15 Best Credit Cards for Grad Students in 2018

15 Best Credit Cards for Grad Students in 2018

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Posted: August 3, 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.

A challenge undertaken by only a small percentage of Americans, graduate school can be a great adventure — and a lot of hard work. And, depending on your field, a whole lot of money.

In fact, many graduate programs provide little to no financial support for their graduate students. Furthermore, even if you’re lucky enough to be provided with a stipend, they’re rarely very lucrative (and often come with time-consuming teaching responsibilities).

Given that the typical grad student is likely on a tight budget, finding savings where you can is a big priority. With smart credit card use, however, you can earn rewards on every purchase and even maximize your earnings for extra value.

Everyday | Travel | Dining | Books & Supplies | No/Limited Credit

Best Cards for Your Everyday Spending

Starting with that mandatory cup of morning pick-me-up, our daily lives are full of little purchases seemingly everywhere we go. For a busy grad student trying to fit as much research into each day as possible, trying to maximize each of those little purchases can be a tedious proposition.

That’s why many of the best everyday credit cards are those that offer simple, straightforward cash back rewards, with no categories to track or limits on how much you can earn. Pairing easy rewards with no annual fee, these cards can ensure you’re not wasting your time or money.

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase - it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
16.74% - 25.49% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

This card offers unlimited cash back rewards on every purchase, a solid signup bonus with an easy-to-meet spending requirement, and an intro-APR offer that can help you avoid interest fees if you need a little extra time to pay off that last round of textbooks.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Android Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 14.74%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.74%-26.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

In addition to unlimited cash back rewards on every purchase, this card offers bonus cash back on mobile wallet purchases for the first 12 months. Plus, get cellphone protection, a nice signup bonus, and an introductory APR offer, all with no annual fee.

CITI® RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • Earn cash back twice on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases.
  • Earn $100 bonus cash back when you make $500 in card purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • Click 'Apply Now' to see the applicable balance transfer fee and how making a balance transfer impacts interest on purchases.
  • No categories to track and no caps on cash back.
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

Although this card doesn’t come with a signup bonus like its competition, it does offer higher unlimited cash back — albeit with a twist. You’ll earn the first 1% when you purchase and another 1% when you pay your bill.

Best Cards for Ride-Shares & Travel Expenses

How you commute to campus will often depend on where your university is located; grad students in the big city are more likely to use public transit or ride-sharing, while those in the ‘burbs may drive through tolls and pay for parking.

Many grad students may also face additional travel expenses, like flying home for breaks or attending important networking events. Regardless of what type of travel you do, there’s likely a credit card designed to help you save along the way.\

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

You don’t need to transfer miles or worry about maximizing your value with this card; simply redeem your miles for a statement credit to cover any eligible travel expenses. You’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase, plus 10X miles on purchases made through hotels.com/venture

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Excellent Credit

This is one of the most popular travel rewards credit cards on the market, and for good reason. You’ll earn 2X Ultimate Rewards® points for travel expenses, a broad category that includes everything from ride-shares to parking garages to airline tickets. Plus, Ultimate Rewards® can be transferred to a dozen airline and hotel partners for extra value.

6. Uber Visa Card

The Uber Visa Card is a solid contender for ride-sharing and travel rewards, providing 3% cash back on hotels and air fare, plus 2% cash back ob Uber rides.

Uber Visa Card

  • Earn 4% cash back on dining purchases, including restaurants, takeout, bars, and UberEATS
  • Earn 3% cash back on hotel & airfare, 2% for online purchases
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases

If you’re a regular Uber user, then the Uber Visa Card has an additional perk that may be handy; you can redeem your rewards for Uber credits straight from your phone.

Best Cards for Dining, Take-Out & Food Delivery

After eight hours of research, an hour of grading papers, and a particularly tedious pair of office hours, chances are good the idea of an hour spent cooking dinner is less than appealing.

Happily, there’s a card for that. Whether you prefer to dine in, take out, or have it delivered, you can save on sustenance with the right credit card. Even better, our top cards in this category offer bonus rewards for other useful purchases, too.

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Excellent Credit

Offering the same 2X Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar on dining as it does travel, this card can pay for its own annual fee in rewards alone for cardholders who spend a lot in those categories — and that’s before you consider the big signup bonus.

8. U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card lets cardholders choose their own categories, which means you could earn 5% cash back on fast food and 2% at restaurants or grocery stores, plus still have another 5% category of your choice.

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 5% cash back in two categories of your choosing, plus 2% cash back in an additional category you select
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Pay no annual fee

Additional categories include everything from electronics stores to gyms and fitness centers. Cardholders can select new categories each quarter, making it easy to customize your rewards to your spending habits all year long.

9. Uber Visa Card

The Uber Visa Card is a great option for rewards on dining, offering 4% cash back for sit-down, take-out, and delivery purchases, including UberEATS.

Uber Visa Card

  • Earn 4% cash back on dining purchases, including restaurants, takeout, bars, and UberEATS
  • Earn 3% cash back on hotel & airfare, 2% for online purchases
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases

The Uber Visa Card can also be a solid option for making online purchases, offering 2% cash back on a wide range of online shopping and digital purchases.

Best Cards for Buying Textbooks & Study Supplies

Outside of food and rent, most grad students probably spend the most money on keeping their backpack stocked and their bookshelves full — neither of which are inexpensive tasks.

Here, too, however, you can likely find a good credit card to take the edge off the cost of all those study supplies. You can find bonus rewards for a variety of retailers, from Amazon.com to your local bookstore, that can help keep your study sessions going without breaking the bank.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • 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.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • 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
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.74% - 24.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

With its rotating bonus rewards categories, this card offers a variety of ways to save on supplies and books. You’ll see quarterly categories, like grocery stores and Amazon.com, that let you earn 5% cash back rewards on up to $1,500 in eligible category purchases each activated quarter.

11. Amazon Rewards Visa Signature® Card

The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a good pick for students who are also Amazon Prime members, offering 5% rewards on Amazon.com purchases.

Amazon Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 3% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases; Prime members earn 5% back
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores
  • Pay no annual card fee, Prime fee may apply

Don’t forget to swipe your Amazon Rewards Visa Signature® Card while shopping at whole foods for 5% off on groceries. And the 2% back on restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores is a nice bonus for those without better cards for these purchases.

12. Marvel Mastercard®

The Marvel Mastercard® is a fun addition to the wallet of any entertainment lover, as it offers 3% cash back on entertainment purchases, but it can also be useful for students looking to stock up on textbooks and supplies thanks to the fact that bookstores are included in the 3% entertainment category.

 Marvel Mastercard®

  • Earn 3% cash back on dining, select entertainment, and eligible Marvel merchandise purchases
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Pay no annual fee

In addition to the Marvel Mastercard®’s broad entertainment category, the card also offers 3% cash back on dining, which is a solid rate for those without a better dining rewards credit card.

Best Cards for Building No/Limited Credit Profiles

Given that you need to be at least 21 to qualify for a credit card on your own (unless you’re at least 18 and have an independent income), there’s a good chance you may not have the most robust credit profile as a new grad student.

Thankfully, there are a range of credit cards on the market specifically designed to help build credit, including several options tailor-made for student credit-builders. The best student starter cards come with solid purchase rewards and won’t charge an annual fee.

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
14.74% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Fair

This card offers much of the same experience as Discover’s non-student cash back card, providing the same rotating bonus categories that offer the opportunity to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 each activated quarter. You’ll also pay no annual fee, receive an intro-APR offer, and be eligible for a cash back match.

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.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 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
14.74% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Fair

If rotating categories aren’t your thing, this card is a solid alternative, offering 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in gas and restaurant purchases each quarter. Plus, receive the same cash back match, no annual fee, and intro-APR offer as Discover’s other student card.

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

While this card has fewer perks than Discover’s options, it still offers unlimited cash back on every purchase, with bonus cash back for paying your credit card bill on time. You’ll also pay no annual fee and get access to a higher credit line after your first five payments are made on time.

Don’t Waste Your Stipend on the Wrong Card

Whether you’re paying out of pocket or subsisting on a meager stipend, graduate school isn’t typically a time of extraneous spending or high-price splurges. Indeed, the typical grad student budget more likely resembles that of the undergraduate they were, rather than the budget of the professional they’re working to become.

On the plus side, there are a variety of ways to stretch even small budgets, including making the most of credit card rewards. With the right combination of rewards cards, you can make the most of your spending and capitalize on every take-out meal or textbook purchase.