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How to Determine the Best Credit Cards for College Students

Last Updated: May 3, 2022
5 min read

Let’s learn about: Credit cards for College students

  1. A credit card may help you build your credit history while you’re still in college.

  2. Factor in interest rates and fees when considering a credit card.

  3. Find out which credit card features are right for you as a college student.

A student credit card may help you build your credit history, manage your expenses, handle emergency expenses, and even earn rewards. But getting a credit card is a major decision. What should you know about credit cards for college students? Read on to learn more:

Credit cards can help establish your credit

When you get your first credit card, it may seem like the sky’s the limit on what you can buy. But that’s not the case at all. A credit card should be a tool that helps you manage your finances and makes your life more convenient, not one that gets you into debt and financial trouble.

When you’re new to the world of paying bills and getting your head around budgeting and paying bills, you likely will have a short credit history.

As payment history can have a significant influence on your credit score, staying on top of your credit card payments will help you stay informed.

When you have a credit card, the credit card company will likely report your payment history to a credit bureau. The three major ones are Transunion, Equifax, and Experian.

Besides helping build a credit history, a credit card may offer you student cash back rewards. If your student credit card provides rewards on purchases, you will earn rewards when you make everyday purchases like school supplies, books, and even late-night pizza delivery.

What a college student should look for in a credit card

Because you’re new to credit, you’ll want to explore credit card options. Here are some of the features that the best credit cards for students have in common:

  • No annual fee. A credit card with no annual fee means that you won’t be spending money on an annual fee when you don’t have a lot of extra cash. That’s extra money in your pocket that can go toward other living expenses. Discover has no annual fee on any of our cards.
  • Low or no credit score minimums. It might seem like a major feat to try to get your first credit card when you don’t have a credit history. Some student credit cards require a minimum low credit score to qualify.
  • Secured credit cards. A secured credit card is a type of credit card that requires a security deposit, and your credit limit is usually equal to your security deposit up to your approved credit line. So if you deposit $500, your credit limit on your secured card will also be $500. Those new to credit or who have bad credit typically have an easier time qualifying for such cards, and they can be a solid way to establish credit history.
  • Perks that cater to students. Student credit cards might come with special perks, such as a referral program that offers an incentive in the form of cash-back rewards or statement credit if you refer a fellow student and they are approved for an account.
  • Student cash back rewards. While you might not be able to get robust rewards that are usually available through a premium, gold-tier travel rewards credit card, some student credit cards offer ways to earn cash back rewards. These cash back credit cards can usually be used toward a statement credit, to be redeemed for gift cards, or cash back into your bank account.

What to know before applying for your first credit card

Here are some things to consider before you fill out a credit card application:

Check the interest rate

Look at what the APR will be on the card. Then, do some simple math or use an interest calculator to figure out how much you’ll be paying on interest fees if you make X payment each billing cycle over Y amount of time.

Consider pre-screened offers

Pre-screened credit card offers are for those 21 and over. If you receive a pre-screened offer, it means that the credit card issuer has done a basic credit check, and you meet the basic criteria for that card. As long as you have sufficient income and you continue to meet other requirements, you will likely be approved for the card.

Factor in any fees

Beyond the annual fee and interest charges, do your homework to see what other fees the credit card issuer might have for a particular card. Common credit card fees include late fees, returned payment fees, foreign transaction fees, or over-the-limit fees. That way, you won’t get blindsided should you get hit by one of these fees.

How to avoid unnecessary credit card rejections

Here’s what you can do to veer away from getting rejected from a card unnecessarily:

Have the information handy for the credit card application

When you apply for a credit card, you typically will need to provide basic personal information, such as your:

  • Social Security number
  • Legal name
  • Current address
  • Income
  • Housing Costs
  • Proof of enrollment in school
  • Email
  • Phone number

Gathering the info you need to submit a credit card application will reduce your chances of it getting rejected.

Look at credit card requirements

Typically, you can find this information on a credit card issuer’s website, or by reaching out to the credit card companies. Other financial factors, such as income, will also come into play. If you don’t qualify for a credit card on your own, you may be able to become an authorized user on an account of a relative or friend.

Discover it® for students is an option for college students

The Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card could be a good option for college students looking to build their credit history and earn cash back rewards.

The Discover it Student credit card includes these features:

  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of all cash-back earned at the end of your first year, automatically1
  • 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when activated.
  • 1% cash back on all purchases

Plus, the Discover it® cash back card can help you build your credit history, and there’s no credit score required to apply.2

The best student credit card for you depends on your preferences, needs and situation. As there’s no one-size-fits-all in matters of personal finance, that also goes for credit cards. Taking the time to look at different student credit cards will help you find the best credit card for you.

No matter what student credit card you decide on, it’s important to use your credit responsibly. Consider starting out with a conservative credit limit, and prioritize making on-time payments and keeping your credit card debt to a minimum. In turn, it’ll help you in your journey to establishing credit.

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