Best Credit Cards for Students of October 2019

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Getting a credit card as a student gives you an opportunity to get a high-quality card with little or no credit history, as well as a chance to build credit before you leave school. Because you're just getting started with credit cards, the best options have a low interest rate, features that help you build credit, low or no annual fees, and few overall fees. While rewards aren't the most important thing we consider, they're definitely a plus.

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠

Our Rating Among Student Cards
4.6
Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.9% - 22.9% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Rewards Earning Rate 3% cash rewards earned for up to $2,500 spent on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first 6 months. 1% cash rewards for each $1 spent on virtually all other purchases with your card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%

Why We Chose This Card

With a consistent 1% cash back reward rate, bonus rewards during your first six months, and a relatively low APR, this is an all-around great credit card for students. You can earn 3% cash back on up to $2,500 of gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases during your first six months with the card. While this card has a relatively low ongoing APR, paying double-digit interest rates on debt will hurt, so avoid carrying a balance if at all possible. Note: You must have an existing account at Wells Fargo to apply.

Best for Studying Abroad

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

Our Rating Among Student Cards
4.2
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.74% - 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

If you don't have a Wells Fargo account, this is your next-best option. With no annual fee, no fee for making transactions in another country, and the wide reach of the Visa card network, the Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students card is a no-brainer for students planning to spend time outside the U.S. The flat rewards-earning rate makes it simple to get points on everyday spending, no matter where you are.

Best for Learning About Credit

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our Rating Among Student Cards
4.2
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.46% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

This card has a great combination of simple rewards and great credit-building tools. You can get a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly payments on time, and as long as you keep your balance low, the extra available credit can help improve your credit score. Making on-time payments also lets you earn higher rewards that month—1.25% cash back on your purchases, instead of the standard 1%. You can track how these good behaviors affect your credit score using Capital One's CreditWise tool.

Best for Minimal Fees

Discover it® Chrome for Students

Our Rating Among Student Cards
4.1
Discover it® Chrome for Students
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.74% - 23.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

This card has solid rewards, a relatively low APR, a great sign-up bonus, and a bonus for cardholders who get good grades. But Discover stands out from the rest of the cards on this list because it waives your first late fee. Of course, you want to do everything you can to make payments on time, but it's nice to know you won't have to pay an extra fee for a one-time mistake. Discover also has no foreign transaction fee (though the network has limited international acceptance compared to Visa and Mastercard, according to Nilson Report).

Find Your Credit Card Match

When it's your goal to build credit, we believe it's important to seek out credit cards with low fees and features that help you improve your credit score, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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Your Results

What Makes a Good Student Credit Card?

Student credit cards are a bit different than other first credit cards, because credit card issuers tend to give better offers to students than non-students similar financial situations. For example, students can get an unsecured card with rewards, no annual fee, and low fees overall—such a product doesn’t really exist non-students with no credit history. Some credit cards even offer special discounts geared toward students.

Why College Students Should Have a Credit Card

Having a credit card in college allows you to start building credit early, and length of credit history is an important factor in credit scores (and one you can’t quickly improve.) It’s also easier to qualify for your first credit card while you’re still a student, because of the student-specific offers out there. 

How to Get a Student Credit Card

Getting a credit card as a student doesn’t require pre-established credit. However, if you’re younger than 21 years, you must show you have enough independent income to support making credit card payments. Otherwise, you need a co-signer who’s older than 21 and has income.

Can a Student Have Multiple Credit Cards?

A student can have multiple credit cards. However, it makes overcharging too easy. One card is enough to build credit. If getting more than one card, pace yourself by waiting a few months to see how you handle your current card(s). 

Tips for Using Your Credit Card Responsibly

  • Charge only what you can afford to repay by the time the bill comes due.
  • Pay your bill on time
  • Use as little of your available credit as possible.
  • Avoid cash advances. They carry hefty fees and start accruing interest immediately.

Can I Pay Tuition & School Expenses With a Credit Card?

While your school might allow you to pay tuition with a credit card, it often comes with a service charge—not to mention the interest costs you’ll accrue if you don’t immediately pay off your credit card balance.

However, for textbooks and other regular purchases, you can pay these costs with a credit card, earn rewards (if your card offers them), and pay off the balance. You might even qualify for a card with a 0% APR period on purchases, which may give you the flexibility to pay off your start-of-term expenses over time.

Warning

Since both tuition and school supplies can get expensive, be careful that you don’t max out your limit or come close to hitting it. Using more than 30% of your available credit limit will hurt your credit score. (The less of your available credit you use, the better.)

What Happens to Your Student Credit Card After Graduation?

Your credit card company will let you keep your card after you’re no longer a student, and it might even allow you to “upgrade” to the non-student version of your card. Check with your card company to get the details. 

Whatever you do, don’t close the card if it doesn’t have an annual fee. Keeping your oldest credit card open for a long time will help you establish a good credit history.

Methodology

At The Balance, it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We determine this list of cards each month or whenever there's a drastic change in the student credit card market. We start by filtering our database of cards to show only those classified as student cards.

What We Score

In general, people care most about interest rate, annual fee, and rewards when choosing a credit card. Because people getting student credit cards are very new to the product, we focus more on ongoing annual percentage rate (APR) and fees. Ideally, students will avoid carrying a balance or incurring fees, but in the event they slip up, it helps to have a card that doesn't slam them with high costs.

Some of those costs we look at besides APR include the late fee, whether or not the card company waives the fee for a first late payment, and a foreign transaction fee. This is especially important for students who spend time in other countries. On that note: We also look at the network a credit card uses, to determine how widely accepted the card will be.

Important

According to the Nilson Report, more merchants (domestically and internationally) accept Visa and Mastercard than Discover, and those three have greater acceptance than American Express.

Those factors—APR, credit-building features, fees, rewards, and card acceptance—account for more than two-thirds of a product's score on our Best Credit Cards for Students list.

Other Things We Consider

Beyond interest, fees, credit-building features, and rewards, we also look at all credit cards' customer service features and anything that makes life a little easier, like a mobile app. You can read more about everything we evaluate in our full methodology.