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What Counts as Income on a Student Credit Card Application?

Last Updated: December 20, 2023
5 min read

Key points about: what you can use for income when applying for a student credit card

  1. Student credit cards are designed for college students and may have less rigorous income requirements than regular credit cards.

  2. Students may qualify for a student credit card with income that doesn’t come from a job, such as allowances or certain grants and scholarships.

  3. Some student borrowers can use the income of a spouse or partner to qualify for a credit card.

Whether you’re a full-time student living on campus or you’re staying home to work and take classes part-time, you might consider the benefits of applying for a student credit card to help with expenses and build credit. But you may wonder if you’ll earn enough income to qualify for a student credit card. After all, some credit card issuers require proof of income before approving you. The good news is that there are credit cards for students with no income—the income doesn’t need to come from a job, and in some cases, you can qualify for a student credit card even with limited income.

So let's learn what counts as income when applying for a student credit card and what you should include to get approved.  

Why is income required on a student credit card application?

There are a few reasons why student credit card applications require you to share information about your income, even if you don’t earn a salary or hourly wage. Credit cards for students with no income can have varying credit limits, so information about your income helps card issuers determine your initial line of credit. Your income also acts as an indicator of your ability to pay your debts on time, which impacts the types of credit cards and interest rates you may be eligible for.

It’s important to understand what does and doesn’t count as income if you plan to apply for a credit card for students with no income. You might be surprised at what is—and isn’t—included in your total. Read on to learn about six sources of income you can include on a student credit card application—and, just as critically, three sources you can’t.

Sources of income you can use on a student credit card application

Student credit cards are designed for college students with little to no credit history, and are tailored to suit students’ unique financial situations—even students with no income. Since they typically provide lower credit limits, student credit cards may allow more flexibility in their applicant qualifications. Sure, showing income from any job is helpful when applying for a student credit card, but a student can use other acceptable sources of income to qualify.

Once you know what the acceptable sources of income are, you can include each one on your application for a student credit card, increasing your chances of approval. The following income sources describe the types of income you can use on a student credit card application, but rules may vary by age.

If you're eighteen or older and work part-time or full-time, you can count earnings from your job—including tips and bonuses—as income on a student credit card application. Pay from freelance work and other irregular sources of income may be included on your application as well. If asked to verify your information, you'll need documentation like a tax return, paystub, or letter from your employer to prove your earnings to the credit card company.

Due to the CARD Act of 2009, borrowers aged eighteen to twenty must prove they can independently pay back their debt to get approved for a student card without a cosigner (something most major credit card companies no longer allow). This means they can't use their parent's annual income. Applicants twenty-one and older may not include their parent's pay as student income for a credit card application either. However, all applicants eighteen or older may count a monthly student allowance or deposit of funds from a support source like a parent as income. But you'll need to ensure that any financial support you receive gets deposited into a bank account in your name to qualify as personal income. You may also be asked to provide bank statements that reflect the monthly deposits.

The support of a partner can make a big difference when putting yourself through school. And if you’re twenty-one or older, you can include a spouse’s or partner’s income along with your own to qualify for a student credit card. Unfortunately, adults under twenty-one can only report their independent income or assets on a credit card application—except for borrowers in community property states where income is shared between spouses and some domestic partners by law.

Student loans you receive from private lenders or federal student aid can be a valuable source of funding for school. But when it comes to your credit card application, the portion of your student loan paid directly to the school for tuition won’t qualify as income. However, depending on the credit card issuer, the remaining amount you receive after paying your tuition may count. Still, due to the possible drawbacks of using one source of debt to pay for another (your credit card debt), even the remaining amounts may not qualify as income on some credit card applications.

Reporting student loans as income may or may not be allowed, but claiming grants and scholarships as income is generally acceptable. Because these forms of financial aid do not typically require repayment, any dollar amount left over from award money (after paying your college tuition) is considered your personal, accessible income. So if the excess scholarship or grant money is paid directly to you, it may count as income when applying for a student credit card.

Applicants twenty-one and older are not required to have a cosigner when applying for a credit card. Adults younger than twenty-one who prove they can independently repay their debt typically won’t need a cosigner either. But if borrowers eighteen to twenty years old can't provide enough proof of income, a cosigner's income may count on a student credit card application. But remember, fewer and fewer card issuers allow cosigners.

What doesn’t count as a source of income on a student credit card application?

Now that we’ve covered some different sources of income you can include on your student credit card application, such as leftover funding from scholarships and grants, it’s equally important to discuss what doesn’t count as income. Knowing what to exclude from your income will help ensure the accuracy of your application. Here are some examples of items that can’t be included as sources of income on your application for a student credit card:

  • Debts you owe, such as student loans that you’re required to repay
  • Income you can’t legally access, such as wages that are being garnished
  • Income that’s fraudulent or can’t be verified with documentation
  • While having savings is beneficial, it might not be considered as regular income on a credit card application

It's important to check the specific requirements of the credit card issuer, as policies may vary. In many cases, card issuers are looking for a stable and regular source of income to assess an applicant's ability to repay credit card balances. If you have questions about what qualifies as income on a specific credit card application, customer service is available any time, day or night.1

Can you apply for a Discover student card with no income?

When you apply for a student credit card, you need to demonstrate that you have access to funds to pay your bills, but that doesn’t mean you need income from a job. Like all credit card issuers, Discover accepts amounts directly deposited to borrowers eighteen to twenty years old as income, and income that is regularly available to you from another person if you're twenty-one or older (or eighteen or older in certain states). Additionally, there is no credit score required to apply for Discover Student credit cards2.

Discover offers two credit cards for students, both of which are rewards credit cards that can earn you cash back on your purchases. The Discover it® Student Cash Back card lets you earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.And 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.3

Do income requirements change for your student credit card after you graduate?

After you qualify for a student credit card, you’ll be on your way to establishing credit, earning rewards, and more. But what happens when you graduate? Some credit card issuers will instantly convert your student credit card to a regular credit card, with no additional income requests or actions taken by you. For example, when you graduate, Discover student credit cards automatically get reclassified as regular credit cards with the same bonus structure. 

With responsible use, a student credit card is a useful tool for building a good credit history that will serve you well after you earn your degree. Once you learn the types of income that can help you qualify, you can choose the best student credit card for your needs and apply with confidence

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  1. 100% U.S. Based Customer Service:You can reach a live agent any time by calling 1-800-Discover (1-800-347-2683). Certain specialized customer service agents may not be available 24/7.
  2. 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.
  3. 2% Chrome Gas and Restaurants: 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 See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for more information.
  • 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.