Updated on Feb 15, 2019

Best Credit Cards for College Students for 2019

Manage your expenses and build positive credit with this year’s top picks.
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As a college student, you’re learning what it takes to navigate the world in an independent and responsible way. And that means it’s time to start building the habits that will help you establish a strong credit history. A good credit score will open doors for you in the real world — whether you want to buy a car or rent an apartment, or simply save money on your car insurance — and using a student credit card responsibly is a surefire way to start building a strong credit profile.

In this article, we give a detailed breakdown of the best credit cards for college students, covering a variety of cards that offer perks tailored to college students, such as forgiveness for late payments and incentives for good grades. Check out our reviews and apply online for the student credit card that’s right for you.

disclaimer-statement.info’s Top Picks for the Best Student Credit Cards

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back APPLY NOW
    Best rewards potential Discover it® Student Cash Back
    Apply Now on Discover's secure website
  • Discover it® Student chrome APPLY NOW
    Best for dining out and gas Discover it® Student chrome
    Apply Now on Discover's secure website
  • Capital One® Secured Mastercard® LEARN MORE
    Best for poor or no credit Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
    Learn More on Capital One's secure website
  • Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® LEARN MORE
    Best for developing responsible credit habits Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
    Learn More on Capital One's secure website
Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Best rewards potential

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Rewards Summary Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases –automatically.
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 15.24% - 24.24% Variable
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time 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.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24%.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 27.24% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 6 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 15.24% - 24.24% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

For students starting out, the Discover it® Student Cash Back card is as good a place as any to begin understanding and building a good credit history. With this card, any penalties that would normally be incurred by a late payment are forgiven the first time. This is an invaluable second chance for college students who are still getting the hang of using a credit card.

How to use it
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter such as gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, or Amazon.com (up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate). Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases automatically.
  • Keep your GPA up to a 3.0 or higher to earn a $20 statement credit during the school year.
  • See where your money is going and improve your spending habits with Spend Analyzer.
Consider this

While a good all-around credit card for students, the Discover it® Student Cash Back may not be the best option to start with for students with poor or no credit. In situations like these, starting with the Discover it® Secured may improve your likelihood of approval. Sometimes it’s all about getting your foot in the door, and this card provides a powerful tool to achieve just that.

Why you'll love it

Discover it® Student Cash Back is our top pick for its flexibility, lack of fees, and generous rewards program. It also offers a $20 statement credit for students who maintain a 3.0 GPA, which is a nice perk.

Start your application now Back to top
Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Best for dining out and gas

Discover it® Student chrome

Rewards Summary Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases –automatically.
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 15.24% - 24.24% Variable
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 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.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24%.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 2% cash back at gas stations & restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 27.24% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 6 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 15.24% - 24.24% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

The Discover it® Student chrome card rewards students who need to fill up at gas stations or want to eat out with friends. Cardholders can also earn 2% cash back at participating restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases on a quarterly basis. (Earn 1% on all other purchases.)

How to use it
  • Get 2% cash back when you use this card to dine out with classmates or fill up your gas tank (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter).
  • Receive a $20 statement credit for each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher (for up to five years).
  • Misplaced your card? Protect your account using the Freeze It® on/off switch.
  • Take advantage of the free monthly FICO® Credit Score† and keep track of your blossoming credit score.
Consider this

Make sure that the rewards structure of the Discover it® Student chrome matches up with your everyday spending. If you don’t do a lot of driving because you live on campus or you tend not to eat out in order to save money, then this might not be the card for you. However, this card does offer some valuable perks including an extra incentive to stay on the ball when it comes to education.

Why you'll love it

For students who do a lot of driving on campus and dine out with classmates, the Discover it® Student chrome makes it easy to earn rewards getting around campus and making friends. It’s also a great starter card for anyone who wants to keep track of their credit score.

Start your application now Back to top
Learn More on Capital One's secure website

Best for poor or no credit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Rewards Summary
Redeem for... N/A

Ongoing APR 26.99% (Variable)
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Capital One Show Highlights
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $0
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

Students who have never used credit, or didn’t use credit responsibly in the past (it’s a learning curve), should consider the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®. It’s not as flashy as some of the other cards, as there are no rewards and a security deposit is required. However, you’ll have a lot of tools at your disposal to help you better understand how you can establish or rebuild your credit profile.

How to use it
  • Depending on your creditworthiness, put down a $49, $99, or $200 refundable deposit to establish a $200 line of credit. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line.
  • Make your payments on time for the first five months, and you could qualify for a credit line increase at no additional cost.
  • Take advantage of Capital One® tools, such as personalized payments and CreditWise®, to set your own due date, view your credit score, and monitor your credit profile.
Consider this

Making payments on time and in full is vitally important to improving your credit. Miss a payment? You may have to pay a late fee of up to $38 and you may not qualify for a credit line increase. Set a reminder on your phone to ensure you’re never late!

Why you'll love it

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® may not have rewards, but using the card responsibly will let you take control and rebuild or establish credit. If you want a no-nonsense approach to increase your credit, this card may be right for you.

Start your application now Back to top
Learn More on Capital One's secure website

Best for developing responsible credit habits

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Rewards Summary 1% cash back on all your purchases; 1.25% cash back for the month (when you pay on time)
Redeem for... Cash back

Ongoing APR 26.96% (Variable)
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Capital One Show Highlights
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Rewards Details: 1 % Cash Back on all purchases. 0.25 % Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $0
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.96% (Variable)
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 26.96% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

For anyone looking to get into the habit of using a credit card responsibly, we present the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card. This card offers incentives to pay your monthly bill on time by boosting the percentage of cash back you can receive on purchases. It can go from 1% to 1.25% and, after five consecutive months of on-time payments, you could even increase your line of credit.

How to use it
  • Use credit responsibly by paying on time each month to see your 1% cash back boosted up to 1.25%.
  • Access the CreditWise® program to chart the trajectory of your credit score (and make smart, financial decisions accordingly).
  • Since there are no foreign transaction fees, this is a great card to take with you while studying abroad.
Consider this

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card is great for developing good credit habits, but what if you’re already responsible with your card? What if you want higher rewards and maybe even a little incentive to keep that GPA up? If this sounds like you, then we recommend Discover it® Student chrome as an alternative. This card features 2% cash back on restaurants and gas (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter) while rewarding GPAs of 3.0 or higher with a $20 statement credit each school year (for up to five years).

Why you'll love it

If you’re just starting out or a little baffled by how credit cards work, then you’ll love the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®. This card helps ease you into the world of credit cards by teaching you responsible card use through incentivizing on-time payments. Not to mention access to programs like CreditWise® that can help you keep your credit on the right track.

Start your application now Back to top

Best Student Credit Cards: Summed Up

Best for... Credit Card
Rewards Potential Discover it® Student Cash Back Apply Now
Dining Out And Gas Discover it® Student chrome Apply Now
Poor Or No Credit Capital One® Secured Mastercard® Learn More
Developing Responsible Credit Habits Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Learn More

How do you get a student credit card for the first time?

The stipulated that any student between 18 and 21 years old may qualify for a credit card if one of these two conditions are met:

  1. A parent, guardian, spouse, or another adult is willing to co-sign
  2. You submit proof of income and financial history proving a full-time income (or even a part-time income that’s sufficient enough to pay the balance each month).

The type of credit card you can get will depend on your credit profile. If you’re like most people starting out, you might not have much of a credit history. In this case, you’ll probably need a parent to co-sign before you are considered for a credit card.

For parents who would rather not co-sign for their student’s credit card application, there is the alternative of adding an adult child as an authorized user to an existing card account. This can help parents give specific financial advice to their child (and keep a little more control over their use of the account), while still building the student’s credit history.

You might also consider a secured credit card with your bank, which is a great way to establish a healthy credit rapport.

Most major banks and credit card providers offer credit cards for college students. If you’re a parent looking for a credit card for your college student, make sure you pay attention to the benefits and rewards. The best credit cards for college students include one or all of the following benefits:

  • Forgiveness for the first late payment (we all make mistakes).
  • Cash-back bonuses for maintaining a certain GPA (more incentive to hit the books).
  • Rewards for common college student expenses, like food, gas, and school supplies.

How can college students establish a credit history quickly?

Building credit from scratch takes some time, but by using a student credit card responsibly, you can establish good credit faster than you might expect. To start, here are a few key rules to keep in mind:

  1. Always pay on time: This is the single biggest factor in your credit score.
  2. Automate payments: This will ensure you never miss a payment or have to pay a late fee.
  3. Always pay off the entire balance: Don’t spend more than you can afford to pay off each month.
  4. Increase your credit limit: Your credit utilization rate, or how much of your available credit limit you’ve used up, is the second biggest factor in your credit score. All else being equal, a higher credit limit will improve your utilization ratio if you don’t increase your balance.
  5. Keep your oldest credit card active: Even if you don’t use them, it’s best to keep old credit card accounts open. The longer your credit history is, the better.

To establish a good credit history, it’s critical that you use your student credit card the right way. Let’s talk about how to do that.

How to Use a Student Credit Card the Right Way

If you’re a college student and this is your first credit card, then you might be wondering how best to use it. The general rule most people will tell you is to only use a credit card in an emergency. However, the more important rule is to never use your student credit card for anything you can’t already afford. After all, you want to be able to build up your credit history, and one of the best ways you can do that is to pay off your credited purchases on time, every time (and ideally, in full).

You should also take advantage of the rewards programs and the signup bonuses (if there are any). If you’re buying groceries and your credit card offers a bonus on supermarket purchases, consider using it over the debit card or cash. Same for student credit cards offering rewards at gas stations. These are what we would call “everyday purchases” as they are more about necessity than things you can do without. Since you would have to pay for these things anyway, it’s a good way to build up your credit score by paying off the balance each month.

If you want to learn how to truly use credit responsibly, it’s best to start out slow and easy. You don’t need to rush into using credit exclusively, and would probably be better off making a few small transactions each month until you feel comfortable. Here are a few more tips that might make the transition smoother:

Start small with one card and a low limit

Since the most common credit card mistake that plagues students is overspending, it might be wise to begin the process with only one card that comes with a relatively low credit limit. For example, a student credit card with a $300 or $500 credit limit offers enough credit to let you get the hang of it without offering you so much credit that you risk going far into debt.

Make small everyday purchases, not extra purchases to get rewards

A common rookie mistake for students with a credit card is to deviate from their normal spending habits. Contrary to popular belief, making such outrageous purchases will not “jumpstart” your credit score. In fact, it could land you into some serious debt if you aren’t prepared to pay it all back. Instead, you should opt for a card that rewards your everyday spending and build your credit history naturally.

Understand your spending by analyzing the statement

After using your new student card for your first month, you can use the information you gain to understand your spending better. Unlike when you use cash, using credit creates a paper trail of every transaction you make. This paper trail, and the online budgeting tools the best student credit cards usually offer, make it easier to analyze your real spending and look for ways to improve it.

Pay off your balance each month

With most credit cards, you’ll be required to pay off a minimum amount of your outstanding balance. We recommend getting into the habit of paying off your balance in its entirety, every month. By doing this, you avoid getting hit with any high interest rates. It also looks good on paper as far as your credit score is concerned.

How Students Get Into Credit Card Trouble

The average college student carries more than $2,500 in credit card debt, according to Experian. Sometimes, students make the mistake of getting in over their heads with high interest rates on outstanding balances. To help you avoid these and other common mistakes, we’ve put together some examples to learn from:

Mistake #1: Overspending

It is easy to forget you are going into debt when you first start using credit. You simply swipe the card and go on your merry way. Unfortunately, the small purchases you don’t remember making will add up over the weeks and months. If you don’t keep track of your purchases in real-time, you may spend far more than you planned. When this happens, you can easily get whacked with an over-the-limit fee or spiral into credit card debt that becomes unmanageable.

Mistake #2: Spending just to earn more rewards

Many credit cards let you earn rewards points that can be redeemed for merchandise, cash back, or travel. It may be tempting to maximize this feature, but you should only do so with caution. The fact is, spending to earn rewards is never beneficial because your unnecessary spending often costs more than the rewards you get back.

Mistake #3: Making only minimum payments

When you carry a credit card balance into the next month, your credit card issuer will ask you to make a minimum payment. This minimum payment is usually only a small fraction of the amount you owe, which can be tempting if you are tight on cash. However, it is important to remember that the balance you carry over will accrue interest and ultimately cost you more money over time.

Mistake #4: Not understanding how to budget

College presents a brand new world full of opportunities and responsibilities. For most students, those responsibilities include managing their own finances. However, it can be tough knowing where to start when it comes to formulating your own budget. That’s why we put together this handy student budget calculator for anyone who needs help managing their expenses.

Student Budget Calculator

Best Credit Cards for College Students for 2019

If you’re ready to take on more financial responsibility, start building good credit, and potentially set yourself up for a healthy financial future, then check out one of our best student credit cards. Just remember, as the famous saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

More Great Options for Student Credit Cards

There are so many credit cards for college students to choose from. Not only that, each card also offers its own set of perks and caveats. How are you supposed to know which student credit card is right for you? That’s where our student credit cards directory can really help:

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