The Best Credit Cards of 2020 for Students Starting From Scratch

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 1/16/20

As a college student, you likely haven’t had a lot of opportunities to build up credit. A student credit card can be a great way to start building your credit if you use it responsibly.

Even if you are still in college, it’s a good time to start establishing credit, so you will be able to buy a car or a house down the road.

Just being a student isn’t enough to qualify for a “student” credit card, just as you don’t necessarily have to be a student to apply for one. There are several credit cards geared toward students that you can choose from.

Some of the features of these cards include:

  • Low or no credit score or history needed
  • No annual fees
  • Lower interest rates and/or flexible monthly payment dates
  • Cash back incentives or rewards

Best Credit Cards for Students With No Credit

It can be tough to get approved for a credit card if you have little to no credit history, but several companies have offers that cater to students in precisely this situation. You will still need to have a source of income to prove that you can make monthly payments, but you can often get a student credit card with no credit history. 

There are two main types of credit cards: secured and unsecured.

A secured card is offered to people with poor or no credit history. It requires you to put down a refundable deposit. This works if you have some cash up front that can be used as collateral in case you run into trouble paying your monthly bill.

A secured card often has lower credit limits. With regular monthly on-time payments, you can often turn a secured card into an unsecured one that has access to a higher credit line. 

There are many options for credit cards for students in 2020. Here are a few of our favorites:

Discover it Student Cash Back

  • No annual fees
  • 0% APR on purchases for the first six months
  • 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR on purchases 
  • Matching cash back on all purchases in the first year
  • No FICO credit history required 
  • Free FICO score report
  • Extra $20 credit every academic year that you keep your GPA at 3.0 or higher
  • No late fee for your first late payment
  • APR doesn’t go up if you miss or are late on a payment
  • Quarterly rewards with up to 5% cash back on normal purchases
  • Fraud alerts and the ability to freeze your card if needed
  • $0 fraud liability

This is one of the top cards for everyday spending, although Discover is not accepted everywhere.

Discover it Student Chrome

  • No annual fees
  • 0% APR on purchases for the first six months
  • 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR on purchases 
  • Matching cash back on all purchases in the first year
  • 2% cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and then an automatic and unlimited 1% cash back
  • No FICO credit history required 
  • Free FICO score report
  • Extra $20 credit every academic year that you keep your GPA at 3.0 or higher
  • No late fee for your first late payment
  • APR doesn’t go up if you miss or are late on a payment
  • Quarterly rewards, with up to 5% cash back on normal purchases
  • Fraud alerts and the ability to freeze your card if needed
  • $0 fraud liability

This is a great card for cash back rewards, but again, Discover is not accepted everywhere.

State Farm Student Visa

  • No annual fee
  • Students with no or limited credit can get approval
  • 16.74% to 24.74% variable APR
  • Incentive State Farm Loyalty Rewards points: 1 point on every $2 spent on purchases and 3 points for every $1 spent on insurance premium payments
  • Available student discounts offered through Visa
  • Visa $0 fraud liability

Students can usually get this card with little or no credit, but it does not have as many rewards or incentives as other cards. Rewards are redeemed for merchandise and services, not cash back.

Journey Student Rewards – Capital One

  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Pay on time and receive a total of 1.25% cash back  for that month 
  • 25.99% variable APR
  • Access to a higher credit line after the first five payments are made on time 
  • Unlimited access to your credit score through CreditWise from Capital One

This card is not just for students, so you will need to have some credit history to get it. While the cash back rewards are straightforward, easy to understand, and easy to receive, they aren’t as high as with other cards.

Capital One Secured Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • 26.99% variable APR
  • Requires a $49, $99, or $200 refundable deposit
  • Access a $200 credit line with minimum deposit
  • Reports regularly to the three major credit bureaus to boost credit
  • Access a higher credit line after five on-time monthly payments
  • Pick your own monthly due date and method of payment

As a secured card, this one can be easier to get approved for, but you will need to put down a deposit and start out with a low credit line. It is still a great way to build credit with responsible spending habits. 

Deserve Edu Mastercard for Students

  • No annual fee
  • No credit history needed, making it a good option for international students
  • 20.49% variable APR
  • Free 12-month Amazon Prime student subscription
  • 1% cash back on all purchases, 3% cash back on entertainment and travel, and 2% cash back on restaurants
  • Cash back rewards issued as a statement credit in increments of $25 

A great option for international students and those with no credit history, this card offers fewer rewards than other cards. You also have to spend $2,500 to get your $25 statement credit.

Citi Rewards+ Student Card

  • No annual fee
  • 0% APR on purchases for the first seven months
  • 15.99% to 25.99% variable APR
  • 2,500 bonus points when you spend $500 in your first three months
  • 2 ThankYou points per dollar on grocery store and gas station purchases and 1 point for all other purchases
  • ThankYou points rounded up to the nearest 10 and can be redeemed for gift cards, vacations, and concert tickets

This card has great starting bonuses and incentives for rewards, but it does not offer cash back directly.

Petal Visa Credit Card

  • No annual fees, late fees, international fees, or fees of any kind
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • After making six on-time monthly payments, receive 1.25% cash back on purchases; after 12 on-time monthly payments, this goes up to 1.5% cash back 
  • No credit score required for approval
  • 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR

This is a great choice for students with no credit history. The card comes with no fees, but there are also no sign-up bonuses or incentives.

Tips for Building Credit

The average credit card APR (annual percentage rate) is currently around 17%, and about a third of college students have more than $1,000 in credit card debt.

The most important thing about getting and using a student credit card is to borrow responsibly and keep your debt as low as possible. Otherwise, credit cards can hurt your bottom line and your credit score instead of helping. 

Here are some ways to use credit cards to positively build your credit score:

  • Pay your monthly payments on time.
  • Borrow as little as possible.
  • Pay as much as you can on your credit cards each month. Pay them off in full if possible, so you don’t carry debt.
  • Prioritize credit card debt, as interest rates are generally fairly high compared to other loans.
  • Many credit cards allow you to pick the monthly due date. Pick a due date that works for you and your payment schedule.
  • Make small purchases with a credit card, and pay the card off each month.

A credit card can help you to build credit when you have none as a student, but you need to keep your debt and payments manageable for this to work. Stick to a budget and keep your purchases to only what you need.

When choosing a credit card, find one with features that best suit you, such as low or no fees and cash back or decent rewards.