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For many students, college offers the first opportunity to forge a path toward independence. It’s also a huge opportunity to learn how to manage personal finances. Credit cards can be a useful tool in that journey, as they require responsible management even as they’re used to build credit, make purchases and even earn rewards.

Many credit card issuers offer cards designed to meet the college student’s needs. Here are five credit cards to consider taking with you to college in the fall.

1. Discover it Chrome Card for College Students

Rewards: 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined gas and dining purchases per quarter, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: Discover will match all cash back earned in the first year.
Annual Fee: $0
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for six months on purchases, then variable 13.99% to 22.99%; 10.99% for six months on balance transfers, then variable 13.99% to 22.99%
Why We Picked It: Students earn cash back on all purchases, with an extra incentive for dining and gas.
Benefits: Gas station and restaurant purchases earn 2% cash back and all other purchases earn 1% cash back. Discover will match all cash back you earn in the first year, and students will get a $20 cash back bonus every year they maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. There are no foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: If you don’t have a car and don’t dine out much the cash back value tanks.

2. Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

Rewards: Two points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment, one point per dollar spent on everything else
Signup Bonus: 2,500 bonus points when you spend $500 in the first three months. These points can be redeemed on $25 gift cards at select providers.
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% for six months on purchases, then variable 14.99% to 24.99%; variable 14.99% to 24.99% on balance transfers
Why We Picked It: Students can earn points on all purchases, with extra incentives for dining and entertainment.
Benefits: You’ll earn two points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment (including restaurants, bars, concerts and sporting events) and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for merchandise, travel, cash and more. Citi also provides price and purchase protection, trip cancellation insurance and many other consumer-friendly benefits. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
Drawbacks: If you don’t spend much on dining and entertainment, you may want to keep looking.

3. Journey Student Rewards Credit Card from Capital One

Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases, with a .25% boost when you pay on time
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0
APR: Variable 24.99%
Why We Picked It: Students get extra motivation to make timely payments.
Benefits: All purchases automatically earn 1% cash back, but that rate is boosted to 1.25% for every month you make your payment on time. After making your first five timely payments, you can access a higher credit line. There are no foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: The APR is extremely high.

4. BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Rewards: 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases
Signup Bonus: 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases, then variable 15.99% to 23.99; variable 15.99% to 23.99% on balance transfers
Why We Picked It: Students can redeem their points for travel.
Benefits: All purchases earn 1.5 points per dollar. Points can be redeemed for flights, hotels, cruises, car rentals and other travel purchases, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There’s no foreign transaction fee.
Drawbacks: Those who don’t travel should look elsewhere.

5. Citi Simplicity

Rewards: None
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% for 21 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: Students get a long time to pay off purchases and balance transfers interest free.
Benefits: The card’s primary appeal is its 21-month 0% APR offer. That’s a long time to pay down a balance or make purchases with no interest.
Drawbacks: There are no rewards.

How to Choose a Credit Card for College

If this is your first time with a credit card, your best choice is likely a simple card with minimal fees and an easy way to earn rewards. You may also want to look for a card that’s forgiving on late payments in case you slip up.

If it’s rewards you’re after, choose a card that matches your spending habits and provides rewards you’ll actually use. For instance, frequent diners might choose a card with special rewards for restaurant purchases.
Some cards offer 0% intro APR offers that let you avoid interest on purchases or balance transfers for a limited time. Remember, the best way to use a credit card is to pay your balance off in full each month before interest is applied.

What Credit Is Required for a College Credit Card?

Credit cards designed for students tend to have looser credit requirements and may be available to students with average or good credit. You should check the credit requirements before you apply. If you aren’t sure about your credit, you can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: Mixmike

At publishing time, the Discover it Chrome Card for College Students, Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students, Journey Student Rewards Credit Card from Capital One and Citi Simplicity credit 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. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

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.

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