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Best College Credit Cards and Tips for Wise Use

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Many people debate whether or not college students should get credit cards. I don’t believe every student should get a credit card, but I believe that they should consider one if they can use it responsibly. I opened my first credit card while I was in college and used it to help build a strong credit score. I believe that when used properly, credit cards are a great tool and can help teach financial responsibility. However, when not used properly, credit cards can become a financial burden. That is why I put together this list of tips to help students learn how to properly use credit cards and begin building a solid foundation for their credit score.

Why College Students Should Consider Opening a Credit Card

Credit cards have many benefits, such as helping you build your credit score, extended warranties on purchases made with your credit card, cash rewards, integration with budgeting tools, ability to dispute charges, limits on liability against fraudulent activities on your card, and other consumer protections. Credit cards can also be used as an emergency source of funds – which is much better than being stranded or getting a payday loan from the local loan shark.

Opening a credit card may be a good idea if:

  • You have the ability and conviction to pay the balance in full each month.
  • You have the discipline to use it only for specific purchases (shop with a plan, not because you can).
  • You need a safe source of emergency funds.
  • You want to build a strong credit score through responsible credit card use.

Who should not get a college credit card

Credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you don’t have money in the bank or a source of income, then stay away! Here are some other reasons not to get a student credit card:

  • Because you want to live the “high life.”
  • Because you get a free t-shirt or other giveaway.
  • If you have a shopping addiction or are a compulsive spender or gambler.
  • If you don’t plan on paying the balance in full every month.

Tips for using college credit cards

The following tips will help students use credit cards wisely and begin creating a strong credit history.

  • Begin with a low limit such as $500.
  • Set limitations on what the card can be used for (books and lab fees, yes; pizza & beer, no).
  • Only buy items you can pay cash for.
  • Never carry a balance.
  • Understand the fine print – fees, interest rates, etc.
  • Additional tips to avoid credit card fees.

Best College Credit Cards

The best college credit cards don’t have any annual fees, and may offer a rewards program such as points or cash back, or come with a 0% introductory offer or 0% balance transfer offer. The following college credit cards from Citi and Discover are among the best credit card options available to students. Click on the links for more details, and remember, only apply for a credit card if you will use it responsibly.

Top College Credit Card: Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students – Earn 2,500 Bonus Points

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students  - Earn 2,500 Bonus Points rewards students for responsible credit card use by a competitive rewards program and security features. Unique benefits include:

  • Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College StudentsEarn 2,500 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership.
  • 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point on other purchases.
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Redeem ThankYou Points for merchandise, travel rewards, gift cards, cash and more
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No Annual Fee*
  • Click Apply Now for pricing information.

Remember, credit cards are like any other tool – in the right hands they serve a great purpose. In the wrong hands they can bring disaster!


Published or updated March 20, 2014.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Craig

I agree that the key to a credit card not just for students but anyone is responsibility. Having a credit card as a student can be a big advantage for the future when you pay off in full and take care of it. You can raise your limit easier in the future and establish credit all helping you boost your FICO score.

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2 Credit Card Chaser

One of the biggest advantages for students when applying for a credit card is that they will get a head start on building their credit history. Even if one can just apply for a credit card very young and make a few small purchases on the card every month and make sure to pay the balance off in full each month then years down the road those extra years of credit history will pay off in lower interest rates when they go to buy that first house or try to get a car financed.

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3 Emily @ Under$1000PerMonth

The temptation is thinking that you’re going to get a real high paying job when you get out of college, even if you’re going for English Lit. But there are rewards for building good credit early for level-headed students.

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4 Curious Cat Investing Blog

As long as you only buy what you have cash for and pay the bill each month in full I think it is fine. I used my credit card for everything but never carried a balance.

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5 Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey

Another great post. I agree that credit card holders should be financially responsible, whether they are college students or not.

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6 MyMoneyDesign.com

I’d like to emphasize one of your tips on using credit cards wisely: “Only buy things that you could already pay cash for right now”. I think this is a very good rule of thumb and where most people go wrong. They buy things with credit cards for LATER when they think they’ll have the money. But the problem is that you never will. The balance will build interest and the whole thing will spiral out of control. Remember people: If “Money In” is less than the “Money Out”, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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