Most student credit cards are only available to college students. If you’re not a student and you’re looking for a way to get your first credit card, you still have good options.
At least one major student credit card is available to non-students, and there are other cards available that are not student-specific but offer similar features. For other student credit cards, applicants are required to list their school details on their applications and in most cases supporting documents are required to prove enrollment.
What Is a Student Credit Card?
A student credit card is designed to be an introduction to credit for young people who are most likely students. A student credit card can be a great way to get your first credit card and start establishing a credit history.
Student credit cards typically don’t require extensive credit histories or high income. Qualification is also often easier than it would be for a standard credit card. Lenders take on increased risk when providing cards to those with unproven credit (like students), so most student cards come with low credit limits and high-interest rates.
Don’t expect extended low-interest promotions, airline miles, or other rewards. A student credit card is an opportunity to prove that you’re a worthwhile credit risk, which may help you qualify for those juicy perks down the line. Some student cards do offer student-specific rewards, like a balance credit for maintaining high grades or one-time late payment forgiveness.
Credit card companies actively target college students despite their limited records and relatively high risk. This is because credit companies expect that parents will bail their children out if they run up debts they can’t pay. Card issuers also see students as potential future customers and are willing to take some risks for the chance to build brand loyalty.
How to Qualify for a Student Credit Card
Student credit cards may be easier to get than conventional cards but still have some requirements.
- Most student cards require applicants to be US citizens or residents, at least 18 years old, with a Social Security Number.
- Federal law requires that applicants under 21 must have some form of income or, failing that, a cosigner. Income requirements can be less strict for student cards than for other cards, and a part-time job can be enough.
- While a student card may not have a minimum requirement, the lender may have guidelines that exclude those with a poor credit history–that is, differentiating between no credit and poor credit.
- Most student credit cards require proof of post-secondary enrollment.
One major student card, the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One, does not require proof of enrollment, though you will have to meet credit score and income requirements.
Alternatives to Student Credit Cards
If you’re not a student, or if you’re a student who doesn’t meet the requirements for a student card, there are still ways to start establishing a credit history.
- Get a cosigner. If you have a relative or friend with an established credit history who is willing to cosign your application, you have a better chance of approval. The cosigner will be liable for your debts, so use your card wisely!
- Become an authorized user. A family member or friend can add you as an authorized user on their card. Your record will benefit from the responsible use of that card, even if you don’t make purchases.
- Get a secured credit card. You’ll have to pay a deposit, and that deposit will become your credit limit. Secured cards are easy to get, because there’s no risk to the issuer, and can be a great way to start establishing a credit history. Many secured card issuers will raise your limit or offer you a non-secured card after a period of reliable payment.
- Get a Store credit card. Many major retailers have their cards, and they often have more relaxed requirements than many credit cards. If you have easy access to a major retailer, an in-house card can help you establish a credit record. These cards often have high-interest rates, so pay your bills on time!
- Look for cards with accessible requirements. Many card issuers offer products designed for first-time credit users. These cards will offer many of the same features and limitations as student cards, but will not require college enrollment.
Using Your First Credit Card to Establish a Credit History
Whether you’re a student or not, the way you use your first credit card can have an impact on your financial future. Establishing yourself as a responsible credit user can make it easier for you to get a higher credit limit or a loan down the line, or even buy a car or a house. If your credit record is not so good all these things can be more difficult, and it can take years to undo the damage.
Following these steps will help you build a financial history that will work for you.
- Pay your bills on time. You’ll avoid interest expense and show future lenders that you can be trusted.
- Use as little of your credit limit as possible. Some first-time cardholders use credit only for a single expense, like gas or a recurring bill. This keeps their utilization rate low and keeps their bills easier to pay.
- Keep your first card open, even if you get a better one. Keeping the card open will extend your credit history.
- Monitor your credit report and score. If you’re learning to use credit, your credit score is your GPA and your credit report is your report card. They provide vital feedback on how well you’re doing and where you can improve.
Getting a credit card and using it responsibly can help you build a sound financial record. If you’re a student and you meet the qualifications, a student credit card is an ideal introduction to credit. If you’re a non-student or a student who doesn’t qualify for a student card, don’t give up. You can still get a credit card and you can still establish a credit history that will help you in the future.