9 Best Credit Cards for Students with No Income

9 Best Credit Cards for Students with No Income

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Posted: November 7, 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.

As exciting a time as college can be, it can also be a stressful one, and not simply due to the exams. Part of what makes college a less-than-carefree experience is that the average college student is typically broke. Indeed, without any real skills — that’s what you’re in college to learn, after all — the income opportunities for a college student aren’t exactly lucrative, and that’s not to mention the potential impacts to your student aid.

And a lack of income can be a pain for more than just the obvious reasons (like a diet of nothing but mac and cheese). Not having an income will also impact your ability to obtain and establish credit, putting you at a financial disadvantage after graduation. Thankfully, one skill you learned in college can help you here: research. Opportunities to build credit as a student are out there, you just have to know where to find them.

How It Works | Student Cards | Secured Cards | Prepaid Cards

Students with No Income Need Cosigners to Get Credit

Once upon a time, a stack of bright, shiny credit card offers would grace your mailbox just about the moment you turned 18, opening the world of consumer credit to young people everywhere. For better or worse, those days are history — and the CARD Act of 2009 is responsible for their demise.

Designed to enact a range of protections for consumers, such as mandating rate increase alerts, the CARD Act also introduced new restrictions on when and how credit card companies can send offers to young people. One example is the minimum age for obtaining a credit card, which was originally set at 18. Thanks to the CARD Act, individual credit card applicants must be at least 21 years of age unless they meet specific conditions.

In particular, consumers between the ages of 18 and 21 must have a verifiable income source — beyond that monthly “stipend” from your folks — to qualify for a credit card. This is to ensure you have a reasonable means of paying down your balance, as racking up a debt with no way to repay it isn’t good for you or your credit card issuer.Chart of Card Issuers Who Allow Cosigners

For the most part, the only way to avoid the income requirement for credit card applicants under the age of 21 (or, really, any age, as most issuers will prefer you to have an income) is to apply with a qualified cosigner. This means someone over the age of 21, who has a good credit score and a well-established credit profile. Since not all card issuers allow cosigners, you’ll have to choose carefully.

Furthermore, before you run off and start asking relatives to cosign your credit card application, however, you should understand the implications. Agreeing to cosign someone’s debt could have potentially serious consequences, particularly if the primary applicant doesn’t have a steady income source.

Essentially, cosigners act as guarantors for the line of credit and, thus, will be responsible for repaying the debt should the primary borrower be unable to do so. Additionally, the card will show up on the credit reports of both the primary cardholder and the cosigner, so any negative events will impact the credit score of both parties.

Student-Focused Cards Can Be Easier to Obtain

While you can’t even think about getting your own credit card without an income or cosigner until you turn 21, obtaining a new line of credit won’t be a picnic at any age if you don’t have money coming in. Even with a modest income, without an established credit history, most credit card issuers will still consider you to be a risky bet.

On the plus side, a variety of issuers are willing to take that bet. With a little research, you can find a range of student-centered credit cards with flexible credit requirements that can help you start building your credit profile. You don’t have to sacrifice perks, either. Many student cards will also let you earn cash back rewards on your purchases, including our favorites below.

Discover it® for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all 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
Discover it® chrome for Students Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

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

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

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 Student Cards

When comparing student cards, it’s important to understand exactly how your new card will work. This includes understanding the specific interest rates you’ll be charged, as different types of transactions may charge different rates. You’ll also want to determine any applicable fees, such as annual fees and late fees, as well as the various transaction fees, like balance transfer or foreign transaction fees.

Secured Credit Cards May Only Require a Deposit

Arguably the easiest credit card to get, secured cards require an initial deposit to open your account. That deposit acts as collateral against potential default, meaning if you become seriously delinquent (more than 180 days late), the issuer can use your deposit to cover your outstanding balance. This results in lower risk to the issuer, and, thus, looser credit requirements for the applicant.

The nature of secured cards also makes them a lower risk for cosigners, which is good because secured cards are not immune to the CARD Act requirements, so you’ll still need to show income or have a cosigner if you’re under 21. A limited credit history will be less important, however, as secured credit cards, such as the expert-rated options on our list, tend to have more flexible credit requirements — some cards won’t even require a credit check.

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
Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% for 6 months
23.99% Variable
$0
Please refer to issuer's website
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card Review

at Capital Bank'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★
4.0

OVERALL RATING

2.9/5.0
  • No credit check necessary to apply. OpenSky believes in giving an opportunity to everyone.
  • The refundable* deposit you provide becomes your credit line limit on your Visa card. Choose it yourself, from as low as $200.
  • Build credit quickly. OpenSky reports to all 3 major credit bureaus.
  • 99% of our customers who started without a credit score earned a credit score record with the credit bureaus in as little as 6 months.
  • We have a Facebook community of people just like you; there is a forum for shared experiences, and insights from others on our Facebook Fan page. (Search "OpenSky Card" in Facebook.)
  • OpenSky provides credit tips and a dedicated credit education page on our website to support you along the way.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.39% (Variable)
$35
No Credit Check

+See More Secured Cards

For a secured credit card, your initial deposit is more than simply collateral. The size of your deposit will also determine the size of your available credit line — i.e., your credit limit — typically at a rate of 90% to 100% of your deposit, up to the card’s maximum. If you can’t afford a large deposit initially, most cards will allow you to add to your deposit over time.

Prepaid Cards Don’t Require Approval

Offering all the shopping perks of a credit card — including the ability to make online purchases — prepaid cards aren’t actually associated with a consumer credit line, but are, instead, prepaid by the cardholder before use. Not only does this mean your lack of credit history won’t be an issue, it also means the CARD Act won’t be a problem, either — income or no income.

In addition to being usable pretty much anywhere credit is accepted, prepaid cards also have a few features your credit card doesn’t, including the ability to accept direct deposits. Individual features (and fees) typically vary by card, so compare your options before making a selection. You can start with our expert-rated options to explore the market.

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

The fact that prepaid cards aren’t associated with a credit line can be helpful for those with troubled or nonexistent credit profiles, but it isn’t all good news. The same way your credit has no impact on your ability to obtain a prepaid card, your prepaid card will have no impact on your credit. In other words, prepaid cards can’t be used to establish, rebuild, or repair your credit reports or scores.

Only Charge What You Can Afford to Repay

Despite the nightmares of showing up to your final in your birthday suit, college can be a great deal of fun. But like many things in life, getting the most out of your time at college will also require a great deal of hard work.

Of course, of all the lessons you’ll likely learn in college, some of the most important won’t occur within the walls of a classroom. No, some of your key discoveries will be made through trial — and through error. You can reduce the impact of many of those hard lessons with the right bit of research, and that applies to your financial lessons, as well. As the old saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.”

In particular, understand the importance of your credit report and score, including the factors that influence your credit score calculation. This will ensure you have the skills and knowledge to use your new card wisely, allowing you to come out of college well prepared to face the next stage of your financial journey.