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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: Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
on Capital One's website
Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
- No annual fee
- Unlike a prepaid card, there is regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
- Accepted at millions of locations worldwide
- Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
- Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
- Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
- We will monitor your account, and as you use it responsibly by doing things like making on-time payments, you may be able to earn back your deposit as a statement credit
- Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
Because the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One 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 six payments on time, Capital One may consider you for 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
Discover it® Student Cash Back
on Discover's website
Discover it® Student Cash Back
12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
1% cash back on All Other Purchases
Unlimited Cashback Match. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
- INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
- Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
- Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
- Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
- No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
- Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a $50 statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
- Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
- Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
- 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
With the Discover it® Student Cash Back card, you can earn a hearty 5% cash back in rotating categories, up to the quarterly maximum, 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% intro APR on purchases for 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 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR.
Best Card for Rewards Points: Citi Rewards+SM Student Card
This offer is not available through Experian. Check issuer's website for current offer details.
The Citi Rewards+SM 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 14.49% to 24.49% (Variable), 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 11.15%. 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 on purchases and balance transfers, then ranges from 11.15% to 21.15% variable, 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.
The information related to the Citi Rewards+SM Student Card, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students, and Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM featured in this article have been collected by Experian and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuers of these cards.