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10 ways college students can meet credit card minimum spending requirements

Sept. 12, 2022
11 min read
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Credit card sign-up offers can be an incredibly lucrative opportunity to earn large amounts of points or miles in a short period of time. The ability to accrue 100,000 points (if not more) is nothing to sneeze at, as those points can cover travel expenses totaling at least $1,000.

When I tell my peers about the opportunity that comes from a simple credit card sign-up bonus, they always ask me the same question: “What’s the catch?” After all, collecting so many points or miles so quickly seems too good to be true ... but it's not.

Earning a credit card's points or miles bonus is fairly straightforward. All that you need to do to be eligible is to meet a minimum spending requirement. This typically ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 in purchases within a roughly three-month time frame, though it could be more or less depending on the individual product.

With students regularly spending less than the average adult, some may wonder if meeting such a threshold is possible. Believe it or not, it is with some careful planning. As long as students are strategic about how they spend their money and remember to only use their cards when they know they can pay off the balance in full, they can easily earn a sign-up bonus.

Here are 10 ways students can meet minimum spending requirements without breaking the bank.

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Tuition

Without a doubt, one of the most expensive aspects of a student's life is college tuition. Depending on the university a student attends, they can find themself paying tens of thousands of dollars (or more) for their studies.

Although many people rely on their credit cards for everyday purchases like food and gas, few realize that you can also use them to pay for larger academic expenses. In fact, many schools are flexible when it comes to payment, allowing you to use cards to pay for part or all of your tuition and housing. If you have a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan, you may even be able to reimburse yourself for those purchases through your 529 account.

Know, though, that institutions often charge a fee for using a credit card. At the college I attend — the University of Virginia — there is a 2.75% fee for paying tuition with a credit card as opposed to linking directly from a bank account. While this fee can certainly add up, it can and should be a worthwhile consideration in weighing how to to meet a card's minimum spending requirement.

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For example, signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and making a $4,000 tuition payment on the card to meet its minimum spending requirement would cost $110 more than paying directly. This may initially seem like a bad deal — until you consider the welcome offer. By spending $4,000 with the card, you'll receive 64,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points — 60,000 from the sign-up bonus and 4,000 from spending within in the first three months your account is opened. These points are worth $800 if redeemed through Chase’s portal or $1,280 based on TPG’s valuation, which also factors in transfer partners, making the slightly higher fee up front more than worth the investment.

Related: Should I pay with a rewards credit card even if it incurs fees?

Dorm essentials

JUSTIN LEWIS/GETTY IMAGES

Moving into student housing often requires spending much more than the cost of housing itself. To start, there are sheets and blankets to buy for your bed, plus towels, hangers and other everyday basics. Odds are you'll also want a coffee maker and a minifridge in addition to some accent pieces like an area rug and wall art.

If you were already going to be making these purchases, why not put them on a credit card instead of using a debit card? Just be sure you're stretching your dollars by taking advantage of student discounts and completing purchases through a shopping portal, such as Rakuten. And if you’re not already a member and join Rakuten today, you can earn a one-time bonus of $30 (or 3,000 Amex points) when you make at least $30 in purchases through the site in the first 90 days.

Books

Textbooks can be pricey, whether you rent or buy them, so why not use the necessary expense to earn points or miles? While studying may seem tough in the moment, you'll quickly forget about the temporary agony when you use those credit card earnings to pay for your spring break flights.

Similar to tuition, books and other school supplies are eligible for reimbursement through a 529 plan, so remember to pay yourself back after charging any of those items to your card.

Related: How to book 5 spring break dream getaways with points and miles

Your parents' expenses

Parents often have a lot more expenses than the average student, so it makes sense to offer to purchase things on behalf of your parents and have them reimburse you.

If your parents need to make a major purchase — a new dishwasher, for example — consider offering to purchase what they need and have them reimburse you later. Or, you could offer to use your new credit card to pay for their monthly expenses, like the electric bill.

Explain to your parents how it will help you unlock a sign-up bonus, then use those expenses to move one step closer to meeting your card's minimum spending requirement. Even better, some cards include an extended warranty or purchase protection that they might not otherwise get. Don't forget to have them pay you back with a check or cash, though.

Gifts

FRESH SPLASH/GETTY IMAGES

One expense that everyone has at one point or another is gifts. Whether it is a birthday, a holiday or another occasion, odds are you'll need to buy gifts for others at least a couple of times annually, so why not put those charges on a credit card?

Buying gifts with a credit card, even if it's several months in advance, allows you to work toward your card's spending threshold while taking care of purchases you'll eventually need to make. If you tend to be forgetful, this strategy can prove particularly valuable, as it may save you from a last-minute scramble to get a loved one a gift.

Electronics

Starting college often requires purchasing a number of pricey new electronics, including a laptop, a printer and earbuds or headphones. Use these necessary expenses, which are also 529 plan-eligible, to your advantage by placing them on a credit card.

Take the need to buy a laptop as an example. If you know you are going to purchase a brand-new 13-inch MacBook Pro, use a new credit card to pay for it. After your student discount is applied, the laptop would come to $1,199 before taxes and fees, plus other expenses like shipping. This total is more than enough to meet the minimum spending requirement for cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Card, which gives new cardholders 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

Related: Credit card sign-up bonuses you can earn with $1,000 or less in spending

Group expenses

HERO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

An easy way to inch toward a minimum spending threshold is to cover the tab when hanging out with friends. By charging group meals, movie tickets and more to one of my credit cards and having my friends pay me back through a mobile payment service like Venmo or Cash App, I can easily increase my own spending without blowing past my budget.

An added bonus is the convenience it brings to everyone involved: Employees at restaurants, movie theaters and other venues don't have to deal with multiple purchases at once, my friends can cover their portions of the bill in a matter of seconds and I quickly have the money back in my account.

Recurring subscriptions

Most of us have more digital subscriptions than we care to admit. If you are going to pay for Netflix, Hulu, Audible and other subscription services, be sure to use your new card to cover them for at least the few months when you are striving to reach a minimum spending requirement, if not longer.

Linking these subscriptions to your card is simple. All you have to do is go into each account and switch the card to the new one with a sign-up offer so the recurring charge can help you reach the card's threshold. If you prepay for your subscription an entire year in advance, you'll have an even easier time qualifying for the sign-up bonus, as the one-time charge on your card will be higher than it would be if you paid per month.

Related: Ready to binge-watch? Get free (or cheap) streaming subscriptions with these credit cards

College merchandise

After spending hours filling out tedious college applications, there is no better feeling than getting into the school of your choosing. When you're ready to stock up on college merchandise to show your school pride, do so with the help of your new credit card.

All of the swag, from hoodies and T-shirts to grandma’s coffee mug and grandpa’s baseball cap, will quickly add up, putting a noticeable dent in your effort to meet your minimum spending requirement.

Everyday spending

EZRA BAILEY/GETTY IMAGES

While the bulk of your focus may be on the purchases immediately affecting your time in college, don't forget about the everyday items you need at any time of the year.

Whether you need a coffee while on campus, a ride home from the airport during school breaks or a tube of toothpaste you forgot to pack for a trip, a new credit card can come in handy for even the smallest of purchases. The more everyday purchases you put on your card, the more of an impact they'll have in your effort to earn your sign-up bonus.

Bottom line

Reaping travel rewards with the help of a credit card is possible, even as a college student on a tight budget. To take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses in a fiscally responsible way, all you have to do is to stay within your means, use your card for critical purchases and pay off your balance in full every month to avoid accruing debt.

By being smart with your money and using other resources you may have at your disposal, such as a 529 plan and student discounts, you can quickly reach your credit card's minimum spending threshold while avoiding extraneous purchases.

Featured image by JACOB LUND/SHUTTERSTOCK
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees