What Is a Student Credit Card?

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DEFINITION
Student credit cards are a type of credit card designed for college students. They're similar to regular credit cards, but they may have lower credit limits as well as features that target students.

Student credit cards are a type of credit card designed for college students. They're similar to regular credit cards, but they may have lower credit limits as well as features that target students.

The rules are a little different for young adults applying for a credit card, so getting a student credit card has a few extra requirements. Learn more about how to get a student credit card.

Definition and Example of a Student Credit Card

A student credit card is a specific type of credit card with features and benefits specifically for college students. Cardholders can charge purchases to their student credit card and pay for them all at once or over time. Some student credit cards offer bonuses and rewards.

The Discover it Student Cash Back, for instance, offers a "Good Grade Reward" that rewards cardholders with a $20 statement credit each year they have a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher.

How Student Credit Cards Work

Student credit cards work just like regular credit cards, but they may also have features and benefits designed specifically for students. 

For example, on top of an annual reward for good grades, the Discover it Student Card offers a cash-back rewards program with higher rewards in categories students are more likely to spend money. These include purchases made at Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and payments through PayPal.

The rules for opening a student credit card are mostly the same as for regular credit cards. The difference, with some credit cards, is the requirement to provide proof of enrollment status to qualify for a student credit card. Other than that, students must be at least age 18 to apply and will need to meet the credit qualifications for that card. Students under age 21 must have enough income to repay a credit card balance or apply with a co-signer. That income could come from a job, parent, or even financial aid.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act (the CARD Act) limits the marketing of credit cards to students on or near college campuses. They can't give gifts or tangible items to convince students to apply for a credit card.

Alternatives to Student Credit Cards

If you can't qualify for a student credit card because of your age, school enrollment status, or income, you have other options for getting credit or making electronic purchases.

Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card allows you to make a deposit as collateral for the credit limit. You’ll make purchases and payments just as you would with a regular credit card, but the card issuer hangs on to your deposit in case you default on the card. As long as you keep your account in good standing, your deposit will be refunded when you close the account or upgrade to an unsecured card.

Authorized User

As an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, you can make purchases, but the credit card issuer won't require you to make payments. A parent, relative, or friend can add you to an existing credit card to give you access to their account for spending or to help you qualify for a credit card of your own.

When you’re an authorized user on an account, that account’s history shows up on your credit record—and can boost your credit score if the account has a positive history.

Prepaid Card

While a prepaid card won't allow students to build credit, it does offer the ability to make electronic purchases, similar to a student credit card. Opening an account doesn't require a credit check or bank account. Students can load funds to their card and spend up to the balance loaded on the card.

Student Credit Card Fees

Student credit cards carry the same fees as regular credit cards. Most are based on how you use your credit card, which gives students control over credit card costs.

Here are some fees you may encounter with your student credit card—or with any credit card:

Fee Description
Annual fee Paid each year for having the credit card account
Balance transfer fee Charged when you transfer a balance from another credit card
Cash advance fee Paid when you use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM or make a cash-equivalent transaction (e.g., purchasing a money order)
Finance charge The interest charged when you pay less than the full balance due each month
Foreign transaction fee Charged on purchases made in another currency; for example, when you use your credit card for purchases on an international trip
Late fee Charged when you miss the payment due date or your payment is below the minimum due
Returned payment fee Charged when your bank returns your monthly credit card payment because you didn't have enough money in your bank account

Key Takeaways

  • Student credit cards function just like regular credit cards but may provide additional features or perks for students.
  • If you’re a student under age 21, you must have your own income to apply for a student credit card without a co-signer.
  • Alternatives include secured credit cards, prepaid cards, or becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card.
  • Fees for student credit cards are in line with regular credit cards and can mainly be avoided.

Article Sources

  1. Discover. “Discover it Student Cash Back.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  2. Chase. “Chase Freedom Student Credit Card Pricing & Terms.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Can a Card Issuer Consider My Age When Deciding Whether To Issue a Credit Card to Me?” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “§ 1026.57 Reporting and Marketing Rules for College Student Open-End Credit,” See “(c) Prohibited Inducements.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.