The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Thursday, May 26, 2022

15 Best Credit Cards for Grad Students in 2022

Best Credit Cards For Grad Students

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer

Written by: Brittney Mayer

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Credit Strategist and Finance Expert who has spent years honing her knowledge of the credit industry both personally and professionally. Brittney applies her more than a decade of research experience to crafting in-depth consumer guides designed to help CardRates readers make better, more informed financial decisions.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian is a Content Editor who brings her journalism experience in business and consumer finance to ensure CardRates news articles and reports have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. Her primary goal is to assure editorial content meets the highest level of quality and precision.

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Advertiser Disclosure

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.

  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.24% - 23.99%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
15.24% - 23.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

This card offers unlimited cash back rewards on every purchase, a solid signup bonus that boosts your rewards, 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.

2. Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

This card is currently not available.

Best Overall Rating

★★★★★
N/A

OVERALL RATING

N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

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

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

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

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

While this card made its name for blackout-free travel rewards that were redeemed as a statement credit, you can also transfer your miles to an airline loyalty program to pool with your existing frequent flyer miles. You’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase.

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

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

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

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

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 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.
  • Redeem cash back in any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • NEW Intro APR: Get a 0% intro APR‡ for 15 months on purchases. Then 12.24% to 23.24% Standard Variable Purchase APR applies, based on credit worthiness.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
12.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good/Average

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 bonus cash back rewards for eligible category purchases when activated. Quarterly spending limits apply.

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

  • No credit score required to apply.*
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 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.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.24% - 22.24% applies.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
13.24% - 22.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

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 bonus cash back every quarter.

Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★
4.0

OVERALL RATING

  • No credit score required to apply.*
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • 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.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.24% - 22.24% applies.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they’re approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
13.24% - 22.24% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

If rotating categories aren’t your thing, this card is a solid alternative, offering tiered cash back rewards. Plus, you’ll receive the same valuable benefits 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
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • $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
26.99% (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.

Advertiser Disclosure

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