Credit Cards

Student Credit Cards: What Are They & How to Get One

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  • Student credit cards are designed for student borrowers looking to build their credit history.
  • Because student borrowers generally have little or no credit history, student credit cards tend to come with lower credit limits and higher interest rates than you might find with a standard card.
  • Student credit cards are generally available only to actively enrolled college or trade school students.

If you're a student who's looking to establish your credit history or a parent who wants to help your child develop positive financial habits, a student credit card could be a good first step. When used responsibly, student cards can be accessible options for borrowers looking for credit access while still in school.

What is a student credit card?

Student credit cards are designed for undergraduate, graduate and nontraditional student borrowers looking to establish good credit habits while pursuing their education.

College students often have little to no credit history, so it can be difficult for them to qualify for traditional credit cards. Because student cards are generally more accessible to those with little or no prior credit experience, they can be a good option for first-time or inexperienced cardholders.

How is a student credit card different from other credit cards?

In most respects, a student credit card works just like any other credit card and may come with similar perks such as welcome bonuses, purchase protections, cash back and incentives for paying your monthly bill on time.

However, there are some differences. For example, student cards may offer rewards tailored to a student's needs and lifestyle such as cash back on purchases at retail stores and restaurants that students frequent, or rewards for spending related to school supplies, streaming subscriptions or delivery services.

Student credit cards are intended to help new cardholders establish and build their credit history. So, they may be easier to qualify for than traditional credit cards. In exchange for this accessibility, student cards tend to come with lower credit limits and higher interest rates than you might find with a standard card.

Student credit cards are also not available to all borrowers. Most require applicants to be enrolled either full- or part-time in a two- or four-year college. Some may be available to trade school students as well.

How to get a student credit card

Many banks offer credit cards to college students in an effort to jumpstart their experience with credit. If you're interested in applying for your own student card, consider the following steps:

  • Research the options available to you. There are many student credit cards available. Some offer low service fees or a 0% introductory APR, which allows you to make interest-free purchases until the introductory period ends. Some financial institutions partner with universities to offer special deals to their students. Compare your options to find a card that fits your lifestyle.
  • Gather proof of your income or find someone to co-sign your application. Many student cards require proof of income from a part-time or full-time job or from leftover scholarship money.

    If you are under the age of 21, you may be required to find an adult, typically a parent or guardian, who's willing to co-sign your application. Creditors use the co-signer's credit history to approve the student account. The co-signer then acts as additional insurance for the card. If you fail to make a monthly payment or default on your debt, the co-signer becomes liable as well.
  • Gather proof of your enrollment. You may need to present documents that show you are enrolled part-time or full-time at an academic institution.
  • Submit your application. To verify that you have all the necessary documents, you can go to one of the bank's branches, where an employee can walk you through the process.

If you don't have a credit history but still want to apply for a card, don't worry. Many student accounts are designed for individuals with little to no credit history.

You'll also want to be sure that your payments will be reported to the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. It's important for the three nationwide CRAs to receive information from your lenders and creditors in order to build your credit history moving forward.

Pros of student credit cards

If you're considering a student credit card, there are many benefits to keep in mind:

  • Lower eligibility requirements than standard credit cards. Because these cards are marketed exclusively to students, getting approved can be easier than it would be for a standard credit card.
  • Specialized rewards that benefit students. College students may be able to get cash back or rewards points for student-centric purchases such as textbooks and subscription services.
  • Potential as a credit-building tool. If used responsibly, student cards can be an invaluable tool to help inexperienced borrowers build their credit history.

Cons of student cards

Like any credit card, student cards are not completely without risk. Be sure to consider the following:

  • Lower credit limits. Creditors may set lower credit limits for first-time or inexperienced cardholders than they would for standard credit cardholders.
  • Higher interest rates. College students are generally considered high-risk borrowers by creditors, which means their interest rates may be much higher than those of a standard cardholder.
  • Limited duration of benefits. Because student cards are generally available only to enrolled students, cardholders may lose access to some of the benefits when they graduate.

Is a student credit card right for you?

Student credit cards often have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. So, they may not be the best option if you have an established credit history and could qualify for a standard credit card instead.

However, student cards can be excellent options for borrowers who are looking to establish their credit history while still in school. This is especially true if the student has little to no prior credit history, as student cards are generally more accessible to inexperienced borrowers than standard cards.

If you're considering a student credit card, just remember: The most important thing is to use your new card responsibly. Don't spend more than you can reasonably pay back and aim to make your debt payments on time, whenever possible. A credit card can only help you build a positive credit history if you use it responsibly, so be sure your student card helps you start off on the right foot.

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