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What are my private student loan options?

Best Student Credit Cards for October 2021

Editorial opinions are ours alone and may not have been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. We are compensated by partners but we do not allow this to influence our opinions. We do not cover every offer on the market and may feature offers from partners. The information, including card rates and fees, presented is the most accurate as of the date of the review. Check the lender’s website for the most current information.

You’ve left your parents’ home and started college. Perhaps you feel anxious and uncertain or even confident and excited. In addition to the academic and social aspects of university, you are now embarking on a new, financially independent phase of life and you're considering applying for a student credit card to better manage your finances.

Different cards come with their own unique perks. If you’re unsure about the best credit cards or the best reward cards for college students, this article will help you understand what to look for. And if you want to learn about responsible credit card use, or you’re looking for a card that can provide you with rewards and other perks, continue reading to choose a card that fits your financial and personal lifestyle.

Terms, conditions, and rewards are subject to change and are managed by each credit card provider. In addition, the Card Act of 2009 prohibits credit card issuers from extending a credit card account to anyone under the age of 21 unless they have an adult cosigner or they can demonstrate that they are able to repay their credit card debt.

The Best Overall Credit Cards for College Students

Student credit cards are designed specifically for college students, but this does not mean you’ll automatically qualify for a student card just because you are enrolled in college. You will likely have to show proof of some source of income, and for some you will need to show a credit score. A few options for student cards are as follows.

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card boasts a "no-fees-whatsoever" policy. It's a great way for those with limited credit or no credit, like students, to build their credit score. No deposits are required, and the credit limit ranges from $500 to $10,000. In addition, the Petal mobile app facilitates paying your bills on time with automated payments, budgeting, and managing your spending.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments |1% cash back on eligible purchases right away |2% - 10% cash back at select merchants
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Limited, None
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Petal 2 Visa® Credit Card Cardholder Agreement

Discover it® Student Chrome

You don’t need a FICO® score to sign up for this card, but having one will provide you access to your FICO score every month! It offers a rewards rate of 1%-2% as well as access to cashback rewards at places like restaurants and gas stations.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Rewards: 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. Discover also offers a Good Grade Reward for eligible students who maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Credit: Discover uses FICO score data from TransUnion® which may differ from other credit reporting agencies. Credit score minimum requirements are subject to the discretion of Discover.
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Fair, Limited, None

Discover it® Student Chrome Rates and Fees

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Whether you have no credit history, are just starting out with your first card, you’re an international student with no US-based credit history, or you don’t have a social security number, this can be a great card for you. It offers a $0 annual fee as well as a 1% rewards rate.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases (except for money orders, traveler's checks, foreign currency purchases, wire transfers, lottery tickets, and gambling purchases), Amazon Prime Student for a year
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Limited, None

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One

Here’s a great first credit card for any student. The annual fee is $0, and this may be one of the best credit cards for students with limited or no credit. It requires a minimum security deposit of $49, $99, or $200. Your deposit is refundable if you close your account and pay your balance in full, and it may be refundable as a statement credit if you are using your card responsibly by making on-time payments (eligibility will be determined by your credit card company). Your security deposit can also be returned to you as a statement credit once you (if applicable) upgrade to an unsecured credit card.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: There are no rewards for this card, but in as little as 6 months, you may be automatically evaluated for a higher credit line.
  • Credit Needed: Limited, Poor

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One Rates and Fees

Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card

The Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card charges no annual or foreign transaction fees, and has a credit limit ranging from $500 to $5,000. It's a good credit card for building or rebuilding your credit. No deposits are required to get started, and you can use the Petal mobile app to do more than merely pay down your balance—you can automate your bill payments, track your spending, and more.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: 2% - 10% cash back at select merchants
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Limited, Bad, None
  • Earn a credit limit increase in as little as 6 months. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Petal 1 Visa® Credit Card Cardholder Agreement

The Best Rewards Cards for College Students

Maybe the reward you want is simply more money to pay for life’s necessities. Perhaps you want fun perks like coffee, takeout meals, or cash matches from your credit card company. Here are two great student reward cards to get you started earning points, perks, and even cash.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

This card offers you the ability to earn 1% cashback on all your purchases, and if you make your monthly payment on time, you’ll earn 1.25% cashback instead. It’s a great first card for students who are looking for simplicity as well as the ability to earn rewards.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on all purchases | Pay on time to boost your cash back to 1.25% for that month | Potentially earn a higher credit line in as little as six months.
  • Credit Needed: Average, Limited

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One Rates and Fees

Bank of America® Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students offers 3% cash back in the category of the student’s choice, like online shopping, gas, dining or travel, a $200 online cash rewards bonus for making at least $1,000 (exclusive of any fees, returns, or adjustments) in any combination of purchases or transactions on the card that post to the account within the first 90 days of opening an account, and the ability to redeem cash back once their cash rewards balance is at least $25.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 3% of the U.S. dollar amount of each transaction
  • Rewards: 3% cash back in your category of choice: online shopping, gas, home improvement/furnishings, dining, travel or drug stores | 2% cash back at wholesale clubs and grocery stores | 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Limited

Bank of America® Cash Rewards ™ Credit Card for Students Rates and Fees

Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card

The Chase Freedom® Student credit card permits you to build credit for the future while accessing some unique rewards, like 1% cash back on every purchase. There is a $50 bonus to new card members who make their first purchase within three months of opening their account. Also, cardholders can earn 2,000 points which can be redeemed for $20 every year after their account anniversary for the first five years. The Chase Freedom card has partner benefits with Lyft and DoorDash. Earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022. Get three months of DashPass. The DoorDash subscription service provides unlimited deliveries for a $0 delivery fee (though other fees may apply) on eligible orders over $12. After those three months you’re automatically enrolled in DashPass at 50% off for the next nine months. You have to activate this offer by Dec. 31, 2021.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 3% of the amount of each transaction in U.S. dollars
  • Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022, and three months of DoorDash DashPass. After those three months you can get 50% off Dash Pass for the next nine months if you activate the DoorDash offer by Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card Rates and Fees

Discover it® Student Cash Back

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card offers a Cashback Match program in which Discover matches your cash back rewards earned for the first year (the first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer). If you’ve earned $100, this will turn into $200 in this program. You can also make more money for making good grades: A 3.0 GPA or higher (or equivalent) will net you a $20 bonus a year for a maximum of five consecutive years from the date the account is opened.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically. Plus, a 2x Cashback Match (a match of your earned cashback) at the end of your first year.
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Fair, Limited, None

Discover it® Student Cash Back Rates and Fees

The Best Secured Credit Cards for Students

Obtaining a secured credit card is a safe, low-risk way for students to establish their credit history. This type of credit card is "secure" because your line of credit is typically based on how much you deposit with the card issuer. Some of these cards which have an annual fee may deduct the annual fee from your deposit. For example, you make a $200 deposit on a secured credit card which has an annual fee of $29. Your actual deposit and credit limit would be $171, not $200. By making timely payments, you can increase your credit score and increase your eligibility for an unsecured credit card. Keep reading for some of the best secured credit cards for students.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

This credit card comes highly recommended by virtually every personal finance website for students. Approval odds are great even for students with poor credit scores. There also is the potential to upgrade to an unsecured credit card after eight months. Your credit limit will fall between $200 and $2,500 based on how much you deposit. These are some of its best features:

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Security Deposit: At least $200 and up to $2,500. Your credit limit is based on the amount you deposit.
  • Rewards: Earn 2% cash back on restaurant and gas purchases up to $1,000 per quarter and 1% back on all other purchases
  • Credit Needed: Poor, Limited, None

Discover it® Secured Credit Card Rates and Fees

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

The main complaint students have with this card is the $35 annual fee. Aside from this, the card does bring some good strengths to the table: (1) You can deposit money and pay bills even without access to a bank account, (2) OpenSky provides financial literacy tools to help with money management and credit building, (3) no credit check is necessary during the application process, (4) the credit limit ranges from $200 to $3,000, and (5) you can add authorized users to your account who may help build your credit with responsible use.

  • Annual Fee: $35
  • Security Deposit: $200 - $3,000 (your credit line is based on your deposit)
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Poor, None

OpenSky® Secured Visa Credit Card Rates and Fees

First Progress Platinum Elite Mastercard® Secured Credit Card

This secured credit card has a lower annual fee of $29, which might still seem steep for some students. You must also be a U.S. resident outside of the following states where the program is not available: New York, Iowa, Arkansas or Wisconsin. Additionally, there is no hard credit check for this credit card, and the credit limit range is from $200 to $2,000.

  • Annual Fee: $29
  • Security Deposit: $200 - $2,000 (credit limit corresponds with your deposit)
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Damaged

First Progress Platinum Elite Mastercard® Secured Credit Card Rates and Fees

Self Visa® Credit Card

Self does not market itself as a credit card issuer for students. In order to get a Self Visa Credit Card, you will need to sign up for a Self Credit Builder account, for a one-time, non-refundable administrative fee of $9. A Credit Builder Account is an installment loan that helps you build positive credit history. Once you have a Credit Builder account, you may be eligible for the Self Visa Credit Card if you reach at least $100 in your Savings Progress, and your last three-monthly payments are on-time, and your account is in good standing with no outstanding fees. If you’re eligible you can choose the amount of your credit card deposit from your Savings Progress, which will be your credit limit for your card. The secured credit card will have a very low limit of a few hundred dollars and has a $25 annual fee. Self does not do a hard credit pull for the loan or your credit card, and it provides free access to your credit score and monitors changes.

  • Annual Fee: $25
  • Security Deposit: $100 minimum based on your deposit
  • Credit Needed: Poor, Damaged, None

Self Visa® Credit Card Rates and Fees

The Best Credit Cards for Students Without Credit History

As a college student, you may not have had the time yet to establish a credit history. Without credit history, credit card issuers may be less willing to give you a standard credit card. Fortunately, there are credit cards that you can apply for even if you do not have credit history.

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

The lack of fees makes the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card a great, competitive option for students looking to build their credit. Students may benefit from Petal's mobile app, which makes it easier to budget and pay bills on time. Petal's cash flow technology makes it easier for applicants who lack credit history to get approved.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments |1% cash back on eligible purchases right away |2% - 10% cash back at select merchants
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Limited, None
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Petal 2 Visa® Credit Card Cardholder Agreement

Discover it® Student Chrome

The Discover it® Student Chrome makes our list again because not only is it a great overall credit card for students, but having credit history is not a pre-requisite for approval. Restaurants and gas stations are great places for you to earn cash back with this card.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Rewards: 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.
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Fair, Limited, None

Discover it® Student Chrome Rates and Fees

Discover it® Student Cash Back

This card offers students without credit several cash back options throughout the year. Additionally, it’s a great way to establish your credit history and make some extra cash on routine purchases.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Fair, Limited, None

Discover it® Student Cash Back Rates and Fees

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

The Deserve EDU Mastercard offers plenty of perks that students can take advantage of. Deserve rewards cardholders for referring their friends who apply and are approved. Also, students can earn a free year of Amazon Prime Student if they spend at least $500 on the card within the first three billing cycles.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases (except for money orders, traveler's checks, foreign currency purchases, wire transfers, lottery tickets, and gambling purchases)
  • Credit Needed: Excellent, Good, Limited, None

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students Rates and Fees

Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card

Students with little to no credit history can start building or rebuilding their credit with the Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card. Students looking to study abroad could benefit from the fact that this card has no foreign transaction fees. With Petal®, you can enjoy cash back at select merchants, a smooth mobile app to meet your money management needs, and a credit line ranging from $500 to $5,000 without the need for a deposit.

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Rewards: 2% - 10% cash back at select merchants
  • Credit Needed: Fair, Limited, Bad, None
  • Earn a credit limit increase in as little as 6 months. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

Petal 1 Visa® Credit Card Cardholder Agreement

How Do Credit Cards Work?

You likely already know the basics of how credit cards work, but it’s easy to misinterpret or misunderstand the details if you’ve never had a credit card of your own. Here is a basic overview of what you can and cannot do with a credit card.

  1. Unlike debit cards, which automatically draw money from a checking account, credit cards carry a balance (your debt). This means when you use a credit card you are essentially borrowing money.
  2. Credit card debt is real debt. Though you may not have to pay it immediately, you will have to pay it off eventually. If you don’t pay your balance off every month, you will be charged interest on the unpaid balance.
  3. Credit card debt carries interest. Compare available interest rates on credit cards, along with the other benefits.

Why Do I Need a Credit Card?

Signing up for a student credit card is a common first step to establishing a solid credit history in your name, which will be beneficial when you go to finance a vehicle or purchase your first home. A good credit score shows the lender that you are capable of reliably making on-time payments.

Credit scores are composed of numerous factors including the number of accounts you have open, how much overall debt you have, and whether you make payments on time (this includes things like utility and medical bills). Mortgage brokers, apartment managers, and other lenders will likely check your credit score before leasing you a property or loaning you money.

These professionals like to see that you have a good credit score (usually in the 700s), which reflects your ability to handle your debt and make payments on time. Overall, these factors show you as a responsible with money. Signing up for a student credit card and maintaining it in good standing is one way of building your credit score to reflect your finances in the best possible light.

What Is a Secured Credit Card for Students?

Banks understand that students likely haven’t had the chance to build a credit history just yet. Because of this, they create secured credit cards that serve their needs. These cards do not work like standard credit cards. Instead of drawing from the bank’s credit, students provide money upfront in the form of a deposit. Students can generally borrow up to their deposit amount, however, confirm your spending ability with your credit card company.

How Do Secured Credit Cards for Students Work?

Some students feel secured cards operate more similarly to debit cards. However, it’s important to still treat them like regular credit cards, so you illustrate your credit management skills to future lenders or banks. And another important distinction, the use of a debit card will not affect your credit score or build credit because your activity is not reported to a credit reporting agency. Frequently maxing out the limit is unlikely to go over well with the bank. Get into the habit of paying the balance, in full, every month. This will demonstrate responsible credit usage and help to build a positive credit score.

What Are the Best Secured Credit Cards to Build Credit for Students?

The most important part of getting a secured credit card is doing your research. Begin by understanding what your credit needs are and then aligning yourself with a bank or credit card issuer that meets those needs. We have identified some cards that you can compare.

How Can Students Apply for Secured Credit Cards?

Once you complete your research and choose a card, the next step in getting a secured credit card involves reaching out to the credit card company. Each company has its own application process, so you need to follow the steps provided on their website. In most cases, you can complete the full application online. You will then be asked to submit information, so the bank can confirm your identity. Finally, the bank will ask for your deposit.

What is Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor Credit?

While credit card companies and other lenders will have their own criteria, you can get a general idea of the strength of your credit by looking at the following ranges.

General credit score ranges:

  • Excellent or Exceptional: 800-850
  • Very Good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor or Very Poor: 300-579

What Does it Mean to Have “Limited” or “No Credit”?

Credit card companies and lenders will look up your credit history. If you have not had any lines of credit (accounts) open in the past, your lender could classify you as having no credit. If you have credit lines open, but they haven’t been open for very long (generally under two to three years) you could be classified as having limited credit history.

This is significant because lenders will use your credit history to see what type of borrower you are. If your credit history demonstrates that you make on-time payments and keep your credit usage under 30%, this will help you increase or maintain a strong credit score. However, if you don’t have any history to look at, creditors won’t know what type of borrower you are.

What are my private student loan options?