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The best student credit cards in America

Matching cards to students' needs can be tricky, but these cards offer some benefits that can be especially useful to the college crowd.

By Aug 29, 2013 11:55AM

This post comes from Jason Steele at partner site logoStudent credit cards are a double-edged sword, to say the least. On one hand, young adults with access to a line of credit can be tempted to incur debt that can take many years to pay off.  On the other hand, the responsible use of the right credit card can allow students to utilize the convenience and security of these products while building their own credit history and even earning rewards.
Young man sitting at a table in front of a laptop holding a credit card © Jack Hollingsworth, Blend Images, Getty Images

Once a college student has decided to open a credit card account, the task becomes finding the best card for his or her needs. Ideally, a student card will have low interest rates, few fees and simple terms. Student credit cards must also be offered to young adults with a limited credit history.

Other features to look for in a student credit card include benefits. Some cards include extended warranty programs, purchase protection policies and travel assistance services that can be valuable for students attending college out of state. In fact, an innovative feature found on some student cards is a cellphone insurance policy that covers damaged or stolen phones.

When it comes selecting a student credit card, the most difficult issue may be rewards. Earning cash back from spending can be a great way for students to save money on their purchases, but it has several drawbacks. Students, like all credit card users, can be tempted to spend more to earn additional rewards. Furthermore, students tend to have modest spending requirements, so most really don't have the opportunity to earn large amounts of rewards.

Because it's likely that students will incur more interest than earn significant rewards, we've weighed interest rates and terms much more heavily than a credit card's rewards program.

This card offers so many advantages that it even appeals to those who are no longer in college.

Why it won: The Citi Forward card for college students offers an unbeatable list of benefits as well as outstanding rewards.

The benefits: Cardholders receive numerous benefits at no cost, including extended warranty coverage, retail purchase protection, and even a cellphone protection plan that covers up to $250 after a $50 deductible. Rewards include one ThankYou point per dollar spent on all purchases, and five points per dollar spent at restaurants and on entertainment purchases including theaters and video rentals. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, electronics and other rewards. Finally, cardholders receive a 0% APR introductory rate on purchases for seven months, although students would be wise to ignore it and get in the habit of paying their statement in full each month.

The costs: There is no annual fee for this card, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee imposed on purchases made outside of the United States. The standard interest rate is between 13.99% and 23.99% APR, based on creditworthiness, and cardholders can receive up to a 2% interest rate reduction by regularly staying within their credit limit and paying their bills on time.

Why it won: With this card, students receive great rewards, benefits and an introductory financing offer for 12 months.

The benefits: Cardholders receive 1% cash back on all purchases, as well as 2% back on groceries and 3% back on gas for their first $1,500 in combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter. Cardholders also receive 12 months of 0% APR introductory financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. Finally, new applicants receive $100 cash back after spending $500 within 90 days of opening the account.

The costs: The standard interest rate is 12.99%-22.99%, depending on the applicant's credit worthiness. There is no annual fee for this card, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Why it won: Low fees, good benefits and excellent rewards make this a good card for students who want to start building their credit.

The benefits: Cardholders receive 1% cash back on all purchases, and a 25% bonus each month when they pay their bill on time. Other benefits include an extended warranty program, auto rental insurance and 24-hour travel assistance services.

The costs: The standard interest rate is 19.8%. There is no annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

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