Do you have to be a student to get a student credit card?

It’s easy to see why student credit cards appeal to many consumers who are just beginning their credit journey. They’re easier to get than traditional credit cards, and many even allow applicants to check their approval ratings online without any impact on their credit scores.

But do you have to prove that you are currently enrolled in a college or university to get one?

The answer to this question is far from simple, mainly because different card issuers have their own student card requirements. If you’re considering getting a student credit card and wondering what you need before you apply, read on.

Who is eligible for a student credit card?

Like any other type of credit card, student credit card approval requirements vary by issuer. Generally, you must be at least 18 years old and a US citizen to obtain a student card.

From there, the rules are different for different cards. For example, Discover It® Student Cash Back marketing materials state that you can qualify for this card without having a credit score. Meanwhile, Capital One’s Journey Student Credit Card says applicants can be approved if they have fair or better credit, which usually means having a FICO score of 580 or higher.

Beyond your credit score, other factors are considered when applying for a credit card, including your income, debt-to-equity ratio, and length of your credit history.

When it comes to income, however, it’s a good idea to know what sources of income you can list on your student card application. If you are 21 or older, you can include your own income when applying, as well as sources of income to which you have a “reasonable expectation of access”, which could include a spouse’s income.

If you’re 21 or younger, however, you can only include the following sources of income in your student credit card application:

  • Personal income from your work
  • Allowances
  • Residual amounts of income from scholarships and other financial aid (not student loans) after paying tuition and other university expenses

If you’re under 21 and have no income, your best option may be to become an authorized user on a relative’s credit card. You’ll still accumulate credit this way, but the barrier to entry is much lower than applying for your own card.

Most student credit cards require you to be a student and you will need to prove it. For example, the credit card application for the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students credit card requires you to indicate which school you attend and whether you attend part-time or full-time.

Similarly, the Chase Freedom® Student credit card application indicates that the issuer will verify your enrollment status.

screenshot of Chase Freedom student card application

Student credit cards that don’t require you to be a student

Very few student cards do not ask for your higher education enrollment status.

Capital One’s Journey Student Credit Card is an exception, and it’s available to applicants with fair credit. Cardholders also have the option to earn 1% cash back on all purchases, or 1.25% cash back when they pay their bill on time. There is no annual fee and the card comes with a $60 annual statement credit offer for subscription services, distributed in increments of $5 per month.

Alternate Starting Maps

If you’re not yet a student or just looking for a first credit card that works both ways, there are plenty of options available to you. For example, you can start building credit with a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral.

Cards in this niche make it easier to get approved if you have bad credit or no credit history, and they report to all three credit bureaus, helping you boost your score. Some secured credit cards, including the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Secured, even let you earn money back on your spending with no annual fee.

Other alternative cards to consider if you have a limited credit history include the Visa® Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fee” credit card and the Visa® Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” credit card. These cards are unsecured, which means they do not require a cash deposit up front.

If you have a “fair” or better credit rating, on the other hand, a wider range of credit cards may be available to you. In fact, there are plenty of great credit cards for fair credit that offer rewards with no annual fee, such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Visa® Upgrade Card with Cash Rewards.

The bottom line

Getting a student credit card is a smart first step to take if you want to build credit you’ll need later in life. Qualifications can vary widely from card to card, but most student credit cards require you to be enrolled in a university.

If you’re not a student, there are still plenty of good credit cards to choose from. And if your credit score is fair or better, you can also turn to more traditional credit cards that offer higher limits and better benefits.

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