The Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students is worth considering if you want a cash-back card that you don’t need to replace when you graduate from college. The card’s rewards rates are impressive, and you’ll get the flexibility to choose one of your bonus categories.
It’s also a solid choice if you have a big expense coming up or have already racked up some credit card debt and need an introductory 0% APR promotion to pay down your balance interest-free.
Flexible rewards-earning scheme
Big sign-up bonus
Generous 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers
Free FICO score access
High ongoing APR
May require a co-signer
Bonus rewards are capped
- Flexible rewards-earning scheme: The card offers the chance to earn double and even triple cash back on certain spending categories—and you get to choose your 3% rewards category from a list of common everyday merchant categories. If your spending habits change, no problem. You can change it monthly.
- Big sign-up bonus: A lot of student credit cards don’t offer a sign-up bonus and most of the ones that do don’t give you much. While the $1,000 spending requirement for the bonus may be steep for a college student, it’s not impossible.
- Generous 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers: It’s best to avoid racking up debt on a credit card, but if you need to, or you already have high-interest balances on other cards you need to pay off through a balance transfer, you’ll have 15 months to pay down your balance interest-free.
- Free FICO score access: The card gives you free access to your credit score, making it easy to track your progress as you build credit.
- High ongoing APR: The card’s introductory 0% APR promotion can be helpful. But once it’s over, your APR will be high, so it’s best to pay your bill in full each month.
- May require a co-signer: While it’s a student credit card, it’s not clear whether you can get approved with a limited credit history. That said, Bank of America is one of the few major card issuers that still allows co-signers. So if one of your parents has good credit, consider getting them to co-sign if you can’t get approved on your own.
- Bonus rewards are capped: Once you hit the quarterly cap on bonus earnings, everything after that will net you just 1% back. This may not be an issue for younger college students, but it could be for anyone who wants to keep the card for the long run.
Once you’re approved for an account, you’ll earn $200 cash rewards after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. For comparison, the Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students offers 25,000 bonus points—worth $250 in travel statement credits—after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
But among other cash-back student credit cards, you’ll have a tough time finding one that will give you anything close what the Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students offers.
The card offers 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. You’ll also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% cash back on all other purchases. These are high ongoing earnings rates for a student card.
You’ll only earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter. After that, all purchases earn just 1% back until the counter resets at the beginning of the next quarter.
The card also gives you the chance to earn 25% to 75% more rewards if you’re a Preferred Rewards client with the bank. To achieve that, however, you’ll need a personal checking account with Bank of America and average three-month combined balances of least $20,000 in qualifying Bank of America banking and/or Merrill investment accounts. Most students won’t be able to meet this amount, but it could be something to aspire to down the road.
The card allows you to redeem your cash back for any amount as a statement credit or deposit into a Bank of America checking or savings account, or into an eligible account with Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge. You can also redeem starting at $25 as a contribution to a qualifying 529 account with Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge.
If you want to avoid having to redeem your rewards manually, you can set up automatic redemptions starting at $25. However, the automatic option isn’t available for statement credits, checks, or 529 account contributions.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
If you’re concerned about not being able to spend enough to get the card’s sign-up bonus, consider adding a parent or other trustworthy adult as an authorized user on your account. Their purchases also count toward the minimum spending requirement—and also earn rewards—and you can have them pay you back for what they charge.
Also, take advantage of the card’s flexibility with its 3% bonus category. As a college student, your budget may not be very big. But if you have any big expenses coming up, you may be able to plan for them by switching your category. For instance, if you need to furnish a new place at the beginning of the school year, switch your category to home improvement/furniture for that month.
Because of the card's high ongoing interest rate, it's important to pay your balance in full each month. Interest charges can quickly eat up the value of any rewards you earn.
Bank of America was rated below average in the J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, ranking No. 7 out of 11 credit card issuers. But J.D. Power ranked the bank’s mobile app No. 3 in 2019. You can reach the customer service team 24/7, or you can contact a representative through its live chat feature on the website.
Bank of America also offers free access to your FICO credit score. This is an important feature for college students because it allows you to keep track of your progress as you develop good credit habits and establish a positive credit history.
Bank of America allows you to request a replacement card through your mobile app if it’s lost or stolen. You can also enroll in free transaction alerts to get an email, text, or push notification each time your card is used, which may help you more quickly identify fraud.
Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students’ Fees
The Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students doesn’t have an annual fee but does charge a handful of other fees, including a foreign transaction fee. That said, none of them are out of line with industry standards, and you can avoid many of them simply by not using your card for cash advances or balance transfers, and paying your bill on time every month.