The 3 Best Credit Cards for Students

Last Updated Jul 14, 2011 10:15 AM EDT

Is it a coincidence that my oldest daughter will return from her semester in South America this week and a new batch of credit card offers addressed to her has just arrived in my mailbox? Dios Mio!

The card companies just will not stop. In fact, they are on something of a bender. Credit card solicitations are way up, as are enticements to sign on the dotted line. Now is an especially good time for card companies to reach college students who may be at home earning money from a summer job and thinking ahead to the rapidly approaching school year.

Ordinarily, I summarily toss any credit card offers to my teen and, gulp, young adult children. They each have a checking account with a linked debit card, which is the safest and cheapest way I have found for them to have access to their cash while enjoying the convenience of plastic.

But my oldest is nearly 22 and will be entering her senior year. It's time for her to start building a credit profile (more on that in my next post), and the right credit card is the best way to go about it. So for the first time in four years I'm actually holding onto to one of the offers, which I will share with her and discuss as soon as she gets home.

Why is now the time for her to start carrying a credit card? She's managed her finances well, not perfect, but well enough the last few years and is comfortable shopping in stores and online with her debit card, tracking and limiting her spending and minimizing ATM fees. Living off campus she has also become familiar with monthly bills like cable and electric. So she's ready to handle a card that produces a bill each month.

Which card will I suggest she apply for? For some smart choices I spoke with Erik Larson, founder of NextAdvisor, a product comparison website. He suggested three:

  • Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card Among many other attractive features, this card has no annual fee, a 0% introductory rate on purchases for 7 months, 5% cash back on purchases for the first six months, 2% cash back when spending in certain categories, and fraud and security protections.
  • Discover Student Card This card features no annual fee, a 0% introductory rate on purchases for the first 6 months, 5% cash back in certain categories, unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases after spending $3,000 for the year, and 5% to 20% cash back when shopping online at the retailers at ShopDiscover.
  • Capital One Journey Student Rewards Card Among this card's attractive features are no annual fee, 1% cash back on all purchases, 25% bonus on the cash back you earn each month, and the ability to redeem your cash rewards in the form of a check, statement credit or gift card and to get your cash rewards anytime.
Photo courtesy Citi
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  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.