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If you’re a college student on the hunt for a credit card, the thought of getting your first card and managing your personal finances can be daunting. However, it’s important to start building your credit profile as early as possible.
There will be many parties that may be checking your credit history soon after you graduate, including potential employers, landlords, utility companies and cell phone providers. Plus, besides saving you some serious cash, good credit is what will eventually get you approved for premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card® from American Express.
Now, the only question is, which card should you get? The credit card market is more diverse and lucrative than ever, so there are a plethora of cards to choose from. Keeping approval odds and rewards in mind, here’s a look at some of the best credit card options for students. As an added bonus, none of the cards below carry an annual fee.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
While Discover isn’t the first issuer that comes to mind when many think of rewards cards, the Discover it® Student Cash Back might just be the best option for students. The card offers an impressive 5% cash back on your first $1,500 in purchases on rotating quarterly categories after enrollment and 1% back on everything else. Even better, Discover matches your total cash back after the first year of card membership, meaning you’ll earn 10% on rotating categories (up to $1,500 and after activation) and 2% cash back on other spend in the first year. After your first year, you’ll hopefully have enough credit history to move on to a more robust card.
As this is a card geared specifically toward students, getting approved should be a breeze. Plus, Discover will reward you with a $20 statement credit for each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years. The card doesn’t impose any foreign transaction fees so it’s also a great pick for those thinking about studying abroad.
Citi Rewards+ Student Card
The newly launched Citi Rewards+ Student Card is ideal for those who make lots of small purchases. That’s because the card rounds up your earnings on all purchases to the nearest 10 points. So, if you’re buying a 50-cent pack of gum, you’re guaranteed to earn at least 10 points, and if you’re paying for a $21 meal, you’re guaranteed to earn at least 30 points. In addition to that, the card offers 2 ThankYou points per dollar spent at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1 point per dollar thereafter. In reality, the earning rates are slightly higher since you’ll also get 10% of the points redeemed for the first 100,000 points per calendar year.
The Citi Rewards+ Student Card is offering a 2,500-point welcome bonus after you spend $500 with your card within three months of account opening. These points can be redeemed for 1 cent apiece, but if you save your points and get the Citi Prestige or the Citi Premier Card down the line, you can convert your points to full-fledged Citi ThankYou Points — worth 1.7 cents apiece based on our valuations. The card offers excellent shopping protections, but you won’t want to use it abroad since it has a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for Students
The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for Students is unique in the sense that it offers a lot of flexibility in its award earning structure. The card has a 3-2-1 cash back arrangement with the cardholder controlling what category falls into the 3% bonus each month. Your 3% bonus options include gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores, home improvement and furnishings.
The card also earns a consistent 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% elsewhere. While this shouldn’t be an issue for most students, it’s important to note that the 3% and 2% bonus categories are limited to your first $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter. In other words, the maximum cash back you could earn each quarter is $75 before all your purchases revert to 1% cash back.
The card offers a $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. It also offers several valuable travel and purchase protections, but like the Citi Rewards+ card for students, you shouldn’t use this card abroad as it imposes a hefty foreign transaction fee.
If you’re looking to earn 2% cash back on everyday purchases beyond your first year, you may want to consider the Citi® Double Cash Card. As its name suggests, the card earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay your statement. Plus, there’s no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn.
The Citi® Double Cash Card is part of the Mastercard network so it is more widely accepted than Discover, but it does have a 3% foreign transaction fee, so you won’t want to use it outside of the US or on overseas purchases.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is similar to the Citi Rewards+ in that you earn points with it, not just straight cash back. But what differentiates the points you earn with this card is that they can be transferred to any of American Express’ Membership Rewards travel partners without having any other Amex credit card.
The card earns 2 points per dollar at US supermarkets for up to $6,000 a year in purchases, and 1 point per dollar after that and elsewhere. It also comes with a nice welcome bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards points — worth $200 based on our valuations — after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Although not branded as a student card, American Express cards are generally easier to be approved for than many other cards. The information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Students have many choices when it comes to picking their first credit card. While the best card for you will ultimately depend on what type of rewards you’re looking to earn, each of the cards we included give substantial rewards at no cost, and promote good spending habits.
Naturally, student-branded cards such as the Discover it Student and Citi Rewards+ Student Card are easiest to be approved for, but the approval odds for the other ones discussed are generally higher than most cards, so those with newer or nonexistent credit shouldn’t have to worry as much about being rejected and stuck with nothing to show for a hard credit pull.
Once approved for a card, you’ll likely have to meet a spending requirement in order to qualify for the sign-up bonus. While you shouldn’t be spending more money than you have in your budget just to meet these requirements, there are many creative ways to easily meet them. For instance, you could pay for meals with friends and have them Venmo you back or even pay your tuition with your credit card. If you’ve recently applied for the cards discussed, share your application experiences in the comments below.
Summary: The Best Student Credit Cards of 2019
- Discover it® Student Cash Back
- Citi Rewards+ Student Card
- Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
- Citi Double Cash Card
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Featured image of Bentley University by DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images.
Updated on 4/10/19
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CARD HIGHLIGHTS: No annual fee + earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases after you meet the $20,000 cap
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