Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads, Strategies to Save

13 College Costs You Don’t Think About

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When families think of financing a college education, they usually think about covering tuition costs. It’s easy to home in on tuition — after all, it’s an obvious, in-your-face expense. But tuition and fees don’t make up the largest portion of the average cost of college attendance.

In the College Board’s most recent Trends in College Pricing, researchers found non-tuition-related expenses at public four-year schools account for 61% of a total $24,610 average cost of attendance.

Here are a few hidden college costs for families to consider before the school year starts.

Housing

Room and board make up about 42% of the total cost of attendance at four-year public institutions, according to the College Board. After tuition, housing is the second-largest expense students will encounter.

For students who choose (or for whom it is required) to live in on-campus housing, room and board might be a non-negotiable expense. The cost to live in a dorm can vary from as low as $5,326 for the school year to more than $18,000 according to U.S. News Short List rankings. Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to live on campus in areas with higher rent, while off-campus housing is cheaper in areas with lower rental costs.

Other on-campus living requirements such as enrollment in the school’s meal plan, a security deposit, and dorm fees can also add up.

Don’t assume the university’s housing cost estimate is correct, as schools use different factors to calculate costs. A 2015 Trulia analysis found “schools often underestimate the cost of off-campus housing, sometimes by thousands of dollars for the school term.” For example, the University of California, Berkeley, estimates a student would spend $7,184 to live off campus, while Trulia’s data showed it would cost $12,375 for two students to share a two-bedroom apartment for nine months.

Tips to save on off-campus housing:

Compare costs to on-campus housing. Depending on where you attend school, a 9- or 12-month off-campus lease plus utilities and internet might actually be more expensive than room and board in a university dorm.

Look for roommates to help ease the burden of utilities and other bills.

Use search engines like Uloop and College Student Apartments to filter through housing options near your school and find even more savings.

Furniture and decor

Plan to budget a few hundred bucks for furniture and decor. If you’re lucky, your dorm or apartment might include a few pieces of furniture. Even then, you’ll need bedding, curtains, linens, and other staples. Plan to spend funds on furniture and decorations to make the new space feel like home.

The good news is that any college town where students are constantly moving in and leaving each year are great for the resellers market. Check out Craigslist in your area to save on furniture, or resale sites like AptDeco, Furnishare, or Furnishly. Facebook’s new marketplace feature is a good idea, too.

Pro tip: Consider starting a college registry. Target’s College Registry offers a 15% discount on any items that aren’t purchased. Also, don’t forget your student ID card. Some retailers may offer student discounts.

Parking fees

If you plan to commute or keep a vehicle on campus, set aside money for parking ahead of time. Schools typically offer a range of parking packages for students. For example, student parking permits at Boston University go for as low as $266.40 per school year for evening commuters, to $1,905.50 for those who live on campus and need to park overnight.

You may be required to pay a lump sum for parking at the beginning of each semester. Check if your school prices parking passes by location. If they do, research on-campus transit. You may be able to pay for cheaper parking farther from your classes, then hop on campus transit to class. Consider cheaper parking options like city parking lots or curbside options if there are any nearby.

Study abroad and other travel

College years are prime time for travel. Whether you’re hitting the beach with friends on spring break or considering an extended study abroad program, you could easily spend thousands of dollars on travel over the course of four years.

Study abroad programs, complete with room, board, instruction, and sometimes internships, can get pricey. For example, Northwestern University estimates a year studying abroad in Brazil to costs about $21,000 for students, while a summer abroad in the University of Georgia’s UGA en Buenos Aires program costs $4,294, plus about $3,000 in tuition and fees.

Often, students finance study abroad trips with financial aid. Just think it through before you take on more debt, especially if you’ve taken on a lot of student debt already. Many school study abroad offices offer scholarships for students. Another good source is Cappex.com, which tracks college scholarships.

Food

The average college and university charges about $4,500, or $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract for a typical 8- or 9-month academic year, according to the Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit education news site.

If you want to use the meal plan but the standard campus meal plan is too expensive or wasteful for your budget, you could find savings in a lower-cost plan. Many post-secondary institutions offer lower-cost meal plan packages. Schools may also require first-year students or those living on campus to sign up for a meal plan, but allow upperclassmen and commuters to decide to what extent — if at all — they want to participate.

For example, at New York University, a student can pay $2,800 per semester for an all-access meal plan (28 meals per week) or as little as $1,210 per semester for a so-called “flex” plan (5 meals per week).

Books, fees, and supplies

Textbooks and class fees don’t come cheap. The average full-time student at a four-year public institution will spend $1,298 per year on books and supplies, according to the College Board.

Sometimes, fees come as a surprise. In an ongoing study, Wisconsin HOPE Lab researchers tracked the cost experiences of students at four public universities in Wisconsin. At one school, students on the waiting list for a required English course that was full were told to sign up for the online version. Without a heads up, the students were charged an unexpected $250 online course fee.

A student might also need to purchase special equipment or software essential to a course or course of study. Science and technology courses may tack on lab fees, while art students may shell out cash for studio time or class materials.

If you can get hold of a course syllabus early, you should. Don’t only look for what’s required to pass. Check carefully for any fees or payments needed to take the course before you show up. If you can’t get a copy of the syllabus and are unsure, you can usually reach the professor to ask via email.

Your family’s changing financial picture

stressed worker job work

You could be surprised by a rise in your cost of attendance if you or your family’s financial picture changes.

The effects of this scenario are demonstrated in the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, a six-year-long investigation of how Pell Grant recipients attending public institutions in Wisconsin experienced the price of higher education conducted by the HOPE Lab.

Researchers found the financial burden on students grows over time as tuition rises and families experience financial changes. Twenty percent of students in the study experienced a median $1,215 hike in the Expected Family Contribution — how much of the cost of attendance their household was expected to pay after their first year. When your EFC grows, it means you’re likely to be awarded less financial aid.

Many students, they found, also lost eligibility for the Pell Grant and other aid dependent on Pell eligibility.

Dried-up scholarships and grants

Additionally, students usually receive the most financial aid for their first year of college, but scholarships and grants may not stick around for all four years. They could be allotted for the first year only, or a student may lose academic or financial eligibility. Many universities use “front loading” to attract freshman to the school. They recruit incoming freshman with grants and scholarships and may not continue to fund grants for continuing students. On average this increases the net price from the first to second year of college by about $1,400.

Contact your school’s financial aid office early on if you expect a change in income to affect your EFC, as you may be able to explain your situation in an appeal. If you receive a scholarship or grant, carefully scrutinize the terms to make sure you know how long the money will last and what you’ll need to do to keep the award.

A new laptop

For many courses, having a laptop or access to a personal computer is crucial to success. Be prepared to pay $700 to $1,500 for that success, depending on the specs you need to excel in your major.

Some of the pricing is dependent on the laptop’s operating system. Students can get a Google computer for a couple of hundred dollars or a PC for less than $700, while an Apple Macbook Air starts at about $1,000. Always ask about a student discount. Some retailers like Apple offer discounted education pricing models for students and educators. Others, like Best Buy, periodically send out a newsletter with college student deals. You could save hundreds just by leveraging your student status.

Try using the school’s computers to complete work outside of class if they come with the software you need already loaded. You may also be able to rent laptops, tablets, cameras, and other technology from your school or local retailers. If you need to purchase software, and it can be downloaded on multiple computers, you could share a login with a classmate to share and split the cost.

Club and organization fees

Socializing comes at a price in college. Campus organizations often charge membership dues ($10-$25 at the low end), but it can get much more expensive for students looking to enter a sorority or fraternity. UCLA estimates the average annual cost of room, board, and dues to be about $7,650 for sororities and $8,328 for fraternities. That’s before adding in all of the other membership costs like clothing and fees to attend social functions.

While in an organization, there will likely be multiple occasions when you would need to buy merchandise, gifts, or clothing for events. If you’re into sports, for example, you may want to participate in an intramural sports league. You might need to pay a league fee, then purchase equipment and a team uniform.

Overall, keep your budget top of mind when faced with these opportunities. You might think twice about handing over thousands to your new “brothers” if it means skipping meals later on in the semester.

Internships


Internships — especially unpaid ones — can get expensive. Internships present a great opportunity for students to connect with others in their selected field and learn on-the-job skills, but they don’t pay much. For a student financing their education alone, an unpaid or low-paying internship could mean a missed opportunity. You could get offered the internship of your dreams with a large company, then have to turn it down if the pay is too little to cover your living costs.

Let’s say you accept an unpaid part-time summer internship offer (in exchange for course credit) from a firm in an expensive city like Los Angeles. It may be nearly impossible to make ends meet without financial assistance from your family or loans. Yes, you could probably cover some costs with another part-time position, or save money by staying in co-living community like Purehouse, but you’ll be scraping by to eat decent food or do anything outside of work.

The most competitive and best-paying internships are quickly filled. Apply to paid internships early on if an unpaid internship is out of the question. Periodically check for paid spring and summer internships with fall semester deadlines. Look for internships close to campus or your family to offset costs. If the internship is in another city, check to see if you have family or friends you can stay with for the time.

“Fun”

Social events present great opportunities to connect outside of class with others in your major or cohort. However, being a social butterfly is a quick way to deplete any bank account.

For example, student season tickets for the 2016 Ohio State football season ran students $180 to attend all five Big Ten conference games. To attend an additional two conference games, students would need to purchase a $252 package. That’s before you spend money on food, drinks, and an outfit for the pre-game tailgate.

You only have four to six years to make long-lasting relationships in college that could affect the rest of your life, so it’s understandable to feel pressure to attend parties, hang out at bars, go to dinners, and other activities. However, you could go broke or get into debt if you’re not careful.

Look for free or low-cost events to attend, then be selective about which events and activities are worth it for your budget. Keep an eye on your spending and always ask if you can save money on meals, clothes, or events with a student ID discount. You might get teased for seeming “cheap,” but you could avoid putting these expenses on a credit card.

Health insurance and medical costs

If you do not get health coverage through your parents, some schools may require you to sign up for a health plan. For example, New York University automatically enrolls students in its school-sponsored health care plan, but students can waive the plan if they can provide evidence they maintain alternate health insurance coverage that meets the university’s minimum health insurance criteria.

The cost of a basic plan for the spring 2017 semester: $1,654. If you’re an out-of-state student and don’t find alternative insurance coverage in time for classes, you could be stuck paying the bill as “NYU requires that all students registered in degree-granting programs maintain health insurance.”

Shop around to be sure you’re getting the best coverage at the best price possible. That may mean going outside of your school’s designated plan. You might want to consider signing up for coverage in the federal government’s Health Insurance Marketplace or your state’s equivalent insurance marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

Disclaimer

Student Loan
earnest

Refinance with Earnest

Refinancing rates from 2.05% APR. Checking your rates won’t affect your credit score.

Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads
iStock

For many college students, their default banking option while in school is a student checking account, which is typically free. Unfortunately, when you graduate you lose those benefits. Many student checking accounts will begin to charge you monthly maintenance fees unless you meet certain requirements.

So, where do you go from there?

Few young adults would turn to their parents for fashion or dating advice and, yet, one of the most common ways we’ve found young people choose their bank account is by going with whichever bank their parents already use. This could be a bigger faux pas than stealing your dad’s old pair of parachute pants.

The bank your parents use may carry fees or have requirements that don’t meet your lifestyle or budget, and make accounts expensive to use.

But where do you even begin to choose the right checking account?

When you’re nearing graduation, start planning your bank transition.

Many banks send a letter in the mail a few months prior to your expected graduation date informing you that your student checking account is going transition to a non-student account. If you’re not careful and you disregard the letter, you may be transitioned into an account that charges a fee if you don’t meet certain requirements.

You can always call the bank and ask to switch to a different account or you can choose a new account that offers more benefits, like interest and ATM fee refunds.

Account Name

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

SoFi Money$0$0Unlimited1.80%
Empower Checking Account$0$0One out-of-network ATM withdrawal per month1.65%
Aspiration Spend and Save Account$0$10Unlimited1.00% APY
TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking$0$0Up to $15 in ATM fees reimbursed4.00% APY (applies to balances up to $50,000)
Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking$0$0$10 per month4.00% (applies to balances up to $30,000)
La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking$0$50Up to $25 per month4.25% APY on balances up to $3,000

2.00% APY on balances $3,000-$10,000

The 5 key things you should look for in a checking account

When you’re shopping around for a new checking account, there are several things you should look for to ensure you’re getting the most value from your account:

  1. A $0 monthly fee: Sometimes banks may say they don’t charge a monthly fee but read the fine print — they may require a minimum monthly balance in order to avoid it. There are plenty of free checking accounts available for you to open, so there’s no reason to stay stuck with an account that charges a monthly fee. Take note, as some accounts may require you to meet certain criteria to maintain a free account like using a debit card, enrolling in eStatements or maintaining a minimum daily balance.
  2. No minimum daily balance: Accounts without minimum daily balances mean you can have a $0 balance at any given time. This may allow you to have a free account without meeting balance requirements — although other terms may apply to maintain a free account.
  3. Annual Percentage Yield: APY is the total amount of interest you will earn on balances in your account. Opening an account that earns you interest on your balance is an easy way to be rewarded for money that would typically sit without earning anything. You should definitely aim to earn a decent APY on your savings account.
  4. ATM fee refunds: You may not be able to access an in-network ATM at all times, so accounts providing ATM fee refunds can reimburse you for ATM fees you may incur while using out-of-network ATMs. Those $3 or $5 charges add up!
  5. No or low overdraft fees: Most banks charge you an overdraft fee of around $35 if you spend more money than you have available in your account. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose an account that has no or low overdraft fees.

Top overall checking accounts for college grads

For the top overall checking accounts, we chose accounts that have no monthly service fees, no ATM fees, refunds for ATM fees from other banks, interest earned on your deposited balances and with strong mobile banking apps. While there is no all-inclusive account that contains every benefit, the accounts below are sure to provide value whether you want a high interest rate, unlimited ATM fee refunds or 24/7 live customer support.

1. SoFi Money

Better known for its personal loan products, SoFi has recently launched a cash management account product that offers an attractive yield of 1.80% APY. Unlike some other cash management accounts, the rate applies to the entire balance, with no need to shift funds between checking and spending sub-accounts. Among it’s best perks are unlimited reimbursement of third-party ATM fees, even from overseas withdrawals.

LEARN MORE Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

 

2. Empower Checking Account

Empower is the mobile banking division of Evolve Bank & Trust. The Empower Checking Account currently offers a very attractive 1.65% APY on your full checking account balance, with neither a minimum deposit to open nor any need to maintain a minimum balance. Empower gives you access to over 25,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide, however you’ll only get one out-of-network ATM fee reimbursed per month. One other drawback: There are no check-writing capabilities with this account.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Empower’s secure website

Member FDIC

3. Aspiration Spend and Save Account

The Aspiration Spend and Save Account offers a wide range of benefits for account holders and has few fees. The $10 amount to open is fairly low, and once you open your account there is no minimum monthly balance to maintain.

Aspiration charges no fees for withdrawals outside its ATM network, plus it refunds an unlimited amount of third-party ATM fees.

As the account name suggests, there are two sides to the account: a spending sub-account and a savings sub-account. The spending side yields no interest, while the savings side earns 1.00% APY. To earn this APY, you must deposit at least $1,000 in the combined account monthly, or maintain a balance of $10,000.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

Top high-yield checking accounts for college grads

Since most checking accounts offer little to no interest, high-yield checking accounts are a great way for you to maximize the money that typically would just sit in your account without earning interest. These accounts often offer interest rates that fluctuate depending on how much money you have in the account. However, in order to earn interest, there are some requirements that you may have to meet such as making a certain number of debit card transactions and enrolling in eStatements.

1. TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking Account

Based in Ogden, UT, TAB Bank’s Kasasa Cash Checking account is a great choice for recent graduates. You can earn a very competitive 4.00% APY by meeting a few simple requirements: Have at least one direct deposit, ACH payment, or bill pay transaction posted to the account during each billing cycle; and make at least 15 debit card purchases. Even better, the bank will reimburse up to $15 in ATM fees per month from making withdrawals outside their ATM network.

LEARN MORE Secured

on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

2. Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking

An excellent choice for recent graduates looking for a high-yield checking account is Orion Federal Credit Union’s Premium Checking account, which promises customers 4.00% APY on balances up to $30,000.

You also need to keep in mind that because Orion FCU is a credit union, you have to jump through some additional hoops to access the high APY:

  • Pay $10 to one of five organizations approved by Orion to become eligible for membership in the credit union
  • Deposit $25 in a special savings account with Orion to officially become a member
  • Make an electronic deposit of at least $500 every month into your Premium Checking account
  • Make at least 8 signature based debit card transactions — not PIN-code based debit transactions — each month.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Orion Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

3. La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking

This checking account has a $2 monthly service fee, which can easily be waived if you enroll in eStatements.

*While the terms state a minimum balance requirement of $1,000 and a low balance fee of $8, the fee can be waived if you make 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month.

To earn the top interest rate on your checking balance, you just need to make at least 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month. There are numerous surcharge-free La Capitol ATMs for you to use, and after signing up for eStatements you can receive up to $25 per month in ATM fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.

LEARN MORE Secured

on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

Advertiser Disclosure

Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards October 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Getting a credit card while you’re in college can set you up for financial success, provided you avoid racking up unnecessary charges. If you are over 18 and have a steady income, applying for a card now will kick start your credit history, and you can start building that all-important credit score.

Learning how to choose and use the right student credit card is relatively simple. Make sure you avoid annual fees and go with a bank or credit union you can trust. When you get the card, make sure you use it responsibly and pay the balance in full and on time every month. If you do these things consistently over time, you can leave school with an excellent credit score. And if you want to rent an apartment or buy a car, having a good credit score is very important.

Our Top Pick

Discover it® Student Cash Back

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Regular APR
14.74% - 23.74% Variable
Credit required
fair-credit
Fair/New to Credit

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Good Grades Reward program: Did you study extra hard this year? If you’ve gotten a 3.0 GPA or higher for an entire school year, Discover will reward you with an extra $20 statement credit. You can get this statement credit for up to five years in a row as long as you’re still a current student when you apply.
  • Free FICO® score: Just like how you have grades for your classes, your FICO® score is your “grade” for your credit. Credit cards have a huge effect on your FICO® score. You can watch how your new credit card affects your score over time with a free FICO® score update on your monthly statement.
  • 5% cash back : You can earn up to 5% cash back at different places that change each quarter, on up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter that you activate. Past categories have included things like Amazon purchases, restaurants, and ground transportation. Even if you don’t buy something in the bonus category, you’ll still earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Cash back match at end of your first year: In addition to rotating 5% cash back categories, new cardmembers will also get an intro bonus. When your first card anniversary comes around, Discover will automatically match your cash back rewards you earned during your first year.

Cons Cons

  • Remember to sign up for bonus categories: Even though this card comes with a great cash back rewards program, it comes with a catch: you’ll need to manually activate the bonus places each quarter. You can do this by calling Discover or logging in to your account online. If you forget, you’ll still earn 1% cash back if you make any purchases in the qualifying categories.
  • Gift certificates only available at certain levels: You can redeem your rewards for many things such as Amazon purchases, a statement credit, or a donation to a charity, to name a few. But, if you’d like to get a gift card instead, you’ll need a cash back balance of at least $20 saved up in your account.
Bottom line

Bottom line

The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers great perks for college students, such as a rewards program for good grades and a free FICO® score so you can learn about your credit firsthand. Its cash back rewards program is our favorite. No other card for students (that we could find) offers the opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back. And with no annual fee, this is our top pick.

Read our full review of the Discover it® Student Cash Back

Best Flat-Rate Card

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s website

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time
Regular Purchase APR
26.46% (Variable)
Credit required
fair-credit
Average/Fair/Limited

Magnify Glass Pros

  • 1.25% cash back if you pay on time: Each purchase you make earns a flat-rate 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time. This makes it handy for people who want as simple a card as possible. And it rewards great behavior.
  • Higher credit lines after on-time payments: If you’re approved for this card, you’ll receive a credit line of at least $300. If you make five on-time payments in a row, you can call Capital One and ask them to increase your credit line.
  • No foreign transaction fee: This is a great card to take overseas, because you won’t have to pay any foreign transaction fees. Most cards charge an average 3% foreign transaction fee, but Journey allows you to use your card abroad without being charged extra fees.

Cons Cons

  • High APR: This card carries an APR of 26.46% (Variable). That’s almost twice as high as some other student credit cards, such as the Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card with a rate as low as 12.90% - 22.90% Variable APR. It’s just one more incentive to pay off your bill in full each month.
Bottom line

Bottom line

We really like this card because it actively rewards you for developing good credit-management behavior by offering a small cash back bonus for on-time payments. In addition, the cash back program is straightforward with no confusing categories to remember or opt into, making this card a good option for students who want a simple, flat-rate card.

Read our full review of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Best Intro Bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

The information related to Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms Apply.

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
3% cash rewards on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first 6 months, 1% cash rewards on virtually all other purchases
Regular Purchase APR
12.90% - 22.90% Variable
Credit required
excellent-credit
Good/Excellent

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Interest rates as low as 12.90% - 22.90% Variable APR: Depending on your credit, your interest rate could be between 12.90% - 22.90% Variable APR, but there is no guarantee you’ll receive the lower rate. This is a lower variable APR range than most student cards, and can help if you aren’t able to pay your balance in full one month.
  • Intro Rewards Bonus: 3% cash rewards on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first 6 months, 1% cash rewards on virtually all other purchases
  • Access to credit education: Wells Fargo provides you with all sorts of tools and information to learn about things like credit, budgeting, and expense tracking. While this is a nice feature, it’s not exclusive to Wells Fargo. You can get this information from free tools such as Mint, or even reading books and blogs. But it is pretty handy having it right at your fingertips when logged in to your account.

Cons Cons

  • Need to be a Wells Fargo member to apply online: You can go into any one of the 6,000+ branches and apply for the card. You can also apply online, but you’ll need to be an existing Wells Fargo customer. However, anyone can open a checking account online with a minimum deposit of $25.
  • High bars for some cash back redemption options: There are a lot of redemption options available through Wells Fargo’s own online cash back rewards mall. However, if you’d just like straight cash, you have a few options. You can request a direct deposit into your Wells Fargo checking account, savings account, or Wells Fargo credit card (if applicable) in $25 increments, or request a paper check in $20 increments. That can take a long time to accumulate if you’re not spending much with your card.
Bottom line

Bottom line

The Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card is a relatively simple card with a great intro bonus of 3% cash rewards on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for the first 6 months, 1% cash rewards on virtually all other purchases In addition, the low variable APR is handy for those who think they’ll be carrying a balance on their credit card from month to month at some point in the future. This is generally something we recommend against, but if you can’t avoid it, the Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card is your best bet.

Read our full review of the Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Unlimited rewards. Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points.
  • Flexible rewards redemption. You can redeem your points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees. Plus, this card doesn’t restrict you to a particular airline or chain of hotels.
  • Free FICO score. Keep track of your credit score via online banking or Bank of America’s mobile app.
  • Chance to earn more rewards. Have an active Bank of America checking or savings account? Then this card offers a chance to get a 10% customer points bonus on every purchase. The card is also eligible for the benefits of the Preferred Rewards program, though that program is based on banking and/or investment balances that might be too high for many college students to qualify for.
  • Foreign transaction fee? There is None.

Cons Cons

  • Points are not worth as much when redeemed for cash back. When redeemed for a travel credit, each point is worth $0.01. However, if redeemed for cash back, points are only worth $0.006 each. For example, 2,500 points redeemed for travel would be worth $25. The same number of points redeemed for cash back would be worth $15.
Bottom line

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a student card offering travel rewards, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students could be a good option. With an annual fee of $0 and points that can be redeemed for travel with any airline or stays with any hotel line, this card gives you options.

The information related to Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Altra’s secure website

Read Full Review

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
Earn double Reward Points on every dollar of purchases in the first 60 days after opening your new account, then 1 point per dollar spent.
Regular Purchase APR
15.90% Fixed

Magnify Glass Pros

  • $20 reward for good credit card usage: If you can maintain your account in an “exceptional way” for your first year, you’ll get a bonus $20 reward on your card’s anniversary. All you have to do is not have any late payments, don’t charge over your card’s limit, and use your card for at least six out of twelve months.
  • Up to $500 random winner each quarter: It’s like playing the lottery, except you don’t have to buy a lottery ticket. Each quarter Altra will choose one student cardholder at random and pay back all of their purchases from the previous month, anywhere between $50 to $500.
  • Earn rewards: For the first 60 days after you open your account, you’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent. After that you’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent. You can redeem these points for cash back, merchandise through their online rewards mall, or travel.
  • Redeem points for a lower interest rate: If you’ll need a car in the future, this might be a good credit card to get. You can trade in 5,000 points for a 0.25% reduction, or 10,000 points for a 0.50% reduction on an auto loan through Altra Federal Credit Union. That could end up saving you a ton of cash in the long run.

Cons Cons

  • 1.00% of each transaction in U.S. dollars foreign transaction fee: This is definitely one card to leave at home if you’ll be traveling or studying abroad. Most credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, so this is on the low side. Still, it’s not too hard to find a student credit card with no foreign transaction fee, such as the Discover it® Student Cash Back or the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® card.
  • Must join Altra Federal Credit Union: Luckily, anyone can join, but it might take a bit of legwork on your part compared to a bank. If you don’t meet certain membership eligibility criteria, you can join the Altra Foundation for $5. Then you’ll need to open a savings account with a minimum $5 deposit that must remain in the account while you have your card open.
Bottom line

Bottom line

If you’re a student who doesn’t mind working with a credit union, Altra provides a card that has several rewards benefits. This card is a good option if you may be taking out an auto loan in the next few years, since you’ll benefit from a reduced interest rate by trading in your rewards points. In addition to earning rewards, using this card responsibly can help you build credit.

Read our full review of the Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

Best Secured Card

Discover it® Secured

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
24.74% Variable
Credit required
bad-credit
New/Rebuilding

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Cashback program: This card has a feature uncommon to other secure cards — a cashback program. You earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus 1% cash back on all other credit card purchases.
  • Cashback Match™: Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched (new cardmembers only). This is a great added bonus that increases your cash back in Year 1.
  • Automatic monthly reviews after eight months: Discover makes it easy for you to transition to an unsecured card with monthly reviews of your account starting after eight months. Reviews are based on responsible credit management across all of your credit cards and loans.

Cons Cons

  • Security deposit: You need to deposit a minimum of $200 in order to open this card, which is pretty standard for a secured card. This will become your credit line, so a $200 deposit gives you a $200 credit line. If you want a higher credit limit, you need to increase your deposit. The security deposit is refundable, meaning you will receive your deposit back if you close the card, as long as your account is in good standing.
Bottom line

Bottom line

The Discover it® Secured is great for students who want to build credit. This card easily transitions you to an unsecured card when the time is right, and you can earn cash back. With proper credit behavior, you’ll soon be on your way to an unsecured card.

Read our full review of the Discover it® Secured

Best for No Credit History

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

APPLY NOW Secured

on Deserve’s secure website

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases
Regular Purchase APR
20.49% Variable
Credit required
bad-credit
Fair/Good Credit or No Credit

Magnify Glass Pros

  • No credit history required: You can qualify for this card without any credit history, making this a great option for students new to credit. You don’t even need a Social Security number when applying.
  • Reimbursement for Amazon Prime Student*: This card will reimburse you for the cost of a year of Amazon Prime Student (valued at $49). You need to charge your membership to this card to qualify, and you will not be reimbursed for subsequent years’ membership fees.
  • No foreign transaction fee: Whether you travel abroad or study abroad, you can rest easy: There are no foreign transaction fees with this card.

Cons Cons

  • Low cash back rate: The rewards program has a subpar 1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases. You can do better with some of the other cards mentioned in this post. Though as a student, rewards shouldn’t be your primary focus — instead, build your credit so you can qualify for better non-student cards.
Bottom line

Bottom line

The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students is a great choice for students who are looking to build credit. Deserve markets their cards for those who may have trouble qualifying for credit, and students who fall into this category may more easily qualify for this card than for cards from traditional banks. You can earn cash back, and receive a great promotional offer of a year of Amazon Prime Student for free*.

The information related to Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Also ConsiderAlso Consider

Golden 1 Platinum Rewards for Students

Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students:

This credit card offers a snazzy rewards program: rather than accumulate points, you’ll get a cash rebate instead. All you have to do is make a purchase. At the end of the month, you’ll get a rebate of 3% of gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, and 1% of all other purchases deposited back into your Golden 1 savings account at the end of the month. Anyone who lives or works in California is eligible for credit union membership.

What should I look for in a student credit card?

The most important thing to consider when looking for a student credit card is that it charges no annual fee. You should never have to pay to build your credit score. Fortunately, most student cards don’t charge you an annual fee, but it’s still something to watch out for.

The second most important thing you should keep an eye out for are tools that help you learn about credit or even promote good credit-building habits. For example, some student credit cards will give you a free monthly FICO® score update. You can use this freebie to see in real time how your credit score changes as you build credit history by keeping the card open, or paying down your credit card balance, for example.

The last thing you should be considering when picking out a student credit card is the rewards program. I know, I know, it seems counterintuitive. But stick with me — I’ll show you why in the next question.

Why shouldn’t I be concerned about maximizing my rewards while in college?

Rewards cards are nice to have. But if you’re a college student, here’s the truth: you probably won’t spend enough to earn meaningful rewards.

Why? With a good rewards program, you can earn points or cash back. A small percentage of your monthly spending can add up quickly. However, given the tight budget that most college students live on, it will probably take a while to earn meaningful rewards. For example, if you earn 1.25% cash back and spend $300 a month on your card, you would earn $45 of cash back during the year.

College students are very good at making good use of $45. And our favorite card offers a great cash back rewards program. Just don’t expect to earn a lot of cash back, given the tight budget of a college student.

Why should I get a credit card as a college student?

There are a lot of great reasons why you should get a credit card, as long as you can commit to using it responsibly.

The single biggest reason why you should get a credit card as a college student is because you can start establishing a credit history now. When you graduate from college, you will need a good credit score to get an apartment. And your future employer will likely check your credit report. Building a good credit history while still in college will help prepare you for life after graduation.

Getting a credit card while in college can also train you to develop good credit habits now. But you need to be honest with yourself. If you find that you can’t avoid the temptation of maxing out your credit card, you might want to switch to a debit card or cash.

Finally, getting a credit card now can be the motivation you need to start learning about credit. These skills aren’t hard to learn, and they could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars later in life (when you want a mortgage, for example).

What is the CARD Act and why should I care about it?

Many years ago, credit card companies would market on college campuses. You could get a free beer mug or t-shirt in exchange for a credit card application. And you would be able to qualify for a credit card without having any income. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act was signed into law in May 2009 to change a number of practices.

How did the CARD Act change student credit cards?

The CARD Act made a lot of changes in how credit card issuers do business with students. One of the biggest changes was requiring students to be able to demonstrate an ability to pay. If you are under 21 and do not have sufficient income (a campus job, for example), you would need to get a co-signer.

In addition, colleges must now limit the amount of credit card marketing on campus. The days of free t-shirts and pizzas in exchange for credit card applications are gone. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible for a college student to get a credit card. Some highly reputable banks and credit unions still offer student cards. And building a good credit score while still in college is still highly recommended.

How can I protect myself from racking up debt?

When used properly, credit cards are a very convenient method of repayment. However, when not used properly, you can end up deep in credit card debt. It is important to establish a healthy relationship to credit now, with your first credit card.

You should try to ensure that you pay off your credit card bill in full and on time every month. Ideally, you should set up an automatic monthly payment. And to keep yourself on track, take advantage of alerts offered by most credit card companies. You can even get daily text messages reminding you of your balance.

How can I automate my credit card usage?

If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. There’s actually a way you can automate your payments so you never even have to bother with the hassle of using a credit card. All it takes is a few minutes of upfront work.

First, you’ll need at least one recurring monthly bill of the same amount, such as Netflix or Spotify. Log in to your account and set up an automatic payment each month using your credit card. Make a note of how much your monthly bill costs.

Next, log in to your bank account. Set up a second automatic payment to go to your credit card each month for the same amount as the bill. If your bank doesn’t offer the option to set up automatic payments, you may also be able to set up your credit card to automatically withdraw the amount of the bill from your bank.

Because you know this bill will be for the same amount each month (barring any price increases), you can literally just leave this running in the background each month on autopilot. You don’t even have to carry your credit card in your wallet if you don’t want to. Then, when you graduate, you’ll automatically have an improved credit score!

What happens to my student credit card when I graduate?

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line. But what about your student credit card? You may choose to hold on to your student card since it might be your oldest credit account and this can play a part in your credit score. If you close your student credit card account, it will reduce your average age of credit accounts and could hurt your credit score. Instead of closing the account, you can ask your student card issuer if there is an option to upgrade your card.

Here is a summary of our favorite cards:

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here