College students and credit cards

In search of a credit card for students? Here are some things to look for.

As a parent, there are many reasons to consider having your college-bound student apply for a credit card: convenience, emergency situations and the chance to build their own credit history when used responsibly, just to name a few. Here are some helpful things to look for when choosing a card. And if you’re the one headed back to school? These tips apply to you, too.

It’s about the credit as much as the card

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a credit card for college students isn’t what they can buy with it—it’s what they can build with it: good credit (when used responsibly, of course). Responsible credit card use includes paying bills on time every month. So look for a card designed with features that help students and first-time cardholders build a healthy relationship with credit. These cards may come with educational resources and features like credit-tracking tools that can help students discover responsible ways to use credit.

The Journey student credit card from Capital One encourages responsible use by letting cardholders earn 1% cash back on all their purchases. Pay on time to boost cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month.

Students can also use educational resources like CreditWise from Capital One—a free tool available to everyone that provides a personalized summary of key factors that affect their credit score. Students using CreditWise can even receive automatic alerts if their TransUnion® credit report changes.

Leading by example

There’s one more great resource to help new students learn how to handle credit—you. As a parent, your positive experiences or even past missteps with credit cards can add up to some great advice. Whether it’s about paying bills on time, reading the fine print on card terms or making sure not to spend more than you can afford, your student will appreciate your guidance when they see the results of responsible behavior on a future credit report. (Even if they don’t say it out loud.)

Features worth considering

When shopping for student credit cards, here are some important card features to keep in mind:

  • Annual percentage rate (APR): Low introductory interest rates are enticing, but find out where the APR will go from there.
  • Additional fees: Are there annual fees, transaction fees or other charges?
  • Unauthorized charge coverage: A credit card is a big deal—and an even bigger deal if it’s lost or stolen. Find out if you’re covered by policies like $0 liability for unauthorized charges.
  • Automated payment reminders: During busy times like finals, your student can stay focused on good grades, with automated texts or emails alerting them when their account needs attention.
  • Foreign transaction fees: Some cards cover foreign transaction fees, a bonus for students heading abroad for a semester or the summer.
  • Rewards: Many entry-level student cards offer cash-back rewards, often with no limit on the amount that can be earned.

Another option for students: a secured credit card

Student credit cards are designed specifically with students in mind, but many still require a credit history in order to be approved. If your student doesn’t qualify for a student credit card, a secured credit card can be a great entry point and can help them build up their credit history. Secured cards require an upfront security deposit, but the deposit is usually refundable.

So is a student credit card the right choice?

No doubt, credit card ownership is a big step. But building good credit takes time, so for many students, it makes sense to start early. And helping a student choose and learn how to use their first credit card can serve them well after they graduate and set out into the world. Think of the opportunity to build a healthy credit history as just one more valuable lesson that comes alongside that degree they’re earning.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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With responsible use, students can earn cash back rewards today while building credit for tomorrow.

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