best credit cards for college students

Best Credit Cards for College Students

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Last updated on August 18, 2022 Comments: 3

We looked at more than a dozen of the most popular credit cards for college students and reduced it to what we believe are the five best. In narrowing down the list, we looked at both the typical expenses and financial concerns of college students and focused on the cards that best meet those needs. No one card is perfect for every college student. But we believe we’ve included the cards that will work best for the majority of students with our top choice being the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express. It has the best combination of upfront bonuses, ongoing rewards, and even a 0% introductory offer on purchases.

There are hundreds of lenders offering thousands of credit cards, but credit cards for college students are a highly specialized niche. Many of the general credit card offers pitch high credit balances, attractive balance transfer offers, or even tie-ins with major providers, like airlines.

For college students, credit card needs are simple. College students are more likely to need a card that minimizes fees, maximizes rewards for everyday purchases, builds a credit profile and provide the ability to have a credit card available for emergencies. These five cards accomplish those goals.

Our Selection Methodology

With the specific needs of college students in mind, we used the following criteria in evaluating each card offer on our list:

  • Upfront rewards
  • Ongoing rewards
  • Interest rate offers
  • Availability to students with damaged, limited or no credit
  • Card fees
  • Additional benefits offered by each card, like credit monitoring, collision damage waiver on rental cars or preferred access to entertainment
  • J.D. Power 2018 Credit Card Satisfaction Study – All five cards on our list finished within the top ten in the rankings, with American Express, Discover and Capital One representing the top three.

Best Credit Cards for College Students

Milestone Mastercard®

Milestone Mastercard is a credit card specifically designed for people with less than perfect credit, but it offers all the benefits that come with Mastercard. It can be the perfect card for students who have damaged credit or either little or no credit history. You can even apply for the card if you had a previous bankruptcy.

The card can help you improve your credit since your good payment performance will be reported to all three major credit bureaus. That will give you an opportunity to have good credit to offset some of the bad stuff. The Milestone Mastercard® is issued by the Bank of Missouri through a partnership with Genesis Financial Solutions.

  • 24/7 account access
  • Bill pay
  • Choose a free custom card design
  • Identity theft resolution services
  • Extended warranty coverage
  • Price protection
  • Use at any of the 33 million worldwide locations where Mastercard is accepted
  • Minimum credit line of $300

Interest rate range and annual fee:

  • Interest rate range: 24.9% fixed APR; 29.9% APR for cash advances
  • Annual fee: $35 to $99 based on your credit worthiness
  • Late fee: $39

Learn More About This Offer

Indigo® Mastercard® Credit Card

Indigo® Mastercard® Credit Card is issued by Celtic Bank, in partnership with Genesis Financial Solutions. It’s another card that is an excellent choice for students who have damaged, limited, or no credit at all. Since they also report your payment history to all three major credit bureaus, it’s a way to begin building a good credit history. And if you’re looking for your first ever credit card, this is a good one to start with.

Unlike a lot of starter cards or credit rebuilding cards, Indigo® Mastercard® Credit Card doesn’t require a security deposit as collateral for your credit line. Application is quick, and most are accepted.

  • 24/7 online account access
  • Free online bill pay
  • Choose a free custom card design
  • A perfect card to either build or rebuild your credit
  • Credit line is $300
  • Foreign transaction fee of just 1%
  • $0 cash advance fee in the first year, then 5% of the amount advanced
  • Use at any of the 33 million worldwide locations where Mastercard is accepted
  • Payments can be made online, over the phone, or by check, money order, or MoneyGram

Interest rate range and annual fee:

  • Interest rate range: 24.90% fixed APR; 29.9% APR for cash advances
  • Annual fee: $0 to $99 depending on your credit worthiness
  • Late fee: $39

Learn More About This Offer

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

 

The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card is a credit card for college students who can’t get credit cards. You don’t need good credit to get this card, or any credit at all. You won’t even need to add a cosigner.

The card is secured by a required security deposit of $49, $99 or $200, based on your creditworthiness. The deposit is fully refundable. You start with an initial credit line of $200, but you can gradually increase your deposit to get a higher credit line. You can increase your credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time. You may also increase your credit line to a maximum of $1,000 by making an additional security deposit.

The card can be used just like any other credit card, giving you all the convenience you expect from a credit card. Your card will not have the word “secured” on it, and Capital One will report your payment history to all three major credit bureaus. That will give you an opportunity to begin building a credit score.

Rewards and benefits are more limited on this card than others, but include the following:

  • Personalized account alerts to remind you to make your payment
  • Set your own monthly due date and payment method
  • Capital One Mobile App, with all the features of the online version
  • CreditWise from Capital One enables you to monitor your credit. Based on the TransUnion VantageScore 3.0, it includes factors that impact your score. You can also set up alerts for whenever your credit changes and even when your social security number is found on the dark web.
  • $0 Fraud Coverage for unauthorized use of your card
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver

Interest rate range and annual fee:

  • Interest rate range: 26.99% APR
  • Annual fee: None Late fee: Up to $39

Learn More About This Offer

Best for Categories

No one credit card will be best for all college students in every situation. Everything depends on your school arrangement and your personal spending habits and preferences. For example, if your school is far from home, you may be best served by a card that offers generous travel rewards. If you will live in an apartment, a card that offers the best cash back on ordinary purchases, like groceries, will work best.

Here is our list of the best credit cards for college students in five different categories:

  • Best credit card for rewards on spending categories you’re most likely to use: Discover it for Students
  • Best credit card for cash back rewards: Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
  • Best unsecured credit card for college students with bad credit, no credit or no cosigner: Milestone Mastercard AND Indigo Mastercard Credit Card
  • Best secured credit card for college students with bad credit, no credit or no cosigner wanting higher credit limits: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

Factors to Consider for Best Credit Cards for College Students

When applying for a credit card as a college student, look for the card that will work best for you. It isn’t necessarily the one with no annual fee, the lowest interest rate, or even the best upfront rewards. Having your own credit card will actually fill several different needs, so look for a card that will give you the best value across the board.

Here are important factors to consider:

  • Qualification: Unlike student loans, you actually need to qualify for a credit card. You’ll either have to qualify based on your own financial strength, or you’ll need a cosigner. A lender may recognize a part-time income, but if you have no credit history, you’ll still need a cosigner. That will generally be a parent, and you’ll need their cooperation.
  • Match the card with your spending needs: If you’ll be traveling by air to and from school, you’ll want to favor a card with the best travel rewards. But if you’ll be living in an apartment, and making everyday purchases, you should go with a card that offers generous cash back rewards on your spending.
  • Look more closely at ongoing rewards: Upfront bonus rewards can be attractive, but ongoing rewards are usually more important. For example, you might be better served with a card that provides annual cash back rewards of $200, rather than one that gives you $500 upfront, and little in subsequent years. You’re going to be in school for several years, so you have to look at the long-term.
  • Carrying a balance will cost you more: All credit cards charge interest. The more you owe, the more you’ll pay. You’ll need to develop a strategy to keep the balance to a minimum, to reduce or eliminate your interest expense. In a perfect world, a credit card will pay you more in rewards than it will cost you in fees and interest.
  • Building credit is a major reason for a student credit card: If you’ll be making payments on your card, be sure to make them on time all the time. You’re looking to use your card to build your credit for the future. Even occasional late payments can result in a poor credit score.

Final thoughts on the Best Credit Cards for College Students

If you’re a college student looking for your first credit card, check with each of the cards on this list, based on your own personal needs and preferences. Remember, the best card isn’t necessarily the one that’s most popular, but the one that will work best for you.

Article comments

3 comments
Anonymous says:

What is the best credit card for a student studying abroad?

Anonymous says:

What about using your personal banks student credit card?

Luke Landes says:

The best thing to do is compare your bank or credit union’s student credit card offer with the others listed here. If your bank offers a better product, you might as well go with a card from a bank with whom you have an existing relationship.