[UPDATE: Some offers mentioned below have expired and/or are no longer available on our site. You can view the current offers from our partners in our credit card marketplace. DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Credit card use in college can be both risky and full of opportunities. As young adults with limited experience managing their own personal finances, college students risk incurring debt that can take years to pay off, while potentially incurring costly late fees and penalty interest rates if they miss a payment. But credit cards also offer benefits students can’t get with other payment methods, like security and convenience, and provide the opportunity to build a strong credit history that will serve them after graduation when they apply for a car loan or a mortgage.
There are, however, legal restrictions when it comes to college students and credit cards.
When the CARD Act of 2009 was implemented, it reigned in many of the industry’s most questionable practices. For example, the law prohibits card issuers from mailing offers to people younger than 21 unless they opt in, while also banning giveaways of food, clothing and other gifts on campus and at college-sponsored events. The law also prevents a line of credit from being issued to adults younger than 21, unless they can prove a means to repay their loan or have a willing co-signer.
If you can meet these requirements, here are five credit cards college students can consider getting.
This card is offered to students and features rewards for spending as well as for maintaining good grades. Cardholders earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined gas and restaurant purchases each month, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Students also receive $20 cash back each year they maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Other benefits include no foreign transaction fees, no penalty interest rate and no late fee on their first late payment. There is no annual fee for this card.
2. BankAmericard Travel Rewards for Students
Students are often travelers, especially when they go to school away from home or when they participate in study abroad programs. The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card for Students offers 1.5 points per dollar spent, and points can be redeemed for travel reservations. New applicants can also receive 20,000 bonus points if they spend $1,000 on qualifying purchases within 90 days of the account opening. In addition, Bank of America checking or savings account holders receive a 10% points bonus. There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. (You can go here to learn more about the best travel credit cards.)
3. U.S. Bank College Visa Card
This is a basic card designed for students who are just beginning to use a credit card. It offers tools such as personalized mobile alerts, automatic payments, and overdraft protection that can automatically transfer funds from your U.S. Bank Visa Credit Card account into your checking account when needed. There is no annual fee for this card.
The Citi ThankYou Preferred card offers double ThankYou points for spending on dining and entertainment, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. (Full Disclosure: Citibank, Discover, and Capital One advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.) In addition, new applicants receive 2,500 points after spending $500 within their first three months of account opening. ThankYou points can be redeemed for several different rewards including gift cards, travel reservations, merchandise and loan repayments. There is no annual fee for this card.
The Capital One Journey Student Rewards card (read a full review of this card here) offers 1% cash back on all purchases, which increases to 1.25% for students who make their payments on-time. Other benefits include extended warranty coverage, auto rental insurance, and access to a higher credit line after making five monthly payments on time. There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Before you sign up for any credit card, it is a good idea to look at the terms and conditions so you understand what you’re agreeing to. Once you find the right card for you, it’s a good idea to track your credit score as you go so you can see how your spending and payment habits affect it. You can pull your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com or view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.
At publishing time, the Discover it Chrome, Citi ThankYou Preferred Card, Capital One Journey cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.