18 Best Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit in 2018

18 Best Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit in [current_year]
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Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: June 1, 2018
BadCredit.org's popular "How-To" series is for those who seek to improve, rebuild or better understand their subprime credit rating.

Although 2009’s CARD Act make it more difficult for young people to obtain credit cards, as much as 70% of undergraduates and 96% of graduate students reportedly have their own credit cards.

Unfortunately, few classrooms teach the all-important personal finance skills necessary to wield those credit cards responsibly. And when you add five-figure student loans to a missed credit card payment (or three), it’s easy to see how students can end with up bad credit and low scores.

Improving your payment history through on-time payments on a new credit card can often help improve your credit, and there are a number of solid credit card options for students looking to rebuild their credit scores.

Subprime | Student | Secured | Upgradable | Credit Union | Prepaid

“Subprime” Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit

While credit products designed for those with good credit scores typically receive the prime designation, those aimed at consumers with poor credit are generally called subprime products.

Along those lines, subprime credit cards are usually unsecured credit cards with extremely flexible credit requirements that charge higher fees in exchange for providing credit to consumers with low credit scores. Our expert-rated cards offer application responses in just minutes.

  • Checking account required
  • Application response in 30 seconds
  • Know the score! Quarterly FICO score on your monthly billing statements
  • All credit types welcome to apply
  • Your First PREMIER Bank credit card activity is reported to the Consumer Reporting Agencies each month. Making your payment on time and keeping your balances low relative to the credit limit will result in positive marks on your credit report
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.8

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
6 minutes See issuer website Yes 9.5/10
  • Easy application! Get a credit decision in seconds.
  • Build your credit history – Fingerhut reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • Use your line of credit to shop thousands of items from great brands like Samsung, KitchenAid, and DeWalt
  • Not an access card
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.8

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
5 Minutes See issuer website Yes 9.0/10
  • All credit types welcome to apply
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Use your card at locations everywhere that Mastercard® is accepted
  • Free online account access 24/7
  • Checking Account Required
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.7

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
9 Minutes See terms Yes 8.5/10

As unpleasant as the high interest rates and fees charged by subprime credit cards can be, it’s those fees that help the issuer to make up for the extra risk that comes with lending to consumers with bad credit.

But while the processing, program, maintenance, or annual fees are typically unavoidable, you can often avoid the super high interest rates by paying off your purchases before the end of your billing cycle.

“Student Rewards” Credit Cards for Students

Although not strictly for people with poor credit, student-focused credit cards often have more flexible credit score requirements than other prime credit cards.

Student credit cards are particularly forgiving of thin credit profiles, making them fairly easy to obtain when you have a limited — or nonexistent — credit history. Plus, many offer low fees and quality purchase rewards, including many of our top picks.

4. Discover it® Student Cash Back

The Discover it® Student Cash Back has huge cash back rewards, offering 5% cash back for up to $1,5000 in qualifying bonus category purchases each quarter you activate.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

  • Earn 5% cash back rewards for purchases on up to $1,500 in qualifying category purchases each activated quarter
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Pay no annual fee

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card also comes with an annual $20 cash back bonus each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher.

5. Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

The Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One provides unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase, with a boost to 1.25% total cash back each month you pay on time.

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase, boosted to 1.25% total cash back for on-time payments
  • Access a higher credit line after 5 on-time payments
  • Pay no annual fee

The Journey Student Credit Card also has a number of fringe benefits, including access to Capital One CreditWise so you can monitor your credit scores and profile.

6. Deserve Edu Mastercard®

The Deserve Edu Mastercard® is designed to help students build credit, but it also offers perks like cash back and credit toward Amazon Prime Student.

Deserve Edu Mastercard®

  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all eligible net purchases made with your card
  • Receive credit for Amazon Prime Student, up to $49 total
  • Pay no annual fee

The Deserve Edu Mastercard is specifically for students, and applicants may be required to provide enrollment verification to qualify for a card.

While some student credit cards, like the one above, will require you to be a student, not all student cards will require status as a student to qualify. Research the individual card ahead of time to find any limitations.

“Secured” Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit

Credit cards that don’t require any sort of deposit are known as unsecured cards. Secured cards, on the other hand, require an initial cash deposit to open the account, and the deposit is kept in a secure account as collateral for the credit line.

Because they’re secured against default by the deposit, secured credit cards are often the easiest credit card to obtain with poor credit. In most cases, the size of your deposit will dictate the size of your credit line, with some of our top secured cards offering credit lines of up to $5,000.

  • Credit lines available from $200 to $5,000. Super Low Fixed 9.99% interest rate on purchases - with no penalty rate.
  • No minimum credit score requirements. We invite all credit types to apply. No processing or application fees.
  • Helps strengthen your credit with responsible card use. Reports to three national bureaus.
  • Fast, easy application process. Choose your credit line and open your Personal Savings Deposit Account to secure your line.
  • See additional Green Dot primor® Visa® Gold Secured Credit Card details
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details
★★★★

4.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes 9.99% Yes 9.0/10
  • Credit line secured by your fully-refundable deposit of $200-$2,000 submitted with application
  • Good for car rental, hotels; Anywhere credit cards are accepted
  • Monthly reporting to all 3 major credit bureaus to establish credit history
  • No Credit History or Minimum Credit Score Required for Approval
  • Nationwide Program though not yet available in NY, IA, AR, or WI
  • Just pay off your balance and receive your deposit back at any time
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★

3.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
9 minutes 20.24% (V) Yes 7.5/10
  • Credit line secured by your fully-refundable deposit of $200-$2,000 submitted with application
  • Good for car rental, hotels; Anywhere credit cards are accepted
  • Monthly reporting to all 3 major credit bureaus to establish credit history.
  • No Credit History or Minimum Credit Score Required for Approval
  • Nationwide Program though not yet available in NY, IA, AR, or WI
  • Just pay off your balance and receive your deposit back at any time
  • Click for for official site, terms, and details.
★★★

3.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes 10.24% (V) Yes 7.5/10

An important thing to point out is that secured credit cards are different from prepaid cards that you reload to reuse. While you do make a deposit to open a secured credit card account, that deposit simply acts as collateral — you can’t use it to pay your bill.

Indeed, your deposit is generally only used to cover your credit card debt if you default completely and the account is forcibly closed while carrying a balance. Since defaulted debts come with significant credit damage, however, it’s best to avoid this scenario.

“Upgradable” Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit

Given that secured credit cards rarely provide any interest on your deposit, it makes little sense to keep your secured credit-building card much longer than it takes to reach a good credit score.

But while this will require cancelling your card in some cases, other issuers provide a better solution: an upgrade. These issuers will check on your credit-building progress, then automatically upgrade you to an unsecured credit card (and refund your deposit) when your credit profile improves.

10. Discover it® Secured Card

The Discover it® Secured Card provides a credit limit equal to your deposit, with a minimum deposit of $200 required.

Discover it® Secured Card

  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
  • 24.24% APR (variable)
  • Pay no annual fee

Discover will evaluate your credit profile each month — starting at eight months — to determine if you have made sufficient progress for an upgrade to an unsecured Discover credit card.

11. SunTrust Secured Credit Card with Cash Rewards

The SunTrust Secured Credit Card with Cash Rewards offers unlimited cash back on every purchase, plus bonus cash back on up to $6,000 in combined category purchases each year.

SunTrust Secured Credit Card with Cash Rewards

  • Earn 2% cash back on up to $6,000 in combined gas and grocery purchases each year
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Pay a $32 annual fee

SunTrust will evaluate your SunTrust Secured Credit Card account after 12 to 18 months to determine if you are eligible for an upgrade to an unsecured SunTrust card.

12. Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

The Capital One Secured Mastercard doesn’t provide any purchase rewards, but it does offer a credit limit increase after you make your first five payment on time.

Capital One Secured Mastercard

  • Get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness
  • 24.99% APR (variable)
  • Pay no annual fee

New Capital One Secured Mastercard cardholders may be eligible for an upgrade to an unsecured Capital One credit card if Capital One finds your credit-building progress acceptable.

“Credit Union” Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit

Unlike your typical bank, credit unions aren’t owned by investors and shareholders; they’re owned by the members. And it’s this unique business structure that allows credit unions to do things big banks can’t — like maintaining more flexible credit requirements than your average lender.

While you’ll generally need to be a member of a credit union to apply for its credit cards, simply being an area student is often enough to qualify at your local credit union. If you’re going for a credit union further afield, you may need to join an eligible organization to qualify.

13. Golden 1 Visa® Platinum Rewards for Students

The Golden 1 Visa® Platinum Rewards for Students has competitive purchase rewards that provide bonus rewards for gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases.

Golden 1 Visa® Platinum Rewards for Students

  • Earn 3% cash back on gas station, grocery store, and restaurant purchases
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Pay no annual fee

You can become a Golden 1 Credit Union member if you live or work in California, are related to a current member, belong to a select employee group, or are a member of the Financial Fitness Association (FFA membership costs $8 a year).

14. Altra Student Visa® Credit Card

The Altra Student Visa® Credit Card not only offers purchase rewards, but also has a range of other benefits like bonuses for responsible card use and the chance to have your bill paid by Altra Credit Union.

Altra Student Visa® Credit Card

  • Earn double rewards points on every dollar of purchases in the first 60 days
  • Receive a $20 bonus each year you use your card responsibly
  • Pay no annual fee

Rewards can be redeemed for cash back or merchandise, used as travel rewards, or (for eligible students) redeemed for an interest rate reduction on an Altra vehicle loan. To join Altra, you’ll need to be a qualifying resident, student in an eligible school, work for a member company, or join the Altra Foundation with a donation of $10 or more.

15. Patelco Progress Student Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

The Progress Student Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card from Patelco Credit Union offers unlimited Patelco Rewards points that never expire so long as your account remains open and in good standing.

Progress Student Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

  • Earn 2X Patelco Rewards points per dollar for school and grocery store purchases
  • Earn 1X points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Pay no annual fee

To become a Patelco Credit Union member, you’ll need to live, work, attend school, or worship in an eligible city or county, be employed by a Patelco sponsor company, or be enrolled or an alumni at the University of California Berkeley, San Francisco State University, or California State University East Bay.

In addition to the membership requirement, most credit unions will require you to have an in-house checking or savings account in good standing to be eligible for a credit card.

“Prepaid” Credit Cards for Students with Bad Credit

In some cases, you may be more interested in simply having a way to make digital purchases than you are in obtaining a line of credit to rebuild. Prepaid cards that operate on a credit card processing network — e.g., Visa, Mastercard, etc. — can be used to make purchases anywhere the network is accepted.

Unlike credit cards, however, prepaid cards are loaded by the user with funds, and they must be reloaded to make purchases once those funds are used. Our expert-rated options all accept direct deposits and bank transfers for loading.

  • Trust Brink's with your money. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • Get paid up to 2 days faster with Direct Deposit.
  • Access your money whenever, wherever you are. Use your mobile phone and online Account Center to check your balance, send money, find reload/ATM locations and much more.
  • Let alerts help you stay connected to your money. Know when your card is used, direct deposit arrives, transaction details and your available balance.
  • Shop securely Online with a Virtual Account so you don't have to use your card number.
  • Add extra protection for shopping in stores by putting your photo on your card.
  • Earn Cash Back via the PayBack Rewards program from restaurants, shops and more.
  • $10 Purchase Cushion When You're A Little Short.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

4.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
10 Minutes N/A (Prepaid) No 8.0/10
  • Get paid up to 2 days faster with Free Direct Deposit  - Get your paycheck or benefits checks in your card account and access your funds up to 2 days earlier than payday.
  • No CreditCheck to get a card. No ChexSystems check. No existing bank account required.
  • $0 Activation Fee*. No minimum balance. No risk of Overdraft fees.
  • $15 Bonus* with qualifying Direct Deposit. Never pay to cash your paychecks and get your pay faster.
  • Use it everywhere Visa Debit Cards are accepted and pay anyone with PayAnyone Bill Pay. Shop online, rent a car, pay your rent and more.
  • Easy mobile account access and text alerts. Get your account balance, transaction details sent to your phone within seconds.
  • BBB Accredited A+ company. Excellent Customer Service.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

3.8

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
10 Minutes N/A (Prepaid) No 8.0/10
  • Easy to sign up. Set up your secure PIN and load money to your card with cash or checks or enroll in Direct Deposit.
  • Enroll in Direct Deposit and get your pay up to two days early. Certain restrictions apply*
  • Easy Online Bill Pay - pay your rent, utilities or a friend*.
  • Shop online and in stores - everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.
  • Your funds are FDIC-Insured through MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card accounts are subject to ID Verification.*
  • * Certain restrictions apply. See card site for details. Click on "Apply Now" to learn more about Midnight Prepaid Visa RushCard.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

3.6

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
10 Minutes N/A (Prepaid) No 8.0/10

Given that prepaid cards aren’t actually associated with a line of credit, your credit profile has no impact on whether you can open a prepaid card account. So long as you load the card and pay any monthly or processing fees, you can get use a prepaid card for purchases.

At the same time, because prepaid cards aren’t associated with your credit profile, they can’t be used to establish or build your credit history or scores. So, if you’re trying to improve your credit profile, you’ll need an actual credit card instead (or in addition to) a prepaid one.

Clean Up Your Credit Before Graduation

College is about learning — and not just in the classroom. With many of us on our own for perhaps the first time, college can also be a time of important life lessons, not the least of which is how to build (and maintain) good credit.

If you find yourself with bad credit while still a student, getting your credit back on track can be a challenge, especially while also juggling school and work. But it isn’t an impossible task.

Improving your payment history with a new credit card — and always, always paying all of your debts on time — can go a long way toward better credit. You should also work to maintain low credit card balances and be sparing with new credit card applications. Paying down existing debt can also improve your credit score, particularly if you have high utilization.

There is a lot of great advice out there on how to best improve your credit score, but the specific methods you choose will depend on your individual situation. In the end, it all comes down to hard work, diligence — and time. With the right credit-building behaviors, you can whip your credit score back into shape, ensuring you start off your post-student life on the best financial foot possible.