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Credit cards for college students are a hot-button topic – and not without reason. With student loan debt on the rise, many advise students to steer clear of credit cards altogether. Some people think it’s even unethical to market credit cards to college students.

At the same time, responsible credit card use can help young adults build financial management skills – and their credit! Responsible use of student cards like these could set college students up for an easier time of renting an apartment, buying a home, getting utilities, and more once they’re on their own.

Either way, educating students about credit cards is essential. Because the fact of the matter is that they’re going to have the opportunity to obtain credit cards like these!

Related: Should My College Student Have a Credit Card?

If you’re a parent interested in teaching financial responsibility, or a college student in need of an emergencies-only credit card, you’ll want to check out cards that require low or average credit. Here are some great options*:

1. Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

This is a simple cash back credit card that offers 1% cash back on purchases, plus a 25% bonus cash back each month you pay on time. So, basically, if you pay on time each month, you can get 1.25% cash back on all purchases.

  • Credit Monitoring: This is another good card for monitoring and building credit, since it offers free access to your credit score. The Capital One® Credit Tracker offers some valuable tools, as well, including a what-if simulator where you can experiment with different financial actions to see how they’ll impact your credit score.
  • Credit Increases: When you make your first 5 monthly payments on time, you can get access to a credit line increase. Since debt-to-credit ratio is an essential part of the credit score equation, this can be a great way to help students build credit.
  • Fees: This card has $0 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees. It’s great for that semester overseas you’ve been dreaming of.

Bottom Line: This is a good credit-building card, since it allows for a credit line increase within just five months of on-time payments. However, it’s got a higher interest rate – even for students who already have good credit – so it’s not a good option for financing larger purchases.

2. Discover it® for Students

The Discover line is generally easy to use for anyone, and the student card is no different. It’s a good option for teaching students about their credit, since it offers free access to your FICO® Credit Score. You can get your score online or on your monthly statements. The card also offers student-friendly perks like no annual fee, no overlimit fee, no foreign transaction fee, and no late fee on your first late payment.

  • Cash Back Perks: Students can earn 5% cash back on rotating categories when they sign up for categories quarterly. In 2015, the first quarter bonus categories are gas stations and ground transportation. Plus, the card offers 1% cash back on all other purchases (think textbooks!).
  • Monitored Purchases: All purchases are monitored, so you’ll get alerts by email, phone, or text about unusual purchases. This lets students stay on top of their card. You can also sign up for free text alerts to remind you when your payment is due, as well as a free mobile app that gives you account access on your phone.
  • Fees: This card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees, and there’s no annual fee.
  • No Penalty Interest Rate: The first time you miss a payment, you won’t pay any fees at all. After that, you’ll have late fees, but your interest rate won’t automatically jump.

Bottom Line: With its introductory APR, this card is a good option for smart financing. Use it to buy textbooks for the year, and then pay them all off within six months for free financing. It’s also a good teaching card, with the penalty-free late payment for the first payment.

3. Wells Fargo Cash Back College Visa® Card

Here’s a great cash back card for students. You’ll get 3% cash back on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for 6 months, and then 1% cash back in all other categories every day.

  • Annual Fee: The card has a $0 annual fee.
  • Redeem Rewards: You can redeem cash rewards in $25 increments. Sign up to have them automatically deposited into your checking account or savings account when you hit $25. Or, you can use them as credit on your credit card, request a paper check, or redeem your cash back for travel and more.
  • Credit Education Tools: You’ll get online and mobile tools for tracking your spending and payments. You’ll also get credit education tools, tips, and newsletters packed with helpful credit-building information.

Bottom Line: If you’re already in trouble with a high-interest credit card, this one could be a good option for paying down credit at a lower APR, especially if you can qualify for the 5.9% introductory APR.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1081
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments

TODHD says:

I am probably going to try to avoid credit cards for awhile.

james gilbert says:

I think this is a good article as far as giving info on credit cards that are great for students to get. But I would like to say this, being a college grad I would stay away from credit cards all together. This is part of the reason for my credit card debt now. And for what a t-shirt and a water bottle, that was the incentives they were giving out back in 98 for signing up for a credit cards. I’m not sure what they are giving today, maybe gift cards.

Rob Berger says:

James, staying away from credit cards is never a bad choice. I had one in college because I went to school 15 hours away from home and was concerned about handling financial emergencies. Today it’s a lot easier to get money from home if you need it.

Bianca says:

I’m currently in college and have applied for two credit cards. First i applied for discovery student credit card and was denied because i have no credit. When i told the lady that’s why i needed a credit card she said you do not have student loans to which i replied no i’m on scholarship. Then i went to bank of america for a secured card and was denied because i did not make enough. I really want to start building credit so i’ll have a credit history when i graduate, move out on my own and can buy furniture. How will i do that if i keep getting denied?

Bianca says:

Both my parents either have bad credit or no credit cards they can sign me on to as well. :/

Rob Berger says:

Bianca, if your parents have bad credit or no credit, they probably won’t be much help to you. Another option to build your credit is a secured credit card. You have to deposit cash with the credit card company equal to your credit limit. But these cards do help build credit. And once you move to a traditional credit card, you get your deposit back.

walter says:

what about people who come from different continent?for example i am a kenyan can i access credit card for my education?

Rob Berger says:

Walter, once you establish an address in the U.S., I think you can apply for a U.S. credit card.