An Introduction to Credit Cards for College Students

A friendly guide to introductory credit cards and personal finance geared for college students

About This List

Why You Should Get a Credit Card

If this sounds like you and you still don’t use a credit card, you definitely should. Even if this doesn’t sound like you, as long as you have responsible spending habits and don’t go into debt, a credit card is a great thing to have. Using a good credit card, over say a debit card, literally just makes you free money for buying and doing the exact same things you would normally do. This is usually in the form of cashback %, where you get some percentage back of how much you spend, usually around 1.5% to 5%. Although this sounds small, it really stacks up when you think about how much money you spend in your whole life (food, travel, clothes, entertainment, etc.) Using a credit card also builds your credit score, which in the future will help you get better interest rates on things like loans and mortgages when you’re making big decisions later down the line.

Since you might have never owned a credit card before, almost all the cards I’m going to be talking about on this list are easy to get, have no annual fees, are low-risk, and have solid amounts of cash back and bonuses. I’ve divided this list into two sections. One is general purpose cards, which are great overall credit cards you should have at least one of. The other is more specific credit cards, which may be really good in certain spending areas such as dining or travel, but not as good in most other areas. The ideal number of credit cards to have is 2–3, with a general purpose card handling various purchases and specific cards handling purchases made in these respective categories.

Above everything it’s really important you purchase wisely. Credit card companies make all of their profit on debt and a card should only be used on things you know you can pay off.

General Purpose Cards

Citi — Double Cash

Citi Double Cash

Pros

  • No Annual Fee
  • Get $100 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months
  • Relatively easy to get if not high credit score

Cons

  • $100 intro bonus isn’t as much as compared to other cards

Review

One downside to this card is that you only get the full 2% cashback when you pay off your purchases. For this reason, it’s really important that you purchase wisely with this card and, just as with any credit card, make sure you can fully pay off your purchases each month.

Discover — it Card

Discover it Card

Pros

  • 1% cash back on Everything Else
  • Double all of your cash back rewards in the first year
  • $20 credit every year if college student for up to 5 years (above 3.0 GPA)
  • No Annual Fee

Cons

  • Usefulness of the card is limited by the Cashback Calendar
  • Only really good for the first year
  • The card physically feels super cheap and plasticky (if you care)

Review

In terms of cashback, the Discover it Card is almost a strictly better version than the Citi Double Cash because of the calendar categories. However, because it doesn’t carry any introductory bonus and assuming you’re not a college student and won’t get the $20 good student credit each year, compared to the Double Cash’s bonus of $100, in order for this to be more worth it than the Citi Double Cash, you would have to spend over $1000 using the 10% cashback at gas stations, grocery stores, Amazon, and restaurants in a year in order to make more than the Double Cash’s introductory bonus. If you think you can realistically do this, then get this over the Double Cash because it would be more worth it.

That being said, after the first year this card does not hold up to the others on this list. No introductory $ bonus and 1% on everything is pretty bad, and although some of the calendar categories still give 5% cash back, they may not even be useful to you. For example, I don’t have a car and try not to shop on Amazon so the gas station and Amazon months aren’t that useful for me. If you’re going to get this card, I would recommend keeping it for a year to get the double cash back, and then cancelling it shortly afterwards and getting something else.

Chase — Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Pros

  • No Annual Fee
  • Get $200 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months

Cons

Review

The one downside about this card is that it might be hard to get if your credit score is just starting out (I got rejected when I applied to it) but you should definitely still try to apply for it since it’s the one of the best cards on this list. If you can’t get this, you can also try the Chase Freedom, which has almost similar benefits but without the 1.5% unlimited cashback.

CapitalOne — Quicksilver

CapitalOne Quicksilver

Pros

  • Get $150 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months
  • Relatively easy to get if not high credit score

Cons

Review

A big drawback on this card though is the $39 annual fee, which none of the other general purpose cards have, although it is waived for the first year. I see this card recommended a lot on online “review” sites, which I suspect to be just discrete advertisements, but this card is almost objectively worse than the Chase Freedom Unlimited because you get a lower introductory bonus ($150 vs. $200) and there’s an annual fee. However, it is still solid and if you couldn’t get the Freedom Unlimited this could also work. I wouldn’t hold it for more than a year though in order to avoid paying the annual fee.

Specific Use Cards

CapitalOne — SavorOne

CapitalOne SavorOne

Pros

  • 2% on Groceries
  • 1% on Everything Else
  • Get $150 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months
  • No Annual Fee

Cons

Review

You might not be able to get this as your very first credit card though, so be sure to apply after you’ve worked up your credit a bit with another, more general purpose card, though it shouldn’t be that hard to get.

Uber Visa Card

Uber Visa Card

Pros

  • 3% on Hotel and Airfares
  • 2% on Online Purchases (Uber, online shopping, streaming services)
  • 1% on Everything Else
  • Get $100 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months
  • No Annual Fee
  • Up to $50 credit for streaming services if you spend at least $5000 a year

Cons

  • Must redeem at least $25 if you want rewards to go to your bank

Review

One big caveat about this card though is that it’s pretty difficult to redeem your cashback rewards for actual cash, and instead very easy to redeem your rewards for money in your Uber wallet. If you use or plan on using Uber a lot, then this isn’t really a problem and will give you the great dining rewards, but if you don’t, then it does add a considerable constraint on when you can redeem your cashback rewards for just regular money. Compared to the SavorOne, you also don’t get the 3% cash back on entertainment which is a downside. Ultimately, picking this card depends on how much you use Uber, but personally I would recommend the SavorOne generally over this because it is less restrictive.

FAQ / Notes

Are there other cards than the ones on this list?

What exactly are points?

  • 1 point is equal to $0.01
  • 100 points is equal to $1
  • 1,000 points is equal to $10
  • 10,000 points is equal to $100
  • 50,000 points is equal to $500.

Are there other sites I can look at to read more on cards?

Thanks!

Cornell