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College Students and Recent Grads

Guide to Graduate Student Loans & Grants in 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 of our network partners.

Source: iStock

Graduate school funding is a bit trickier than undergrad funding. Your options for loans and grants become more limited. And while work-study opportunities may be attainable and provide great experience, they often eat up a lot of time and offer low compensation.You do have options, though — whether you’re a grad student or a parent. This guide will take you through them all in detail.

Part I: Financing Options for Grad School

As far as federal options, there are two types of graduate student loans: Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. Each financing option looks different, and you may need a combination of both loans to fully fund your education.

Federal graduate student loan options and programs

Loan TypeHow much can I borrow?What are current rates?Origination FeeRepayment OptionsWhere can I apply?
Direct Unsubsidized LoansUp to $20,500. Medical students may be able to borrow more if they ask their school.6.60%1.066% if you take your first disbursement prior to Oct. 1, 2018.
1.062% if you take your first disbursement between Oct. 1, 2018 and Oct. 1, 2019.
Standard,Graduated,Extended,IBR,PAYE,REPAYE,ICR,PSLFIf you are eligible, Direct Loans are typically included in your financial aid package after you fill out the FAFSA.
Direct PLUS LoansCost of attendance after any other financial assitance has been applied.7.60%4.264% if you take your first disbursement prior to Oct. 1, 2018.
4.248% if you take your first disbursement between Oct. 1, 2018 and Oct. 1, 2019.
Standard,Graduated,Extended,IBR*,PAYE*,REPAYE*,ICR*,PSLF*

*Does not apply to Direct PLUS Loans issued to parents.
After you have filled out the FAFSA, you can apply here

Eligibility requirements

In order to qualify for any federal student aid, you need to meet certain requirements. Specifically, you must…

  • Have a high school diploma, home-school high school education, GED or other certification of equivalency.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Have a Social Security number. This requirement is waived if you are from the Marshall Islands, Palau or Micronesia.
  • Register with the Selective Service, if you’re a male age 18-25. If you do not do so during this time frame, it can impact your ability to access federal financial aid later in life.
  • Be enrolled or accepted into a school with the aim of obtaining a degree, certificate or other recognized educational credential.
  • Maintain good grades. Standards for this requirement vary from school to school.
  • Certify that you aren’t currently in default on any federal student loans, that you owe money back on a grant, and that you will only use the money for educational endeavors. This certification happens on the FAFSA application.

If you meet all of these requirements, you now have to look at specific qualifications for each type of student loan.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

In order to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you must be attending a participating educational institution and be enrolled at least half-time in a program that will lead to a degree or certificate. There is no need to demonstrate financial need in order to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS Loans have very specific credit standards. Qualification requirements include:

  • Must be pursuing a degree or certificate at the graduate or professional level and be attending school at least half-time — or be the parent of a student who is doing so.
  • Cannot have a debt that is currently 90 days delinquent with a balance of over $2,085.
  • Cannot have an item worth over $2,085 sent to collections or written off in the two years prior to your application.
  • Cannot have any of the following appear on your credit report in the past five years: default determination, bankruptcy, foreclosure, tax lien, repossession, wage garnishment or a write-off of other student loan debt.

These standards apply to both student and parent borrowers. If you cannot meet them, you can still borrow money by finding a cosigner who does meet these standards.

You may also be able to qualify if you can prove the blip on your credit report was caused by extenuating circumstances. In order to do this, you’ll need to complete credit counseling to the satisfaction of the PLUS program.

Pros and cons of federal grad school loans

There are times when taking out federal loans will be advantageous to you as a grad student and times when other options may make more sense. Let’s drill down into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Federal graduate student loans give you access to a number of repayment options, including some that adjust your monthly payments based on your current income.
  • Some debt forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, only apply to federal loans
  • Credit requirements are typically more lenient than they are in the private sector.

Cons:

  • The fact that there are origination fees on Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans is a major negative, as it will cost you money to borrow the money in the first place.
  • Interest rates on Direct PLUS Loans could be bested by private loan rates if you have a good credit history. You may be able to save money by going to a private lender in specific circumstances.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans require at least half-time enrollment. If you are pursuing a graduate-level degree while working a day job, this may present a problem, depending on how many credits you are able to take on.

Federal grants and programs for grad school

While loans are money you will have to pay back, grants and work-study programs are sources of funding that you won’t need to repay. It’s essentially free money, and at the graduate level, you have a few federal options.

TEACH Grants

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is a program that pays for part of your education as long as you promise to use your degree in a high-need, low-income area for four of the eight years following the completion of your education. You can also teach at a Bureau of Indian Education school during this time period to qualify.

High-need fields include:

  • Bilingual education
  • English language acquisition
  • Foreign languages
  • Math
  • Science
  • Special education
  • Reading specialists
  • Regional needs, which are updated annually

If your grant were disbursed today (or anytime between Oct. 1, 2018, and Oct. 1, 2019), the maximum amount you could qualify for would be $3,752.

If your school participates in the TEACH program, it will have specified which programs qualify for the grant. Get in touch with your financial aid office to find out if your program is eligible.

While you’re there, make sure you are eligible by checking your school’s academic requirements for qualification.

If you do not teach in a high-need field in a low-income or Bureau of Indian Education school for four of the first eight years after your graduation, your grant will turn into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, which will have to be repaid.

After you have confirmed with your school that you are enrolled in an eligible program, you will need to fill out the FAFSA. You will also need to sign a letter of agreement and complete program-specific counseling.

Pell Grants

It is extremely rare for a grad student to qualify for a Pell Grant. In fact, for eligibility purposes, you’re not allowed to be pursuing a graduate degree.

The only time Pell Grants are available after undergrad work is when you are pursuing a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate. Even then, your certificate program must meet the following requirements:

  • It does not lead to a degree.
  • It is a prerequisite in your state in order to work as a primary or secondary school teacher.
  • It comes from a school that does not offer a bachelor’s degree in education.
  • It must be a post-baccalaureate program.

And as a student, you must also be enrolled at least half-time, pursuing your initial teacher certification/licensure within your state.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the maximum award you can receive is $6,095. The amount you get will be based on financial need.

To apply for a Pell Grant, all you have to do is fill out the FAFSA.

If a financial need is demonstrated when you fill out the FAFSA, you may be offered a work-study position. If your school participates, you’ll be given an hourly or salaried job where you are paid at least monthly. Your financial need will determine the number of hours you receive.

The kind of job you are assigned will depend largely on your school. You may find yourself in one of these fields:

  • Community service
  • Positions at your school
  • Fields relevant to your course of study

If you end up with a position on campus, you’ll likely be working for the school. If you are working off-campus, you’re more likely to be assigned to a position serving the public good or working in a position relevant to your future career.

You’ll make at least minimum wage, though as a grad student you may have some desirable skills that could land you a position with a pay boost.

Your school is obligated to issue you a paycheck at least once per month. The money will be paid directly to you unless you set up direct deposit payments, or you are applying your earnings toward tuition, fees or room and board.

Grants are a form of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back under most circumstances. However, if you don’t hold up your end of the educational bargain, you may have to return money that was paid to your school, or money you received as a refund check from your school.

You could end up owing money back for your federal grant if:

  • You don’t meet TEACH program guidelines as outlined above.
  • You drop out of school partway through the semester.
  • You reduce the amount of credits you are taking after the grant has been issued.

If you are disappointed by your FAFSA options, you should know that there are other ways to find funding for your graduate-level education. Be sure to review these resources prior to taking out loans.

Federal grants at the graduate level are admittedly thin. If you’re looking for other ways to pay for school that don’t involve student loans, here are some additional federal agencies outside the Department of Education that may be able to help.

ROTC scholarships

ROTC scholarships will pay for your education. You’ll also get a stipend for the time you spend at drill on weekends and may have your books covered as well.

In exchange for all of this money, you will be obligated to serve either on active duty or in the reserves after you have completed your education. Because you have a college education, you will enter the military as an officer.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

If you served in the military for at least 90 days after Sept. 10, 2001, and remain on active duty, or were honorably discharged due to disability after serving 30 consecutive days after the same date, the Post-9/11 GI Bill may cover your tuition and fees.

If a smaller portion of your service happened after Sept. 10, 2001, you may be eligible for prorated benefits.

All in-state tuition and fees will be paid at public schools, and up to $23,671.94 will be paid at private schools. This number changes annually.

If you still have a gap between how much the school charges and how much the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay under the latest version of the GI Bill, check to see if your school has opted into the Yellow Ribbon Program. Schools that do so reduce the tuition of veterans to meet the maximum VA payout, leaving you with no additional money to pay.

Yellow Ribbon schools may also provide funding equivalent to a Basic Allowance for Housing in addition to a stipend for books.

In certain cases, benefits may be transferable to minors, so if you are a parent who has unused GI Bill benefits, you may be able to give them to your child as they enter grad school.

AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a volunteer opportunity with some perks for college students. When you volunteer, you earn money for school through the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The amount of money you earn depends on how time-intensive your service is.

For example, currently, if you volunteer in an approved position for more than 1,700 hours over 12 months, you would qualify for an education credit worth $6,095 for the 2018-19 school year. You can only earn up to two full-time education credits. You can find further examples of how much you can earn on the Segal Award Eligibility page.

As a member of AmeriCorps, you may find yourself in one of the following positions or something similar:

  • Relief efforts after a natural disaster
  • Tutoring K-12 students
  • Building affordable housing
  • Working with local nonprofits and community groups

If you have served as an AmeriCorps member after Oct. 1, 2009, and are age 55 or older, you may have accrued educational benefits that you can pass on to your child, stepchild or grandchild. You can learn more program specifics here.

Other sources of federal grants for grad school

Higher education agencies in your state

Another great place to look for funding is the agency that handles higher education in your state. These state-level organizations typically offer grants. You’ll likely be prompted to visit your state’s website at the end of your FAFSA application, but if you want to learn more about available programs now, you can find yours here.

Your school’s financial aid office

Your school likely has endowments and partner employers — both of which might offer scholarship and grant opportunities. To find out what’s available at your school, schedule an appointment with the financial aid office.

Industry and professional organizations

Many industry and professional organizations offer some type of scholarship program for those studying in the field. Applying for these scholarships won’t just help you pay for school if you’re awarded — if you win one, it will look phenomenal on your resume.

Some of these organizations will require membership prior to application. While membership fees can be expensive, many such groups provide student-level memberships at a steep discount.

Private graduate student loans: A last resort?

Private graduate student loans are issued directly by lending institutions without the backing of the U.S. Department of Education. You can look to banks, credit unions or online marketplace lenders to access these loans.

Pros:

  • If you have a good credit history, you may be able to obtain a loan with lower rates than those currently offered through federal programs.
  • You may be able to access more capital than you would with federal loans, depending on your credit history and the type of federal loan.
  • You can shop around for different options. Some lenders don’t charge origination fees, and some are willing to work with you in cases of hardship.

Cons:

  • You will not have access to advantaged repayment programs like PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, ICR and PSLF (which are all covered in sections below).
  • If you do not have a good credit score, interest rates may be higher than federal loans, or you might not be able to get a private loan at all, depending on your credit report.
  • You have to shop around for different options. Some lenders will not work with you in cases of hardship, and factors like variable versus fixed interest rates may throw you for a loop if you’re not careful.

Questions to ask before you borrow private loans for grad school

Before you take out any graduate student loans, you’ll want to get answers to these questions:

This may vary, depending on your income and credit history.

This will typically be a range. If you have good credit, you may qualify for the best rates. If you don’t, you’ll be looking at the higher end of the spectrum.

Variable interest rates currently tend to start out lower. They may even stay lower for a set amount of time, but eventually they will move in accordance with the market. You may get lucky and have rates go down, but rates have been on the increase in recent years and are expected to continue to rise in the near term.

Fixed rates start out higher than variable rates but stay unchanged throughout the course of your loan term.

Shorter loan terms sometimes mean higher monthly payments, but you’ll usually end up paying less in the long term because of the way interest accrues over time.

If you can’t afford the monthly payments, though, you could end up paying late fees or damaging your credit. Longer loan terms may mean paying more interest by the time you’re through, but they also have the potential to lower your monthly payments.

Some lenders provide payment plans that allow you to defer payments until after graduation. Other payment plans start your payments immediately. Still others require interest-only payments while you’re in school, with principal payments being added after graduation.

Common fees to take note of are:

  • Application fees
  • Origination fees
  • Late fees
  • Prepayment penalty fees

Eligibility requirements to inquire about include credit requirements, citizenship/naturalization requirements and income requirements.

You’ll want to know if your lender offers any type of deferment in times of financial hardship. Some lenders will even work with you to help you find a new job or temporarily reduce monthly payments while you are in specific employment conundrums.

Compare private sector graduate school loan options here. >

Private LoansFederal Loans
Not eligible for advantaged repayment options (REPAYE, PAYE, ICR, IBR, etc.)Eligibile for advantaged repayment options
May or may not have origination fees Have origination fees
Potentially stricter credit requiremntsPotentially looser credit requirements : (depending on which private lender you're coparing them to) No credit requirements if we leave out PLUS loans
Interest rates potentially lower for those with good credit — can be much higher for those with bad creditInterest rates likely higher for those with good credit (with the possible exception of Perkins Loans)
Often offer an option of variable or fixed ratesOnly fixed rates for the products we are discussing
May require half-time enrollmentDefinitely require half-time enrollment
Will probably need a co-signer if you're a young borrower — especially wihtout a jobTypically won't need a co-signer

Part II: Repaying Grad School Debt

There is a slew of different repayment options, depending on which type of loan you take out. Whether you start repayment during your studies or after, here are some things you can do to prepare:

Federal grad school debt

Students are not required to make payments until six months after their graduation — or nine months if you have a loan from the now-expired Perkins Loan program. But just because you don’t have to make payments during this time period doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

When to start repaying your federal grad school loan debt

The types of federal loans available to you as a graduate student accrue interest while you’re in school and during your grace period/deferment. You are not required to pay that interest immediately, but the unpaid interest will be added to your principal balance.

By making interest-only payments while you’re in school, you prevent the interest costs from multiplying upon themselves, saving you money.

You can pay toward the principal while you are in school as well, if you so choose, as there is no prepayment penalty on federal student loans.

Parents who have PLUS loans are typically required to start repaying immediately after the loan is disbursed. You can, however, request a deferment for the period during which your child is in school. It would be wise to at least make interest-only payments during this period if you choose to go this route.

Federal loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs

Federal loans give you access to many advantaged repayment and forgiveness programs. Keep in mind that while many of these repayment plans are designed to make your monthly payment lower, they have the potential to cost you more over the course of your loan — especially if they don’t end in forgiveness — as interest will be charged over a longer period.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

If you took out your first student loan prior to July 1, 2014, and your student loan payments are more than 15% of your discretionary income, this program allows you to pay a maximum of 15% of your discretionary income for 25 years. After that point, your remaining debt is forgiven.

If you took out your first student loan after July 1, 2014, the capped percentage is 10%, and you will only have to pay it for 20 years.

Learn more about IBR here.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

If you opt into the ICR plan, you would make payments for 25 years. After 25 years, your remaining debt would be forgiven.

Your monthly payments would be the lesser of these two options:

  • 20% of your discretionary income
  • What you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income

Learn more about ICR here.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Take your income and subtract 150% of the poverty level in your state. If your monthly student loan debt payments are more than 10% of the difference, you may qualify for PAYE. Use this calculator to see if you qualify.

Your monthly payments will be limited to 10% of your income and will never exceed what you would pay on a 10-year Standard Plan. After 20 years, the remainder of your debt will be forgiven.

You only qualify for this plan if your first student loan was disbursed after Oct. 1, 2007, and you have received at least one disbursement since Oct. 1, 2011.

Learn more about PAYE here.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

REPAYE does not have the same timing restrictions of PAYE. In fact, the date you took out your loans is irrelevant. There are also no income restrictions.

However, while you will only have to pay 10% of your discretionary income, there is no protection stating that your payments will not exceed those of a 10-year Standard Plan. You could end up paying more with this program — especially with a higher income.

Remaining balances on graduate school loans will be forgiven after 25 years.

Learn more about REPAYE here.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The future of this program is uncertain, but it is currently still open.

Under PSLF, you make payments for 10 years while you’re working 30-plus hours per week and considered a full-time employee by your employer. This job must be in a position of service (see list below), and the remainder of your loan balance will be forgiven. Your 10 years of payments should be made under IBR, ICR, PAYE or REPAYE.

Qualifying public service jobs include positions at:

  • Governmental organizations
  • 501(c)(3) organizations
  • Non-501(c)(3) organizations providing one of these services:
    • Public or school library services
    • Emergency management
    • Service on behalf of the U.S. military
    • Public education
    • Early childhood education
    • Law enforcement
    • Public interest legal services
    • Public services for the disabled or elderly
    • Public health

Learn more about PSLF here.

State programs

States have regional needs in a number of different fields, including medicine, education, social work, veterinary sciences, law and more. Across the country, there are programs offering to pay off portions of your debt if you agree to live and work in high-need communities.

Repaying private grad school debt

Different lenders will require different repayment terms from their borrowers. Be sure to understand what is expected of you before signing on the dotted line. Ask questions like:

  • Will I be required to make payments while I am in school?
  • If so, are they interest-only payments?
  • Will there be a grace period after graduation?
  • Do you have any deferment options in case of economic hardship?
  • What is the maximum time allowed for deferment?

When you should start repaying private grad school debt

The sooner you can pay off debt, the better. If your loan requires you to make principal and interest payments, make them without delinquency.

If your lender gives you the option of making interest-only payments while you’re in school and/or in a grace period, it’s a smart financial move to to save you significant interest.

Before you make any payments prior to your due date, make sure there is no prepayment penalty. Otherwise, a good portion of the money you think you’re throwing at your debt could end up going toward fees instead.

Learn more: Refinancing grad school debt

If you can get a lower interest rate on your student loans by refinancing, you may be able to save money as long as you pay off your debt in the same amount of time.

In order to avoid ruining your credit score, you may also want to refinance if you can’t afford your monthly payments. Find out more about potential advantages to refinancing here.

Type of LoanFederal Private
Pros
  • May be able to secure a lower Interest rate
  • Lowering monthly payments may help keep you from defaulting on your loans — but be sure to check all available repayment and deferment programs before refinancing in the private sector
  • May be able to secure a lower interest rate
  • Lowering monthly patments may help keep you from defaulting on your loans
Cons
  • You lose all potential access to advantage repayment programs and forgiveness
  • May have to pay application or origination fees
  • If you refinance for lower payments over a longer term, you will likely pay more in interest over the course of your loan
  • May have to pay application or origination fees
  • If you refinance for lower payments over a longer term, you will likely pay more in interest over the course of your loan
The rates and fees mentioned in this article are accurate as of the date of publishing.

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.

Andrew Pentis
Andrew Pentis |

Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

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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.

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads
iStock

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

So, where do you go from there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Account Name

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

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

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

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

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

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

Top overall checking accounts for college grads

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

1. SoFi Money

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

 

2. Empower Checking Account

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on Empower’s secure website

Member FDIC

3. Aspiration Spend and Save Account

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

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

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

Top high-yield checking accounts for college grads

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

1. TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking Account

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

2. Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking

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

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

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on Orion Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

3. La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking

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

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

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

LEARN MORE Secured

on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

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

James Ellis
James Ellis |

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

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards October 2019

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

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

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

Our Top Pick

Discover it® Student Cash Back

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Student Cash Back

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

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Best Flat-Rate Card

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

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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
26.46% (Variable)
Credit required
fair-credit
Average/Fair/Limited

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Best Intro Bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

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

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

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

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

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on Altra’s secure website

Read Full Review

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa® Credit Card

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

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Best Secured Card

Discover it® Secured

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured

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

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

Read our full review of the Discover it® Secured

Best for No Credit History

Deserve® EDU Mastercard

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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
20.49% Variable
Credit required
bad-credit
Fair/Good Credit or No Credit

Magnify Glass Pros

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

Cons Cons

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

Bottom line

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

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

Also ConsiderAlso Consider

Golden 1 Platinum Rewards for Students

Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students:

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

What should I look for in a student credit card?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the CARD Act change student credit cards?

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

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

How can I protect myself from racking up debt?

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

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

How can I automate my credit card usage?

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

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

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

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

What happens to my student credit card when I graduate?

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

Here is a summary of our favorite cards:

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

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

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