Many students have had little interaction with the credit industry. Some have no credit scores at all, while others have fair or poor credit. We’ve reviewed the following nine credit cards for students with fair credit, which offer students a great opportunity to build their credit.
No doubt about it, a good credit score will help students down the road, when graduates look to lease an apartment and apply for a job. In addition, owning a credit card is an object lesson in personal finance that will help round out a student’s education.
Read on to see the surprisingly wide variety of student credit cards — one or more may be a perfect fit for you.
Best Overall Card for Students with Fair Credit
The Discover it® Student Cash Back card is our top choice for its 5% cash back rate, up to the quarterly limit, on rotating categories of merchants that you activate each quarter. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
You also get an unlimited Cashback Match on all the cash back you earn during the first year after opening the account.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
This card is currently not available.
Students with an annual 3.0 or higher GPA receive a $20 statement credit for up to the next five years. Students also receive important security features, including instant account freeze and unfreeze, activity and fraud alerts, and $0 liability if your card is lost, stolen, or used fraudulently.
In addition, your first late payment won’t trigger a fee, and late payments won’t raise your APR.
Other Top Cards for Students with Fair Credit
The following eight cards are well-suited for students with fair credit. Each offers features that students will appreciate.
Always understand a credit card’s terms and conditions before applying, including its APR, the number of days in the interest-free grace period, and the various fees that can mount up.
Discover it® Student chrome
This card is currently not available.
The Discover it® Student chrome card lets you earn 2% cash back on your first $1,000 in combined restaurant and gas purchases each calendar quarter. You also get unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The Cashback Match feature applies to all cash back you earn in the first year after opening the account. You can also qualify for good grade rewards, get free Social Security number alerts and FICO scores, and enjoy a 0% APR on purchases during the first six months of account opening.
- 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 Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
- Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
- Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Average, Fair, Limited
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® lets you earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases while charging no annual fee. When you pay your bill on time, however, you can boost your cash back rate to 1.25% for the month.
The card lets you build your credit by reporting your payments to at least one credit bureau. Furthermore, you can bump up your credit limit when you make your first five monthly payments on time.
4. Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card
- 1% cash back on all purchases
- $20 Good Standing rewards each account anniversary
- Earn a credit limit increase after five on-time payments within 10 months from account opening
- No annual fee
The Chase Freedom® Student credit card charges no annual fee. You can earn a 5,000-point bonus (worth $50) by using your card for at least one purchase during the first three months. In addition, you earn 1% cash back on all purchases and an annual $20 Good Standing reward for up to five years.
You’ll earn a credit limit increase by making five monthly payments on time within the first 10 months after account opening. You also get a variety of service and protection benefits from the Chase Freedom® Student card.
5. Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
- 1% cash back on all purchases
- Get one year free of Amazon Prime Student, among other perks
- Credit limit of up to $5,000
- No annual fee
The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students lets you earn 1% cash back on all purchases and charges no annual fee. The card does not offer cash advances or balance transfers.
You’ll get free protective coverage of your cellphone if you use the card to charge your monthly bill. You’ll also get one free year of Amazon Prime Student, and there is no fee for international transactions.
6. Citi Rewards+SM Student Card
- 2X points at supermarkets and gas stations, 1X points on everything else
- Earn 2,500 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months of account opening
- No annual fee
The Citi Rewards+SM Student Card lets you earn bonus points when you spend the required amount during the first three months after opening the account. You earn 2X points on gas station and supermarket purchases of up to $6,000 per year and 1X points on all other purchases.
In addition, the card charges no annual fee and rounds up all purchases to the nearest 10 points. You get 10% points back on the first 100,000 points redeemed per calendar year. A 0% APR applies for purchases made in the first seven months. The card has a 23-day grace period.
7. Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
- 3% cash back in the category of your choice, 2% at grocery store and wholesale clubs, 1% on everything else
- $200 cash bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening
- No annual fee
The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students lets you earn 3% on purchases in the category of your choice, including online shopping, travel, dining, gas, drug stores, and home furnishings. You earn 2% cash back at wholesale clubs and grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases.
The limit on 3% and 2% cash back is for the first $2,500 of combined purchases each quarter. The APR is 0% for the first 15 billing cycles, and the grace period is 25 days.
8. Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
- Earn 1.5 points for every $1 spent
- Earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening
- 0% promotional APR for 12 billing cycles
- No annual fee
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students provides unlimited 1.5X points on all purchases, which can be redeemed as a statement credit for travel purchases made with the card. The grace period for this card is 25 days.
There are no annual or foreign transaction fees, and you can earn bonus points if you make the required amount of purchases during the first 90 days. The introductory 0% APR applies for the first 12 billing cycles.
9. Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card
- 3% cash back on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for six months, 1% thereafter
- 0% introductory APR for six months
- Access to free FICO credit score
- No annual fee
The Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card earns 3% cash rewards for up to $2,500 spent on grocery, gas, and drugstore purchases, but only during the first six months after opening the account. All other purchases earn 1%.
This card charges no annual fee and offers six months of 0% APR on purchases. The grace period for this card is 25 days. Cardholders can access FICO scores, financial education, and tools at the Well Fargo Online® site.
What is the Easiest Credit Card to Get with Fair Credit?
The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students may be the easiest card for international students to obtain because it doesn’t require a Social Security number. It is for students with no previous credit history or with a fair score.
However, all the cards in this review are fairly easy for students with fair credit to get, and many offer better benefits and rewards.
Our favorite card is the Discover it® Student Cash Back card, in which you can earn up to 5% cash back on rotating quarterly merchant categories you activate and 1% back on everything else. The Cashback Match on your first-year of cash back rewards is a unique feature of Discover cards.
The card also offers several other student-friendly features, including:
- An annual $20 statement credit for a 3.0 GPA or better, for up to five years.
- $0 liability protection.
- $0 annual fee.
- $0 late fee on your first late payment and late payments won’t raise your APR.
- Instant freeze and unfreeze.
- Free activity and fraud alerts.
If you’d rather not deal with quarterly rotating categories that you have to activate, the Discover it® Student chrome offers the same benefits as the Discover it® Student Cash Back card except for the reward program. You get 2% cash back on up to $1,000 spent in quarterly combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants, and 1% back on all other purchases.
Two other honorable mentions are:
- The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® offers 1.25% cash back if you pay your monthly bill on time and an automatic credit limit increase if you make your first five payments on time.
- The Chase Freedom® Student card with easy-to-obtain bonuses and 1% cash back on all purchases. Chase cards are highly regarded for their generous benefits and rewards.
The other cards reviewed are also available to students with fair credit but do not score as high when it comes to benefits of importance to students.
Can I Get a Student Credit Card with Bad Credit?
Student cards are unusually flexible when it comes to poor or scant credit history. We believe the credit card companies are willing to take more chances on student cardholders for the chance of establishing a long-term rapport. The hope is that today’s student cardholders will graduate to the better cards offered by the same issuer.
We haven’t concentrated on secured credit cards for bad credit in this review. These are the easiest cards to get because you must deposit cash collateral equal to your credit limit.
While these cards are not necessarily geared toward students, they allow students to easily acquire a card with a modest credit limit. Examples of top secured cards include the Discover it® Secured card and the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®.
Whichever card(s) you choose, be sure they report your card activity to at least one (and preferably all) of the three national credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. All of the cards mentioned in this article report to the credit bureaus.
By paying your bills on time and keeping your credit usage under control, using cards that report your transactions can help boost your credit score.
Whether your credit is bad, thin, or non-existent, a student credit card can be an excellent way to introduce you to the world of credit. By learning how to responsibly use your credit, you’ll have a financial skill that will pay dividends throughout your lifetime.
How Old Do I Have to Be to Get a Student Card?
The minimum age to get a credit card in your own name is 18. However, if you are between 18 and 21, you will also have to demonstrate you earn individual income. This is a result of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009.
The goal is simple enough — to prove that young people have the means to pay their credit card bills. After age 21, you are free to own credit cards as you choose. There is no maximum age for card ownership.
Young adults can increase their chances of getting a credit card by recruiting a cosigner. The cosigner should be at least 21 years old and preferably have good credit. Cosigners are equally liable for all debts charged to the card, and both can use the card to make purchases on credit.
If you are under age 18, you may still get to use a credit card by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card. Some credit cards require authorized users to be 18 or older. However, several have no minimum age, while the minimum age for American Express is 15, and 13 for Barclays.
Authorization is different from cosigning. As an authorized user, you get to use the card but are not ultimately liable to pay your bill — that responsibility rests with the card owner.
In most cases, the card owner cannot set a spending limit for the authorized user. However, American Express permits this, as does Citigroup for the Costco Anywhere Card. Capital One allows the cardholder to freeze the card at any time.
How are Student Cards Different from Regular Cards?
Let’s say the obvious part first: Student credit cards are aimed at students, while regular cards are for the public. The better student cards offer benefits especially appealing to college students. For example:
- The two Discover student credit cards offer an annual $20 Good Student credit for each year you earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher. They also provide Freeze it®, which allows cardholders to immediately freeze or unfreeze card use. Furthermore, there are no fees for your first late payment.
- The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students offers a free year of Amazon Prime Student. This provides free two-day shipping, unlimited streaming of Prime TV shows and movies, unlimited photo storage, and 20% off newly released video games. It also provides cards to international students who lack a Social Security number.
- These cards provide easier acceptance of students who happen to have fair, poor, or thin credit. Generally, they also feature low credit limits, limited rewards, and are unsecured.
- The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® rewards timely payments with higher rewards and a higher credit limit.
- The Chase Freedom® Student card offers several protections, including $0 liability, purchase protection, extended warranty protection, fraud protection and alerts, and an immediate lock/unlock feature.
- The Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card gives you free access to your FICO credit score as well as financial education and tools.
For all these reasons, it makes sense for students to get their own student credit cards once they turn 18. You can pick an issuer that permits you to become an authorized user, or you can recruit a cosigner.
Choose the Card with the Best Rates, Terms, and Benefits
Student credit cards are a natural choice for students with less-than-perfect credit. To that end, we reviewed here nine credit cards for students with fair credit. Each one has features that may appeal to students, and all charge no annual fee.
When selecting a credit card, students should ensure they understand all the card’s fees and benefits. Then, choose the one that provides the best interest rate, terms, and other benefits.