Best Student Credit Cards of March 2021

A photo to accompany a story about the best student credit cards Getty/Chase, Bank of America, Capital One

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For students just beginning to build a credit history, credit cards can be complex and confusing. But opening your first credit card can be the first step to securing the credit profile you’ll need for important financial milestones after graduation and beyond, from your first car loan to a home mortgage

Many issuers offer credit cards specifically designed for students. A student credit card is a natural step toward becoming financially independent from your parents and can help you along the path to building credit. Student credit cards can also offer great perks to help maximize your spending, like cash back rewards, benefits, and no annual fees. 

Here are NextAdvisor’s picks for the Best Student Credit Cards:

Before You Start

Opening a credit card is a big responsibility. Make sure you build good credit habits now by paying your credit card bill on time and in full every month, and spending only what you can afford. Also make sure you’re aware of additional fees on things like late payments and cash advances, which can add up fast if you’re not careful.

Best Student Credit Cards

Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students credit card
Good for Flexible Budgets
Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students credit card
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Chase Freedom® Student credit card
Good for Rewarding Good Credit Habits
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
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Discover it® Student Cash Back
Good for Cash Back on Rotating Categories
Discover it® Student Cash Back
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Discover it® Student chrome
Good for Campus Commuters
Discover it® Student chrome
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Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Good for Study Abroad
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
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Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students credit card
Good for Flexible Budgets

Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Students credit card

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Rewards rate:

3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. 1% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: $200
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

With the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students, you’ll get 3% cash back in a category of your choice, from: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. You’ll also get 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

Keep in mind that 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 1%. The card has no annual fee, and a bonus offer of $200 online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. 

There is a 0% introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers for your first 12 billing cycles. You’ll have a variable APR between 13.99%-23.99% after that. 

Why we chose this card

This card offers among the highest cash back value available for students. Just make sure your regular spending aligns with the category options before applying to get the best value. You can even develop a simple spending plan or budget to plan your category choices in advance. 

The flexibility to choose your 3% cash back category every month can help empower you to choose savings depending on how you’re going to spend. Taking a road trip for spring break? Set that 3% category to gas to earn cash back on the road. Moving into a new apartment? Select bonus rewards from home improvement and furnishing stores while you settle in.

Chase Freedom® Student credit card
Good for Rewarding Good Credit Habits

Chase Freedom® Student credit card

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Rewards rate:

Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years.

  • Intro bonus: $50
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 14.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Overview

Chase Freedom Student offers 1% cash back on every purchase you make. You can earn a $50 bonus when you make any single purchase using your card within the first three months of account opening. 

The card also offers a $20 rewards credit after each account anniversary for the first 5 years, as long as your account remains in good standing. You’ll be able to redeem your rewards for any amount at any time. There’s no annual fee, and you’ll have a variable 14.99% APR. 

Why we chose this card

This card is a great tool for building credit and growing your credit history. You can earn credit limit increases after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening, check your credit score for free, and get rewarded for keeping up good credit habits. 

This card also offers some great benefits and perks through Chase partners. You’ll earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022 and get 3 months of DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service that offers unlimited deliveries for a $0 delivery fee on eligible orders over $12. After that, you’ll be automatically enrolled in DashPass at 50% off for the next 9 months.

Discover it® Student Cash Back
Good for Cash Back on Rotating Categories

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Rewards rate:

Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Intro bonus: Cashback Match™
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 12.99% – 21.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

Overview

Discover it Student Cash Back offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, like grocery stores, restaurants, or Amazon.com, up to a $1,500 quarterly maximum when you activate the offer (then 1%). You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases. 

Plus, Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. As an ongoing benefit, you can get a $20 statement credit each school year if you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA, up to 5 years. This card also offers 6 months 0% intro APR on purchases (12.99%-21.99% variable APR after), and charges no annual fee. 

Why we chose this card

This is a solid starter credit card for getting value from your everyday purchases. You’ll have to keep up with the 5% rotating bonus categories and activate the offer each quarter to maximize your rewards (on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1%), but you can review bonus categories in advance to determine how well the calendar aligns with your regular spending: 

  • January through March 2021: Grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS
  • April through June 2021: Gas stations, wholesale clubs, select streaming services
  • July through September 2021: Restaurants, PayPal
  • October through December 2021: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com
Discover it® Student chrome
Good for Campus Commuters

Discover it® Student chrome

Rewards rate:

Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Intro bonus: Cashback Match™
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 12.99% – 21.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

Overview

Discover it Student chrome earns 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, including cafes, takeout, and fast food (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%). You’ll get 1% cashback on all other purchases. Discover also matches all of the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. That essentially boosts your 2% earning category up to 4% for the first year. 

The card comes with no annual fee and an introductory 0% APR for 6 months on purchases (12.99% – 21.99% variable APR thereafter). And if you maintain a GPA of at least 3.0, you can score a $20 statement credit each school year (up to 5 years).

Why we chose this card

This card can be a solid add to your wallet if you drive to classes, or like to forgo the dining hall for dining out. To maximize your rewards, make sure you swipe whenever you eat out or fill up at the tank. You’ll be able to earn even more rewards with the first year cashback match.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Good for Study Abroad

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

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Rewards rate:

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.

  • Intro bonus: No current offer
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

Overview

You’ll earn 1% cash back on all your purchases with the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One credit card, but you can bump that 1% to 1.25% each month if you pay your bill on time. The card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and a high variable 26.99% interest rate. 

You’ll also be eligible for up to $60 in credit toward eligible streaming subscriptions when you pay on time.

Why we chose this card

This is a straightforward cash back card option that can help you build credit while putting a bit of money back in your pocket with each purchase. Plus, if study abroad is in your post-pandemic plans, this card is a great option thanks to no foreign transaction fees paired with the flat cash back rewards. 

There’s also an incentive to pay on time — that additional 0.25% boost. Not only will timely payments help your credit score, but you’ll also get up to 1.25% back on every purchase. 

Best Student Credit Cards Summary 

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students 

Good For: Flexible Budgets 

You’ll earn 3% cash back on a category of your choice from online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishing, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The 3% and 2% cash back categories apply to the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then 1%.

Chase Freedom Student credit card

Good For: Rewarding Good Credit Habits

You’ll get 1% cash back on every purchase in addition to some nice perks like a $50 welcome bonus, complimentary DashPass from DoorDash, and 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022. Plus, earn a higher credit limit and $20 annual credits for making your payments on time and keeping your account in good standing.

Discover it Student Cash Back 

Good For: Cash Back on Rotating Categories

Earn 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories each quarter after activation (up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%), first-year cashback match and a $20 statement credit for good grades each year (3.0 GPA or higher, up to 5 years). Categories for 2021 include grocery stores, CVS, Walgreens, and purchases from Amazon.com, among others. 

Discover it Student chrome

Good For: Campus Commuters

Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%), plus first-year cashback match and $20 annual statement credit for good grades (3.0 GPA or higher, up to 5 years). This card is a money-saver if you have your car on campus, or tend to eat out around town. 

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Good For: Study Abroad  

You’ll earn 1% cash back on every purchase with the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One card. Boost that rewards-earning up to 1.25% when you pay your bill on time. Plus, no foreign fees make it an excellent choice for any post-pandemic international travel.

CardWhat It’s Good ForIntro Offer
Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for StudentsFlexible Budgets $200 online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
Chase Freedom Student Credit CardRewarding Good Credit Habits$50 after you make your first purchase within the first 3 months from account opening
Discover it Student Cash Back Cash Back on Rotating CategoriesDiscover will match all of the cash back you earn at the end of your first year
Discover it Student chromeCampus CommutersDiscover will match all of the cash back you earn at the end of your first year
Journey Student Rewards from Capital OneStudy AbroadN/A

How Do Student Credit Cards Work? 

Student credit cards work just like regular credit cards, but they’re more accessible for first-time users. You’re more likely to be approved with little to no credit history for a student card — perfect for students just beginning their credit journeys. 

How Can Students Use Credit Cards?

Students should use credit cards to build their credit history, while paying for everyday expenses like books, food, rent, or gas. Just make sure you pay off your credit card bill on time and in full each month to begin your positive payment history, and forgo high-interest debt by spending only what you can afford to pay off.  

Why Should College Students Have a Credit Card?

A student credit card is a great way to begin building your credit history. Good credit will be important for your first moves post-grad — getting approval for a lease, financing a car, or even a cellphone — as well as financial decisions later on, like buying a house. 

You’ll likely have expenses every month you’ll need to pay for anyways, like groceries and utility bills. Charging those regular expenses to a credit card can help you save with rewards and start building your credit history at the same time. 

What Types of Student Credit Cards Are Available? 

Students (or anyone with little to no credit history) won’t have access to every credit card on the market, but there are several cards designed for students that can help you maximize your spending and build credit. 

Many student credit cards offer rewards — meaning you’ll be able to earn cash back, points, or other perks on your spending. Other student credit cards don’t have any rewards but can still help you build your credit. 

You can also choose to open a secured credit card, which requires a cash security deposit that acts as your credit limit. After you’re approved and submit the deposit, you can use a secured card like any other credit card, and begin building your credit. 

What Should Students Know About Getting a First Credit Card?

Getting your first credit card is a big responsibility. You’ll want to establish healthy credit habits once you open your card. If you don’t pay off your credit card balance each month, you’ll have to pay interest on whatever you owe, which can lead to long-lasting and snowballing debt balances. Use your credit card like a debit card and pay off your balance on time and in full every single month. 

What Should You Do With a Student Credit Card After Graduation?

While you must be a student to get a student credit card, you can continue using your student card even after you graduate. If your student card still suits your needs and you’re using it responsibly, you can keep using it just as you did when you were in school. But you have other options, too.

If you used your student card to establish a good credit score throughout school, you may now qualify for non-student cards with better rewards, higher credit limits, or other features that are better suited for your credit needs. 

After opening a new card, you should consider keeping your student credit card account open — even if you no longer use it. Closing that account (especially if it’s one of the oldest accounts on your credit report) can have a negative effect on your credit score. As long as it’s not costing you an annual fee, it’s often a good idea to keep the account open and use it only occasionally or set up a recurring payment that you can easily pay off each month.

Another way to get a new card that better fits your post-grad needs without closing your old student account is by asking your issuer for a product change. For example, if you have a Chase Freedom Student card, you might ask Chase to upgrade your account to a Chase Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited. This way, your longstanding account remains open, but you get the perks and potentially higher credit limit of a non-student card. Each issuer has its own guidelines for product change requests, but you can get more information by calling the number on the back of your card.  

What Are Credit Card Best Practices? 

  • Make your monthly payments on time
  • Pay off your card balance in full each month
  • Avoid applying for several credit cards within a short time period. Use your credit score to determine your approval odds before applying to reduce new card denials.
  • Be aware of your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you use compared to the total amount available to you. Try to keep it under 30%. 

What Card Features Are Essential to Understand?

Make sure you know what your minimum monthly payment is — or the amount you have to pay on your credit card to avoid paying late fees or penalty APRs. Always pay at least this amount by your statement due date to avoid even higher interest rates and late fees.

Beyond the minimum payment, pay your full credit card balance each month whenever possible. Any remaining balance will start to incur interest after your monthly due date — and can lead to debt quickly.  

What Are the Costs of Credit Cards?

Credit cards can come with all sorts of fees for certain actions if you’re not careful. Make all of your payments in full and on time to avoid late fees and interest charges on a lingering balance. You can also get hit with fees for things like cash advances (if you use your credit card to pull out cash from an ATM). 

Some credit cards charge an annual fee that you must pay every year just for owning the card, though many student cards don’t have one. Cards may charge a foreign transaction fee on purchases you make in a foreign currency, or have fees for spending over your allotted credit limit. 

Keep tabs on your card’s fees (which you can find in the terms and conditions of your card agreement), and try to avoid them whenever you can. Though the charges may seem small at first, they can add up quickly and become a larger problem later on. 

Methodology 

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

Many, but not all, major issuers offer student credit card options geared toward first-time credit card users without great credit or an established credit history. To determine our picks for the best student cards, we evaluate credit-building features for students as well as card details like rewards structure, introductory bonus, annual fee, and ongoing APR.