What Type of Credit Card Is Best for Students?

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College marks a great time to start building credit. Individuals need a good credit score for many major financial milestones, including buying a car, renting an apartment, and getting a mortgage. A strong credit score can help you qualify for good interest rates on any form of loan or credit. 

Since student loans do not start building credit until monthly payments begin, a credit card presents an ideal solution. However, students may find it difficult to get approved for a credit card without credit history and a steady income. When it comes to credit cards for students, learners can choose the right one depending on their current credit profile and how they plan to use the card.

Deciding on a Student Credit Card

  • Why should college students have a credit card?

    Students should get a credit card in college to begin building a credit history. The earlier you start the better since you need a long credit history and a healthy credit score for major financial purchases.

  • How do I get a student credit card?

    Most major credit unions and banks offer a card for students. You can start by researching your current bank’s options or comparing other offers. When you submit an application online, the lender walks you through the process.

  • Can I get a student credit card with no income?

    You do not need an income to qualify for a student credit card. Most lenders understand students do not possess a credit history or earn a steady income, and they often show more generosity than nonstudent lenders.

What Kind of Credit Cards Are There?

A few different types of student credit cards could prove beneficial. See below for credit cards for students, including credit cards for students with no credit.

  • Standard Credit Card

    A standard credit card is the most common type of credit card available from any bank or credit union. Your current bank may offer one that connects to your current savings and checking accounts. This kind of credit card can act as a travel credit card or other form of rewards-based incentive card. The specific cards available to you depends on your credit score.

  • Student Credit Cards

    Banks and credit unions specifically design student credit cards. College credit cards typically offer lower interest rates and no annual fees. Some feature an introductory 0% APR for the first year. Student credit cards may also feature student-specific perks like rewards for earning good grades, a free Amazon Prime membership, or extra incentives for spending in common categories like gas, dining, and grocery.

    College students can often get a student-specific credit card easier because lenders know that most students do not maintain a credit history. Student credit cards also offer more generous terms than normal credit cards that lend to limited-credit individuals because students typically possess a high earning potential.

  • Store or Retail Credit Card

    Students can also get a store or retail credit card from a variety of businesses. For example, retailers like Target, TJMaxx, Amazon, and Aerie offer their own credit cards. You can use them anywhere but earn specific rewards and incentives for using it at their business.

    These types of credit cards often include high interest rates and unforgiving terms. However, if you regularly shop at that particular business, it can still help you build credit and glean extra perks like discounts and coupons. Stay on top of monthly payments and use your card only when necessary. You should never carry a balance on store or retail credit cards or use them for major purchases.

What Rewards Can I Get?

It pays to consider credit card rewards when picking a card. Rewards refer to how lenders incentivize your spending by offering a percentage back in the form of points, cash, or travel miles.

  • Points Credit Card

    With a points credit card, you earn points for your spending that you can redeem in various ways. The most dynamic option, students can exchange points for cash, gift cards, experiences, hotel points, or airline miles. The value of these points varies depending on how you redeem them, which may require research and feel complicated for some people.

  • Cashback Credit Card

    A cashback credit card is the most simple type of reward structure. Card-holders receive a percentage of their transactions back in the form of cash. The percentage can range by category, like 3% back for travel spending versus 2% back for grocery store purchases. Choose this option if you want direct value that you can use almost immediately.

  • Air Miles

    Some credit cards offer rewards in the form of air miles, which students can redeem for flights with a variety of airlines. Individuals who want to invest in savings on future travel plans may especially enjoy this option. If you prefer a certain airline, you can get a miles credit card through that company.

What Are Some Credit Card Alternatives?

While a credit card may present as the best option for building credit, students can explore some alternatives.

  • Charge Card

    A charge card does not include a spending cap or credit limit, but you can still build credit. Charge cards also do not charge interest. You could essentially spend as much as you want with the card, but you must pay off the entire balance every month. A charge card resembles a debit card in that you need to have the money you spend. However, these cards typically charge high annual fees.

  • Prepaid Card

    A prepaid card resembles a gift card in that you load money to spend. However, since you do not link a prepaid card to a bank account like a debit card, you cannot earn any credit on your spending like with a credit card. Popular among college students, prepaid cards allow parents to load money for their students to develop money management skills without the risk of building credit card debt.

How to Choose the Right Credit Card

Choosing the right credit card can seem daunting. As you research your options, consider your priorities and how you plan to use the card. When comparing cards, keep these factors in mind:

Research any annual, ATM, international spending, overdraft, or late fees that come with the card. The better the card, the fewer the fees.
Type of Rewards
Depending on your lifestyle, you may prefer a cashback card over a miles card. Within each category, you can compare the percentage you get back on different categories.
APR/Interest Rate
As a student, you may sometimes find it difficult to pay more than the monthly minimum. A lower interest rate means you will not be charged as much for that convenience.
Cardholder Perks
Extra benefits like discounts, events, or memberships can increase a credit card’s value. Some cards feature subscriptions to streaming or food delivery services, while others provide access to exclusive airport lounges. Many cards offer student-specific perks.

Once you qualify for a card and begin using it, remember to pay it off every month. A credit score is calculated using five metrics: amounts owed, new credit, length of credit history, credit mix, and payment history. Payment history constitutes the largest factor, which comprises 35% of a credit score. A few missed payments and too much debt can negatively impact a score.

Portrait of Danika Miller

Danika Miller

Danika Miller graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in creative writing. She has since specialized in education and finance writing as a reporter at The Simple Dollar, Her Campus, CreditCards.com, Reviews.com, and elsewhere.

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