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Best Credit Cards for Graduate Students for 2022
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
As a graduate student, you most likely will have more expenses and responsibilities compared to when you were an undergrad. You may be working full time, paying rent, managing the cost of furthering your education and dealing with other costs. Using the right credit card can help you cover expenses when cash flow is tight and allow you to take advantage of perks and rewards.
Hopefully you already have experience with credit and have used a credit card as an undergrad, allowing you to qualify for better cards than grad students with no prior credit experience. But don’t worry if you lack credit or have no credit, because there are cards designed with you in mind. Through a review of cards available on LendingTree, as well as from top issuers, we’ve selected the best cards for graduate students — regardless of whether you have a good credit history or none at all.
First, check your credit score
Before you open a credit card, it’s a good practice to check your credit score so you can tailor your search to cards for which you may qualify. One way to check your credit score for free is by signing up for a My LendingTree account. Or, your bank may provide a credit score tool, or you can go any number of websites to get one for free.
Apply for a student card
A student card can be a good place to start if you lack credit history and are planning on opening your first credit card as an undergrad. Most cards require you to apply using an .edu email to verify your status as a student. The cards mentioned in this section all have no annual fees and offer rewards programs, among other perks. Note: If you already have a student card or other credit card, you can check out the following sections that list non-student cards.
The Discover it® Student Cash Back is our top pick for a student card because of the high value it provides students. The cashback program allows you to earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. Just remember to activate the bonus categories.
In addition, there’s a sign-up bonus for new cardmembers: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
A helpful perk is the intro APR of 0% Intro APR for 6 months on purchases on purchases, which can be helpful if you need to make purchases for textbooks or furniture that you can’t pay for right away. After, a 14.49% - 23.49% Variable APR will apply.
Another option is the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, which is a flat-rate cashback card for students. You earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month; earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply. This is a subpar rate considering non-student cards offer higher flat rates of 1.5% and 2%, but if you have fair/limited credit, this is better than nothing. An additional perk of this card is the ability to be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months.
Cards for poor credit or no credit
If you have poor credit or no credit at all, don’t lose hope in finding a decent credit card — you have options. But before you consider opening a credit card, you should evaluate why you want a credit card and decide if you’re in the best financial position. If you have poor credit, you most likely haven’t been using your credit card responsibly and may have overspent, racked up debt or missed several payments — some of which may be due to inconsistent income. You should avoid using a credit card as a temporary fix to cash flow issues since it can lead you to more debt.
When you decide to open a credit card with poor credit or no credit, we recommend sticking to secured cards. They often allow applicants with less-than-stellar credit to apply and have fewer fees than credit cards marketed toward consumers with bad credit. A secured card is like a traditional unsecured card, but you’re required to make a cash deposit that becomes your line of credit.
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is our favorite secured card since it offers a cashback program and a simple transition to an unsecured card. Cardholders earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. The minimum deposit is $200 — and a great perk is the monthly account reviews that Discover conducts starting at seven months where the issuer your account to see if you can be upgraded to an unsecured card and then refunds your security deposit. This takes the guesswork out of wondering when you’re ready for an unsecured card.
The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card doesn’t offer rewards like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, but it does provide the opportunity for a lower security deposit, which is helpful if you may not be able to afford a $200 deposit. The minimum deposit requirements are $49, $99 or $200. If you qualify for the $49 or $99 rate, you still receive a $200 credit limit. Also, your account can be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months.
Cards for fair credit
If you have fair credit, you may be able to qualify for several credit cards offering rewards or no annual fees. The cards listed below are unsecured, which means they don’t require you to make a deposit.
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a cashback program where you earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day; 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through capital one travel (terms apply). This is good considering the card requires fair/limited credit. There is a $39 annual fee, but if you spend $2,600 a year on the card you can earn enough cash back to recoup the fee. Additional benefits of this card include auto rental and travel accident insurance, 24/7 travel and roadside assistance, a foreign transaction fee of none, and more.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a no-frills card that is ideal if you travel abroad often. This card has a foreign transaction fee of none, which saves you the typical 3% fee many other cards charge per purchase abroad. Like the other Capital One cards mentioned earlier, your account can be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months. This card also offers auto rental and travel accident insurance, 24/7 travel and roadside assistance and other Platinum Mastercard benefits.
Cards for good credit
If you enter grad school with good credit, you’ll be able to qualify for significantly better cards than students with bad or fair credit. Some of the best credit cards available are reserved for people with good or excellent credit, and we list a few of our top picks below.
The Discover it® Miles is a good $0 annual fee travel card that earns you an automatically earn unlimited 1.5x miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee. This is a good rewards rate considering many travel cards offering higher rewards rates come with annual fees. Another helpful perk for travelers is a foreign transaction fee of none. For new cardmembers: Only Discover gives you an unlimited match of all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
Cards for excellent credit
When you have excellent credit, you may qualify for the best credit cards that offer a wide range of perks that can include travel credits, added protections, robust rewards programs and more. Below, we list some of our favorite credit cards for excellent credit.
Citi Simplicity® Card
If you have debt on an existing credit card, a balance transfer can be a good way to get out of debt faster by voiding interest charges for a period a time. The Citi Simplicity® Card offers an intro APR of 0% for 21 months on balance transfers. After, a 16.99% - 26.99% (variable) APR applies. This lengthy intro APR offer can help you save on costly interest charges, allowing your 100% payments to go just toward the principal instead of the principal plus interest. Note that there’s a balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. The Citi Simplicity® Card also offers an intro APR of 0% for 12 months on purchases, after which a 16.99% - 26.99% (variable) APR applies.
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of the best flat-rate cashback cards available with the ability to earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. Unlike other cards that have rotating bonus categories that require activation, you earn the same rate on every purchase.
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is an all-around solid card for rewards and financing new purchases. Cardholders earn 2x points at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), and 1x points on other purchases. There’s also a welcome offer of 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases in your first 6 months.
This card also has a solid intro period for you to take advantage of with an APR of 0% introductory apr for the first 15 months from the date of account opening. on purchases. After, a 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR applies.
The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuers of these cards before publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.