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Still in School? These Are the Best Credit Cards for Students

Still in School?  These Are the Best Credit Cards for Students

Andrew WStill in School?  These Are the Best Credit Cards for StudentsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Best Credit Cards for Students

Andrew W:   College students with limited credit histories don’t have to give up hope on getting their hands on a great rewards credit card.  There are plenty of cards out there with great intro bonuses and ongoing rewards for your everyday purchases.  Plus, many of them have no annual fee, so they’re great for students on a tight budget!

And you may already qualify for a top rewards credit card if you’re a student with a good credit score and income.  For example, if you’re a graduate student or have returned to school part time while you continue to work.

As a fairly recent MBA graduate, I remember the challenges of saving up for travel and other fun activities as a way to unwind from my studies.  Fortunately, I was able to rely on the rewards I had accumulated on my credit cards.  I don’t know what I would have done without them!

Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
Just Because You’re in School Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Qualify for Rewards Credit Cards or Build Your Credit History

Many of the cards on this list have great welcome bonuses to jump start your rewards, but you do need to meet the minimum spending requirements.  I’ve always timed my credit card applications with large upcoming expenses like textbooks, a new computer, or any other school-related expenses.

It’s also important to remember to always pay your credit card bill in full and on time.  This will help you build a good credit score, so that when you finish college you’ll be able to get a great rate for that next car loan or mortgage, saving you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.

You can use sites like MyBankrate to check your credit.  Just remember that while your credit score can give you a general idea of how likely you are to be approved, each bank does have their own criteria and can look at more than just your credit score in making their decision.

Best Credit Cards for College Students

To get your own credit card, you must be at least 18 years old.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t start building your credit history sooner!

Lots of students get a head start on credit by having their parents or family add them as authorized users.  If your loved ones have a high credit score, you can piggyback on their good credit and develop your own history with the banks.

Keep in mind, being an authorized user will NOT prevent you from earning a valuable welcome bonus from the same card in the future.  But it may count against you with banks like Chase, which includes authorized user accounts when they calculate your “5/24” count.

If you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards), Chase will NOT approve you for many of their best travel rewards credit cards.  But many folks have reported successfully calling Chase to have them disregard authorized user accounts.

There’s no guarantee this will work for everyone.  So be mindful of this if you’re hoping to apply for valuable Chase rewards cards down the road!

1.   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re in college and you’re strapped for cash, and finding it difficult to take time off and vacation during the summer from your hard coursework, the Chase Sapphire Preferred could be your best friend!

According to readers and reports online, you’ll need a very good credit score to get this card.  And if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards), you’re not likely to be approved.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

You’ll also get:

  • 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining worldwide
  • 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on other purchases
  • 5,000 bonus Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card
  • Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
  • NO foreign transaction fees

The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can try out the card at no cost for the first ~11 months.

Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
The Welcome Bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Is Worth $625 or More in Travel, Which Can Go a Long Way Towards Booking a Nice Summer Vacation After You Finish Your Studies!

The Chase Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus is worth $500 in cash back, $625 when you book paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, and potentially much more when you transfer your points to airline and hotel partners like Southwest, United Airlines, and Hyatt.

2.   Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards

Link:   Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card 

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Quicksilver One

If you’re a college student with a limited credit history of 3 years or less, and you’re looking for a straightforward cash back credit card, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is another great card to consider.

There’s no sign-up bonus.  And there’s a $39 annual fee.  But you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

So with all the expenses that you might have a college student with textbooks and school supplies, it could be fairly easy to earn enough cash back to offset the annual fee.

It’s easy to redeem cash back, because you can request a check or statement credit at any time with no minimum redemption amount.

You’ll also get the following benefits:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Price protection – get reimbursed the difference if the price drops on eligible items within 60 days
  • Extended warranty – additional warranty protection on eligible items purchased with the card
Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
For Students on a Tight Budget, Price Protection Can Save You Even More Money If the Price Happens to Drop Within 60 days!

And after making your first 5 monthly payments on time, you’ll have the opportunity to access a higher credit line.

3.   Capital One VentureOne Rewards

Link:   Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One VentureOne

If you’re a college student who loves to travel, you could do very well with the no-annual-fee Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card.  This card has a welcome bonus of 20,000 Venture miles (worth $200 in travel) after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Capital One says you’ll need excellent credit for this card.  According to their guidelines, this means no bankruptcies, no loan defaults, a credit history of more than 3 years, and no 60-day late payments on any loan in the past 5 years.

You also get the following perks:

To redeem your Venture miles for travel, just buy travel like you normally would with your card.  Then, you have 90 days to sign-in to your online account, find the travel purchase, and “erase” it with your miles!

4.   Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Link:   Capital One Venture

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Venture

For students with excellent credit, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great travel rewards card to consider.  The card has a huge welcome bonus of 50,000 Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Plus, you’ll get the following:

  • Earn 2 Venture miles per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Earn 10 Venture miles per $1 on hotel stays booked and paid for with your card through this hotels.com link through January 31, 2020
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Extended warranty – additional protection on eligible items, like computers, televisions, refrigerators, and washers and dryers

The card also comes with Visa Signature Benefits, which include:

  • Rental car insurance – Secondary protection against collision or theft
  • Travel accident insurance – Up to $250,000 insurance for accidental loss of life, limb, sight, speech or hearing
  • Lost luggage insurance – Up to $3,000 per trip, provided the luggage was lost from theft or misdirection by the airline, cruise, etc.
Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
If You Book Through Hotels.com Frequently, You Should Consider the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, Because You’ll Earn 10X Venture Miles per $1 on Hotel Stays Booked and Paid for With Your Card Through Their Hotels.com Link Until January 31, 2020!

Like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card, when you make a travel purchase with the Capital One Venture Rewards, you’ll have 90 days to sign-in to your online account, find the travel purchase, and “erase” it with your miles.

5.   Capital One Platinum

Link:   Capital One Platinum Credit Card

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Platinum

The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a good pick to continue building your credit if you’ve had a tough time getting approved for other cards.  If you are rebuilding your credit due from some blemishes, or if your score is ~650 according to online reports, this could a card to consider getting to improve your credit score.

There’s NO sign-up bonus and NO rewards for your spending, so you should only consider this card if you don’t qualify for other rewards-earning cards.

The card is meant for folks who have an average credit profile, which Capital One defines as someone who has:

  • Limited credit history of less than 3 years (including students, people new to the US, and authorized users on someone else’s credit card), OR
  • Defaulted on a loan in the past 5 years

The card includes the following benefits:

  • Access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Extended warranty – additional warranty protection on eligible items purchased with the card
  • Price protection – reimburses you the difference in price on eligible items if you find a lower price for that same item within 60 days
  • 24-hour roadside assistance
  • NO foreign transaction fees

While the card doesn’t earn rewards for spending, it has no annual fee, which is perfect if you are on a tight budget.  The card also has the option of later upgrading to an eligible rewards credit card, like the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards credit card.

6.   Chase Freedom

Link:   Chase Freedom Credit Card

Link:   Our Review of the Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom is one of my personal favorites because you can earn 5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus.  And according to readers’ personal experiences (and mine!), you can be approved for this card even if you have limited credit history less than 3 years.

The Chase Freedom has no annual fee and a sign-up bonus of $150 (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.

And you’ll also get:

  • $25 (2,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • 5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on up to $1,500 in combined spending in rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus
  • 1% cash back (1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on all other purchases

It’s not a good card to use when you’re traveling abroad, because it adds foreign transaction fees.

The card is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you’re not likely to be approved if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards)

Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
With the Chase Freedom’s Rotating 5% Back Categories, You Can Very Quickly Earn Rewards!

I’ve personally had this card ever since I was an undergraduate college student nearly a decade ago.  I’ve always been able to make use of at least 2 to 3 of the rotating quarterly bonus categories each year, and at a 5% cash back rate, this is one of my top rewards credit cards!

Keep in mind, the Chase Freedom earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  If you later get other Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning cards, you can pool these points with another eligible Chase card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred.

Then you’ll be able to transfer points directly to Chase travel partners, or redeem them at a higher value through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals, and more.

7.   Chase Freedom Unlimited

Link:   Chase Freedom Unlimited

Link:   Our Review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited

If you don’t want to keep track of rotating bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is an excellent choice.

The card also has no annual fee and has a welcome bonus of $150 (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.

You’ll also get:

  • $25 (2,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • 1.5% cash back (1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on all purchases with NO limit 

But the Chase Freedom Unlimited adds foreign transaction fees, so it’s not a good choice for overseas trips.

Again, if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards), you’re also unlikely to be approved for the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

8.   Capital One Savor Cash Rewards

Link:   Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card 

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Savor

When I was in college, I ate out a LOT simply because I had almost no time to prepare meals at home.  If you’re in a similar situation, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a fantastic card to consider because it gives you 3% cash back on dining!

The card has no annual fee and has a sign-up bonus of $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.

According to Capital One’s guidelines on their website, you need excellent credit for this card, which means no bankruptcies, no defaults on loans, more than 3 years of credit history, and no 60-day late payments in the past 5 years.

It also comes with:

Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
If You’re Like Many College Students Who Dine out Often, You Could Do Very Well With a Fantastic 3% Cash Back on Dining With the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Card

And cash back is easy to redeem, because you can request it in the form of a check or statement credit at any time with no minimums!

9.   Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards

Link:   Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card 

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Quicksilver

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great cash back card that adds no foreign transaction fees.  So your budget can breathe a bit easier if you happen to travel overseas!

This card has a welcome bonus of $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.  The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards also requires excellent credit based on Capital One’s guidelines.  So you should have a good chance of approval if you have no bankruptcies, no loan defaults, more than 3 years of credit history, and no 60-day late payments on any loan in the past 5 years.

The card also includes the following benefits:

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Extended warranty – additional warranty protection on eligible items purchased with the card
  • Secondary rental car insurance which covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car

And cash back with card is also very easy and convenient to redeem.  You can request it in the form of a check or statement credit, at any time with no minimums.

10.   Capital One Secured

Link:   Capital One Secured Credit Card

If you’re a college student with no credit history at all, the Capital One Secured credit card is a great first step to take to building your credit score.

While the card does not offer rewards or a sign-up bonus, it also has no annual fee so it won’t cost you anything.  You’ll have to make a refundable security deposit of $49, $99, or $200 depending on your creditworthiness.

And you can increase your credit limit by making a larger security deposit, or by making the first 5 months of payments on time.

It also comes with perks like extended warranty and travel accident insurance.  And there are many reports that after 12 months of on-time payments, you can call and request the card to be changed to an unsecured product to get your security deposit back, so this is a card that can grow with you as you improve your credit!

11.   Capital One Journey Student Rewards

Link:   Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Link:   Our Review of the Capital One Journey

If you have a limited credit history and are looking for a good card to use overseas, the Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card is definitely worth a look!  You do NOT have to be a student to qualify for this card.

This card is designed for those with average credit.  Based on Capital One’s description of average credit, this would include those with a credit history less than 3 years, or have defaulted on a loan within the past 5 years.

The card has NO sign-up bonus but also has no annual fee.  You can earn up to 1.25% cash back structured as follows:

  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Earn an additional 0.25% cash back for paying your bill on time

And you’ll get the following perks:

  • Access a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel accident insurance – automatic insurance for death or dismemberment when you use the card to purchase your fare
  • Extended warranty – additional warranty protection on eligible items purchased with the card
  • Secondary rental car insurance which covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car
Still In School These Are The Best Credit Cards For Students
With NO Foreign Transaction Fees, You Can Keep More Cash in Your Pocket When You Travel Overseas With the Capital One Journey Student Rewards Card

Similar to other Capital One cash back cards, with the Capital One Journey, you can redeem your cash back whenever you want in the form of a statement credit or check.  And by making the first 5 months of payments on time, you could qualify for a credit line increase.

12.   Discover it®  Card for Students and Discover it® Chrome for Students

Link:   Discover it® for Students

Link:   Discover it® Chrome Card for Students

Both the Discover it® for Students and Discover it® Chrome for Students are solid choices for earning cash back for everyday spending.  Neither card has an annual fee or adds foreign transaction fees.  But you won’t earn a sign-up bonus, either.

With either card, you’ll earn a “Good Grade Reward” of a $20 cashback bonus each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.  After September 1, 2018, this will be paid as a statement credit to your account instead of a cashback bonus.

With the Discover it® for Students you can:

  • Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

And Discover it® Chrome for Students cardholders get:

  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

Plus, with both cards, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of credit card options for college students, even those with limited credit histories.  And many of the cards on this list have no annual fee, so it won’t cost you anything you keep the cards while you continue building a good credit score.

This is perfect if you’re on a tight budget and would rather not have an added expense of an annual fee.

You can also get a jump start on your rewards, because some of these cards have valuable welcome bonuses.  Just keep in mind, you’ll have to meet the minimum spending requirements in the specified time frame.

I find it best to time my applications to a large expense I know I’ll have to pay soon, like an insurance bill or a new computer.  Here are our top picks for the best credit cards for students:

Are you a student?  Did we miss your favorite card?  Let us know in the comments!

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Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

  • 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

More Info

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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