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

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

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Updated: August 14, 2018
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® Student Cash Back 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® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★

4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit 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
14.99% - 23.99% 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 statement credits for good grades — typically a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

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

Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★

4.0

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • 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.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit 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
14.99% - 23.99% 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
  • 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
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

★★★★★

4.9

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 convenient way to make secure transactions in-stores and online, but you don’t want to worry about credit checks or potential interest, then a prepaid card is one way to go. There are no credit requirements for a prepaid card and your activity won’t be reported to the credit bureaus.

That lack of reporting can be both a positive and a negative, however. If your goal is to establish credit, for example, prepaid cards cannot help you do that, 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.

On the positive side, 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 or a fee per transaction.

Pink Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Netspend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. "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
Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Netspend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Up-to $9.95 monthly
No Credit Check
Brink

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • Brink's gives you the peace of mind you deserve. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • With Brink's Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster* than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Brink's Money Prepaid Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply.)
  • Get your tax refund direct deposited to your Card Account and no more waiting in line to cash your check!
  • *Card issued by BofI Federal Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Mastercard Debit cards are accepted. "Apply Now" for full details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
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.