Student Credit Cards vs. Regular: What’s the Difference?

There are a few differences between student credit cards and regular cards, particularly when it comes to eligibility criteria, rewards, APRs and more.

Student credit cards are geared toward students. They typically come with less stringent eligibility requirements surrounding creditworthiness and income when compared to regular cards. As long as you qualify for either of the two and use the card properly, both give you the ability to build credit. Choosing between the two might boil down to whether or not you qualify for a regular card.

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MoneyGeek’s Takeaways

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You have a better chance of qualifying for a student credit card if you have limited to no credit history.

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In general, regular credit cards tend to offer higher rewards/cash back than student credit cards.

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You can use a student or a regular credit card to improve your credit score, provided you’re responsible with your finances.

What’s the Difference Between a Student and a Regular Credit Card?

One key difference between student credit cards and normal cards is that the former are usually made available only for students and require proof of enrollment during the application process. Since card issuers provide such cards to students with little to no credit histories, these cards tend to come with higher interest rates than regular cards. Check the corresponding table to look at more differences between the two.

Student Credit Cards
Regular Credit Cards

Credit Levels Accepted

Limited, new to credit

Fair, good, excellent

Reports to Credit Bureaus

Yes

Yes

Made Available for

Students

Anyone over 18 years of age

Annual Fees

Most charge no annual fees

Plenty of no-fee alternatives; premium cards may charge upward of $500 per year

Added Benefits

Most offer cash back/rewards

High reward earn rates on specific categories, complimentary insurance coverage, airport lounge access, extended warranty, purchase protection and more

Before deciding if you should get a student credit card or regular credit card, take a look at the pros and cons of both.

Student Credit Cards

Pros

  • Most come with no annual fees.
  • They can give you the means to build a positive credit history (when used properly)
  • You can apply with average credit or no credit history.

Cons

  • Most offer low cash back earn rates.
  • They are generally only for students.
  • You might need some credit history to apply.
  • They often have lower credit limits and higher interest rates than most regular cards.
Regular Credit Cards

Pros

  • You may apply if you’re over 18 years of age.
  • You have multiple cards to choose from, such as travel cards, cash back cards and balance transfer cards.
  • They often have higher credit limits than student credit cards.
  • They tend to offer reward/cash back earn rates than student cards.
  • They let you build credit (when used properly).

Cons

  • Most require that you have good to excellent credit to apply.
  • Premium benefits typically come at a cost in the form of an annual fee.
  • Must have an adequate source of income to qualify.

Is a Student Credit Card the Same as a Credit Card?

The student credit cards vs. regular cards comparison hangs in the balance when it comes to basic eligibility criteria. You need to be over 18 years of age to apply for both, and you need to meet a card issuer’s income requirements. If you’re below 21 years of age, you need to show that you earn adequate independent income, in the absence of which you’ll need a cosigner.

How student credit cards work when it comes to building credit is the same as regular credit cards. Your card issuer typically reports your payment history to the country’s top three credit bureaus, and this has a direct impact on your credit score. This is why you need to make at least your minimum monthly payments on time. However, it’s best to pay off your balances in full each month, failing which you’ll be burdened with interest charges.

No matter which of the two types of cards you use, building your credit also requires that you keep your credit utilization ratio low. This refers to the amount of credit you’ve used from your total available credit and should ideally be 30% or lower. If you have two credit cards with a combined credit limit of $2,000 and have used $1,000, your credit utilization ratio is 50%.

What Is a Drawback of a Student Credit Card?

The overall result of student credit card vs. regular credit card comparison tilts in favor of the latter for several reasons. For starters, since lenders assign higher levels of risk to borrowers with little to no credit history — which, in this case, is students — student cards tend to come with lower credit limits and higher annual percentage rates (APRs) than regular cards. In addition, you stand to earn higher cash back/rewards through regular credit cards.

Another drawback is that most student credit cards are made available only to students who can provide proof of enrollment in eligible educational institutions. If you don’t meet this requirement and fail to qualify for a regular credit card, you may want to consider looking at what secured cards have to offer.

Depending on the student card you’re after, you might require some credit history. For example, the Chase Freedom Student Card requires that applicants have at least average credit. On the other hand, you may consider applying for the Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students with no credit history at all.

Can You Get a Normal Credit Card as a Student?

According to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, you may apply for a student or a normal credit card if you are over 18 years of age and meet its eligibility criteria. The act requires that those under 21 years of age earn enough independent income to meet their debt-related obligations, and if this is not the case, they need to get cosigners. If you’re over 21 years of age, you may include income from different sources, such as money you regularly receive from your parents or part of your partner’s earnings to which you have access.

While you may get a student credit card with average credit or no credit history at all, this is not the case with most normal credit cards because they typically require good to excellent credit. Regular credit cards also tend to come with higher minimum income requirements than student cards.

Should You Get a Student Credit Card or Regular Credit Card?

If you have limited or no credit history and not much in the form of income, you stand a better chance of qualifying for a student credit card. However, if you already have good creditworthiness, you might benefit more by getting a regular credit card that offers high category-based cash back or rewards.

Some regular credit cards for average credit also offer high category-based rewards. For instance, you may apply for the Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa Card with fair credit and earn up to 5% cash back on category-based spending. The Capital One QuicksilverOne Rewards Card for fair credit, on the other hand, offers flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. However, unlike most student credit cards, both these cards come with annual fees.

Looking at the student vs. secured credit cards comparison makes sense if you’re unable to qualify for the former. Secured cards require that you pay a security deposit, and the same functions as your credit limit.

Other than the security deposit, secured cards function quite like regular credit cards. Your card issuer assigns a credit limit to your card, and you need to make at least minimum monthly payments toward the purchases you make using your card. When you roll balances over from one billing cycle to the next, you need to pay interest charges. Issuers of such cards help you build credit by reporting your payments to one or more credit bureaus.

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RANKING METHODOLOGY

Getting a regular no-annual-fee credit card with high rewards, provided you qualify for one, might work better than opting for a student credit card. We’ve relied on our unique ranking methodology to analyze over 1,600 regular credit cards and more than 80 student credit cards so that you can find an alternative that works well for you with ease.

MoneyGeek Quick Tip

"If you can qualify for a regular credit card, you'll earn higher rewards and receive a larger credit limit. For those just beginning, start with a student credit card, then switch to a regular card once you're eligible." — Lee Huffman, credit card expert at BaldThoughts.com.

Other Questions You May Have About Student Credit Cards

This section provides answers to other commonly asked questions about the regular credit card vs. student credit card comparison.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve gone through this student credit card vs. regular card comparison, make a selection based on your creditworthiness and income. When narrowing down on a card that works best for you, pay attention to aspects such as rewards, APR, fees and additional perks. No matter which type of credit card you get, use it responsibly to build a positive credit history.

Compare & Review Credit Cards

Experts at MoneyGeek monitor and analyze American students’ spending trends using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They’ve also gone through current offers, fees and APRs of over 80 student credit cards to simplify the decision-making process for our readers.

Learn More About Student Credit Cards

The MoneyGeek editorial team focuses on ongoing research surrounding credit card trends and offers so it can answer all our readers’ questions quickly and efficiently. You can seek answers from our experts no matter whether you wish to learn about how credit cards work, how to reduce debt or how to protect yourself from credit card fraud.

About the Author


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Rajiv Baniwal has been writing about different financial topics for over 15 years. Meticulous in his research, he makes sure he provides accurate and up-to-date information. His areas of expertise include mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, insurance and international money transfers.


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*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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