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Credit Cards for Students with No Credit History

Last Updated: March 11, 2024
6 min read

Key points about: the best credit card options for students with no credit

  1. A student credit card may be the best credit card for students with no credit.

  2. Student cards often come with lower credit limits and higher interest rates but might offer cash back rewards and intro APR (interest rate) offers

  3. Other options include getting a secured credit card or becoming an authorized user on someone else's card.

Whether you’re trying to earn income while balancing class schedules or using student loans for living expenses, your cash flow as a student can be unpredictable. A credit card may help you cover costs while managing your budget. But as a college student, you may find it challenging to get a credit card. That's because many credit cards require a credit history (a record of your past borrowing and repayments) that college students rarely have.

Luckily, many lenders recognize students' limitations when applying for credit and offer solutions. A student credit card tops the list of best credit cards for students with no credit history—a secured credit card provides a second option. And if your credit card issuer reports your account activity to a credit bureau, both student and secured cards let you build credit with responsible use,1 like making on-time payments and keeping your card balance low.

Why should you use a student or secured card to help build your credit history?

Credit card companies need a way to verify that you're a trustworthy borrower. For many cards, your credit history (provided by a credit bureau to prospective lenders), including your credit score, helps a credit card issuer make that call when you apply.

Generally speaking, the better your credit habits, the higher your credit score. And the higher your credit score, the more confidence a card issuer has that you'll repay your credit card charges on time. A higher credit score can result in a higher credit limit and lower interest rate.

On the other hand, a record of irresponsible credit use (resulting in a lower credit score) could signal to card issuers that you're not likely to repay your debts. A bad credit score may limit the amount of credit you can get and/or result in a higher interest rate. 

For a college student with little credit history, building credit is key to broadening your credit card options. And checking your credit score can help you track how you're doing. As a Discover Card member, you can get your FICO® Credit Scores for free on monthly statements, mobile and online.2 A good FICO® Score can make all the difference in which credit cards you'll qualify for down the road.

Getting a student credit card with no credit history

Likely the most suitable credit card for students with no credit history, student credit cards are designed specifically for college students and don't usually require a credit score to qualify. For instance, there's no credit score required to apply for Discover student credit cards.3

What makes a student card more accessible is that student cards are designed with students with little to no credit history in mind, and typically have lower credit limits (the total amount of money you can charge on your credit card) than traditional credit cards. But a low credit limit can help keep your debt in check while you build credit and learn to manage your first credit card. And if you make your payments on time and pay your balance each billing cycle, you can avoid paying interest.

Some student credit cards offer perks like cash back or travel rewards. And a student cash back rewards credit card may even offer unlimited cash back on all purchases. In other words, student cash back cards can put money back in your pocket, money that can really add up.

For example, with the Discover it® Student Chrome card, you can earn 2% Cashback Bonus® at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.4 

You may also receive an introductory offer when you sign up for a student credit card, such as 0% intro APR, which can help you avoid interest on balances you carry during the intro period. These offers can help you purchase and pay off more considerable expenses (think textbooks or furniture) over time, with no interest if you pay off your balance during the introductory period. 

Getting a secured credit card with no credit history

If you need an alternative to a student credit card, secured credit cards offer some of the same benefits as student cards, like potential rewards. Also similar to student credit cards, secured cards may have higher interest rates and lower credit limits than regular cards. And because you rarely need a credit score to apply, even borrowers with bad credit may qualify for a secured credit card.

However, a secured card's credit limit works differently than a student card’s limit. Once secured cardholders get approved for a line of credit, they provide a refundable deposit as collateral for the line of credit. For example, if approved for a $500 credit limit, the deposit could also be $500. That takes the risk out of the equation for the credit card company; if you default on payments, your lender can use your deposit as collateral to recoup their losses. But if you use the card responsibly, you may be able to upgrade to an unsecured credit card (usually with the same features and terms) and reclaim your deposit, depending on the issuer and other factors.

Did you know?

With the Discover it® Secured credit card, you can get your deposit back when you upgrade to an unsecured card after six consecutive on-time payments and six months of good status on all your credit accounts.5

While a secured card may seem like a debit card (where you use your cash for purchases), you're actually borrowing and repaying money from your credit limit for purchases. Your refundable deposit simply secures the card. And unlike paying with a debit card, a secured credit card can help you build credit.

Becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card

If you can't qualify for a student or secured credit card, consider becoming an authorized user on a partner or family member's credit card. Being an authorized user gives you access to credit as a college student with no credit history and can also help you build credit. Here's how it works: The primary cardholder adds you to the credit card account and designates you as an authorized user—no other qualifications necessary. Next, you get your own card to make purchases. 

Legally, the primary cardholder is responsible for the payments, but they may expect you to cover your share of the charges. In most cases, the primary cardholder's activity gets reported to one of the three major credit bureaus and added to your credit file. However, that includes missteps like missed or late payments, which could negatively impact your credit scores, like your FICO® Score.

If you're a student with no credit history, you have choices when it comes to credit cards. Whether getting a student or secured credit card or becoming an authorized user, you can learn to manage credit and establish a good credit history when using your card responsibly. Whatever route you choose, you'll be on your way to graduating with a promising financial future.

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  1. Build credit with responsible use: Discover reports your credit history to the three major credit bureaus so it can help build your credit if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact your ability to build credit.

  2. FICO® Credit Score Terms: Your FICO® Credit Score, key factors and other credit information are based on data from TransUnion® and may be different from other credit scores and other credit information provided by different bureaus. This information is intended for and only provided to Primary account holders who have an available score. See Discover.com/FICO about the availability of your score. Your score, key factors and other credit information are available on Discover.com and cardmembers are also provided a score on statements. Customers will see up to a year of recent scores online. Discover and other lenders may use different inputs, such as FICO® Credit Scores, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. This benefit may change or end in the future. FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

  3. No Credit Score Required to Apply (Student): Based on the preceding 12 months of Discover Student credit card application data, applicants without a credit score may qualify. You must meet other applicable underwriting criteria. When we evaluate your creditworthiness, we consider all the information you provide on your application, your credit report, and other information. If you have a credit score, we may use that in our evaluation.
  4. You earn a full 2% Cashback Bonus® on your first $1000 in combined purchases at Gas Stations (stand-alone), and Restaurants each calendar quarter. Calendar quarters begin January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1. Purchases at Gas Stations and Restaurants over the quarterly cap, and all other purchases, earn 1% cash back. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station, and some public electric vehicle charging stations. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Purchases must be made with merchants in the U.S. To qualify for 2%, the purchase transaction date must be before or on the last day of the offer or promotion. For online purchases, the transaction date from the merchant may be the date when the item ships. Rewards are added to your account within two billing periods. Even if a purchase appears to fit in a 2% category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in that category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not earn 2% if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. Learn more at Discover.com/digitalwallets. See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for more information.

  5. Graduation Transparency (Secured Card): Monthly reviews start your seventh month as a customer. We will refund your security deposit if you have made all payments on time for the last six consecutive billing cycles on all your Discover accounts including any loans, and you've remained in “good status” on all credit accounts you are responsible for whether they are Discover accounts or not. “Good status” means: (1) your credit report shows no delinquencies, charge-offs, repossessions, or bankruptcies for the six months prior to our review; and (2) your Discover Secured Card is not in a prohibited status at the time of our review, including, but not limited to: closed, revoked, suspended, subject to tax levy, garnishment, deceased, lost/stolen, or fraud. Monthly reviews may be delayed if you change your payment due date. We typically process your refund in 2-3 business days based on your delivery preference. If you close your account and pay in full, we’ll return your deposit within two billing cycles plus ten days.
  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.