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It's not easy getting approved for that first credit card, but having plastic in your name is important. Credit cards are one way to build a credit history, which is essential to obtaining a mortgage, car loan and many other accouterments of post-college life.
Before you apply for any credit card, you should be aware of the risks. Cards often come with punishingly high interest rates on unpaid balances, so it's important to avoid running up more charges than you can pay off every month. If that sounds too hard, remember that there are other ways to build credit (like putting a household bill in your name, for example, or reporting your rent payments to credit bureaus).
If you do decide to apply for a credit card, though, CardHub, a credit card comparison website, has combed through the offers out there and identified a few as winners for graduates and students.
—By Kelley Holland, special to CNBC.com
Posted 15 May 2015
If you are out of college and have good credit, consider a Capital One Quicksilver card—but if you do, plan to start using it quickly. Spending $500 on the card in the first three months nets you a $100 bonus. (Just make sure you can pay it off quickly.) You also get 1.5 percent cash back on purchases, and there is no annual fee.
The Chase Slate card is another option for grads with good credit, especially if they're paying interest on another card balance. This card offers no rewards, but you can transfer a balance from another card for free. Better yet, there's an introductory zero percent interest rate on both the debt you transfer and any new balance for the first 15 months. If you are working on paying down a small amount of high interest rate debt, this card can give you the breathing room you need.
Current students with little or no credit history have other options. BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students, for example, will give you a bonus of $100 if you charge $500 or more in your first 90 days with the card. You can also get 3 percent cash back on gas and 2 percent on groceries for the first $1,500 of combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter as well as 1 percent back on everything else.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is another option for students with limited or no credit history, and it gives you an incentive to use it responsibly. You get 1 percent cash back on all purchases—and every month that you pay your balance in full, you get an additional 25 percent cash back bonus for a total of 1.25 percent. There's no annual fee and users can pick the monthly due date for payments.
BankAmericard Travel Rewards for Students offers useful perks for a traveling student with limited or no credit history. You get 1.5 points for every dollar you spend on travel. And if you spend more than $500 in your first 90 days with the card you get a 10,000 point bonus that you can convert to a $100 credit on travel purchases on your statement.
BankAmericard for Students is nice and simple, and a decent option for students with limited or no credit history. You get zero percent interest for the first 15 months on new purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days of opening your account. There is no annual fee, but there is a 3 percent fee on any balances you transfer to the card.
Those who are not eligible for student cards or have had some credit missteps can still find credit cards with decent terms. The Capital One Secured MasterCard comes with no annual fee and it is partially secured, so depending on your income and credit standing, you can get a credit line beyond your security deposit.
The Harley-Davidson Secured Credit Card is just what it sounds like: secured credit. This card is best if you are not eligible for a student card or have some credit missteps. It requires a security deposit of at least $500, but it comes with no annual fee, and there are biker-oriented rewards: you earn 1 point for every $1 net purchase, redeemable for an H-D gift card.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is unsecured, and it does not require an extensive credit history—though if you do not qualify for a student card and you have had some credit missteps, you may be better off with a secured card. There is no annual fee for the first year, but after that a $19 fee applies. And the annual percentage rate on carried balances is high at just under 25 percent.