Credit cards can provide a number of benefits for students, such as flexibility with spending, help with budgeting and building a credit history – which will help for later in life, including when it comes to getting a mortgage.
Used wisely they can be a useful asset, and you can even make them work to your advantage by gaining cashback and loyalty points. But credit cards also come with risks - your debt could start to grow and interest charges can be high if you don’t pay off what you owe.
Can a student get a credit card?
You might think because you’re not in full-time employment and you’re still studying that a credit card is off limits. But this isn’t necessarily true.
Provided it is affordable – that is, you have enough money coming in to clear your spending each month – you may be accepted for a credit card.
There are even credit cards designed specifically for those who might be studying at university or college, but don’t yet have the credit score and income to be approved for a standard credit card.
There are some criteria you’ll have to meet:
- Be aged over 18
- Resident in the UK
- Studying a course at a UK university
But if you’re looking to get a credit card as a student, the most important thing is to use it carefully. Debt can escalate quickly if you can’t repay your card in full each month and interest charges start to mount up.
How does a student credit card work?
Like any credit card, a student credit card is a way of spending money you don’t yet have as a way of budgeting. But lenders know the risks involved and as such, student cards tend to:
- Have lower spending limits than standard credit cards
- Charge a higher interest rate on the money you borrow, which kicks in if you don’t clear your balance in full at the end of each month
Other pitfalls are the same as with standard credit cards. Avoid withdrawing cash with a credit card as this will likely incur both a fee and interest from the day you take out the money.
Try not to spend up to your credit limit every month either, as this can suggest you’re strapped for cash and can have a negative impact on your credit rating.
That said, used responsibly - clearing the outstanding balance in full every month - a student credit card could help you build a credit profile and put you in a strong position for when you need to borrow in the future.
What do I need to consider before applying for a student credit card?
Before applying for a credit card you should be confident you’ll be able to repay what you spend on it every month. Otherwise, any of the benefits you enjoy by using it will be wiped out as you fall into debt and start to incur interest charges.
If you’ve decided you can use a student credit card responsibly, you should then consider what kind of credit card you would like. A rewards credit card will give you cashback or points on eligible spending. But read the terms because rules will vary from card to card and some are linked to specific retailers or provide loyalty points that can only be spent in certain places.
A 0% purchase credit card might allow you to spend without interest for a grace period without having to repay, and a 0% balance transfer card could allow you to shift debts from elsewhere onto it and give you time to pay it off interest-free. With all borrowing though, the money will have to be paid back eventually.
You could also look for a travel card which could be beneficial if you know you’ll want to spend time overseas. These tend to have low or no fees on card usage abroad.
How do I use a student credit card?
A student credit card can be used in the same way as a debit card – you’ll be able to pay for things in the usual way such as contactless, chip & PIN or online. As well as the physical card you may also link the credit card to pay through a device, such as a mobile phone.
The difference to a debit card is that you are spending money you don’t yet have. This means it’s important to keep an eye on your spending (you’ll have a credit limit you can spend up to) and make sure you pay it off when instructed.
If you don’t pay it off in full by the given date every month, you’ll start to incur interest on the debt balance. Forget to pay anything or miss the minimum monthly repayment and you’re likely to be charged a fee. This is why it’s good to set up an alert as a reminder, or better still a direct debit to clear what you owe.
Some students only use their credit card for emergency purchases and then clear the balance as quickly as possible. Others might use it for their regular spending, particularly if it offers rewards - again clearing in full each month. Either way, stay on top of your account to make the most from it.
What are the benefits of a student credit card?
There are a number of reasons you may wish to get a student credit card. These can include:
- Interest-free period: Some providers offer an interest-free period for a limited time for purchases – normally a few months, giving you some time to pay off the balance. But make sure you know when this period ends so you pay off the outstanding amount, or interest charges will mount up
- Protection on purchases: A student credit card will offer the same level of purchase protection as standard credit cards. Under section 75 of the consumer credit act you’ll be covered if you buy goods worth between £100 and £30,000 if they fail to turn up, are not as described, or the company goes bust
- Build your credit score: Managing your student credit card repayments can help you build your credit score, particularly if you haven’t taken out credit before and have a limited borrowing history. This can make it easier to get credit cards, loans and even a mortgage in the future
- Rewards: Some providers offer rewards when you spend, including cashback, loyalty points or cheaper railcards. Used wisely, you can make a student credit card work financially for you
- No annual fee: Student credit cards typically won’t charge an annual fee
There are other potential benefits that may be worth considering, but only if you use the student credit card responsibly:
- Spread the cost of purchases: You can pay for large purchases up front and spread the cost by paying back the money you borrowed in monthly repayments. However, unless your card is within its interest-free period, you will likely end up paying more in interest
- Higher chance of approval: While you are studying, you may find it’s easier to get a student credit card than a standard credit card
- The possibility to borrow more: Some providers will increase your credit limit if you continue to manage your monthly card repayments well
What are the risks of a student credit card?
There are also certain risks to be aware of when getting a student credit card, including:
- High interest rates: Higher interest rates than standard credit cards mean you’ll end up paying more if you don’t clear your balance each month
- Lower credit limits: Although a lower credit limit can stop you from overspending, the amount you’re able to borrow will be less
- Fees: As with regular credit cards, you will most likely be charged a fee if you use your student credit card to withdraw cash, if you make a late repayment, if you go over your credit limit or if you use your card abroad
- Rejected applications can affect your credit score: If you don’t meet the lender’s borrowing criteria for a student credit card, a rejected application can affect your credit score
Can I get a student credit card without any income?
You may not need to have a job to get a student credit card, but you’ll often need to show you have a regular income that doesn’t include your student loan. This could be regular payments from your parents or a salary from a part-time job.
Student loans tend not to count as income because if you used it to pay off a credit card, this would just be one form of debt paying off another.