Updated on Oct 6, 2017

Best Credit Cards for College Students for 2017

Manage your expenses and build positive credit with this year’s top picks.
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They usually don’t teach you the importance of having good credit in high school. Instead, many students often learn (sometimes the hard way) how having good credit can open the door to leasing a nice apartment or putting a down payment on a good car. Thankfully, there are plenty of student credit cards that can help build a good credit score. Review our list of top picks and apply online in minutes.

Summary

Best credit cards for college students for 2017

  • : Best rewards potential
  • : Best for dining out and gas
  • : Best for developing responsible credit habits
  • : Best for poor or no credit

Google-X’s picks for the best credit cards for college students

on Discover's secure website

Best rewards potential

Rewards Summary 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Redeem for... Merchandise; restaurants; ground transportation

Ongoing APR 13.99% - 22.99% Variable
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate.. 1% cash back on all other purchases. $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 6 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99% - 22.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

For students starting out, the card is as good a place as any to begin understanding and building a good credit history. With this card, any penalties that would normally be incurred by a late payment are forgiven the first time. This is an invaluable second chance for first-timers who already have enough on their plates with college.

How to use it
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Keep your GPA up to a 3.0 or higher to earn $20 cash back during the school year.
  • See where your money is going and improve your spending habits with Spend Analyzer.
Consider this

While a good all-around credit card for students, the may not be the best option to start with for students with poor or no credit. In situations like these, starting with the may improve your likelihood of approval. Sometimes it’s all about getting your foot in the door, and this card provides a powerful tool to achieve just that.

Why you'll love it

is our top pick for its flexibility, lack of fees, and generous rewards program. Its $20 bonus for students who maintain a 3.0 GPA may not sound like much, but it is an extra bonus for students who focus on their studies.

on Discover's secure website

Best for dining out and gas

Rewards Summary 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 quarterly; 1% cash back on all your other purchases
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 13.99% - 22.99% Variable
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases. $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 6 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99% - 22.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

The card rewards students who need to fill up at gas stations or want to eat out with friends. Cardholders can also earn 2% cash back at participating restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases on a quarterly basis (1% on all other purchases).

How to use it
  • Get 2% cash back when you use this card to dine out with classmates or fill up your gas tank (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter).
  • Receive $20 for each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher (for up to five years).
  • Misplaced your card? Protect your account using the Freeze It® on/off switch.
  • Take advantage of the free monthly FICO® Credit Score† and keep track of your blossoming credit score.
Consider this

The 2% cash back rewards a student can get on restaurant and gas station purchases with the might not work for everyone. If you find that your spending habits do not align with these rewards, then you should consider the . Students can get 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases with this card.

Why you'll love it

While is very similar to , there are a few differences in each card’s rewards program. Your spending habits will ultimately determine which of these cards is right for you. If you do a lot of driving, it’s nice to have the 2% cash back at participating gas stations – especially with today’s gas prices. Another thing to bear in mind is that all other cardholder benefits and fees are identical to .

on Capital One's secure website

Best for developing responsible credit habits

Rewards Summary 1% cash back on all your purchases; 1.25% cash back for the month (when you pay on time)
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 24.99% (Variable)
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Capital One Show Highlights
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Rewards Details: 1 % Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25 % Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $0
  • Cash Advance APR: 24.99% (Variable)
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 24.99% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

When you pay your monthly bills on time, the card incentivizes that habit by boosting the percentage of cash back you can receive on purchases. For example, cardholders who pay on time can see their 1% cash back rewards boosted up to 1.25% for every month they pay back on time. After 5 months of on-time payments, cardholders are even eligible to raise their line of credit.

How to use it
  • Use credit responsibly by paying on time each month to see your 1% cash back boosted up to 1.25%.
  • Access the CreditWise program to chart the trajectory of your credit score (and make smart, financial decisions accordingly!)
  • Since there are no foreign transaction fees, this is a great card to take with you while studying abroad.
Consider this

The card is great for developing good credit habits, but what if you’re already responsible with your card? What if you want higher rewards and maybe even a little incentive to keep that GPA up? If this sounds like you, then we recommend as an alternative. This card features 2% cash back on restaurants and gas while rewarding GPAs of 3.0 or higher with $20 cash back each school year (for up to five years).

Why you'll love it

One of the best lessons you can learn in college is how to be responsible with your money. The further drives home this lesson by incentivizing responsible credit use. Sure, a boost from 1% cash back to 1.25% doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it gets you in the habit of paying on time — and gives you bonus cash back for your trouble. You’ll also get access to their CreditWise program, which makes it easy and free to monitor your credit score.

on Discover's secure website

Best for poor or no credit

Rewards Summary 2% cash back at restaurants gas stations on up to $1,000 quarterly; 1% cash back on all other purchases
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 23.99% Variable
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 23.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

The can help students establish their own line of credit with an upfront deposit of $200 or more. In addition to this, cardholders can earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases (per quarter before dropping to 1%).

How to use it
  • Use this card responsibly to establish positive credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on your first $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Enroll for email alerts and text reminders to make sure you’re keeping up with your payments and spending responsibly.
Consider this

The will really appeal only to those who have a bad credit score or, simply, aren’t eligible for anything better starting out. Anyone else may find this card limited in terms of the potential line of credit and capacity for earning rewards. If an unsecured credit card with rewards sounds like more your speed, then there’s the card to consider.

Why you'll love it

This card is one of the best credit cards for people with bad credit or no credit at all. For some, it is an effective means of improving their credit score. There are also lots of tools available to help you remember to pay on time, thus helping you establish a record of on-time payments and making you eligible for other credit cards in the future.

Best student credit cards: summed up

Recommended Card Best For...
Rewards Potential
Dining Out And Gas
Developing Responsible Credit Habits
Poor Or No Credit

Student credit cards 101

According to a recent post by Kristen Kuchar on the topic of students’ common money mistakes, she reported that the average college student can accumulate as high as $3,000 in credit card debt. Of course, this doesn’t mean student credit cards are bad or should be avoided. In fact, the potential is often justified by the opportunities made possible by establishing a positive credit history.

To better understand how these cards work for students, we must first start at the beginning. The Credit Card Act of 2009 stipulates that a student of 18-21 years of age may qualify for a credit card if one of the two conditions are met:

  1. A parent, guardian, spouse, or another adult is willing to co-sign
  2. You submit proof of income and financial history proving a full-time income (or even a part-time income that’s sufficient enough to pay the balance each month).

When you need a parent to co-sign

When you’re a student starting out with a credit card, you might need a parent to co-sign. This is not an uncommon situation as most first-timers usually won’t have a credit history or enough income to qualify for a card on their own.

Co-signing risks for parents

There may be several benefits to having a parent co-sign for a student credit card, but there are also risks for both the parent and the student.

  • Parents who co-sign aren’t just helping their children qualify for a credit card. Co-signing also means that both parties will be held mutually responsible for all debts incurred.
  • Certain credit factors, such as high utilization, can negatively impact a parent’s credit score.
  • Shared accounts that go into default can negatively impact your credit score the same as accounts that are held privately. Both parties will also be pursued by collections.

Alternatives to co-signing

If parents would rather not co-sign for a student’s credit card application, there is the alternative of adding an adult child as an authorized user to an existing card account. This can help parents give specific financial advice to their child and, being an authorized user adds to a student’s credit history.

How do credit cards work?

A credit card actually provides a short-term loan. A less-pleasant word for a loan is debt. When you purchase lunch at a restaurant with a credit card, the credit card company pays the restaurant right away on your behalf, then gives you roughly a month to pay them back. You are legally bound to pay back that loan.

This is where the situation gets tricky. If you fail to pay your credit card balance in full each month, your card issuer has the right to charge an incredible amount of interest on the balance of money you owe. In many cases, and depending on your interest rate, that means that your $12 lunch at Applebee’s could end up costing you $15, $20, or even $30 over time. However, if a credit card is used properly, it can be an interest-free loan. You simply need to learn to pay your balance in full when you receive your credit card statement each month, or before. Even better, through rewards accumulation, you can actually be “paid” to use this loan.

How students get into credit card trouble

Sometimes, students make the mistake of getting in over their heads with high interest rates on outstanding balances. In order to help student avoid these and other common mistakes, we’ve put together some examples to learn from:

Mistake #1: Overspending

It is easy to forget you are going into debt when you first start using credit. You simply swipe the card and go on your merry way. Unfortunately, the small purchases you don’t remember making will add up over the weeks and months. If you don’t keep track of your purchases in real-time, you may spend far more than you planned. When this happens, you can easily get whacked with an over-the-limit fee or spiral into credit card debt that becomes unmanageable.

Mistake #2: Spending just to earn more rewards

Many credit cards let you earn rewards points that can be redeemed for merchandise, cash back, or travel. It may be tempting to maximize this feature, but you should only do so with caution. The fact is, spending to earn rewards is never beneficial because your unnecessary spending often costs more than the rewards you get back.

Mistake #3: Making only minimum payments

When you carry a credit card balance into the next month, your credit card issuer will ask you to make a minimum payment. This minimum payment is usually only a small fraction of the amount you owe, which can be tempting if you are tight on cash. However, it is important to remember that the balance you carry over will accrue interest and ultimately cost you more money over time.

Mistake #4: Not paying your bill on time

Since your payment history is used to decide 30% of your credit score, late credit card payments are a huge step in the wrong direction. In addition to negatively impacting your score, you will also be charged a late fee that is generally somewhere between $30 and $40.

Student budget calculator

The importance of managing your finances cannot be stressed enough during the college years. It really is a brand new world and, for many, this is the first time keeping track of the money without mom and dad. That’s why we put together this interactive budget calculator to help students who are interested in managing and analyzing their finances. Use this calculator to gain a better understanding of where the money is going so you can prepare your expenses for the coming school year.

How can students use a credit card the right way?

If you want to learn how to truly use credit responsibly, it is best to start out slow and easy. You don’t need to rush into using credit exclusively, and would probably be better off making a few small transactions each month until you feel comfortable. Here are a few more tips that might make the transition smoother:

Start small with one card and a low limit

Since the most common credit card mistake that plagues students is overspending, it might be wise to begin the process with only one card that comes with a relatively low credit limit. For example, a student credit card with a $300 or $500 credit limit offers enough credit to let you get the hang of it without offering you so much credit that you risk going far into debt.

Make small everyday purchases, not extra purchases to get rewards

A common mistake many students make with their first credit card is to deviate from their normal spending habits. Some people get the idea that they need to make exorbitant purchases with their credit card in order to “jumpstart” a decent credit score. Overall, you should never purchase something with a credit card you aren’t capable of paying off within the month. Instead, get used to having that card and make everyday purchases. Accrue some points and/or cash back reward until you are comfortable with your understanding of how your card works.

Understand your spending by analyzing the statement

After using your new student card for your first month, you can use the information you gain to understand your spending better. Unlike when you use cash, using credit creates a paper trail of every transaction you make. This paper trail, and the online budgeting tools the best student credit cards usually offer, make it easier to analyze your real spending and look for ways to improve it.

Pay off your balance each month

With most credit cards, you’ll be required to pay off a minimum amount of your outstanding balance. We recommend getting into the habit of paying off your balance in its entirety, every month. By doing this, you avoid getting hit with any high interest rates. It also looks good on paper as far as your credit score is concerned.

Research the best credit cards for students

The student credit cards directory is a custom directory that highlights the most important features for student cards and displays important information about each card. The directory is maintained and updated on a weekly basis to ensure it is always current.

Student credit cards directory

There are so many choices for students when it comes to credit cards. Not only that, but each card also offers its own set of perks and caveats. How are you supposed to know which student credit card is right for you? That’s where our student credit cards directory can really help sum it all up.

Sort By
Card Name
Rewards Tier Level
Common Filters
No APR for 6+ Months
Good Ongoing Rewards
No Foreign Transaction Fee
Search
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Foreign Transaction Fee
Apply Online
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Foreign Transaction Fee
Apply Online
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2% USD, 3% Foreign Currency

Rating methodology

Credit cards can be a little daunting when you’re first starting out. If you’re a student and you’ve just gotten your first credit card, you might have some questions about our rating methodology. Well, don’t worry. We took the time to break down these common credit card characteristics.

Rewards Rate

When you have a card that gives you a certain number of points or a cash back percentage based on your purchase, that’s a rewards rate. The trick to understanding and fully utilizing rewards rates is to select a card with a rate that rewards spending most similar to your everyday spending. For example, if you’re buying your textbooks on Amazon.com, you might want to opt for a card that rewards spending on that platform.

Intro APR

A lot of credit cards geared toward students feature an Intro APR of 0% for a fixed amount of time. This means that, during that window, you don’t have to worry about incurring high interest on your outstanding balance. Most of the top student credit cards will offer a 0% Intro APR period of 6-12 months.

Error forgiveness

Many student credit card carriers offer something called “error forgiveness.” This typically means no immediate or adverse effects to your credit score will occur from a late payment. Some credit card companies that deal in student cards will even offer to waive the fee on the first late payment.

Financial learning support

Perhaps the most valuable perk of a student credit card are all the supplemental materials offered. Some student credit card carriers will offer cardholders access to informative and helpful visualizations. Many carriers that feature student credit cards also offer free FICO® Score options. Other carriers offer software that makes budgeting so much easier.

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