While the back-to-school bonanzas on everything from backpacks to budget-friendly dorm room furnishings may be winding down, some parents may still be contemplating how best to equip students financially for the year ahead—an effort that could include opening a student credit card.
There are a variety of options to consider when your child reaches the appropriate age for a credit card, including a few newly launched cards aimed specifically at student account holders. Here are some of the most notable new and existing credit cards, as well as a few tips for introducing responsible use.
SavorOne Rewards for Student Credit Card
One of two new offerings from CapitalOne this season, the SavorOne Rewards for Students includes a variety of student-friendly features. Perhaps the most important, as far as students are concerned, is the card's unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services, and at grocery stores—all of which are lifestyle necessities, right? The SavorOne also provides 1 percent cash back on all other purchases, and there's no annual fee, which can be helpful for cash-strapped students.
The lack of an international transaction fee on this card is also a highlight for students who intend to study abroad or simply roam the globe freely during school breaks. And last but hardly least, CapitalOne offers customizable bill payment dates, which can be helpful for students who need to set a date that works best for their unique cash flow.
"You can go into the credit card app and let's say you get paid every two weeks—roughly on the 15th and the 30th — you can say 'I only want to pay my credit card on the 16th," CapitalOne's Ralph Haro, vice president, US Card, tells Parents. "I don't think many banks offered that option when I was in college."
Quicksilver Rewards for Students
The other new market entrant from CapitalOne is its Quicksilver Rewards for Students, which offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, every day. Like its sister card, the SavorOne, there's no annual fee for the Quicksilver card and there are no foreign transaction fees.
If there's a downside to the CapitalOne student card offerings, it is the interest rates, Dia Adams, credit card analyst for Forbes Advisor, tells Parents.
"The interest rates are on the high side," says Adams. The variable APR for both the Quicksilver and the SavorOne is currently set at 26.99 percent.
Discover it Student Cash Back
The Discover it Student Cash Back card is among the top-rated by Forbes year after year, says Adams, of Forbes Advisor. There are several reasons why students and parents might want to keep this card in mind.
"It not only offers rewards but also matches those rewards at the end of the first year," explains Adams. In other words, if your student earned $50 in cash-back rewards after 12 months of card use, Discover will make that $100; similarly, if a student earns $100, Discover will turn that into $200.
The Discover it Student Cash Back Card gives 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that change every quarter, and those categories are likely to be very appealing to student users.
"There are a lot of popular categories that fit students' lifestyles, such as Amazon, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and PayPal, to name a few," Ted Rossman, of Bankrate and CreditCards.com, tells Parents.
Users also earn unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases outside the 5 percent categories. Rewards can be redeemed for cash in any amount, and at any time—another bonus for busy students who could easily miss any artificial deadlines.
Discover has also developed an excellent customer service reputation, having finished either first or second in the J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Study every single year since its inception in 2007, adds Rossman.
"They're also very fee-friendly—none of Discover's cards charge annual fees or foreign transaction fees, and they waive your first late fee," says Rossman. "All of that adds up to a solid value proposition for students, as well as more established card users."
One last point about the Discover card of particular note to students: The card offers a $20 statement credit to students whose GPA is 3.0 or higher each year for up to five years—giving your student a little added incentive to hit the books.
Discover it Student Chrome Card
The Discover it Student Chrome Card offers many of the benefits as the Discover it Student Cash Back Card—excellent customer service, low fees, and double cash back in the first year.
"A difference is that this card is more predictable. There aren't any rotating categories. Cardholders get 2 percent cash back on up to $1,000 in combined quarterly gas and restaurant spending," explains Rossman. "Other purchases earn 1 percent cashback. Most people would probably come out ahead with the Discover it Student Cash Back, but if you consistently spend a lot on gas and at restaurants, then it's nice to get 2 percent cash back throughout the year as opposed to 1 percent for most of the year and 5 percent in one quarter, like you would with the Discover it Student Cash Back."
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
An additional card to consider for student users (particularly those who plan to do their fair share of traveling) is Bank of America's Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students.
This card earns points that can be redeemed just for travel, so students studying abroad or planning to travel will benefit from using this card, says Adams.
"I would typically recommend Bank of America's Unlimited Cash Rewards for a wider swath of the population, but if the student is planning to travel throughout their college career, the Travel Rewards card is the way to go," explains Adams. "The Travel Rewards card also has no foreign transaction fee, while the Cash Rewards does have a high foreign transaction fee."
Ways to introduce responsible credit card use
Introducing your child to their first credit card is no small decision and should be considered carefully. This includes weighing each card's value proposition, pros and cons, and other terms and conditions.
"When evaluating student cards, I think it's especially important to consider fees and building credit," says Rossman. "Rewards are nice, but they shouldn't be your primary consideration when you're just getting started with credit. Focus instead on establishing good habits and working towards a solid credit score… Once you have a strong foundation in place, then it could make sense to pursue rewards more aggressively."
If you want to start your student slowly with credit card use, you might consider beginning with a secured card. For those not familiar, secured cards can be used in the same way as a normal credit card, but the card's overall credit limit is typically set by the amount of the cash security deposit you provide when opening the card. This approach eliminates the possibility of your student getting in over their head with debt.
"This puts some skin in the game to help encourage responsible habits," says Adams. You could also consider setting your children up as authorized users on your existing credit cards, which would allow you to track their spending. The downside of this approach, however, is that you are responsible for any charges they make.
You'll also want to reinforce the importance of making credit card payments on time, and can even help them do this by setting up an auto-pay schedule, says Haro, of CapitalOne.
"One of the most important things is making payments on time. If they can do that, that's half the battle," says Haro. "Many financial services companies have evolved in a way to be more consumer-friendly on this point, by allowing users to set up autopay so you don't even have to think about it. Life gets busy, especially for students, so explain the value of autopay to your children. Coach them on what it means and why it's important to have."