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College Students and Recent Grads

The Ultimate Guide to Student Grants

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.

college grants

A grant can be one of the most useful forms of financial aid that you can receive, and you could be automatically eligible for some student grants if you apply for federal financial aid.

Even though some student grants require additional work, though, you should seek out as many opportunities for free money as possible — that money could help you avoid student loans or dipping into savings to pay for your education.

Grants vs. scholarships: What’s the difference?

Grants and scholarships are both free forms of financial aid, or gift aid. If you receive a grant or scholarship, you won’t need to repay the money unless you don’t follow through with the terms — for example, leaving school before the end of the term.

Both student grants and scholarships may have some general requirements, such as being enrolled at an accredited school and taking a full-time courseload. The primary difference between the two is that grants tend to be need-based, while scholarships may also be merited-based.

For example, you may be eligible for a grant if you or your family’s annual income is below a certain amount. Regardless of whether you qualify for that specific grant based on your income, you might qualify for scholarships based on your academic, athletic or artistic abilities.

These aren’t strict lines, though. Some student grants may have merit-based components or not require a financial need. Likewise, there are scholarships that require applicants demonstrate a financial need to qualify.

In the end, it may not matter much whether you earn money from a grant or scholarship program. However, as you search for funding options, you may want to start with scholarships if you don’t have a large financial need. Consider starting with student grants if you do.

How to find student grants

You can find grants from different types of organizations, including the U.S. Department of Education, your state, colleges or universities, nonprofits and private organizations. The qualifications, deadlines and amount offered can vary depending on the grant and may change from one year to the next.
Here are a few examples of grants from a variety of organizations.

Federal government

Through the Department of Education, the federal government offers four grants to students who are attending a college, university or career school. Each year, you may automatically be considered for these student grants after submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Federal Pell Grants are generally awarded to students who haven’t received a bachelor’s or graduate degree and who have an exceptional financial need.

A Pell Grant could be worth up to $6,095 for the 2018-19 award year. However, the amount you’ll receive can depend on the cost of attendance at your school, your family’s expected contribution amount and whether you’re a part- or full-time student.

In total, you can receive a Pell Grant for up to 12 semesters, or about six years of schooling. Also, unlike with some other grant programs, you won’t be limited by your school’s funding and other financial aid you receive won’t impact your Pell Grant award.

Although the Department of Education funds FSEOGs, schools administer the grant program and may not participate in it. Like Pell Grants, FSEOGs are awarded to students who haven’t yet earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

The FSEOG may be worth up to $4,000 a year, although each school is only allocated a specific amount of funding. Awards may be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to the students who have the most financial need. Submitting your FAFSA early could help you qualify.

A federal TEACH Grant isn’t need-based — it is intended to help students who are preparing to teach in a high-need field and are enrolled in a bachelor’s, master’s or postbaccalaureate program at a qualified school.

Recipients must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve. In part, it’s a promise to work as a full-time teacher serving low-income students for at least four academic years during the eight-year period afterYou must also teach in a high-need field, such as foreign languages, mathematics, science or special education. If you receive a TEACH Grant and don’t follow through with the agreement, your award amount will become a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, which you’ll need to repay.

While the TEACH Grant Program allows awards of up to $4,000, the federal sequester law can limit the maximum award amount for a particular year. For the 2018-19 award year, the maximum award is $3,752.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is for students whose parent or guardian served in the U.S. armed forces and died during military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. You must have been either under 24 years old or enrolled in school at least part time when your parent or guardian passed away to be eligible.

If you meet these criteria, you may receive an award that’s equal to the maximum amount of the Pell Grant for the award year. Even if your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is too high and disqualifies you from receiving the Pell Grant, you may still receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Grant award could be reduced due to sequestration. You also can’t receive a larger award than your school’s cost of attendance for the year.

State government

Many states have grant programs that could help you pay for school. As with federal student grants, you may need to submit the FAFSA to be eligible for a state grant for the year. The financial information from your FAFSA along with your school’s cost of attendance could determine your grant amount, as well.

Your state’s grant programs could have an earlier deadline than the federal FAFSA deadline, so it could be important to submit your FAFSA as early as possible. You can check your state’s FAFSA deadline on

There are often residency requirements for state-based grant programs. You may also need to attend a qualified in-state school to be eligible, although some states have reciprocity agreements that allow residents to attend schools in other states.

State grants can vary in size and the programs may be intended to help those who show a financial need, exceptional merit or are part of an underserved population.

Here are a few examples of state grant programs. Student Loan Hero, another LendingTree company, also has an in-depth guide to state grant programs.

California offers three student grants (Cal Grant A, B and C). These can help you pay for tuition and fees at California public and private schools, including career schools. Cal Grant B also offers low-income students funds they can use to pay for textbooks and living expenses, among other costs.

Eligible students are automatically assigned the appropriate grants based on their FAFSA and the school they’re attending.

Additionally, the California Dream Act allows qualified state residents, including some undocumented residents who don’t meet the requirements for the FAFSA, to qualify for state- and school-based grants by submitting a CA Dream Act Application.

In Indiana, the Frank O’Bannon Grant is a need-based award that offers merit-based incentives. Depending on their EFC, recipients could receive up to $9,000 to attend a private school or $4,500 for a public school. Additional awards are given to students who maintain at least a cumulative 3.0 GPA or are on an accelerated track to finish their program.

Massachusetts offers a Public Service Grant that doesn’t have a need-based component. It covers full-time tuition cost of Massachusetts public colleges and universities, or an equivalent amount at independent college or universities in the state.

Recipients must have been permanent residents of Massachusetts for at least the previous year and be the child or spouse of someone who was killed or missing while serving in a public service role in Massachusetts.

The Advanced Placement Incentive Grant in Missouri awards $500 to high school students who earn a three or higher on at least two Advanced Placement exams in math or science. There’s no financial-need requirement to be eligible.

There are many other state grant programs, including additional grants offered by some of the states listed above. The federal Department of Education maintains a list of contact information for each state, and your state’s department of education or higher education agency can help you find state-based grant programs.

Colleges and universities

In addition to administering federal or state grants, some colleges and universities may also offer their own grants to students. These awards can take different forms and help students in various circumstances.

For example, students at New York University may be eligible for the Wasserman Center Internship Grant, which offers $1,000 to students who have a nonpaying internships in fields such as the arts and public service. Students at the University of Chicago may also be eligible for student grants if they have unpaid internships during the summer, or an unpaid internship or professional opportunity outside the U.S.

The University of Central Florida has two needs-based grants that students may automatically qualify for if they submit the FAFSA by the school’s Dec. 1 deadline. The UCF Grant is for eligible students with substantial financial need, while the Charge On! Grant is for students who enroll in at least 15 credit hours in a term. Students may also be eligible for state-funded grants, such as the First Generation Matching Grant for students whose parents don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

Contact your school’s financial aid office, or the financial aid office at each school you’re considering, to see if you may be eligible for any school-based grants.

For-profit organizations

Some companies put aside funds to help students pay for school. Often, there’s a requirement to either be in a field of study related to the company’s industry or to work at (or have a parent who works at) the company.

The Airbus Leadership Grant is one such opportunity. The $5,000 grant is awarded to a college student who has a 3.0 or above GPA, exhibits leadership potential, is at least a sophomore, and is attempting to earn a degree in an aviation-related field. The applicant also needs to be a member of Women in Aviation International; both women and men can join the organization.

Nonprofit organizations

Nonprofits, including local community groups, large nonprofits and religious organizations, may offer student grants to members or other qualified applicants. Generally, the grant will be awarded to individuals who further the mission or values of the organization.

The Costume Society of America’s Stella Blum Student Research Grant, for example, offers funds to undergraduate and graduate students who are researching North American costume. The recipient receives a $3,000 grant, along with additional funds to present the research at the CSA National Symposium.

Another example is the InterExchange Christianson Grant. Although it isn’t an educational grant, it could help you to finance a gap year. The awards, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, are given to 18- to 28-year-old applicants who commit to do at least six months of work in an approved program. However, you can’t receive college credit for your project.

Professional and student associations

Some professional organizations, associations, fraternities and sororities offer grants to members (and sometimes even nonmembers) pursuing a degree or certification program. These grants may be a good option for students who don’t qualify for need-based grants or didn’t receive enough aid to cover all of their expenses.

For example, the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority has a fund that it uses to give out emergency grants to undergraduate students who may otherwise have to withdraw from school, and also offers several scholarships to its members.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has Career Development Grants to help women who have a bachelor’s degree and are continuing their education by enrolling in a certification, second bachelor’s, master’s, technical or specializing training program. The AAUW awards $2,000 to $12,000 to recipients, and prioritizes to women of color and women seeking training in nontraditional fields.

Another example is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which offers grants and scholarships to student-athletes. The NCAA generally offers aid to undergraduates in the form of scholarships or awards, but there’s a Graduate Student Research Grant Program that awards up to $7,500 to graduate students who are studying college athletics or student-athlete well-being and are attending an NCAA-member school.

There are also grants from profession-specific organizations, such as the Joseph C. Johnson Memorial Grant from the American Society of Certified Engineering Technicians (ASCET). To qualify, you must have a letter of recommendation from a faculty member from your school’s engineering technology department and be a member of the ASCET. If you win, you’ll receive $750 to help pay for tuition, books and lab fees.

How to apply for grants for college

There are two important general applications that can put you in the running, or be a prerequisite, for many student grants.

The FAFSA is a requirement for federal financial aid, including student loans, work-study and grants. It’s also a requirement for student grants from other organizations, including some state- and school-based grants. Once you submit your FAFSA, you may automatically be considered for multiple grants.

You must complete a new FAFSA by June 30 each year to remain eligible for federal financial aid. However, since many states and schools may have earlier deadlines and offer grants on a first-come, first-served basis, completing and submitting your annual FAFSA early is generally a good idea. The earliest you can submit is the previous Oct. 1 before your school year (e.g. Oct. 1, 2018, for the 2019-20 school year).

You may also want to complete the CSS Profile. Nearly 400 organizations, including schools, funds and scholarship programs, use the CSS Profile to evaluate students and award non-federal financial aid. Like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile application window opens on Oct. 1 and requires you to submit personal and financial information about you and your family.

The College Board has a profile overview video with step-by-step instructions for filling out your CSS Profile. There’s a $25 fee to submit your CSS Profile to a school or scholarship program, and an additional $16 fee for each subsequent submission. Low-income students may qualify for up to eight fee waivers.

Grant programs may also have individual applications or additional requirements along with submission of the FAFSA and CSS Profile. Pay close attention to each grant’s eligibility requirements, application process and deadline to help ensure you qualify and submit the necessary paperwork or information on time.

Just as your financial situation may change over the course of your time at school, your eligibility for grants and scholarships could change as well. Both grants and scholarships may be available to undergraduate and graduate students at all grade levels, and continuing to apply could limit how much you need to borrow or pull from your savings.

How might grants affect your finances?

While receiving grants means you could have more money to pay for school that you don’t need to repay, there are potential ramifications of accepting a grant.

With some types of financial aid, including many grants, scholarships and loans, the amount of aid you receive depends on other financial aid you’ve received. In some cases, if you receive a grant, your other financial aid offers could be decreased or you might even need to repay money you’ve received.

Ideally, if this happens, the school will decrease the loan amount it offers you. However, you might wind up with less grant or scholarship money, leading to no net gain on your part.

Taxes are another thing to consider. Some money from grants and scholarships might be tax-free as long as you’re in a degree-granting program and you spend the money on educational expenses. However, that only includes what you pay for tuition, fees and required books or supplies.

Grant money may be taxable if you use it to pay for other expenses, such as room and board or travel between home and school. You may also need to include the grant money as income for the year if you must work (e.g., as a teaching or research assistant) as part of the grant program.

Alternative ways to fund your college education

While student grants can be a great source of money for school, they’re not the only type of financial aid. Many students, especially those who don’t have an exceptional financial need, may not qualify for grants. Or the student grants they receive might not be enough to cover all of their educational and personal living expenses.

Here are several additional sources of money that could help you pay for school.


As another form of free money for school, scholarships should be a priority for students looking to pay for school. There are billions of dollars worth of scholarships available to students who are attending career, certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs. There are even scholarships that are open to children in grade school and high school.

While some scholarships have a need-based component, there are also many that are awarded regardless of the recipient’s finances. In some cases, you can qualify even if you don’t have outstanding grades, athletic skills or other particularly meritocratic achievements.

You can find scholarships online by asking high school or college counselors, looking for lists from local nonprofits that focus on educational access and asking about opportunities from organizations that you have some connection to, such as churches, after-school programs or a parent’s employer.

Student loans

Federal student loans are available to eligible students regardless of financial need, credit history, credit score or income. Dependent undergraduate students may be able to borrow up to $5,500 during their first year at school, $6,500 during their second year and $7,500 during each subsequent year.

If these options aren’t enough to cover a student’s educational expenses, their parent may be able to take out a PLUS Loan to help cover costs. The student may also be able to borrow more if the parent doesn’t qualify for a PLUS Loan.

Private loans are another option for additional funding. Private student loans are credit-based loans, meaning your credit history, score, income, outstanding debts and other factors could all impact your ability to get approved, along with your loan’s rates and terms. Many undergraduate students may need a creditworthy cosigner — someone who agrees to also take legal responsibility for repaying the loan — to qualify for a private student loan or receive a good rate.

However, if you’ve reached the federal loan limit and need additional funds, you may want to question whether taking on additional debt is worth it. If you’re still deciding between schools, or are open to transferring, you may want to consider a less expensive school or one that offers you a stronger financial aid package.

Savings and income

Some parents have a college savings fund set up for their children. Since the money is already set aside to pay for school, it’s naturally a place you may turn to early on. However, it could still be wise to apply for as many scholarships and student grants as possible and save as much of your college fund as you can.

Students may also be able to take on a job while they’re at school, during holiday breaks and over the summer. While the income from work may not be enough to pay for everything, it could help offset the cost of school and allow you to borrow less money. Additionally, the work experience you gain could help you determine what you want to study, the types of work you want to do and make it easier to land a job after graduation.

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Student Loan

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards April 2020

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.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

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 benefits 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

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

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 26.99% (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 independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

Annual fee
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

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.

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
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

Discover it® Secured

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Cashback program: This card has a feature uncommon to other secured cards — a cashback program. You earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • 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

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

Annual fee
Rewards Rate
1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases
Regular Purchase APR
20.24% Variable
Credit required

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 $59). 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. (Note that if you’ve applied without an SSN, you won’t build credit with this card until you link an SSN to your account.)
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*.

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.

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

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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.

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


Aspiration Spend and Save Account$0$50Unlimited0.25% APY
Discover Bank$0$0NoneNone, but 1% cash back on up to $3,000 debit card purchases per month
Ally Bank$0$0Up to $10 per statement cycle 0.10% to 0.50% APY depending on balance
Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$0$0Unlimited ATM reimbursements5.09% on balances up to $10,000,
0.20% APY on balances between $10,000 and $25,000 and 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000
La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking$0(if less than $1,000, there is a $8 fee)$50Up to $25 per month4.25% APY on balances up to $3,000 2.00% APY on balances $3,000-$10,000 and 0.10% on balances over $10,000
T-Mobile Money$0$0None4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000, 1.00% APY after that
Partner Colorado Credit Union High Interest Checking$0$0None3.50% APY on balances up to $10,000, 0.50% APY on balances $10,000 - $25,000, 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000

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. Simple

Cash management app Simple acts as a hybrid checking and savings account with a generous APY and no fees. It features unlimited transfers between your checking account and Protected Goals account, as well as a decent APY of 1.55% on balances in your Protected Goals account. Simple also provides fee-free access to 40,000 ATMs – although it doesn’t rebate ATM fees you might incur from machines outside its vast network. With built-in budgeting tools integrated into its app, Simple is a strong contender for the best checking account for college grads.


on Simple’s secure website

2. 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 $50 amount to open is fairly low, and once you open your account there is no minimum monthly balance to maintain. Aspiration gives you up to five free ATM withdrawals per month.

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 0.25% APY. To earn this APY, you must deposit at least $1,000 in the combined account monthly, or maintain a balance of $10,000.


on Aspiration’s secure website

3. Discover Cashback Debit

Cracking our list for the best checking accounts for college graduates is Discover Bank, which takes a unique approach to checking account rewards. Instead of offering an APY on deposit balances, Discover opts for cash back as an incentive to get consumers to sign up for its checking product. The Discover Cashback Debit account offers up to 1% cash back on $3,000 of debit card transactions per month. That coupled with its zero fees and free access to 60,000 ATMs nationwide make it one of the best checking accounts for college graduates.


Discover Bank's website is secure

Member FDIC

4. Ally Bank

Online bank Ally Bank offers a solid checking account with minimal fees, decent APYs and other attractive perks. Its Interest Checking account charges no monthly maintenance fees and provides free access to Allpoint ATMs nationwide, as well as a $10 reimbursement per statement cycle for any other ATMs fees incurred. Ally Bank’s APY isn’t too shabby, either: You can earn an APY of 0.50% with a $15,000 minimum balance. Other cool features include its Ally Skill for Amazon Alexa, which enables you to transfer money with just your voice.


Member FDIC

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. Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking account is just that: Rewarding. It offers a tier-based APY, which includes a 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, 0.20% APY on balances between $10,000 and $25,000 and 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000. In order to earn the highest APY, you must complete at least 12 signature-based debit purchases totaling $100 or more, receive at least one direct deposit, ACH debit, or pay one bill through their free bill payment system totaling $500 or more, log into your online banking account and be signed up for eStatements and spend $1,000 or more with a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card each month. This account has no fees and offers unlimited ATM reimbursements if requirements are met.


on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

2. 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.


on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

3. T-Mobile Money

Wireless carrier T-Mobile has forayed into finance with a checking account, T-Mobile Money. The account offers a generous APY of 4.00% on balances up to $3,000, with balances over that threshold earning 1.00% APY. In order to receive the higher APY, you must meet the following requirements: Be enrolled in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan, be registered for perks with your T-Mobile ID and have deposited at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account within that current calendar month. T-Mobile Money does not reimburse for out-of-network ATM fees, but it does not charge any maintenance fees.


on T-Mobile Money’s secure website

Member FDIC

4. Partner Colorado Credit Union High Interest Checking

Despite its name, Colorado Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $5 donation to the Partner Colorado Foundation. Currently, it’s offering an APY of 3.50% on balances in its High Interest Checking account ranging from $0 to $10,000. Meanwhile, balances between $10,000 and $25,000 earn an APY of 0.50%, while balances over $25,000 earn an APY of 0.10%. In order to earn the high APY, you must meet the following requirements: Make at least 20 debit card transactions of at least $5 per month, receive eStatements and use mobile or online banking. There are no minimum balance requirements for this account, and there is no fee when using your PIN for purchases.


on Partner Colorado 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.