the same guidelines with regard to enrollment. Depending on the card issuer, you may qualify if you are currently enrolled as a full-time or part-time student in a university, a community college, a graduate school, a trade school, a vocational school, a postsecondary educational institution or an accredited online college.
Credit Card Options for High Schoolers
According to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, students below 18 years of age cannot apply for credit cards. That leaves only a small percentage of high school students who might qualify on account of age. However, minors can become authorized users on their family members' credit cards. While some credit card providers have no minimum age requirements for authorized users, others do. As a minor, you may apply for a checking account and get a debit card as a joint owner with a parent or a guardian.
Credit Card Options for College Students
Once you turn 18, you can open a checking account and get a debit card in your own name. You may also want to consider getting a student credit card if you meet the income requirements or apply with an adult cosigner. If you cannot qualify for a student credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card. However, becoming an authorized user brings with it the risk of damage to your credit score if the primary cardholder does not manage their credit well.
Credit Card Options for Online Students
Depending on the college or university you’re pursuing your studies with online, you may or may not qualify to get a student credit card. As a result, you might want to clarify this with the provider of the student credit card you’re interested in before applying. If you’re unable to get a student credit card, you might still qualify for a secured credit card. You may also want to consider opening a checking account and getting a debit card.
Credit Card Options for Graduate Students
Given that most graduate students are over 21 years of age, they typically have multiple student credit card alternatives to choose from. These include cards that let you earn rewards as well as cards with no annual or foreign transaction fees. If you’re unable to qualify for a student credit card, getting a secured credit card remains an option.
Most student credit cards require proof of enrollment. One exception is the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One. During the application process, it asks you whether you’re a student or not. Options under employment status include student, employed, self-employed, retired and unemployed.
What Happens If You Lose Student Status?
Once you get a student credit card, you don’t need to stay enrolled in college to keep using the card. No matter whether you graduate or drop out, you may keep using your card as before. As long as you keep making at least your minimum monthly payments on time, your card will keep working.
You also have the option of informing your credit card provider about your change in enrollment status. In this case, your card provider might choose to reclassify your card or offer you an upgrade. From the creditworthiness point of view, it's best that you don’t cancel your student credit card after graduating.
Can You Get a Student Credit Card in High School?
Given that only those over 18 years of age may apply for credit cards, only a handful of high school students stand to make the cut. Even if you do, you’ll either need a cosigner or proof of adequate income.
One way a high school student can start building a credit history is by becoming an authorized user on a family member’s card. If the cardholder manages debt well, you can expect it to have a positive effect on your credit history. However, the reverse also holds true.
Getting a part-time job can work well for the future. This is because when you apply for a credit card later in life, your income and employment history might hold you in good stead.
Not in School But Looking for a First Credit Card?
If you’re not in school or college and are looking for your first credit card, the alternatives you get to choose from depend on your age, your income and your creditworthiness. If you are between 18 to 21 years of age, you will need to show that you have adequate independent income or get a cosigner.
If you have fair credit, some of your alternatives include the Capital One QuicksilverOne Rewards Card, the Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa Card, the Indigo Platinum Mastercard and the Petal 2 Credit Card.
If you do not qualify for a regular credit card, you may want to consider getting a secured card. Some of your options include the Citi Secured Mastercard, the Merrick Bank Double Your Line Secured Visa Card and the Secured Mastercard from Capital One.
Once you get your card, you can start using it to build your credit by ensuring that you make all your payments on time. It is also important that you do not use more than 30% of your available credit limit. If you do, you can expect it to negatively affect your credit score.
"If you are currently a college student, do not wait on building your credit score. If you do not have an established credit score when you graduate, it can hold you back from several opportunities, including being approved for an apartment, car loan or even a mortgage." — Brett Holzhauer, Credit Card Journalist
Other Questions You May Have About Student Credit Cards
This section provides answers to other commonly asked questions about eligibility criteria for student credit cards and how these cards work.
Even if you meet the eligibility criteria of getting a student credit card, consider applying for one only if you think you will be responsible with your finances. If you do, then look for a card based on factors such as interest rates, fees, rewards and additional benefits. If you’re unsure about how credit cards work or your rights as a credit card holder, learn more before proceeding with your application.
Compare & Review Credit Cards
Credit card experts at MoneyGeek scrutinize students’ spending trends across the U.S. using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They have also looked at 80 student credit cards closely with the aim of guiding our young readers in the right direction.
Learn More About Student Credit Cards
The MoneyGeek editorial team remains up-to-date with news, trends, offers and all other information related to credit cards. The team then relies on its expertise to answer any questions our readers may have about credit cards accurately and quickly.
About the Author
- Federal Trade Commission. "Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (Credit CARD Act)." Accessed September 2, 2021.
- Experian. "When Should My Child Get a Credit Card?." Accessed September 2, 2021.
- Southeastern Louisiana University. "Undergraduate & Graduate Students by Age and Gender." Accessed September 2, 2021.
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