7 Best Credit Cards for College Students (First Card, No Credit, More)

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Posted: May 17, 2017
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

Heading to college is an exciting time in one’s life — you’ve got more freedom than ever before, and you finally get to choose the things you learn about, unlike school before college. The world is at your fingertips, but it doesn’t come without a price.

With such freedom comes responsibility, including the financial sort, but it’s hard to rely on Mom and Dad for everything once you’ve left the nest. A credit card designed for students can be a viable tool to help you pay for books, tuition, transportation, groceries, and any other college-student necessity. Whether you’re ready to begin building a positive credit history or just want a simple, prepaid solution, below are our top credit card recommendations for students.

Your First Card | No/Limited Credit | Bad Credit | Prepaid Cards

Best “First Card” for a College Student

Most college students have never had credit before, and that’s okay — everyone has to start somewhere! Even with absolutely no credit history, students can still be approved for a card with a reputable issuer that won’t prey on first-time cardholders.

The Discover it® for Students offers cash back rewards, no annual fee, late payment forgiveness, and no interest on purchases for the duration of the intro period — usually six months — but check the terms when applying as terms change often.

Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

  • Our Take: "The lack of fees, combined with great perks like cash back and free credit score tracking, make this credit card a solid deal for college students.
  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate quarterly, up to $1,500 per quarter when you sign up for the quarterly bonus
  • 1% cash back on all your other purchases with no limits
  • No annual fee
  • $20 cash back each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher (maximum 5 years)"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

+ See more student credit cards

College Students with Limited or No Credit

The nice thing about limited or no credit is that you’re not discriminated against by the credit bureaus for not having an established credit history yet. In fact, you can get card benefits that are comparable to those for people with good credit, with the added bonus of rewards for good grades — typically a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

The Discover it® chrome for Students is very similar to the Discover it® for Students above in that it also offers no annual fee and a 0% intro period, but the chrome offers a higher, fixed cash back percentage, whereas the Discover it for Students offers 5% back on rotating quarterly categories.

Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★

4.0

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back 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.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
13.99% - 22.99% Variable
$0
Fair

The Journey® Student Rewards card is issued through Capital One, one of the 10 largest banking institutions in the U.S., so you know you’re in good hands. The primary benefit to this card is that after five on-time payments, you may qualify for a credit limit increase. As with the Discover cards, you’ll pay no annual fee and earn cash back rewards.

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★

4.2

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • 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
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

+ See more no/limited credit cards

College Students with Bad Credit

Cards for subprime credit typically charge high fees, so a secured card can be a good way to go if you’re a student with bad credit, that is, a score below 650. Secured cards generally don’t have annual fees and provide the opportunity to prove you’re creditworthy as you approach graduation.

The difference between a secured and an unsecured card is that a secured card requires a deposit to “secure” the line of credit. The required deposit is generally equal to the amount of credit you’re given and is the issuer’s way of protecting itself if you miss or default on payments.

This is not to be confused with a prepaid card, as prepaid cards do not report to the credit bureaus, so they do not affect your credit in any way like a secured card will. You may also receive a credit limit higher than the required deposit — this is known as “partially secured” credit and is solely decided by the issuer when you apply.

SECURED RATING

★★★★★

5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

+ See more secured credit cards

Prepaid Credit Card Options

If you just need a card to be able to make secure transactions online and the like, but don’t want to worry about interest and annual fees, a prepaid card is one way to go. The most important thing to understand about prepaid cards, however, is that if your goal is to establish credit, prepaid cards cannot help you do this, as they do not report to credit bureaus. If this is important to you, but you’re afraid of overspending, check out the secured cards above.

A prepaid card sets a limit to your spending, as you can only use what you load onto it, and is a good way to keep a budget. Be mindful of fees, though, as some prepaid cards charge small monthly usage fees.

Pink NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Sign up for NetSpend Payback Rewards and earn cash back.
  • No late fees or credit card debt because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get real time text message alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply.
  • *Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
No Credit Check
Brink

at NetSpend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • Trust Brink's with your money. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • Get paychecks or government benefits checks up to 2 days faster* with Direct Deposit.
  • Earn Cash Back via the PayBack Rewards program from restaurants, shops and more.
  • Funds availability not guaranteed. Card used is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply
  • *Card issued by BofI®, Member FDIC. Terms & conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
No Credit Check
AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card Review

at AccountNow'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.6

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • $0 Monthly Fee Pay As You Go Plan (See Cardholder Agreement on site)
  • No Credit Check. No Overdraft Fees, ever.
  • Free† direct deposit and online bill payment
  • Use it Everywhere Visa Debit Card Accepted in the U.S.
  • Easy Online/Mobile Account Access
  • Perfect for Occasional Usage
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Check

+ See more prepaid cards

Responsible Usage is the Key to Credit Success

Whichever card you choose, paying your bill on time and keeping your balance low is the key to building a positive credit history. Establishing a credit history before hitting the “real world” is important for finding an apartment or first home, and in some cases, even a job.

If you go the secured card route, keeping a record of on-time payments will allow you to eventually graduate to an unsecured card, just as you’ll be graduating to a brighter, and, hopefully, more financially secure future.