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As a college student, you may not have a lot of experience using a credit card—so getting one of your own may be a new adventure. Good news: Many credit card issuers have designed products specifically with you in mind.
Here are our picks for the best credit card options in popular categories. None of them charge annual fees, so as long as you handle them correctly, you won't pay a penny more than you should.
Best Starter Card: Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
Because the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a secured credit card, you will provide a cash deposit which will act as a guarantee against your charges. If you don't pay the bill as agreed, the company can claim the funds you deposited.
The security deposit will be $49, $99 or $200, and the credit limit is $200. While that may not sound like much, Capital One reports your payments to the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), which will help you build your credit history. Assuming you pay all your bills by their due date, this will help you qualify for other credit card offers down the road.
Cool features: After using the card and making your first five payments on time, Capital One may give you access to a higher credit line. And because the security deposit is fully refundable when you close the account with no balance owed, that money acts as a small savings account.
The interest rate, or annual percentage rate (APR), for this card is a 26.99% (Variable). That's high, so you'll want to pay off any purchases you make on the card every month to avoid paying interest on them.
Best Cash Back Card: Discover it® Student Cash Back
With the Discover it® Student Cash Back card, you can earn a hearty 5% cash back in rotating categories, as long as you activate each quarter. The rotating categories may include purchases at gas stations, Amazon.com, grocery stores or restaurants. For all other purchases you'll earn 1% cash back automatically.
Cool features: Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, no matter how much it was. This card also has a "good grade rewards" program. If you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, you'll get a $20 statement credit at the end of each school year, for up to the next five years. In addition, you'll get 0% APR in your first 6 months of having the card. That's a good time to make a larger purchase, such as school books or apartment furniture—as long as you pay off the amount in full before the promotional period ends (otherwise you'll be charged the standard interest rate).
The standard APR is 19.49% Variable.
Best Card for Rewards Points: Citi RewardsSM Student Card
The Citi RewardsSM Student Card is a rewards card that allows you to earn ThankYou points that you can redeem for things like gift cards and items from the company's shopping portal. You will earn 2 points for every dollar that you charge at supermarkets and gas stations until you reach $6,000. After that you'll earn 1 point for each dollar you charge.
Cool features: You'll get 2,500 sign-up bonus points after charging $500 in purchases within the first three months of opening the account. That translates to a $25 gift card when you redeem it through Citi. Also, this is the only credit card that rounds points up to the nearest 10 on every purchase you make, so if you charge $15 and you get 1 point per $1 spent, Citi calculates it at 20 points.
The introductory APR is 0% on purchases for seven months from the date you open the account. After that, the standard rate of 16.49% to 26.49%, depending on your creditworthiness, applies.
Best for Travel: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
Most travel cards are designed for people who have already built up a great credit history, but the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students is specifically for those who are new to the world of credit. It allows you to earn 1.5 points for every $1 you charge, no matter where you shop. You can earn an unlimited number of points, then trade them in for a statement credit for travel expenses, including flights, hotels and rental cars.
Cool features: Unlike some travel credit cards, there are no airline or hotel blackout dates with this one. That means if you want to use your points for a spring break vacation when airfare might be at a premium, you're good to go. Additionally, you'll get 25,000 bonus points if you charge at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of opening the account. That's a $250 statement credit that you can use for travel purchases.
The introductory 0% APR is for the first 12 months after opening the account, and after that it ranges from 16.99% to 24.99% depending on your creditworthiness.
Best Card for Low APR: Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card
The APRs on student credit cards tend to be on the high side, but this is not so for the Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card. Depending on your credit rating, it can be as low as 13.15%. Consequently if you roll a balance over to the next month, you won't be socked with sky-high fees. To apply, you'll need to have an existing Wells Fargo relationship, such as having a checking account with the bank.
Cool features: This is also a cash back card that offers 3% back for up to $2,500 that you charge on gas, groceries and at the drugstore for the first six months of opening the account. After that you'll get 1% back on purchases. This card also has a flexible redemption program. You may use the rewards not just for cash but also travel, gift cards and merchandise.
The introductory rate is 0% APR for six months, then ranges from 13.15% to 23.15% depending on your creditworthiness.
Whichever credit card you get, make it a habit to pay your bill on time and in full every month. You will not only develop an impressive credit history and high scores, but you'll also steer clear of expensive debt.