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College Students and Recent Grads

Loan Forgiveness for Nurses: Who’s Eligible and How to Apply

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.

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While nurses may carry a large burden in terms of patient care, they typically receive good pay, solid workplace perks and plenty of job security in return. Afterall, job openings for registered nurses are expected to increase 15% from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — at a time when the average growth for all jobs is projected to be just 7%. Further, registered nurses reported median wages of $68,450 nationwide in 2016, with the top 10% of nurses earning $102,990.

On the downside, the costs of earning a nursing degree can be overwhelming.

An October 2017 report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing even noted that 69% of nursing graduate students surveyed took out federal loans to finance their education, and the median amount of debt brought on by graduate school was anticipated to be $40,000 to $54,999 for these students.

If you’re considering a nursing degree or a graduate nursing degree, it’s easy to see why these numbers would be disconcerting. The good news is there are a wide range of forgiveness programs available for nurses on both the state and federal levels.

If you’re struggling with expensive nursing school loans or fear you will be, it may help to become familiar with these programs and how to qualify.

Federal student loan forgiveness for nurses

National Health Service Corps Repayment Program

The National Health Service Corps Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 in student loan repayment in exchange for a two-year commitment at a NHSC-approved work site. Accepted sites may be in primary care medical, dental or mental and behavioral health clinics in high-need areas of the country.

According to the program website, priority consideration is given to eligible applicants whose approved work site has an HPSA (Health Professional Shortage Area) score of 26 to 14, in descending order. In other words, student loan forgiveness goes to those who work in the highest-need facilities first. You can look for eligible job sites in your area on this page.

Are you eligible?

If you’re a licensed health care provider who is willing to work or even relocate to an area with a shortage of qualified health care providers for at least two years, you are eligible to apply for this program.

The application process

While the 2017 application cycle is closed, the next application cycle will open in early 2018. To apply, you’ll need to submit a complete application that includes documentation of your loans and proof of qualified employment. You can find a full application checklist on the NHSC website.

Is this program right for you?

This program could be ideal for you if you’re flexible in terms of where you work for the next two years and you have up to $50,000 in student loans to repay.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

This federal program aims to help registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses and nurse faculty by paying off up to 85% of their student loan debt in exchange for a 2- to 3-year commitment in a critical shortage position or facility. This program is available to nurses in the three mentioned professions who graduated from an accredited nursing school and work full time in either an eligible critical shortage facility or an accredited school of nursing.

Are you eligible?

To be eligible for this program, you must work as a registered nurse, advanced practice nurse or as nurse faculty and be a U.S. citizen. You need a bachelor’s degree or associate degree in nursing from an accredited school, and you must work full time (at least 32 hours per week) in an approved critical shortage facility (CSF) or accredited school. You must also have outstanding loans related to your nursing degree.

The application process
The 2018 application cycle hasn’t opened yet, although you can sign up to be notified when it does. NURSE Corps suggests reading the Application and Program Guidance document ahead of time so you fully understand the commitment. This document also offers a list of critical shortage facilities and facility types that would qualify for this program.

Is this program right for you?

This program is ideal for nurses who are willing to commit to working in a critical shortage position for at least two years.

Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation for Nurses

If you have Federal Perkins loans and work full time in the nursing profession, you may be able to have up to 100 percent of your student loans wiped away with the Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation program.

Nurses need to be registered and employed full-time to qualify. They also need to be willing to make a five-year commitment to the program. However, since the Perkins Loan program expired on September 30th, 2017, you must have borrowed money for nursing education before that date to qualify.

Are you eligible?

Nurses with Federal Perkins loans who are willing to make a five-year commitment to the program may have up to 100% of their loans forgiven. Unfortunately, you must have borrowed before September 30, 2017 to qualify.

The application process

According to the U.S. Department of Education, you must apply for Federal Perkins loan forgiveness with the school who made your loan or with the school’s Perkins Loan servicer. Your school or servicer will provide forms and instructions on how to move forward with the process, they note.

Is this program right for you?

This program is ideal for nurses who graduated with Perkins Loans before September 30, 2017. Unfortunately, it won’t be of any help to future generations of nurses – at least for the time being.

Programs for nurses by state

While the federal government supports several national programs that can help nurses shed their expensive student loan debt, some states offer their own programs as well. These programs vary in length and commitment, but most require at least a few years of work in a critical shortage area of nursing in exchange for forgiveness.

The following chart highlights the current programs available, what they offer and who is eligible:

State


Program name


Description of program


Alabama


Advanced Practice Nursing Loan Repayment Program


Alabama residents enrolled full time in accredited nursing education programs and pursuing graduate degrees to become certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNPs), certified nurse midwives (CNMs), or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are eligible to receive $12,000 in loan repayment. Graduates must be an Alabama resident for at least one year before they apply.

Alaska


Alaska’s SHARP Program


Through Alaska’s SHARP (Support-for-Service to Healthcare Practitioners) Program, nurses can receive up to $27,000 per year in loan assistance in exchange for a work commitment in an eligible critical shortage area.

Arizona


Arizona Loan Repayment Program


The Arizona Loan Repayment Program offers loan assistance for health care professionals working in areas of critical shortage. Available to nurse practitioners who work half-time or full time for at least two years, this program offers up to $50,000 in repayment assistance for each year of service in a qualified position.

California


Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program


Registered nurses in California who hold a bachelor’s degree may qualify for this program if they have outstanding student loan debt and agree to serve in a medical shortage area, a prison, or a veteran’s facility. Up to $10,000 is awarded for one year of service.

Colorado


Colorado Health Service Corps Program


Colorado nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists may receive up to $25,000 for part-time work and $50,000 for full-time work in exchange for a three-year commitment in a Colorado Health Professional Shortage Area.

Connecticut


Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program


Connecticut registered nurses and nursing students may be eligible to have up to 60% of their student loans forgiven in exchange for a two-year, full-time commitment at an eligible Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Facility. A third year of commitment may result in an additional 25 percent of loan forgiveness.

Delaware


Delaware State Loan Repayment Program


Delaware nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists who work full time in a designated critical shortage area may receive between $30,000 and $100,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment.

Florida


Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program


Florida licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses who work full time in a designated critical shortage site may receive up to $4,000 per year in loan forgiveness for up to four years.

Georgia


Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Loan Repayment Program


This program, which is available to advanced practice registered nurses in the state of Georgia, offers up to $10,000 per year in loan cancellation in exchange for full-time work in a rural Georgia county.

Hawaii


The Hawaii State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives licensed to work in Hawaii are eligible for loan forgiveness after committing to at least two years of full-time work in a healthcare shortage area in the state. Award amounts vary based on grants available.

Idaho


Idaho State Loan Repayment Program


Healthcare practitioners in the state of Idaho can qualify for $2,500 - $25,000 per year in loan forgiveness for working in a critical shortage area designated by the state.

Illinois


Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program


Licensed nurse educators in the state of Illinois may be awarded up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness for up to four years provided they work as a nurse educator and meet the licensing requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Iowa


Iowa Registered Nurse and Nurse Educator Loan Forgiveness Program


Registered nurses and nurse educators who owe a balance on their student loans and have loans in good standing may earn up to $6,858 per year in loan forgiveness for no more than five consecutive years.

Kansas


Kansas State Loan Repayment Program


Certified nurse practitioners may qualify for up to $20,000 per year in assistance for two years and $5,000 - $15,000 per year in assistance for the next three consecutive years. Full-time work in a designated healthcare shortage facility is required for each year of forgiveness.

Kentucky


Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program


Kentucky nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and registered nurses can receive $20,000 - $40,000 in loan repayment assistance depending on their designation. A two-year commitment in a critical shortage area in the state of Kentucky is required.

Louisiana


Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program


Certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can qualify for up to $15,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for up to three years. A full-time commitment in a designated healthcare shortage area is required.

Maryland


Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program


Nurses who provide public service in Maryland or local government or nonprofit agencies in Maryland can receive between $1,500 and $10,000 per year in loan assistance depending on their total debt. A full-time commitment in an underserved facility in the state is required.

Michigan


Michigan State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners who work full time in a not-for-profit facility with a critical shortage of qualified caregivers may receive up to $200,000 in loan repayment assistance with a commitment of up to eight years.

Minnesota


Minnesota Nurse Loan Forgiveness Program


Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses can receive $5,000 per year in loan repayment assistance with a two-year minimum service obligation in a qualified facility.

Montana


Montana NHSC Student Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners, primary care registered nurses, certified nurse midwives, and a variety of other healthcare professionals can receive up to $15,000 per year in loan repayment for up to two years in exchange for full-time work in an NHSC-approved site.

Nebraska


Nebraska Loan Repayment Program for Rural Health Professionals


Nurse practitioners who agree to work in a critical shortage facility for three years can receive up to $30,000 per year in loan assistance to repay commercial or government student loans.

New Hampshire


New Hampshire State Loan Repayment Program


Primary care nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists can receive $45,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a three-year commitment in a critical shortage facility. Candidates who want to extend the program up to another two years may also receive another $20,000 in assistance.

New Jersey


Primary Care Practitioner Loan Repayment Program of New Jersey


Certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can receive up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance over a four-year period of service in an underserved facility with a critical shortage of healthcare providers.

New Mexico


Health Professional Loan Repayment Program


In exchange for a two-year commitment in a designated medical shortage area in New Mexico, advanced practice nurses can qualify for up to $25,000 per year in assistance.

New York


New York State Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness (NFLF) Incentive Program


Registered nurses or advanced practice nurses with graduate degrees who teach nursing in the state of New York can receive up to $8,000 per year in loan forgiveness for up to five years through this program.

Ohio


Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program (NEALP)


This program was created to incentivize Ohio students in accredited nursing programs to continue their studies. Awards of up to $1,500 per year are offered and students need to be enrolled in programs with at least half-time study to qualify.

Oregon


Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment


Registered nurses and primary care nurse practitioners can qualify for loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment in a health care shortage area. Awards vary based on the shortage level of the facility of employment and funds available.

Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania Primary Health Care Loan Repayment Program


Certified registered nurse practitioners can receive up to $60,000 in loan repayment assistance for a two-year commitment in a facility with high need.

Rhode Island


Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program


Rhode Island nurse practitioners and registered nurses can receive loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year or four-year commitment in a high-need or critical shortage area. Loan amounts vary.

Tennessee


Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program


Nurses who are enrolled in a nursing graduate program may be eligible for loan forgiveness. Nursing students must work full time as a nurse educator for at least four years to qualify.

Texas


Rural Communities Healthcare Investment Program


Texas healthcare professionals other than physicians can receive up to $10,000 in loan repayment assistance after working one year in a designated shortage area in the state.

Vermont


Educational Loan Repayment for Health Care Professionals


Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses in Vermont can receive an annual award of up to $10,000 for working at least 20 hours per week in an underserved area as defined by the program.

Virginia


Virginia State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and registered nurses working in designated shortage facilities in Virginia can receive up to $140,000 (not to exceed their total loan balances) for a minimum four-year commitment.

Washington


Health Professional Loan Repayment Program


Nurses who agree to a three-year commitment in an eligible healthcare shortage site can receive up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance. A minimum 24-hour work week is required for this program.

West Virginia


West Virginia State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners and nurse midwives who agree to a two-year commitment in a facility with a healthcare shortage can receive $40,000 in loan repayment. An additional $25,000 per year in assistance is available for an additional two years of work.

Wisconsin


Health Professions Loan Assistance Program


Nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance through this program. Eligible providers must work at least three years in a qualified high need facility to qualify.

Alternatives to student loan forgiveness for nurses

If federal or state nurse loan forgiveness isn’t suitable for your situation for any reason, there are several alternative ways to get your student loans reduced or forgiven. Here are some of the main options to consider:

Hospital tuition reimbursement

Some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement to working nurses and nursing students who work in their hospital or hospital system. While some of these programs offer tuition assistance as an ongoing perk for existing employees, others offer loan repayment as an incentive to earn an advanced nursing degree.

The UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., for example, offers tuition assistance for permanent working nurses who dedicate at least 20 hours per week to working at one of their facilities. With this program, hospital employees can attend nursing school or nursing graduate school and receive $316.99 per undergraduate credit hour or $589.62 per graduate credit hour. Limits per class are set at $1,870.24 for undergraduate courses and $3,478.76 for graduate-level courses, at a maximum of 20 credit hours per fiscal year.

Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., is another institution that offers tuition reimbursement for nurses. This program promises up to 90% tuition reimbursement for nurses who pursue a master’s degree, post-master’s degree certificate or doctorate of nursing practice degree. Nurses must work for the Duke University Hospital system full time (at least 30 hours per week) with a positive record to qualify.

If you’re interested in pursuing tuition assistance, check hospitals in your area to see which ones, if any, offer this type of program.

Student loan refinancing

Another way to reduce the ongoing costs of excessive student debt is to refinance your student loans with a private lender who may offer a lower interest rate or better loan terms. This strategy won’t make your loans go away altogether, but it may help you save on short-term and long-term interest costs or lower your monthly payment.

While this strategy can be advantageous, keep in mind that it doesn’t always make sense to refinance your student loans. If another lender won’t grant you a lower interest rate or lower your payment, for example, it may be hard to justify the hassle or expense of refinancing.

Not only that, but refinancing federal loans with a private lender can result in losing access to important federal benefits like deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans.
Before you refinance your student loans, make sure to use a student loan refinancing calculator to see how much you might save. Only then can you decide if it would be worth it.

Income-driven repayment options

Income-driven repayment plans allow nurses with federal loans to pay only a percentage of their income toward their loans for 20-25 years. These programs can be especially advantageous for nurses with large debt loads and low incomes since your monthly payment is determined based on how much you earn and a percentage of your discretionary income. Not only that, but each of these plans leads to forgiveness of your remaining student loans once you make payments for the duration of the program.

Several different income-driven repayment programs are available for nurses:

Program name

Payment Amount

Repayment Period

Eligibility

Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)

10% of your discretionary income but never more than your payment on 10-year Standard Repayment

20 years

Nurses can qualify if their payment on this plan would be less than the payment on a standard ten-year repayment plan

Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)

10% of your discretionary income

20 years for undergraduate loans and 25 years “if any loans you’re repaying under the plan were received for graduate or professional study”

Nurses with federal student loans can qualify

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

10% of your discretionary income if your loan originated after July 1, 2014, but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan; generally 15% of your discretionary income if you’re not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014; either way, you’ll never pay more than the payment on a standard, 10-year repayment plan

20 years if you’re a borrower after on or after July 1, 2014; otherwise 25 years

To qualify, your payment under this plan must be less than what you would pay under standard, 10-year repayment

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

20% of your discretionary income, or what you would pay over the course of a fixed 12-year repayment plan

25 years

Nurses with federal student loans qualify

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Trump administration has made it no secret that they’d favor ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives the balance on your remaining Direct Loans provided you make 120 consecutive, on-time payments and work full time for a qualifying employer.

But so long as this program is still available, it’s worth checking out.

According to the education department, “qualified employment” can entail working for a government agency, a not-for-profit or serving full time in Americorps or the Peace Corp. Candidates must work full time (at least 30 hours per week) to qualify, and only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF.

Since nurses can find work in not-for-profit organizations, the Peace Corp and government agencies, this is typically seen as a feasible loan repayment option for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

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Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson |

Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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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

APY

Simple$0$0None2.02% - 2.15% depending on balance
Aspiration Spend and Save Account$0$50Unlimited1.00% 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
Boeing Employees Credit Union Member Advantage Checking$0$0Up to $6 per month4.07% APY on balances up to $500, 0.05% APY on balances over $500
TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking$0$0Up to $15 in ATM fees reimbursed4.00% APY (applies to balances up to $50,000)

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 high APYs ranging from 2.02% on balances under $10,000 to a whopping 2.15% on balances over $10,000. 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

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.

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on Ally Bank’s secure website

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, receive at least one direct deposit, ACH debit, or pay one bill through their free bill payment system, 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.

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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.

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on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

3. Boeing Employees Credit Union Member Advantage Checking

Contrary to its name, anyone can join the Boeing Employees Credit Union – however, to do so, you must join the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s “Friends of the Foundation,” which has a $20 membership fee. That $20 fee could be well worth it, though, if you take advantage of the credit union’s Member Advantage Checking account. This account has a generous 4.07% APY on balances up to $500, as long as you open BECU Member Checking and Savings accounts, sign up to receive eStatements and make at least one transaction a month. There are no monthly service fees, and the Member Advantage Checking account offers $6 per month in ATM fee reimbursements.

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on BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

4. 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 of $5 or more. Even better, the bank will reimburse up to $15 in ATM fees per month from making withdrawals outside their ATM network.

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on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

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

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards November 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

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Rates & Fees

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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
14.49% - 23.49% Variable
Credit required
fair-credit
No FICO History Required

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®

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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
26.99% (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 26.99% (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 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

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on Altra’s secure website

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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

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

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Discover it® Secured

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
24.49% Variable
Credit required
bad-credit
New/Rebuilding

Magnify Glass Pros

  • Cashback program: This card has a feature uncommon to other secured 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

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on Deserve’s secure website

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases
Regular Purchase APR
20.24% 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 $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*.

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:

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Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

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