The 7 best credit cards for college students: Unsecured and secured options to help you build credit

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The best credit cards for students:


When it comes to credit cards, your options can feel almost too plentiful. Cash-back, travel rewards, and business options about, with great sign-up bonuses available on many of them. But for a college student or beginner with little to no credit, choices often dwindle down to just a handful of options.

The good news is that some banks have taken notice and started tailoring some of their cards to better suit those who are just getting started with credit. Below, we’ll walk you through some of the best options.

We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Secured vs. unsecured credit cards

Before applying for a credit card, it’s important to understand the two major credit card types that are offered.

With a secured card, your credit line is “secured” by a refundable security deposit that you pay to the bank upfront. Your security deposit is saved for you in an account, which may or may not earn interest, depending on the bank and the particular card offer.

Your credit limit will directly depend on the amount of your deposit. Since your collateral essentially reduces the credit risk to the lender, it’s much easier to qualify for a secured credit card.

An unsecured card means that the credit line is not secured with collateral. Instead, the lender will provide a credit limit for you. Because of the assumed risk to the lender, it’s a bit more challenging to qualify for unsecured cards as a beginner without a lot of credit history. However, an issuer may approve you for a small credit limit, and once you’re approved for one card, generally other card offers follow.

Keep reading for the best credit cards for college students, starting with unsecured credit cards and ending with some secured card picks.


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How to build credit with a credit card

Best for earning rewards: Discover it® Student chrome

Card type: Unsecured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: Earns rewards, offers a statement credit for good grades Discover matches your cash back after the first year

Cons: There are better cash-back cards if maximizing rewards is your priority, but this is a good entry point for students

This card encourages students to keep their grades up and work hard in school by offering a $US20 statement credit each year for 5 years for having a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. That’s a total of $US100 you can potentially earn by doing well in school.

The Discover it Chrome also offers an unlimited cash back match the first year. That means that for every dollar you earn by spending on the card, you get a dollar matched at the end of the year during the first year of opening the card.

There’s currently a 0% APR on purchases for the first 6 months of opening your card (then a variable rate of 14.49% to 23.49%).

Best for flexibility with payments: Capital One Platinum Credit Card

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Card type: Unsecured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: You can choose your monthly due date, you can get a higher credit line after the first five months of on-time payments

Cons: No rewards

This card offers a credit line increase if you make the first five monthly payments on time. You can choose your monthly due date, which is a great feature for those without the standard payroll schedule.

You also get unlimited access to Capital One’s CreditWise service, which provides tools for credit monitoring and checking your credit score.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Platinum card »

Best for travel coverage: Deserve Edu Mastercard for Students

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Card type: Unsecured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: Earns cash back, offers a free year of Amazon Prime Student

Cons: Other cards offer higher cash back

The Deserve card gives you 1% cash back on all purchases and provides a free one-year subscription to Amazon Prime Student, worth $US59.

Cardholders also enjoy other benefits such as car rental insurance, no foreign transaction fees during travel, cell phone protection, and roadside assistance options.

Click here to learn more about the Deserve card »

Best for rewarding on-time payments: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Card type: Unsecured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: Earn 1% cash back – or 1.25% cash back each month you pay on time, no foreign transaction fees, pick your monthly due date

Cons: You can earn more cash back with other cards

Similar to the Capital One Platinum credit card, this card lets you increase your credit line when you make the first five monthly payments on time. You also have access to the CreditWise feature for regular credit monitoring.

What’s different about this card is that you can earn more cash back with on-time payments. The Journey card normally offers 1% back on purchases, but you can earn 1.25% cash back each month you pay on time.

Best secured card for rewards: Discover it® Secured

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Card type: Secured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: It’s the rare secured credit card that earns rewards, and Discover will match your cash-back earnings at the end of your first cardmember year, no foreign transaction fees

Cons: Relatively limited benefits compared to some non-secured rewards credit cards (which is to be expected)

Since this is a secured credit card, you’ll pay a refundable security deposit, which will also be your credit line. You have the choice of how much you want to pay for your security deposit.

Earn 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants up to $US1,000 each quarter. Discover will also match your cash back at the end of your first year, and it provides your FICO score on your monthly statements for easy monitoring.

Best secured card for flexibility: Capital One Secured Mastercard

Card type: Secured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: You can choose your deposit amount, with the option to put down as little as $US49, you can increase your credit limit at making the first five monthly payments on time, no foreign transaction fees

Cons: No rewards

You have the choice of a security deposit of $US49, $US99, or $US200. With the initial security deposit, you’ll get a $US200 credit limit. The more you deposit before your account opens, the higher your credit limit.

Just like with the other Capital One credit cards mentioned here, you can increase your credit limit if you make the first five monthly payments on time. You also get to choose your monthly due date.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Secured Mastercard »

Another good secured option: Citi® Secured Mastercard®

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Card type: Secured

Annual fee: $US0

Pros: Helps you build credit – it’s a good option if you’re not able to get approved for any unsecured credit cards

Cons: Higher minimum security deposit than the Capital One Secured card

This card requires a minimum security deposit of $US200 and a maximum of $US2,500. Your security deposit will be your credit limit.

The card provides protection against unauthorised purchases, meaning it won’t be your responsibility to pay if you didn’t make the purchase.


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