The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Monday, September 21, 2020

9 Best Credit Cards for Students with No Income

Credit Cards For Students With No Income

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Updated: October 16, 2019
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Yes, it is possible to find credit cards for students with no income — you just need to know where to look. And what to look for.

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 debt with no way to repay it isn’t good for you or your credit card issuer.
Chart of Issuers Allowing 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.

Additionally, before you run off and start asking relatives to cosign your credit card application, 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 — and issuers aren’t shy about hounding the cosigner for repayment if it comes to that.

Additionally, the card will show up on the credit reports of both the primary cardholder and the cosigner. This means any negative events — like missed payments or, worse, default — will impact the credit score of both parties. Not only can this mean you have poor credit before you even turn 21, but it can also tank the good credit of your cosigner.

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.

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
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • 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
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings Learn more
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening
  • 0% introductory APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 12 billing cycles (3% balance transfer fee applies)
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 billing cycles
0% for 12 billing cycles
13.99% - 23.99%
$0
None/Limited
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.4/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere
  • No blackout dates or restrictions apply, and points never expire
  • 0% introductory APR on new purchases for 12 billing cycles
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points ($250 value) if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 billing cycles
N/A
14.99% - 22.99%
$0
None/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.

Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Better than Prepaid...Go with a Secured Card! Load One Time - Keep On Using
  • Absolutely No Credit Check or Minimum Credit Score Required
  • Automatic Reporting to All Three National Credit Bureaus
  • 9.99% Low Fixed APR - Your Rate Won’t Go Up Even if You Are Late
  • Activate Today with a $200 Minimum Deposit - Maximum $1,000. * Increase Your Credit Limit up to $5,000 by Adding Additional Deposits Anytime
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
9.99%
$48
Poor/Fair/Limited/Damaged
Bank of America® Cash Back Secured Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings
  • Earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • A minimum refundable security deposit of $300 (maximum of $4,900) is required to open this account
  • Access your FICO® Score updated monthly for free, within your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
23.99%
$0
Bad/Limited
BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.3/5.0
  • A secured credit card designed to help establish, strengthen or rebuild credit
  • A minimum refundable security deposit of $300 (maximum of $4,900) is required to open this account
  • Access your FICO Score updated monthly for free within your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking
  • We'll periodically review your account and, based on your overall credit history (including your account with us and other credit cards and loans), you may qualify to have your security deposit returned. Not all customers will qualify.
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
22.99%
$0
Bad/Limited

+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.

PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • Move money from your PayPal account to fund your prepaid card account.
  • Earn cash back and personalized offers, just for using your card.
  • With Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • Card issued by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted.
  • Click PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® for additional features & program details, and to request a Card.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable
Bluebird by American Express® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get your paycheck up to 2 days faster with free direct deposit
  • Cash your checks to your Account with the Bluebird Mobile app. Access your money in minutes for a fee or in 10 days for free if your check is not returned unpaid.
  • Enjoy Card Membership benefits such as Purchase Protection and Fraud Protection when making purchases online or in store with Bluebird
  • Get free ATM access at over 30,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations. You can also pick up cash at over 4,500 Walmart® stores with Cash Pickup Powered by Ria®.
  • Pay no monthly fees or overdraft fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
Not applicable
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.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your 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).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. Click "Get My Card" for full details.
  • See additional NetSpend® Prepaid Visa® details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable

+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. So, if you’re only looking for a way to make easy purchases, a prepaid card can work. If you want purchasing power and credit-building credit reporting, stick with an unsecured or secured credit card.

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.

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