The best credit cards for students in 2020

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The best credit cards for students:

  • Best rewards: Discover it® Student chrome
  • Best for flexibility with payments: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
  • Best for travel coverage: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
  • Get rewarded for on-time payments: Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
  • Best secured card for rewards: Discover it® Secured
  • Best secured card with a low minimum deposit: Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

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.

Read more: How to build credit with a credit card

Best rewards: Discover it® Student chrome

Card type: Unsecured

Annual fee: See Terms

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 $20 statement credit each year for 5 years for having a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. That's a total of $100 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. 

Best for flexibility with payments: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Capital One Capital One® Platinum Credit CardCapital One Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual Fee
Regular APR
Credit Score
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • 4.8 out of 5 Stars
    Editor's Rating
    Annual Fee

    $0

    Regular APR

    26.99% variable APR

    Credit Score

    Bad or No CreditA five pointed star

  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • 4.8 out of 5 Stars
    Editor's Rating
  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
    • Offers you an opportunity to build or rebuild your credit with responsible use
    • $49, $99 or $200 refundable minimum security deposit
    • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200
    • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
    • Pick your own monthly due date and payment method
    • Add an authorized user to your account, and track spending by user
    Pros
    • Minimum deposit ($49) is lower than with some other secured cards
    • You can access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time
    Cons
    • No rewards

    Card type: Secured

    Annual fee: $0

    Pros: You can choose your deposit amount, with the option to put down as little as $49, 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 $49, $99, or $200. With the initial security deposit, you'll get a $200 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. 

    Another good secured option: Citi® Secured MasterCard®

    Card type: Secured

    Annual fee: $0

    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 $200 and a maximum of $2,500. Your security deposit will be your credit limit. 

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

    Read more: My credit history vanished when I moved to the US, so I took 4 steps to start building up my credit all over again

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