Monday, September 18, 2023
Credit Cards

The six Best Credit Cards For College Students

So I remember back in college, I didn’t really pay attention to credit cards, and I was just using a debit card for most of my spending. But looking back on that, I was definitely missing out because I could have been building my credit better while getting some other really nice benefits on a few great no-annual-fee student credit cards that are out there. So that’s why in this blog, we’re going to go over what I think are the six best credit cards for college students or anyone else that’s currently getting some sort of education.

Now, the main thing I looked for in these cards was that they didn’t have any annual fees, because student credit cards are really geared toward beginners with low income. But I also focused on finding credit cards that earned above-average cash back or rewards, ones that had some sort of signup bonus or some other notable benefit like no foreign transaction fees for those studying abroad. 

And I even found one with no social security number required for international students studying in the US who are looking for entry into building credit. So with all that said, let’s get right into it here. And if you’re in college, please share this with your other college friends; if you’re not in school, please forward this to anyone else you know who might find this information useful. 

1. Discover It Student Cashback

But let’s get started with a credit card number one, which is going to be the Discover It Student Cashback. This card is now a popular choice among many people, not just college students, because there is a nearly identical regular, non-student version of it. But the Discover it Student Cashback is a powerful card and a pretty popular choice for starting your credit journey.

So this credit card has no annual fee, and it’s going to get you 5% back in rotating quarterly categories that Discover tells you about each year. And for 2023, those categories are going to include things like grocery stores, gas stations, Target, restaurants, PayPal purchases, Amazon, and purchases made with digital wallets too.

So that’s a lot of options where most people spend a good amount of money, which makes it pretty easy for the 5% cashback earned with this card to add up quickly. Now you are going to be limited to earning that 5% back on only up to $1,500 of spending each quarter, which would be about $75 of cashback per quarter if you max that out.

But honestly, as college students, most of us know that we’re not going to have that much money to spend at that time in our lives, so I wouldn’t worry about that limit. And as a quick side note for this blog, if you are using credit cards as a college student, this is a time when you have to be extremely careful about not overspending beyond what you can afford to pay back in full. So as a general rule of thumb that I recommend here on this blog, treat your credit card like a debit card and only use it if you already have the money set aside in a bank account to pay off your balance on time and in full each month.

Don’t spend money that you don’t already have because then you’ll carry a balance and pay high interest. And really, that just wipes out any of the benefits of earning the cashback in the first place, so just be careful. But back to the Discover It Student Cashback card: you’ll also get 1% cash back on all other purchases outside of those rotating 5% categories. And then the real power of the student credit card comes from the first-year cashback match offer that they have. Basically, whatever cashback you earn with this card in the first year, Discover will match it dollar for dollar up to a certain amount.

So if you earn $250 in cash back in year one, they’re going to match that with another $250 for a total of $500 cashback, which means that effectively for your first year with this credit card, when you include that match, you’re getting 10% back in rotating quarterly categories and 2% back on everything else. Now you won’t get that match until the first whole year with this card is over for you, but still, that’s huge, especially compared to other credit cards out there that are aimed at beginners and offer very little in rewards. There are also no foreign transaction fees, but unlike some other cards that we’re going to get next year, which are Visa or MasterCard, Discover is not always accepted as widely outside of the US. That’s just something to keep in mind.

2. Capital One Saver One for Student 

Now next, let’s move on to credit card number two, and that is the Capital One, Saver One, Student Credit Card. So I think this is another really valuable, no annual fee card, especially for college students, since it gets 3% cashback on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services, and grocery stores, which is a lot of categories where you’re getting triple the normal 1% back that most basic credit cards have. 

Now you also get that standard 1% cashback on all other purchases outside of the specific categories, plus as of the writing of this blog in January 2023, there’s a limited-time $100 bonus after spending $100 on this card in the first 3 months of having it, but even if you’re reading this blog later on and that sign up bonus isn’t available, I still think this is a really solid option as a student credit card.

Also, there are some other cool benefits, like a temporary 8% back through Vivid Seats until the end of January 2023, plus no foreign transaction fees as well, and it is a MasterCard. Finally, on Capital One’s website, you can find out exactly what types of purchases count for each category on the Saver One Student Card, where you earn 3% back.

So for example, with grocery stores, that’s going to exclude groceries bought at places like Walmart and Target, but the good news is that with that dining category, that’ll cover a wide variety of places like cafes and barbells. And cafes, bars, and fast food, since those are probably favorites among most college students where you spend a lot of money already.

3. Capital One Quicksilver Rewards For Students

Now moving on to the third best credit card for college students here, we’re just going to stick with Capital One for a minute with another popular card from them, which is going to be the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards student card. And, quickly, this Quicksilver card, as well as the Saver One card and some of the others mentioned in this blog, are also available as regular non-student versions with essentially the same benefits, except that regular credit cards usually have better welcome bonuses or higher credit limits.

But, in most cases, the point of student credit cards is simply to make them available to those who may not yet have the best credit or the highest income. So the Capital One Quicksilver Student Card is a good one if you just want one solid card that’ll earn you a flat 1.5% cash back on everything, instead of having higher earning categories.

Now you’ll get a lot of the same things as that Saver One card that we just went over, like that limited-time $100 welcome bonus after spending $100 in three months. Again, though, that might not be available depending on when you’re reading this post, but of course, there are also no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees, and it’s a Mastercard as well. And by the way, all these cards that I’m talking about here have all those other basic credit card protections and benefits that come standard with most credit cards, like zero liability protection, purchase protection, extended warranties, and things like that.

So I really wish that I had been using credit cards and not my debit card back in college because some of those protections would have been really nice to have. Now there’s not much else to the Capital One Quicksilver since it just earns a flat 1.5% cash back on everything, but again, I think it’s a solid card if you’re spending in many different categories, or if you just don’t want to keep track of several credit cards and where to use them.

Then next, for these last three student credit cards, I’ve got one that would have been my favorite when I was in college back in the day at Penn State, one that’s good for international students, and one that’s just okay, but it could be really good for your credit card strategy after college.

4. Chase Freedom Student

So let’s start with that one at number four, which is the Chase Freedom Student Credit Card with No Annual Fee. So to be honest, this card from Chase is really basic with not too much going on. It’s definitely not a bad card, but it only earns 1% back on all purchases, which is the bare minimum for any credit card, so it’s nothing amazing.

Now there is a $50 welcome bonus after you make your first purchase with this card, which is cool because you could just go ahead and buy a chipotle verrito or something small and get a nice $50 back. But you do also get a $20 bonus for good standing each year that your account is open. So an extra $20 is fantastic for college students, and I know it would have been fantastic for me to get like $20 slices of Canon pizza over the course of a semester at Penn State if prices had risen in line with inflation.

But for the Chase Freedom Student Card, the real benefit here is going to be two things: Number one is that you’re earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points for all these bonuses and the 1% earnings, so that $50 bonus is really in the form of 5,000 Chase points that you can convert to $50.

And number two is that you’re starting to develop a relationship with Chase, which is actually really important for getting some of their good credit cards later on in college or after college. So Chase has some of the best credit cards out there when it comes to earning points for travel, but they can also be a little challenging for some people to get approved for if you don’t already have a relationship with them from banking or a student credit card like this one.

Plus, with those points that you’re earning on the Freedom Student Card, you could actually save them up and then combine them with a card later on, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and then you could redeem those points for even more value towards travel with that card. But the only real downside to this card, which is a Visa card, is that there’s going to be a foreign transaction fee of 3%, so that makes it not a good option for anyone studying abroad.

5. Deserve EDU MasterCard For Students

Then next, credit card number five is going to be the international student option. Consider the Deserve EDU MasterCard for students if you’re having trouble getting started with credit cards in the United States without a Social Security number and don’t want to pay an annual fee. So this card also only gets 1% cash back on all purchases, but there are a few benefits that may be mentioned here in this blog.

First of all, there’s an Amazon Prime credit available for 1 year after you first spend $500 on this card within the first 3 months of getting it, and this Amazon Prime credit is worth up to $69, which is currently the exact cost of 1 year of Amazon Prime’s student membership, so that’s going to be your best use of this credit.

But if for some reason you opted for the monthly student prime membership instead, then that’s going to cost you $749 per month, which this card will then reimburse you for, but the credit only works on up to $69 total anyway, so at $749 per month, that’s only going to cover you for a little over 9 months. There’s also a cell phone protection benefit that covers damage or theft for up to $600 per claim and $1,000 per 12-month period after a $50 deductible, and that’s a nice thing to have as well.

But the really important benefits of this credit card are directed towards international students studying in the US since there are no requirements for a social security number to apply and you also have no foreign transaction fees, so you can travel back to your home country and then use this card without having to worry about that. So you’ll build your credit in the US and get some nice benefits as well, like the Amazon Prime credit, even though the cashback isn’t great. For me, this would be a good option if I were an international student.

6. Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards For Students

And finally, for a credit card number six on this list, which I think is a really great option and kind of unique compared to some of the others that we’ve talked about so far, there is no annual fee on the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card for students. So the reason this one is unique is that it actually gives you, as the cardholder, a bit of flexibility in deciding how you want to earn with its top 3% cash back category.

And the way this works is that you get 3% cash back in one of six categories that you can choose from, which are gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, and home improvement and furnishings. So for me, the most interesting category that I think people might want to choose is going to be online shopping, since that’s going to apply to a huge number of places where you’ll be able to earn 3% back. And also, you can change that 3% category once per calendar month, but it’s going to be set to gas by default. 

Then, on top of that, you also get 2% cash back at both grocery stores and wholesale clubs, plus 1% back on all other purchases. The only restriction is that you can only get 3% and 2% back on up to $2,500 in combined spending in your preferred category (grocery stores and wholesale clubs) each quarter, but the 1% back on all other purchases is unlimited.

This customized cash rewards student card also comes with the largest welcome bonus out of all the credit cards we discussed in this blog, with a $200 cash rewards offer after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. So that’s a bit of a higher minimum spend if you are a student, but with both purchases and some other supplies, I’m sure you could hit it. And then the last thing to note with this Visa card is that there is a 3% foreign transaction fee, so again, this is not a good option to use outside of the US.

Most of these cards should be fairly simple to qualify for as a student if your credit score isn’t too bad right now. Even though everyone’s approval odds will vary, if you’re having trouble getting approved for any one of these, then you might want to consider starting out with a secured credit card first. And since you’re likely going to be a beginner when you get any type of secured or student card, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t use these credit cards in the wrong way.

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