If you’re a student with no credit history, good news: you have options when it comes to getting your first credit card.* Lenders know that students need a way to start building a credit history when they’re just starting out, so they typically offer student credit cards designed for first-time credit card applicants.

Getting your hands on a student credit card is not guaranteed—you still have to apply and meet certain criteria. But if you’re approved, you can start building credit if you use all your accounts responsibly*, which may pave the way for more access to credit down the line.

Here’s what you need to know before you apply for your first credit card.

  1. Credit cards for students with no credit history
  2. Alternative methods for getting a credit card as a student
  3. Easiest credit cards students can get

1. Credit cards for students with no credit history

Students with no credit history would have a tough time getting approved for most credit cards because the majority of credit cards are designed for people who’ve had time to build up a credit history demonstrating responsible credit use.

Why do I need a credit history to get a credit card?

Simply put, credit card companies need a way to verify that you’re a trustworthy borrower. Your credit history, which is the basis of your credit score, helps them make that call when you apply.

Generally speaking, the better your credit habits—timely payments and not taking on too much debt, among other considerations—the higher your credit score. The higher your credit score, the more confidence a card issuer has that you’ll repay your credit card charges when they’re due.

On the other hand, a record of irresponsible credit use (and an accompanying lower credit score) could signal to card issuers that you may be at risk of  not repaying your debts.

How can students with no credit history get a credit card?

Luckily, students with no credit history can apply and be considered for some student credit cards. These cards are not that different from traditional credit cards, but they are typically designed for students who may have little to no credit history.

Being a student is not the only criteria for a student card. You have to meet other minimum requirements. You must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a United States address
  • Have a Social Security Number
  • Show proof that you’re enrolled in school
  • Be able to provide all of the information asked for on the application

What should students with no credit history look for in a credit card?

Students and young adults shopping for credit cards should compare their options carefully and take into account all aspects of the card. Notably, you’ll want to look at:

  • Fees & APR: Some student credit cards come without an annual fee. Either way, you’ll want to check the card’s APR, or the interest rate that will apply to the account. APR varies by card and is often determined by the risk you pose to the credit card issuer. Because they’re meant for borrowers without a lengthy track record using and repaying credit, student credit cards can have high APRs compared to non-student cards. But that’s just more incentive to pay down your balance in full each month.
  • Rewards: While most student credit cards won’t exactly shower you in rewards (the best rewards cards are typically reserved for the most qualified applicants with lengthy, positive credit histories), some do offer rewards like cash back on certain purchases.
  • Credit limit: Your credit limit is the total amount of money you can charge on the card. This will vary by card, income, housing costs and creditworthiness.
  • Introductory rates: Some cards offer an introductory bonus for new cardmembers, such as 0% intro APR on purchases for a certain period. If you have a card with this offer, you won’t be charged interest on the outstanding purchase balance during the introductory period. The standard purchase APR applies once the introductory period expires.

2. Alternative methods for getting a credit card as a student

Student credit cards are not the only way for students with no credit history to potentially get approved for a credit card.

What alternatives can students with no credit history use to get approved for a credit card?

Here are a few other ways students can get a credit card or start building a credit history to increase their chances of approval later on.

Secured credit cardsSecured credit cards offer cardholders a line of credit equal to a refundable security deposit made upfront on the card. For example, a secured credit card with a $500 deposit may have a $500 credit limit. That takes the risk out of the equation for the lender: If you default on payments, lenders can use your deposit as collateral to recoup their losses. If you use the card responsibly and graduate to a non-secured card, however, you can reclaim your deposit.

Bonus: The payments you make on a secured credit card may be reported to the credit bureaus, so responsibly using a secured credit card may help you build a credit history.

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card: Becoming an authorized user on a partner or family member’s credit card is one way to start building a credit history with responsible use.* Here’s how it works: The primary cardholder adds you to the credit card account and designates you an authorized user, then you’ll be issued a card to make purchases. Legally, the primary cardholder is responsible for the payments, but presumably you would cover your share of the charges.

Keep in mind there are risks in this arrangement. In most cases, the primary cardholder’s activity will be reported to credit bureaus and added to your credit file. That includes any missteps like missed or late payments, which could negatively impact your score.

Reliably repaying other loans—including co-signed loans—and bills to build up your credit history: Paying back loans or other forms of credit according to the terms of those agreements can help you build up your credit history. When you are a co-signer on a car loan, for example, you share the responsibility to pay back the loan, and your repayment activity is reported to the credit bureaus.

In some cases, you can sign up for programs that allow you to report on-time payments to credit bureaus for bills that would otherwise go unreported, like for a cell phone plan.

Can paying your rent on time help you get a credit card?

Rent is a payment few people can afford to miss. On-time rent payments can be a great way to demonstrate that you have the potential to be a trustworthy credit card user. But do timely rent payments actually help you get a credit card?

Maybe.

Rent can positively impact your credit profile if you adhere to the payment terms in your rental agreement and your landlord reports payments to the credit bureaus. Not all landlords will report your rental payment history to the credit bureaus, although some do.

How can making timely loan payments help you get a credit card?

Timely loan payments turn up on your credit report and contribute to your overall credit score. A history of timely loan payments for something like a car or student loans can show credit card lenders that you’re a trustworthy borrower.

3. Easiest credit cards students can get

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to easily get approved for a credit card as a student. But if you’re a student over 18 with no negative credit history and an income, a student credit card may be the easiest way to get a credit card in your name.

Student cards have a number of benefits that make them an attractive option for eligible first-time cardholders:

  • In some cases, you can apply for a student card with no credit score*
  • Typically low or non-existent annual fees
  • In some cases, rewards like cash back on certain purchases
  • A chance to start building a credit history by making timely payments and only charging what you can afford to pay off

The sooner you start building a credit history, the sooner you can gain access to the types of credit that require high scores and a lengthy, positive credit history, such as mortgages, car loans, and certain credit cards. Just be sure to read the fine print and fully understand what you’re signing up for before agreeing to any card.

Published December 9, 2021.

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.

No credit score required to apply: Based on 2020 Discover Student credit card application data. When we evaluate your creditworthiness we consider all the information you provide on your application, your credit report, which includes your credit score if applicable, and other information.

 

Builds 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 other credit card accounts and loans may impact your ability to build credit.

Authorized User: Primary account holder is responsible for all charges made by the Authorized User(s). Discover reports the account credit history to the three major credit bureaus as to you and the Authorized User. This can help build the Authorized User’s credit history if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact yours and the Authorized User’s ability to build credit.