Until a few years ago, college students could find credit card deals as easily as crossing a campus quad. However, concerns that banks exploited students' lack of real world personal finance skills led lawmakers to put more stringent controls on college credit card promotions.

Today, students have two options for getting unsecured credit cards. First, they can wait until they turn 21, then apply for a student credit card from a leading national bank. Second, they can convince a parent or other responsible adult to co-sign on a dedicated credit card with limits that lawmakers often call "training wheels." Our credit card tables can help you find the right student credit card for your situation.

Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won't increase your APR.*
  • 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations every quarter--no sign-ups needed*. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months--then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 12.99% - 21.99%.
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Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won't increase your APR.*
  • 5% cash back for online shopping and department store purchases on up to $1,500 - Oct. through Dec. 2014 when you sign up for 5%*. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Free FICO® Credit Score online and on monthly statements.*
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Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • Experience our cash rewards with $20 cash back after you make your first purchase within 3 months of approval.*
  • 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations every quarter - no sign-ups needed.* 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won't increase your APR.*
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Credit Needed
Average/Fair
X

  • Experience our cash rewards with $20 cash back after you make your first purchase within 3 months of approval.*
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won't increase your APR.*
  • 5% cash back for online shopping and department store purchases on up to $1,500 - Oct. through Dec. 2014 when you sign up for 5%*. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
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Disclaimer:*These quotes are from credit card issuers which have paid for a link to their website. Offers are subject to change without notice and may not be the same for all consumers.

Find the Best Student Credit Card for You

Student credit cards for independent young adults

Reaching age 21 means so much more than getting legal access to your favorite clubs and bars. It means you may have a chance at scoring a credit card you can use to pay your tab! However, credit card issuers have learned that it's good business to help younger consumers learn how to borrow responsibly. Instead of simply encouraging you to rack up the highest balances possible, a growing number of credit card companies have built incentives into their best credit cards for students.

Many lenders now reward good habits like making minimum payments on time and avoiding going over the credit limit. If your credit history is slim, you won't always qualify for the best credit cards on the market, but building a track record with a single lender can help you earn an invitation to a more prestigious account after a few years.

Secured credit cards provide training wheels

Not every student automatically qualifies for an unsecured credit card. However, banks offer another option that can help you build a strong credit history: the secured credit card. If you've got just a few hundred dollars that you can afford to stash away in a savings account, a handful of lenders will offer you a real credit card that uses your deposit as collateral. You'll pay an annual fee and you won't get the best interest rate on the market, but you will enjoy the benefits of an active revolving credit account that reports to the major credit bureaus.

Sharing credit cards with parents

Some students may not want to wait until they turn 21 to get their own credit card. If that situation describes yours, then you might try talking a parent, a family member or a close friend into co-signing for a shared credit card. Under federal rules, banks can issue credit cards for co-signers of any age, since the other co-signer remains responsible for paying off the entire balance of a defaulted account.

While having a co-signer reduces banks' anxiety about your credit, yours could rise. That's because a co-signer can track your day-to-day purchase activity. Buy something you're not supposed to, and a worried parent or loved one could end up on the other end of your phone to find out what you're doing.

Smart credit card use

Today's economy has changed what it means to be a student. Financial aid packages may cover more than they used to, but students often need a little extra help to make it through a semester. Young adults don't always arrive on campus with the financial skills necessary to balance a checkbook or keep track of their credit.

Banks faced mounting pressure to dismantle on-campus promotions until the Credit CARD Act all but banned the practice in 2009. Instead of settling for a credit card application that comes with a free T-shirt, you can use the credit card tables on this page to learn which of the best student credit cards meets your needs.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company.