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One key difference between student credit cards and normal cards is that the former are usually made available only for students. During the application process, students need to provide proof of enrollment. 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. Choosing between the two might boil down to whether or not you qualify for a regular card. No matter which card you choose and qualify for, as long as you use the card properly, you can build your credit.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • You have a better chance of qualifying for a student credit card if you have limited to no credit history.
  • In general, regular credit cards tend to offer higher rewards/cash back than student credit cards.
  • 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?

A student credit card is designed for students enrolled in accredited educational institutions. It's aimed at providing students with an initial introduction to credit and credit building. These cards acknowledge the unique financial situations of students, often featuring terms and conditions tailored to individuals with limited or no credit history.

On the other hand, a regular credit card, sometimes termed a "standard" credit card, is a general-purpose credit card available to the broader public. Unlike student credit cards, they aren't limited by the demographic of the cardholder. Regular credit cards come in various forms and offer diverse benefits and features. You typically need an established credit history or some form of credit background to be eligible.

The table below shows an overview of the key differences between a student credit card and a regular/general credit card:

Student Credit Cards
Regular Credit Cards

Card Eligibility

- Proof of Enrollment required - Age: Typically 18 years - Accepts limited or no credit history - Proof of limited income may be required - May accept ITIN or other IDs instead of SSN - Co-signer option available

- Emphasis on credit history - Age: Typically 18 years - Requires proof of stable income - SSN usually mandatory - Co-signer not common

Credit Card Limit

- Typically lower initial limits - Potential for automatic credit limit increases with responsible use

- Limits vary based on creditworthiness - Can offer very high limits, especially for premium cards

Features and Benefits

- Common educational resources - May offer rewards for good grades - Typically low or no annual fees - Tailored rewards like dining and bookstores - Common introductory offers

- Diverse rewards like travel and cash back - Sign-up bonuses - Extended perks and premium services - Variable annual fees

Interest Rates and Fees

- Potentially higher APR due to limited credit - Introductory APR offers often available - Waived or reduced first-time late fees - Typically no annual fees

- APR varies based on creditworthiness - Various annual fees based on card perks - Standard fees for balance transfers, cash advances and foreign transactions

Building Credit

- Primary tool for many young adults - Regular reporting to credit bureaus - Forgiving of initial errors - Emphasis on credit education

- Assists those with established credit - Regular credit bureau reporting - Higher credit limits can help with credit utilization - Potential for stricter penalties

Credit Card Eligibility

Eligibility requirements differ between student and general credit cards due to their target demographic and intended purposes. Here's a breakdown of the primary differences:

Eligibility Requirements for Student Credit Cards

  • Proof of Enrollment: Issuers usually require verification that the applicant is currently enrolled in an accredited college or university. Proof of Enrollment can be in the form of a student ID, enrollment letter or other documents from the college or university.
  • Age: You must typically be at least 18 years old.
  • Limited or No Credit History: Student credit cards are tailored for those who haven't had the opportunity to build a significant credit history. Having limited or even no prior credit is generally acceptable.
  • Income Source: Some card issuers may ask for proof of some form of income, but they understand it might not be substantial. The income could be from a part-time job, internship or allowance.
  • U.S. Social Security Number (SSN): Some issuers may require an SSN for international students, while others might be more lenient and accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or other forms of identification.
  • Co-Signer Option: Because students might not have a substantial credit history or income, some issuers allow for a co-signer on the application. A co-signer, typically a parent or guardian, shares responsibility for the debt, making issuers more comfortable extending credit.

Eligibility Requirements for General (Regular) Credit Cards

  • Credit History: One of the primary determinants for eligibility is the applicant's credit history. Issuers want to see how an individual has managed debt in the past. Issuers prefer those with good to excellent credit scores, though there are cards tailored for those with poor or no credit.
  • Stable Income: Issuers usually require proof of a stable income to ensure the applicant can handle the credit line and make timely payments. This is a more stringent requirement compared to student cards.
  • Age: As with student cards, applicants must generally be at least 18 years old.
  • U.S. Social Security Number (SSN): A valid SSN is almost always required.
  • Other Factors: Issuers may consider other factors such as existing debts, monthly housing obligations (like rent or mortgage payments) and overall financial stability.

Credit Card Limit

When comparing credit limits for student credit cards and general credit cards, here are the primary differences:

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CREDIT LIMIT FOR STUDENT CREDIT CARDS
  • Lower Initial Limits: Given that many students are new to credit or have limited credit histories, credit card companies tend to be more conservative with their initial credit limits on student cards. This is to manage risk, as students often lack a proven track record of managing debt responsibly.
  • Incremental Increases Over Time: Some student credit card issuers may offer automatic credit limit increases after a period of responsible use, like several months of on-time payments.
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CREDIT LIMIT FOR GENERAL (REGULAR) CREDIT CARDS
  • Varied Based on Creditworthiness: The initial credit limits for general credit cards can vary widely based on the applicant's credit score, income and overall creditworthiness. Those with higher incomes and better credit scores typically receive higher credit limits.
  • Potential for High Limits: Premium and certain rewards cards, which target individuals with excellent credit, can come with significantly higher credit limits than student cards. However, cards designed for those with lower credit scores might offer lower initial limits, similar to student cards.

Features and Benefits

The features and benefits of credit cards can be a distinguishing factor in consumers' choices. While both types of cards offer valuable features and benefits, student credit cards are tailored to students' specific needs and lifestyles, emphasizing financial education and affordability. On the other hand, general credit cards present a broader spectrum of rewards and perks, often aligning with the wider adult population's diverse financial habits and goals.

Features and Benefits of Student Credit Cards

  • Educational Resources: Many student credit cards come with tools and resources to educate the cardholder about credit, such as managing credit responsibly, paying on time and understanding credit scores.
  • Rewards for Academic Achievement: Some student credit cards offer incentives for good grades, providing cash back or bonus rewards for maintaining a certain GPA.
  • No or Low Annual Fees: Recognizing that many students are on tight budgets, student cards often have no or very low annual fees.
  • Specialized Reward Categories: These cards may offer higher rewards or cash back for spending in categories popular among students, such as dining out or bookstores.
  • Introductory Offers: Some student cards come with introductory offers like 0% APR for a set period or cash back bonuses after making the first purchase.

Features & Benefits of General (Regular) Credit Cards

  • Diverse Reward Programs: Regular credit cards can come with a wide variety of rewards programs, including travel points, cash back, hotel and airline points and more.
  • Sign-up Bonuses: Many general credit cards provide significant bonuses for new cardholders who spend a certain amount within the first few months.
  • Extended Perks: These include travel insurance, car rental insurance, price protection, extended warranty and exclusive access to events or priority services.
  • Premium Services: Some high-end general credit cards offer concierge services, airport lounge access and annual travel credits.
  • Variable Annual Fees: Depending on the card and its perks, the annual fee can range from zero to several hundred dollars. Premium cards with extensive benefits tend to charge higher annual fees.

Interest Rates and Fees

While student and general credit cards can have associated costs, student cards are generally structured to be more forgiving and to accommodate newcomers to credit. In contrast, general credit cards' rates and fees can span a broad spectrum based on the card's offerings and the cardholder's credit profile.

Interest Rates and Fees

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Student Credit Cards

  • Potentially Higher APR: Given that students usually have limited or no credit history, the annual percentage rate (APR) on student credit cards might be slightly higher than some general credit cards targeting people with good credit.
  • Introductory APR Offers: Some student cards might offer a promotional 0% APR period for a specific duration, usually on purchases. This allows students to understand the concept without accruing interest immediately.
  • Waived or Reduced Late Fees: Recognizing that students are new to managing credit, some issuers may forgive the first late payment or offer a reduced late fee for initial mistakes.
  • Lower Cash Advance Fees: While not always the case, some student cards might have lower fees for cash advances than general cards, but always check with the issuer for more information.
  • Typically No Annual Fees: Most student credit cards don't charge an annual fee, making them more affordable for students on tight budgets.
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General (Regular) Credit Cards

  • Variable APRs Based on Creditworthiness: Regular credit cards offer a range of APRs. Those with excellent credit scores might secure lower interest rates, while those with average or poor credit might see higher rates.
  • Broad Range of Annual Fees: The annual fee can vary depending on the card's features and benefits. Some cards have no annual fee, while premium cards with a host of perks might charge several hundred dollars annually.
  • Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees: General credit cards may have fees associated with balance transfers or cash advances. These can be a fixed amount or a percentage of the transferred amount or advance.
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: Some general credit cards charge fees for transactions made outside the home country, typically around 1%–3% of the transaction amount.
  • Penalty APRs and Late Fees: If a cardholder misses payments, some general cards might increase the interest rate (penalty APR). Late payment fees on these cards can also be substantial.

Building Credit

Building credit is a significant reason many individuals seek out their first credit card. Both student and regular credit cards can serve this purpose, but there are some nuances in their approach and functionality:

Student Credit Cards and Building Credit

  • Foundational Credit Building: Student credit cards are often the first credit product for many young adults, making them an introductory tool for establishing a credit history.
  • Regular Reporting: Like other credit cards, student cards report to the major credit bureaus. Responsible usage, like on-time payments and low credit utilization, can positively impact a student's credit score.
  • Forgiving of Novice Mistakes: Recognizing that students are new to credit management, some student card issuers may offer features like waiving the first late payment fee. This can protect a student's credit score from initial missteps.
  • Credit Education: Many issuers provide educational resources tailored to students, helping them understand credit scores, reports and the importance of good credit management practices.

General (Regular) Credit Cards and Building Credit

  • Continuous Credit Building: For those with established credit, regular credit cards can help improve or maintain credit scores through responsible usage.
  • Higher Limits Can Help Utilization: With often higher credit limits than student cards, maintaining a low balance on regular cards can result in a favorable credit utilization rate, benefiting the credit score.
  • Diverse Card Offerings: The broader range of regular credit cards means consumers can diversify their credit types over time. For example, they might start with a basic card and later obtain a retail or rewards card, further enriching their credit profile.
  • Potential for Penalties: While regular cards can offer larger credit limits and more perks, they can also have stricter penalties. Late payments, high balances and other negative behaviors can significantly impact one's credit score.

Both student and general credit cards play pivotal roles in credit building. While student cards offer a more guided and forgiving introduction to credit, general credit cards present expanded opportunities and increased responsibilities in the journey of credit management.

Pros and Cons

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

Pros and Cons of Student Credit Cards

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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.
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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.
Pros and Cons of Regular Credit Cards

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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 are more likely to offer reward/cash back earn rates.
  • They let you build credit (when used properly).
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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.
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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

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

If you have limited or no credit history and little 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.

Looking at the student vs. secured credit cards comparison makes sense if you don’t qualify for the former. Secured cards require that you pay a security deposit, which also functions as your credit limit.

Other than the security deposit, secured cards function 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 from one billing cycle to the next, you must pay interest charges. Issuers of such cards help you build credit by reporting your payments to one or more credit bureaus.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve gone through this student credit card vs. regular card comparison, select a card 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section answers other commonly asked questions about the differences between regular credit cards and student credit cards.

About Rajiv Baniwal


Rajiv Baniwal headshot

Rajiv Baniwal is a journalist who has been covering financial topics for over 15 years. Meticulous in his research, he provides accurate and up-to-date information. His expertise includes mortgages, loans, credit cards, insurance and international money transfers.


*Rates, fees or bonuses may vary or include specific stipulations. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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