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Student Credit Cards : Frequently Asked Questions
If used responsibly, a student credit card can help jump-start your financial life well before you graduate, making it easier later on to save money on everything from auto and personal loans to premium rewards credit cards.
Lenders like to see a long and stable credit history when considering new applicants. So the sooner you start building healthy credit habits, the better.
Many student credit cards also offer learning tools, free perks and credit card rewards programs that can make building your financial life more fun.
Just make sure you use your card sparingly if you’re working with a limited budget. Card rewards are fun to earn, but they may also tempt you to spend more than you should.
In this article:
- What's the difference between a student credit card and a regular credit card?
- Can I get a credit card if I am a student?
- Will I qualify for a student credit card?
- Which card issuers offer student credit cards?
- How do I compare student card offers?
- What are some of the best student cards?
- How do I apply for a student card?
- You’re approved! Now what?
- How to build credit with a student card
- What if I’m rejected for a student card?
- Should I hang on to my student card after I graduate?
What's the difference between a student credit card and a regular credit card?
Student credit cards are marketed specifically to college students who don’t have a lot of experience using credit. As a result, they may be easier to qualify for than a regular card that’s designed for people who have been using credit for years.
Don’t expect a big credit limit, though — especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of income.
Some student credit cards, for example, start new cardholders out with credit limits as low as $300. Others promise credit limits as high as $5,000. That’s a lot for a new cardholder, but still relatively low compared with the credit limits that more experienced borrowers get.
Some of the best student credit cards also offer benefits that are designed to appeal specifically to college students, such as cash bonuses for good grades, free streaming subscriptions or a waiver on foreign transaction fees (which can save you a lot of money if you choose to study abroad). In addition, some student cards offer more traditional card benefits, such as free credit scores, promotional balance transfer offers and sign-up bonuses.
Can I get a credit card if I am a student?
It depends. If you’re over the age of 21, have some sort of regular income to include on your application and don’t have any red flags on your credit report, such as a history of late payments on other credit products, such as student loans or auto loans, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to qualify for a student card with a low credit limit.
However, if you’re under 21, you may have a harder time qualifying.
Many credit cards for college students will allow you to open a card once you’ve turned 18. However, a federal law called the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (or the Credit CARD Act for short) makes it much harder for underage students to do so.
By law, a lender is not allowed to approve your application if you’re under 21 unless you earn enough independent income to pay your credit card bill – or you have a cosigner who’s willing to take responsibility for your debt.
Even if you can convince a parent or another adult to cosign your application, you may still have trouble qualifying for your ideal card. Some lenders, such as Discover, don’t allow cosigners on a credit card. If your lender does allow a cosigner, they will need to be over the age of 21 and have a strong enough credit score to qualify.
If you can overcome those hurdles, opening a credit card while you’re still in school is a smart move – as long as you limit how much you borrow and regularly pay your bills on time.
When lenders consider you for other loans in the future, such as a car loan or mortgage, they’ll want to see that you have a history of being reliable with your payments. The earlier you start building up a reputation for paying all your bills on time, the more likely lenders are to trust you with a new loan and offer lower rates.
Building a solid credit history can also help you in other areas of your life. For example, a landlord may be more likely to approve your rental application without asking for a cosigner if you have a healthy credit history. Depending on where you live, an insurance company may also use your credit history to help determine your premium. Similarly, a cellphone provider or cable company may pull your credit before granting you a deal. Even some employers will want to check your credit before making you an offer.
Will I qualify for a student credit card?
Your ability to get approved for a student card will depend on a number of factors, such as your income, any existing credit history, whether you are applying for the card on your own or with a cosigner on the application and whether you are currently enrolled in school.
If you’ve never used credit before, then you may not have a credit file – which could make it harder for you to get approved, depending on the issuer. Lenders typically want to see some evidence that you are responsible with your payments.
However, some lenders may be willing to grant you an unsecured student card, even if you don’t currently have a credit score. For example, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, which is marketed to international students, doesn’t require a credit history or a Social Security number.
You don’t necessarily need to have used a credit card before to have a credit file either. If you’ve taken out a student loan or have borrowed to buy a car, then those loans and payment history will be reported to the credit bureaus and factored into a credit score. You may also have a credit file if you’ve been an authorized user on someone else’s credit card and the issuer reported that activity to the credit bureaus.
To check if you have a credit file, visit annualcreditreport.com and click on “request your free credit reports.” By law, the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, are required to provide you with a copy of your report every year. You should get in the habit of checking those reports regularly anyway to make sure everything on them is accurate and up to date. If you don’t yet have a credit file, then you may want to skip down to “What if I’m rejected for a credit card?”
Which card issuers offer student credit cards?
Only a small handful of major credit card issuers offer student credit cards.
Capital One offers the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, which awards 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time; 5% Cash Back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply).
Discover offers two student credit cards: the Discover it® Student Cash Back, where you can 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. And the Discover it® Student chrome, where you can 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically
How do I compare student card offers?
When comparing student credit cards, the first thing you should do is look at the card’s annual percentage rate (APR) and annual fee (if there is one), as well as any promotional terms that are included.
If you think you’ll be paying off a large purchase over time with the card, then you’ll want to get the card with a lower APR. However, don’t assume that you’ll qualify for your favorite card’s lowest APR, even if you do have some previous experience with credit.
Even low interest credit cards frequently offer a wide range of possible interest rates, which can be confusing for applicants – particularly since issuers won’t tell you what kind of income and credit score you need to be guaranteed a card’s lowest rate. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to take into account a card’s lowest APR, its highest APR and estimate its median. That should give you a better idea of what you might be offered.
You should also look at a card’s other fees, such as late fees, foreign transaction fees, cash advance fees and any other potential charges, such as penalty rates. To find this information, click on the terms and conditions link that’s included on a card’s promotional page. Every credit card includes this information in a clear, easy-to-compare chart called the Schumer box.
If you decide to apply for a rewards card, don’t just look at whether the card offers cash back or points. Also look at how much you’ll earn, and what kinds of purchases earn a bonus. In addition, look for exclusions that limit how much rewards you can earn, such as a cap on spending in a bonus category like dining out or gas.
To help find the right card for you, consider how often you’ll use your credit card and where you think you’ll use it. That can help you narrow down your options and decide which bonuses will earn you the most points or cash back. For example, if you live on campus and have a campus meal plan, you probably won’t get much out of a card that offers bonus points for gas and groceries. However, if you like to eat out on weekends, a card that offers bonus points on dining could be a better choice.
Finally, don’t forget to look at a card’s ancillary benefits, such as free credit scores, no late fee after the first late payment, rewards for good grades or free insurance.
What are some of the best student credit cards?
The best student credit card for you will depend on what kind of purchases you usually make, what benefits you value and how likely you are to carry a balance.
The Discover it® Student Cash Back card and the Discover it® Student chrome card offer some of the most unique student card features. Discover also offers a number of credit-friendly benefits, including free access to your FICO Score and a policy of waiving the card’s late fee the first time you miss a payment.
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One and the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students don’t offer as many rewards. However, they are good credit cards for building credit. For example, the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One promises a credit limit increase if you successfully make your card’s first five payments. That, in turn, could help boost your credit score.
How do I apply for a student card?
Once you’ve settled on your first choice card, gather information about your annual income, monthly rent or mortgage payment, Social Security number and other identifying information, and click on an application link. Once you’ve filled out the application, you may have to wait for a decision. Some credit cards will give you an instant decision if enough information is available to automatically approve you. However, others may email you at a later date, notifying you of whether or not you were approved.
Don’t apply for more than one card at a time since that could negatively affect your odds of getting a card. Lenders may see it as a red flag and deny your application. Applying for multiple cards in a short time period could also ding your credit score. Each time that you fill out an application, a hard inquiry appears on your credit report. When a hard inquiry appears, it causes your credit score to go down temporarily.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see what APR you are given or how big of a credit limit you can expect until after you are approved. You’ll learn more about your new card once you receive it in the mail or log into your online account.
You’re approved! Now what?
Once approved for a new card, you’ll have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. As soon as you get it, call the number on the card to activate it. You should also use your new card to create and log into an online account on your issuer’s website.
Be sure to read your new card’s terms and conditions carefully so you know what to expect if you carry a balance, miss a payment, use your card abroad or take out a cash advance.
Also, take a look at the credit limit you’ve been given, which will tell you how much you are allowed to charge. In general, you’ll want to avoid running up a balance that’s close to your maximum amount of credit. Not only is it risky; maxing out your card or using up most of your available credit can negatively affect your credit score.
In addition, take note of when your credit card payment is due each month. Depending on the card, you may be able to choose your own due date if you prefer a specific time of the month to pay your bills. You can also set text alerts and email reminders to help you remember to pay your bills. Or you can set up automated payments if you think you might forget or just don’t want to bother with manual payments.
You’ll be expected to pay at least the minimum amount due each month, which will be a small percentage of your balance (or, in some cases, a flat fee, depending on which amount is greater). Your monthly statement will list the minimum amount due and will also include a minimum payment warning that will illustrate how long it will take you to pay off your credit card if you only pay the minimum.
If you can, try to pay well above the minimum amount due or the entire balance each month. Paying a tiny fraction of your credit card balance each month can cost you a ton of money in additional interest charges and make it much harder for you to pay off your balance over time, especially if you keep adding new charges.
How to build credit with a student card
A student credit card can be a great way to build credit at a young age – if you use it responsibly. You’ll want to be careful in limiting your charges to only what you can afford to pay off in a reasonable time period and pay every credit card statement on time.
You won’t receive a negative mark on your credit report until a payment is 30 days past due. However, you could get dinged with a late payment fee, even if you are only a few days late paying your bill.
You’ll also want to avoid running up your balances. An important factor in credit scores is called credit utilization, which measures how much of your available credit you’re using. If you use up a high percentage of your available credit, that will negatively impact your credit utilization ratio and cause your credit score to go down. Some credit scoring experts recommend limiting your charges to just 30% of your credit limit. However, that may be tough if you only have a credit limit of $500.
If you can, try to pay the full balance that’s listed on your credit statement. That way, you’ll avoid paying interest and keep your debt from growing too large. Another option is to pay off the balance multiple times in a month. There are no restrictions for repaying what you owe before your payment is due.
It’s also a good idea to regularly monitor your credit score so you can watch it strengthen over time and know if it unexpectedly goes down. Many student cards offer free access to some kind of credit scoring service. For example, Discover and Bank of America offer free access to your FICO® Score. Meanwhile, Capital One offers free access to your VantageScore. Both credit scores will give you a good idea of how your charging and repayment activity is affecting your credit score.
If you’ve never used credit before, it could take you up to six months to build up a credit score, so be patient. Use your card regularly for small purchases and pay off the balance each month. As long as you continue to use your card responsibly, you’ll eventually build a significant credit history.
What if I’m rejected for a student card?
If you don’t have enough income or experience using credit, or if your credit score doesn’t meet a certain threshold, a credit card issuer may reject your application. A previous history of missing bills or a large amount of outstanding debt can also cause you to be rejected.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you should have a pretty good idea of what caused you to be rejected. By law, a lender must send you an adverse action notice that states why your application was declined.
If a lender’s decision was based on information found in a credit report, the lender must provide you with the name of the credit bureau so that you can check your credit report yourself. Any time you have been rejected for credit, you have the right to a free credit report as long as you ask for it within 60 days.
The lender must also provide you with the credit score it used to make the decision and state what’s negatively affecting your score. For example, it might tell you that you have too many accounts with large balances or that you have too many inquiries.
Study this adverse action notice and use it to figure out how to get approved next time you apply. For example, if you have too much outstanding debt, you may need to pay down your balances before you try opening more credit. Or, if you don’t have enough credit history, you may need to get a card that’s more lenient toward inexperienced applicants, such as a secured credit card.
A secured card can be a good alternative if you are unable to get approved for an unsecured student card. Designed for consumers who are rebuilding their credit – or just beginning to use credit – secured credit cards ask you for a refundable security deposit that helps limit an issuer’s risk in giving you a card. Often, the deposit will help determine the credit limit that you are given. For example, if you deposit $300, your total credit limit may be $600.
Many of the biggest issuers, including Discover and Capital One, offer secured cards. When you’re comparing cards, look at whether they charge an annual fee and how large of a deposit they require. Some secured cards may require a bigger deposit than you can afford. Others charge hefty annual fees that can make them costly to own.
Should I hang on to my student card after I graduate?
If you’ve graduated college and started a new job, you may be ready to upgrade to a new card – especially if you’re interested in earning more rewards or want to take advantage of a big sign-up bonus.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should close your student credit card. When credit scores calculate the average length of your credit history, they take into account the age of your oldest accounts. If you close your student card, that could cause the average age of your credit accounts to go down and hurt your score.
Rather than close your card, you may want to ask your issuer if they’ll instead upgrade your old card for you. That way, your account will stay open on your credit report and you’ll have a more suitable card for your age and lifestyle.
You can also just keep your old card on hand for occasional purchases. Try to use it somewhat regularly, though: Some card issuers will close your account if they detect a long period of inactivity.
When you’re ready to add a new card to your wallet, check your credit score and consider whether you’ll be able to qualify for the card you really want. The most competitive cards often require you to have a good to excellent credit score in order to be approved.
A student credit card can be a great tool for building credit, as long as you’re cautious with how you use it. If you successfully maintain a card while you’re in school, you should have a much easier time qualifying for other loans after you leave campus.