Best Credit Cards for College Students 2020 | Roost
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Best credit cards for college students 2020

Your first credit card helps build your credit for a bright future

Lucky you, if you are in college, you may be able to get a student credit card with competitive terms even if you don’t have a credit history. It likely will not have a high credit limit, but it may offer cashback incentives and it will help you build your credit.

Having a credit card while you are in college not only helps you build your credit, but it can also be helpful if an emergency expense comes up. Plus, after college, the good credit you’ve earned can help you qualify for a nicer apartment or a mortgage for your first home.

College is a great time to start slowly building your credit. If you have a modest income while in college, you may be able to get a low balance credit card that you can carefully use while you finish college. After you finish college, you’ll have better credit and (hopefully) an increased income so you can start building your life by buying a car on good terms, maybe even buying a home, or perhaps traveling the world using a points card.

Student credit cards compared

We compared the following student credit cards:

When we researched college credit cards, we looked at their interest rates, introductory periods, fees and grace periods. The best student cards offer 0% introductory rates, a competitive interest rate and no annual fees.

Bank of America Review | SmartAsset.com
This card offers cashback rewards (1%-3%) but has a penalty APR of 29.99% if you make a late payment. Late payment fees can be up to $40. 
Interest Rate0% first 12 months then 13.99%-23.99%
Annual Fee$0
Monthly Fee$0
One-time Fee$0
Grace Period25 Days
This credit card offers 1% cashback on all purchases, provides cell phone protection,  doesn’t require an SSN for international students and includes theft protection.
Interest Rate18.74% (Prime plus 15.49%)
Annual Fee$0
Monthly Fee$0
One-time Fee$0
Grace Period23 Days
This credit card offers 5% cashback on specific types of purchases and 1% cashback on everything else and the first late payment is free. Good grades reward available.
Interest Rate0% for six months, then 19.99% after
Annual Fee$0
Monthly Fee$0
One-time Fee$0
Grace Period25 Days
This credit card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1000 per quarter). It provides unlimited  1% cashback on all other purchases. Discover it Chrome also offers a good grade reward.
Interest Rate0% for six months, then 19.99% after
Annual Fee$0
Monthly Fee$0
One-time Fee$0
Grace Period23+ Days
Wells Fargo offers 3% cash back for up to $2500 for the first six months, late fees are up to $37 and overdraft protection is available.
Interest Rate0% for six months, then 11.15%-21.15%
Annual Fee$0
Monthly Fee$0
One-time Fee$0
Grace Period25 Days

How are student cards different from regular credit cards?

For the most part, they are not different from most credit cards. However, many include incentives designed for college students. They may offer cashback on things that students often spend money on or good grade incentives. However, unlike most credit card issuers, they may consider applicants with minimal or no credit history provided that they have their own income.

“If you already have credit, consider applying for a student credit card or another card that fits your needs. Many students eat out, have grocery bills, and pay other everyday expenses that could fit into rewards categories on a variety of credit cards. By taking advantage of a rewards credit card you could not only build your credit but also save money on your everyday shopping.”

—Mason Miranda at Credit Card Insider  

How do I build my credit while I’m still in college?

While you may have a limited income when you are still in college, you can start building your credit. One way to start is by utilizing a student credit card. You can start building your credit by making small charges to your card and paying it off every month. If you can afford it and it makes sense, you may benefit from also having a small car loan that you can easily maintain payments on. When you finish college and get a higher paying job, you can slowly consider other credit purchases if your credit is good, such as purchasing a new car or your first home.

Credit cards for those under 21

In the past, it was easier to get a credit card when you were young. Creditors pretty much gave them to any student over 18, which got a lot of young people in trouble with credit card debt. Since the introduction of the CARD Act of 2009, students must prove that they can afford to repay their debt on their own, or they must have a cosigner. Rules are slightly more lenient if the student is over 21 years of age.

How to know if your credit is good

The best credit rating is over 800. But you can still obtain loans if your credit rating is over 650 or so. Good FICO scores are about the same — you should aim for a score over about 670. You can monitor your own credit and FICO scores easily. You can get one free credit report from annualcreditreport.com annually and many banks or credit cards offer free FICO scores. You can also watch your credit using free services such as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame or Mint. 

Roost Tip! If you do not plan on applying for new credit accounts any time soon, you can freeze your credit so no one can open an account in your name. Freezing your credit does not stop the reporting agencies from recording your credit building activities like making your payments on time.

After college

You may be tempted to shut down your college credit cards after you graduate and increase your income. However, it may be smart to keep the card open with no balance because it helps you maintain a credit history. You can get some bonus credit points for having a card in good standing for a long time over having a card in good standing for a short time. And, as your income increases, you’ll be able to get a credit limit increase if you need it.  However, if the card charges an annual or monthly fee, you may be better off closing transferring the balance to a card with better terms.  

You are going to college to obtain the education you need to start a successful future, while in this forward-thinking mindset, it is also the perfect time to start building a good credit history.  And, if you haven’t already started, how to manage a budget.

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Last Updated: October 13th, 2020