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Best Student Credit Cards

Top Student Credit Cards
Jason Steele
Jason SteeleUpdated June 24, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
There are several reasons why college students look to get their first credit card. When living away from home for the first time, they may need a secure and convenient method of payment. Additionally, students need to learn how to use credit responsibly and start building a strong credit history. Credit cards can also offer students valuable rewards and benefits, but new cardholders should be extremely cautious about using their cards to finance purchases and incur debt. To guide your search for a solid credit card that you can use responsibly, we’ve gathered the top student credit cards across categories, from earning cash back rewards to going out.

How We Chose the Best Student Credit Cards

To find the top student credit cards, we first divided the market into the following six categories: 
  • Best student card for cash back rewards
  • Best student card for travel 
  • Best student card for going out
  • Best student card for encouraging responsible use
  • Best student card for encouraging good grades
  • Best student card for benefits
We looked at over a dozen major credit card issuers and credit unions to find the top cards in each of these subcategories. We included only cards that are offered to all applicants, leaving out products offered by credit unions that not everyone can join.And for each category, we looked at the most relevant factors. For example, the top student card for going out should earn cash back on purchases from restaurants and grocery stores, while the top student cards for benefits should offer lots of perks for cardholders. While credit card terms may change from time to time, the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in May 2022.

Best Student Card for Cash Back Rewards

While earning cash back rewards shouldn’t be the main reason that students get a credit card, earning some cash from your regular spending is always welcome. 

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Flat Rate Cash Back Rewards: Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

To keep things simple, many credit card users prefer to earn a flat rate of cash back on all purchases, rather than keeping track of bonus rewards for specific categories of purchases (though you will still need to know how to read your credit card statement each month). To find the top flat rate cash back card, we looked at the rate of cash back offered as well as for a card that has low fees, which led us to the Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards credit card.Just like the regular version of this card, the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Students offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. It comes with benefits like extended warranty coverage, a complimentary concierge, and travel assistance services. It even features a $100 cash bonus when you use the card to spend $100 on new purchases within three months of account opening. And with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, it’s a low-cost way for students to use a cash back credit card. The variable APR is between 16.49% and 26.49%.Pros:
  • Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • $100 cash bonus
  • No annual fee
  • Valuable benefits
Cons:
  • No bonus cash back offers for spending
  • Higher than average APR for purchases

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Bonus Cash Back: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students

On the other hand, some students are looking to earn cash back bonuses specifically on their common purchases. The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students card offers 3% cash back on a category that you can choose each month, and eligible categories include gas, online shopping, off-campus dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings.You also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. New applicants can also earn a $200 cash rewards boost after using their card to make at least $1,000 in new purchases within 90 days of account opening. You also receive 15 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening (if you’re unsure on any of that terminology, check out our guide on terms related to credit cards). This card also includes a free monthly FICO® score, and its mobile app ties into your other Bank of America checking and savings accounts. There’s no annual fee for this card.Pros:
  • 3% cash back on a spending category that you choose each month 
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs 
  • 15 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee
Cons:
  • Need to manually change the spending category you want to earn 3% cash back with 
  • Bonus cash back limited to the first $2,500 spent each quarter

Best Student Card for Travel 

There are many travel rewards credit cards, but few that are designed for students. The top cards will offer valuable rewards for spending, a generous new account bonus, and no fees for purchases made outside of the United States.

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Travel: Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

When looking to earn travel rewards, this card offers students several advantages. First, new account holders can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening. This alone is worth $250 in statement credits towards travel and dining purchases.Additionally, students earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with no limits. These points are also worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel and dining purchases. New accounts also receive 15 months of 0% APR financing on new purchases, but students are still strongly encouraged to avoid debt.There’s no annual fee for this card, and you’ll face no foreign transaction fees when you travel outside of the U.S.Pros:
  • Earn points towards travel or dining purchases 
  • Travel rewards are easy to redeem 
  • New account bonus worth $250
  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Cons:
  • Promotional financing offer could encourage debt
  • Must spend $1,000 in 90 days to earn the new account bonus

Best Student Card for Going Out

Let’s face it — many students spend a considerable amount of their budgets on dining, food, and entertainment. So when looking for a top student card for going out, we looked for cards that rewarded students the most for those kinds of expenses.

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Going Out: Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

This card offers 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, groceries, and purchases from popular streaming services. There are no limits on the bonuses you can earn, and you’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases. You even earn a $100 cash bonus after spending $100 within three months of account opening. The card also offers 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats when you use your Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards credit card. There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. The APR is between 16.49% and 26.49% (variable).Pros:
  • 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, groceries, and purchases from popular streaming services
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • $100 cash bonus
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
Cons:
  • Higher than average standard interest rate 
  • Large bonuses for dining and entertainment could encourage overspending and debt

Best Student Card for Encouraging Responsible Use

When selecting a student credit card, many students and their parents are most concerned with encouraging responsible use. That means paying your bills on time and carrying little, if any, debt. The top credit cards for encouraging responsible use will offer incentives for paying your bills on time.

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Encouraging Responsible Use: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One credit card offers a nominal 1% cash back on all purchases. However, when you pay your bill on time, Capital One will increase your cash back percentage to 1.25%. It’s not that much money, but it could be enough to get students to make timely payments.You can also earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. The APR is 26.99% variable.Pros:
  • Increased rewards for on-time payments
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • Automatic credit line reviews in as little as six months
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
Cons:
  • Lower than average cash back rates, even with on-time payments
  • Higher than average standard interest rate

Best Student Card for Encouraging Good Grades

Managing your credit cards and personal finances is important, but getting good grades is paramount to college students. The top credit card for encouraging good grades will actually reward students based on their GPA.

Our Pick for the Top Student Card for Encouraging Good Grades: Discover it® Student Chrome

Discover offers a Good Grade Reward on its student credit cards, including the Discover it® Student Chrome card. Students with a Discover it® Chrome card who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher (or equivalent) during a school year (September through August) may apply at Discover.com for a $20 statement credit. You can earn one Good Grade Reward per school year, per account, up to a maximum of five consecutive years from the date your account is opened. This card also offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. You also earn 1% cash back on all other purchases, and the Discover card will automatically double the amount of cash back you’ve earned during your account’s first year.There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. Pros:
  • Good grade rewards encourage academic excellence
  • Valuable cash back offers for gas and restaurant purchases
  • Discover doubles your cash back earned in your account’s first year
  • No annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees
Cons:
  • Earning rewards could encourage overspending and debt
  • The Discover card isn’t as widely accepted outside the United States compared to Visa and Mastercard

Best Student Card for Benefits

Another reason for students to carry a credit card is to enjoy benefits. The top student cards for benefits will include the things that young adults value the most.

Our Pick for the Best Student Card for Benefits: Deserve EDU

The Deserve EDU card includes quite a few benefits that can save students money. First, cardholders will enjoy a year of Amazon Prime Student. Cardholders will also receive a cell phone protection policy, because for many students, it’s only a matter of time before their pricey smartphone becomes damaged or stolen. This card also offers 1% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. This card is also great for international students, as there’s no Social Security number necessary to apply. There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. Pros:
  • One year of free Amazon Prime Student
  • Cell phone protection plan
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees 
Cons:
  • Not affiliated with a major bank
  • No welcome bonus or promotional financing offer

Pros and Cons of Student Credit Cards

Before you apply for a student credit card, it’s important to make sure you understand the pros and cons. This will also help to ensure that if you do get one, you’ll know how to use a credit card responsibly.

Student Credit Card Alternatives

Student credit cards aren’t right for everyone, and there are some compelling alternatives.
  • Get a prepaid debit card: First, you could consider a prepaid debit card. The advantages of debit cards are that it’s impossible to incur debt, as you can only spend the money that you’ve already deposited. But because you can’t use a prepaid debit card to access a line of credit, you also can’t use these as a card to build credit.
  • Become an authorized user: Another alternative is to become an authorized user on another person’s card, like a parent or family member. Being an authorized user allows you to make charges to another person’s account, and the primary cardholder is always responsible for repayment. Due to this, it’s extremely important that the primary cardholder comes to an agreement with the authorized users on how to use the card. However, hopping on with someone who has a good or excellent credit score can be a good way to achieve credit score improvement for yourself.
  • Consider cards not specific to students: Students with an established credit history can also consider applying for one of the many cards not specifically marketed to students. These cards can come with more generous rewards, more valuable benefits and lower interest rates. However, these cards can also have annual fees, while most student cards do not.
  • Look into a secured card: Conversely, students who have already had problems with their credit might consider a secured card. Secured credit cards work much like standard, unsecured cards, but they require the payment of a refundable security deposit before the account can be opened. These cards are available to people with poor or bad credit, but with responsible use, many secured card holders are able to upgrade their card to a standard, unsecured card within a year.

Thinking of Applying for a Credit Card?

Student credit cards can be a controversial topic, as there are too many students who fail to manage their accounts properly and graduate with debt. But when students find the right credit cards for their needs, and learn to avoid debt and pay their bills on time, the result can be a lifetime of good credit card habits. That’s why it’s important to take the time to select a credit card that’s right for you.If you think you’re ready to get a credit card, a good first step is to do your homework. Luckily, Lantern by SoFi makes it easy to compare credit cards with our handy guide that summarizes key facts about your card options.
Photo credit: iStock/MixMedia
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website on credit (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans)SOLC1021237

About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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