By Martha C. White
September 24, 2018

As much as you might be wary of sending your kid off to college with a credit card, the benefits of establishing a good credit history from a young age are worth the risk for responsible spenders. (And you’ve taught them to be financially responsible, right?) Student credit cards tend to have higher APRs and lower credit limits then typical cards. Some cards we reviewed, with help from MagnifyMoney, offer financial literacy or education programs to help students become more credit-savvy. To make sure that young adults don’t get over their head with debt they can’t afford to repay, the CARD Act requires all credit card applicants under the age of 21 — including for student credit cards — to provide proof of independent income or have a co-signer.

Winner: Deserve EDU Mastercard

Courtesy of Deserve

Why You Should Get It

Not only this card, but the entire Deserve card program is tailored specifically for students: There’s no annual fee, and you can get one even if you don’t yet have a credit history, which is a benefit other credit cards for college students don’t generally offer.

Deserve EDU does have a couple of restrictions that act as financial guardrails for credit card novices—namely, you have no ability to transfer a balance or get cash advances. Among credit cards for students, this is an important distinction that can help avoid drowning in debt. And there are other perks, too: This best credit card for college students include a simple, easy-to-use rewards program (no revolving categories to keep track of), and you can join the Amazon Prime Student program—a $59 value—for free. If you’re planning to travel during spring break, or take a gap year or a semester abroad, there are no foreign-transaction fees. This card also stands out in the category with its relatively lenient late fee of $25.

Drawbacks

If you know you have a short-term budget-buster like an upcoming big purchase, two Discover student credit cards — the Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Chrome — both offer an introductory 0% APR for six months. Discover also gives you an incentive to keep your grades up with an annual $20 statement credit available for up to five school years as long as your GPA stays at 3.0 or higher. However, Discover is less widely accepted outside the U.S., a consideration if you plan to study abroad.

While many student credit cards require you to be a student in the traditional sense of the word, there’s a Capital One student credit card that offers you more flexibility: The Capital One Journey Student Rewards Mastercard doesn’t require cardholders to be enrolled in college. The card offers 1% cash back and an extra 0.25% bonus cash back if you pay on time every month. Plus, there’s a potential credit-limit hike after five months.

Key terms

  • Rewards: 1% cash back
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • APR: 20.49%

MONEY worked with MagnifyMoney to narrow down the credit card options in each category to a set of finalists. MONEY’s editorial staff was solely responsible for choosing the winners.

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