7 Best Credit Cards for Students: Cash Back, 0% APR

Best Credit Cards for Students
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Financial literacy among college students is suffering, and many students struggle to get a solid footing on their finances after graduation.

But what you may not know is that with some smart financial savviness while you’re in school and one of the best credit cards for students in your wallet, you can come out ahead of the pack. 

One of the quickest and easiest ways to set yourself up for success is to work on your credit by opening a credit card. We scoured the internet to find you the best credit cards for students, and one, in particular, stands out among the rest: the Discover it Student Cashback Credit Card.

So you decided to start looking into your credit score because your uncle who has a lot of money told you it’s important, but you found that you don’t actually have any credit history—or worse, your credit score is quite a ways below average. You started to stress out and frantically Googled how to improve your credit score and learned about credit cards being an effective way to build credit.

You have come to the right place, because here at RAVE we want to help you succeed financially and set you up for success. We want to make sure you build your credit score so it won’t come back to bite you when you apply for an apartment to rent, open a mortgage, or look for a job (some employers will run credit checks on future employees, believe it or not). Find your first credit card among our best credit cards for students.

The Credit Cards for Students We RAVE About

Best Overall Student Credit Card
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
Best Credit Card for Typical College Student Purchases
Citi Rewards+ Student Card
Citi Rewards+ Student Card
Best Credit Card for Students with Great Credit History
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited

Finding the Best Credit Cards for Students

Let me give you a quick rundown on what credit means and why it matters for you as a student (and more importantly, as somebody that will eventually be part of the working world). Your creditworthiness or credit score, represented on a scale of 300-850, gives banks, mortgage lenders, and many other financial persons a glimpse into how good or bad of a borrower you are or have been.

Since banks and credit card issuers don’t have a personal relationship with you, they need a way to determine the amount of risk you pose for them if they lend you money. They want to ensure that you aren’t going to borrow money and then disappear and never pay them back. That’s why they check your credit report and score: to get an idea of whether or not they should trust lending you money.

Your credit score can have drastic effects on your personal and professional life, so it’s crucial to make smart decisions. It’s not just banks that check your credit score either; there are some employers that check the credit of potential employees. And, your credit will always be checked when you apply for a home to rent. 

If you don’t have any credit history or have very poor credit, do you think those employers will hire you or that you will be selected among a pool of rental applicants? Think again. One bad financial decision might not ruin you forever, but repeatedly missing payments or defaulting on loans could leave you hurting for years to come.

A credit card is one of the most effective ways to help you build or rebuild your credit score. By using a credit card wisely (which means not getting anywhere close to maxing it out) and paying your monthly bills on time, you will be able to slowly build your credit to a point where banks and lenders won’t have to think twice about lending you money. With a very good credit score, you are essentially a shoo-in.

Increasing your credit score isn’t an overnight ordeal, though. You have to repeatedly make smart decisions and avoid poor decisions. But in due time, your creditworthiness will start to shine. You won’t have an issue applying for a mortgage on your dream home and banks will be more likely to offer you a line of credit for your future business endeavors.

By starting your financial journey while you’re still in school, you will come out years ahead of your peers and have the credit score to show for it. But the first step is to find the best student credit card among our top picks below. Once you apply and are approved, know that you are well on your way to a very successful financial future.

Methodology

When we evaluated the best credit cards for students, we wanted to make sure that you get a great card for all of the things you need. Here at RAVE, we know that as a student, you likely don’t have the time to spend hours of research on the best credit card. So we searched high and low for the best credit cards for students by evaluating cards in select categories.

Within each category, we evaluated cards based upon the following criteria:

  • Annual fee: As a student, even a small annual fee can potentially be a burden—the lower the annual fee, the better.
  • Sign-up bonus: Does this card have a sign-up bonus or introductory offer? If so, what is the bonus worth?
  • Bonus earning/categories: In which categories does this card earn additional cash back or points?
  • Other benefits: Does this card offer an introductory 0% APR? What about perks for getting good grades? Any other benefits for student cardholders?

Best Overall Student Credit Card

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points after $1,000 spent in the first 90 days after account opening
  3. Bonus earning/categories: 1.5 times points for every dollar spent
  4. Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; free monthly FICO score; 0% introductory APR for 12 billing cycles
  5. Pros: Large sign-up bonus; no annual fee; 0% intro APR
  6. Cons: No bonus rewards categories

College is a great time to travel, see other cultures, and explore the many wonders the world has to offer. You have ample time during spring and summer breaks to travel with friends and family. Travel can be an expensive endeavor, especially when you have to pay for tuition and books. Let the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students help you see the world and taste exotic food.

If you want to travel, the Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students can help you pay for your spring break trip to Cancun or Bali. With no annual fee, this card stands out from other travel credit cards, which typically have annual fees.

The sign-up bonus is another great perk, since most credit cards for students do not offer typical sign-up bonuses. You will earn 25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days after opening your account. Those 25,000 points are worth $250 toward travel expenses like hotels and flights (redeemed as a statement credit on the account).

You will earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend on the card, regardless of category. Every dollar you spend will get you that much closer to white sandy beaches and island sunsets. This card also has no foreign transaction fees, which is an absolute must-have for any travel credit card.

The 0% APR introductory offer for 12 billing cycles can come in handy if you have to pay for an expensive flight or week-long hotel stay. You can space out the cost of your trip without paying anything extra on top in interest.

Best Student Cash Back Card

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: $200 cash back after $1,000 spent in the first 90 days from account opening
  3. Bonus earning/categories: 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings; 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs; 1% cash back on all other purchases
  4. Other benefits: Free monthly FICO score; 0% introductory APR for 15 billing cycles
  5. Pros: Great sign-up bonus; flexible rewards earning; no annual fee
  6. Cons: Foreign transaction fees; limited rewards earning potential

The Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students is great thanks to its bonus earning, no annual fee, and a solid sign-up bonus. You will be stacking cash back quicker than you know with this credit card.

The sign-up bonus for this card is very high for a student credit card. You will earn $200 in cash back after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days after you open your account. A 20% return for a sign-up bonus is extremely high, especially for a credit card with no annual fee.

With this card, you will have a very unique opportunity: You can choose one of your bonus earning categories. You will earn 3% cash back each month by purchasing gas, online shopping, dining, traveling, or spending at drug stores or on home improvement and furnishings.

You will also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. Every other purchase will earn 1% cash back. The one caveat is that the 3% and 2% cash back categories only earn the elevated cash back for the first $2,500 spent in those categories combined.

With this card, you will also get a free monthly FICO score to help you stay on track and reach your ideal score. There is an introductory offer for 0% APR for 15 billing cycles. Although we don’t recommend carrying a balance from month to month, this offer could help you in a pinch if you are short on cash.

If you are a student looking to earn some money for everything you buy, you can’t go wrong with the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit card for Students. You will get a very large sign-up bonus, flexible rewards earning to match your spending habits, and a free FICO score every month.

Best 0% Intro APR Offer Card for Students

BankAmericard Credit Card for Students

BankAmericard Credit Card for Students
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: None
  3. Bonus earning/categories: This card does not earn any cash back or points
  4. Other benefits: Free monthly FICO score; 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases made in the first 60 days of account opening
  5. Pros: No annual fee; long 0% intro period; free FICO score
  6. Cons: No rewards earning

The BankAmericard Credit Card for Students from Bank of America offers the absolute best 0% intro APR offer of all of the credit cards for students we evaluated. For 15 billing cycles, you won’t have to pay any interest on any purchase you make in the first 60 days after opening your account. Anything you buy after those first 60 days—even if it’s during the first 15 billing cycles—will start accruing interest.

The 0% intro APR offer is the most effectively utilized when you need to make one or more expensive purchases at the same time. Since you are a student and likely only work a part-time job (if you work at all), you may not have a lot of money at a given time for big purchases. The BankAmericard Credit Card for Students allows you to space out the cost of these purchases over about 15 months.

A word of advice on 0% APR offers: Don’t just go out and spend a bunch of money you don’t have because the bank isn’t going to charge you interest for a while. If you can afford your purchases, pay your bill in full and on time every month, which will build solid financial habits that won’t come back to bite you later.

You don’t want to be in the position 15 months down the line without enough money to cover your frivolous and unnecessary expenses. Use this 0% intro APR offer to cover necessary large expenses like a laptop for school or books and supplies (since we all know books can put your back hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars), and pay them off over the course of the school year.

Best Secured Credit Card for Students to Build Credit

Capital One Secured Mastercard

Capital One Secured Mastercard
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: None
  3. Bonus earning/categories: None
  4. Other benefits: Refundable security deposit; no foreign transaction fees; travel accident insurance; extended warranty; auto rental collision damage waiver
  5. Pros: No annual fee; low security deposit; no foreign transaction fees
  6. Cons: No rewards earning

If you are a college student, there’s a good chance you don’t have much credit history, if any. The Capital One Secured Mastercard is the perfect card to help you jumpstart your credit and get you on the path to managing credit responsibly.

With secured credit cards, you put down a security deposit that typically becomes your line of credit. This deposit protects the bank in the event you jump ship and don’t pay your monthly bill. Since you don’t have good credit history, or none at all, the banks need to be sure you will pay them back on time. The card gives you the opportunity to have credit to your name and start building or rebuilding your credit history.

One of the unique features of this secured card is how its security deposit works. Depending on your credit history, you will fall into one of three tiers. Each tier requires a different amount for the security deposit in order to have a $200 credit limit. If you already have some decent credit history, you will only be required to put down a $49 security deposit for the $200 credit limit.

If you don’t have quite as good of credit, you will be required to put down $99 or $200 for the same $200 credit limit. The higher security deposits are much more typical of secured credit cards.

The card has no annual fee but it also doesn’t earn any sort of rewards or cash back. It does have a very high interest rate of 26.99%, but you shouldn’t be carrying over a balance month to month anyways if you can avoid it.

One surprising benefit of this card is the amount of different travel perks. It has an auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance, and no foreign transaction fees. You will also get extended warranty on your purchases.

If you are a student with poor credit or no credit, the Capital One Secured Mastercard deserves your attention with no annual fee and a low security deposit.

Best Student Card for Introductory Bonus Period

Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card

Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: 3% cash back (up to $2,500 spent) on gas, groceries, and drugstore purchases for the first six months of card membership
  3. Bonus earning/categories: 1% cash back on all other purchases
  4. Other benefits: 0% intro APR for six months on purchases and balance transfers; auto rental collision damage waiver; cell phone protection
  5. Pros: No annual fee; great intro rewards offer; 0% intro APR offer
  6. Cons: Limit on intro rewards; foreign transaction fees

The Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card is one of the best credit cards for students thanks to its lucrative intro rewards and generous 0% intro APR period. You should definitely give this card a long look to see if it will work for you.

This card has no annual fee, yet still has an intro rewards offer. It’s a bit different from many other sign-up bonuses, which require you to spend a certain amount of money. Instead, this card gives you 3% cash back (up to $2,500 spent) on categories that are typical for college students: gas, groceries, and drugstore purchases. If you are able to max out this offer, you could get $75 cash back.

The card does earn 1% on everything else you buy, making it a decent return for a no-annual-fee card meant for students. Because the card is intended for students, you have a much higher likelihood of being approved for this card regardless of how much credit history you currently have.

One other great feature about this card is that it also comes with a 0% intro APR. You will have six months of 0% APR on all of your purchases and balance transfers. With balance transfers, be aware that there still is a 3% fee when you transfer a balance to this card.

The card also comes with an auto rental collision damage waiver and cell phone protection. Although these perks generally aren’t very lucrative, they can come in handy from time to time. The Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card deserves one of the top spots thanks to its $0 annual fee and intro rewards offer period.

Best Credit Card for Typical College Student Purchases

Citi Rewards+ Student Card

Citi Rewards+ Student Card
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: 2,500 ThankYou points after $500 spent in the first 3 months of account opening
  3. Bonus earning/categories: Double ThankYou points at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 combined annual spend); single points on all other purchases
  4. Other benefits: Round Up on points earned to nearest 10 points; 10% points back on first 100,000 ThankYou points redeemed annually; 0% Intro APR for 7 months
  5. Pros: No annual fee; great bonus rewards categories; Round Up feature
  6. Cons: Average sign-up bonus

The Citi Rewards+ Student Card from CitiBank has one of the best perks for student cardholders that can skyrocket your ThankYou points balance faster than you know it: Round Up. This card has bonuses in some of the heavily used categories for college students, it comes with a sign-up bonus, and has no annual fee.

The sign-up bonus for the Citi Rewards+ Student Credit Card is 2,500 ThankYou points after spending $500 in the first 3 months of having the card. This sign-up bonus is only worth $25, which equates to a 5% return on the first $500 you spend.

This card also earns double ThankYou points on expenses that are typical for college students, especially those that might be living off campus. Not all college students have access to an all-you-can-eat dining hall and they have to purchase groceries for themselves, making the double points at supermarkets come in handy. Traveling to and from campus will require regular gas tank fill-ups, helping you get more points.

The real kicker on this card is the Round Up feature. This feature rounds up the points on every purchase to the nearest ten points. Spending just $1 on a candy bar at the campus convenience store earns you ten points, but so will your $7 sandwich for lunch. This feature alone will skyrocket your rewards and leave you saying “Thank You” after every swipe.

When you redeem your points for gift cards, Amazon purchases, or travel rewards, you will also receive 10% of the points back in your account, up to the first 100,000 points you redeem each year. With all of its awesome features, the Citi Rewards+ Student Credit Card is a must-have for any college student.

Best Credit Card for Students with Great Credit History

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited
  1. Annual fee: $0
  2. Sign-up bonus: $200 cash back after $500 spent in the first 3 months of account opening
  3. Bonus earning/categories: 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  4. Other benefits: 0% APR for 15 months; purchase protection; extended warranty protection; fraud protection and alerts
  5. Pros: Large sign up bonus; flexible point redemption; 0% intro APR
  6. Cons: No bonus rewards categories

Many students start their careers after school without much credit history, if any at all. However, if you were one of the lucky ones that got ahead of the game and built some credit during college, the Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card is for you. Due to great earning rates and a generous sign-up bonus, this card requires you to have a very good credit score.

Unlike the many other cards on our list of best credit cards for students, this card offers a typical sign-up bonus of $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first 3 months after opening your account. That’s equivalent to a 40% cash back return on the first $500 you spend on this card.

You can earn 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, from food on campus to books and supplies. This credit card also has many other benefits, such as purchase protection and extended warranty protection for many of the things you buy for school, such as your laptop or cell phone.

The 0% APR introductory rate for 15 months can also help you finance some of the big purchases you might have to make to furnish your living space or get the new laptop you need for class. No matter what you use this card for, if you have good credit, your next credit card should be the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

What if I have no credit history?

If you don’t have any credit, don’t worry too much. Banks are aware that most students have very little, if any, credit history. You can still get approved with little to no credit. Many of the credit cards that banks offer to students specifically have lower criteria for account approval.

Because your credit score is an indication of your creditworthiness, a lack of credit makes you inherently an unknown risk to banks. They still want to help you start building credit with their products, but they offset the risk in a couple different ways. 

Generally speaking, student credit cards can have higher interest rates, which helps banks prevent students from running up their balance without the funds to pay them back. Student credit cards also offer less lucrative bonuses and perks than other types of credit cards, and have much lower credit limits.

What if I already have a bad credit history? Can I still get a student credit card?

You could be in a bit of a jam if you unfortunately already have bad credit as a student. Banks are aware that you made some mistakes with money in the past and it will be more difficult to look past it than somebody with no credit.

Your best bet if you have poor credit is to seek out a secured credit card for students. Because secured credit cards require a refundable deposit, banks can have more confidence in your ability and willingness to pay them back. One of the primary goals of secured credit cards is to help those that made poor credit decisions in the past get back on track.

How do 0% APR introductory offers work?

Depending on the specific credit card, 0% APR introductory offers can have different terms, but they still generally operate the same. The first thing to be aware of is what the 0% APR means. It could refer to APR on purchases, balance transfers, cash advances, or any combination of those categories. Read the fine print to know exactly what doesn’t accrue interest.

You will not owe any interest for a specified period, after which interest will start accumulating and adding to your balance. If you pay off your balance in full before the timer is up, you are in the clear and won’t owe anything extra.

During this period, you will still need to pay the monthly minimum payment. Failing to pay your monthly minimum payment could cancel the 0% APR introductory offer and interest will start accruing immediately. You should also be aware of your credit utilization ratio being too high and causing your credit score to take a hit. Don’t think about maxing out the card just because you won’t pay any interest for a while.

How quickly will my credit score change after getting a student credit card?

Your credit score can change every single month depending on a variety of factors. If you do not have any credit history and are approved for a student credit card, you will have a credit score to your name within a few months.

Should I be an authorized user for somebody else before opening my own credit card?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, just a difference of opinion depending on who you ask. 

First off, being an authorized user is when you are a secondary user of a credit line opened in somebody else’s name, potentially a parent or somebody close enough to trust you. The credit card is opened in the other person’s name, so they bear the responsibility for paying the bill every month. Think of it like a cosigner on student loans, except only the cosigner is responsible for making payments.

Some say that being an authorized user can help you start building credit if you aren’t able to get approved for a credit card due to lack of credit. Others will tell you it is a waste of time since you aren’t personally responsible for the bill, and it won’t help your credit much. The best bet is to try and open a credit card yourself. If you are approved, case closed. But if you are not approved, you can always try being an authorized user for a while and try again.

Do I have to be a certain age for student credit cards? Do I even have to be a student?

To be approved for a student credit card, you need to be at least 18 years old—you cannot open a credit card if you are a minor. Most of the time, you also need to be a student to get approved. Student credit card applications often ask for school information, but double check the requirements before you apply.

What is the best credit card for students?

The best credit card for college students is definitely the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card for Students. College is a great time to travel, and this card can help you make your next spring break or summer vacation much cheaper.

You will get a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days from account opening. This spending requirement is very attainable for college students. Those 25,000 points will be worth $250 towards your airfare, hotels, or other travel-related purchases.

On top of the sign-up bonus, every dollar you spend will earn 1.5 points back for a 1.5% return. You could really start racking up points quickly—maybe even enough to cover your entire trip. Who wouldn’t love a free spring break vacation on the beach? You also don’t have to pay any foreign transaction fees with this card, so you can earn even more while you are traveling abroad.

To top it off, this card also has a 0% intro APR period for 12 billing cycles. Avoid carrying over a balance from month to month so as to not pay any interest, but this could help you in a pinch if you need. You will also get a free monthly FICO score to see how your financial health is progressing.

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card for Students is definitely the card for you if you want to earn while you spend.

RAVE Recommends

  • Marcus by Goldman Sachs CDs: Goldman Sachs CDs offer some of the highest rates by major banks and only require a $500 deposit. You can even withdraw the earned interest at any point without any penalties.
  • HSBC Direct Savings Account: The HSBC Direct Savings account offers one of the highest yields for online saving accounts and only requires $1 to open. It also doesn’t have a monthly maintenance fee.
  • “Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By”This book gives a great introduction to many of the money principles that aren’t taught in school. It highlights many financial principles in a simple, easy-to-digest manner.
  • TurboTax: TurboTax simplifies the tax preparation process and walks you through it step by step. This company has helped tons of people get their taxes done correctly, and you can even speak with CPAs and EAs with any questions.