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Canada’s best student credit cards for 2023
Researching credit cards between classes? While a grade on a paper maybe its only reward, having the right credit card can mean the difference between a free tank of gas or dinner out at the end of the semester–all while you’re building a credit history. By the time you graduate and get that first big gig, paying off your student credit card every month could help you buy a home or card more easily. That’s what having a history with a credit card and a good credit score can do. Now, let’s look at your options.
Best student credit card for cash back
BMO CashBack Mastercard *
At a glance: This credit card gives you lots of opportunity to earn cash back, especially for buying groceries, paying bills and other purchases. And unlike other cash back cards for students, the rates on these categories are impressive. Plus, you can redeem your cash back when you truly need it—yes, even before winter break holiday shopping.
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: 3% cash back on groceries (up to $500 per month), 1% on recurring bills (up to $500 per month) and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
- Interest rate: Purchases 20.99%, cash advances 22.99%, balance transfers %
- Welcome bonus: Get up to 5% cash back in your first 3 months and a 1.99% introductory interest rate on Balance Transfers for 9 months.
- It offers a healthy 3% cash back rate on groceries up to a maximum of $500 a month. No other no-fee cash back credit card earns this rate.
- The minimum redemption requirement is only $1, so you can redeem your cash back when you truly need it (pretty sweet when you don’t want your next meal to be KD or ramen noodles).
- Items you purchase using the card receive double the manufacturer’s original warranty protection, up to one year.
- Get up to 25% off base rates at eligible National and Alamo car rental locations.
- There are no travel insurance or related perks with this card. But it’s not atypical of other no-fee cards.
- There are caps on the bonus spend categories: 3% on the first $500 you spend on groceries per month, with everything over that earning the base 0.5% earn rate. That said, it’s a monthly cap, so you start again the first of the month.
- No earn rate for transportation or gas, as it’s in the “everything else” pile at 0.05%. That means Ubers, too.
CIBC Dividend Visa for Students
At a glance: Earn 2% on groceries, then 1% dining, gas, transportation and recurring bill payments, and then earn 0.5% cash back on everything else. But a cool bonus is access to SPC+, which is a student discount program, with deals from Apple Music to Zaful fashions.
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: Earn 2% on groceries; 1% on gas, transportation, dining and recurring payments; and 0.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- Interest rate: Purchases 20.99%, cash advances 22.99%, balance transfers 22.99%
- Welcome bonus: Welcome Offer: Get $60 cash back after you make your first purchase within the first 4 months!†
- Cardholders eligible for an SPC membership and get free access to SPC+, which offers bigger discounts and special experiences.
- The earning on spend category caps are high: $80,000 in net purchases or $20,000 on grocery, gas, transportation, dining and recurring payments.
- On top of earning points, you can also save $0.10 per litre at select Pioneer, Fas Gas, Ultramar and Chevron gas stations when you link your card with the Journee rewards program from CIBC.
- At a maximum of 1% cash back, the earn rates for all spend categories are modest compared to other cash back credit card programs.
- So is the 0.05% cash back rate for anything else.
Best student credit card for Air Miles
BMO Air Miles Mastercard *
At a glance: Not living at home? Studying abroad? Why not use your credit card rewards on a trip back home by earning Air Miles when you use your card.
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: Earn 1 mile for every $25 spent and three times the rewards at participating Air Miles partner stores (including Metro, Sobeys, Foodland, Staples and more), double the points at Air Miles partners.
- Interest rate: Purchases 20.99%, cash advances 22.99%, balance transfers 22.99%
- Welcome bonus: Earn 1,500 AIR MILES Bonus Miles. That’s enough for $150 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash
- Earn three times the miles when spending at participating Air Miles partners.
Plus, you can earn Air Miles twice: Once when you use your BMO Air Miles Mastercard, and a second time when you use your Air Miles loyalty card.
For flexibility, redeem your rewards for gift cards and discounts at Air Miles partners, as well as at the airmilesshops.ca store for deals and bonus rewards from hundreds of retailers.
- Earn bonus Air Miles from eligible purchases from a large number of retailers, with up to five times the points from retailers such as Adidas, Amazon, Aldo and others.
- Get up to 25% off base rates at eligible National and Alamo rental locations.
- Air Miles can be less flexible than cash back, as you will have to redeem through Air Miles partners. So if you don’t regularly shop at Sobey’s, Shell, etc., it may be inconvenient to earn rewards.
- Travel redemptions are less straightforward, too. For example, you can’t redeem for any airline and you must use the Air Miles travel portal when booking.
- Despite being a travel card, there is no travel insurance attached to this card. So if you do need some, you will have to pay for the insurance yourself or forgo it and pay out of pocket for things like lost luggage or missed flights, etc.
Best student credit card for grocery shopping
PC Financial Mastercard *
At a glance: Cooking at home is a good financial play if you’re living away from the fam while at school. This card allows you to earn points on every purchase, but you can earn bonus points when you shop for groceries at Loblaw banner stores (including Loblaws, No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, Fortinos and Valu-mart).
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: Earn 25 Optimum points for every $1 spent at Shoppers Drug Mart, 10 points per $1 at Loblaw banner stores, and everywhere else. Get 20 points per $1 when booking through PC Travel, and get at least 30 points per litre when you gas up at Esso or Mobil. Redeem your PC Optimum points at the check-out of these places. Redemptions start at 10,000 points for $10 value.
- Interest rate: Purchases 20.97%, cash advances 22.97%, balance transfers 22.97%
- Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 PC Optimum™ points with a new PC® Mastercard®
- You are earning 25 points per $1 at Shoppers Drug Mart and 30 points per litre of gas at Esso. That’s equal to a 2.5% and 3% return, respectively. These are impressive returns for a student card.
- This credit card earns you a base earn rate of 1 point per $1. Most other student cards have a base earn rate of just 0.5%.
- You can redeem PC Optimum points at Loblaw-affiliated stores, which means you can put a major dent in your everyday bills. Yes, that includes groceries at the corner Shoppers Drug Mart. You can redeem points at Canada’s largest pharmacy and grocery chain, as well as Joe Fresh, for a total of over 4,500 locations across Canada. You are not restricted to a small number of niche locations like most other retail cards or loyalty cards.
- There’s no cap on the number of PC Optimum points you can earn.
- Not as flexible as a cash back program, as you can only redeem your rewards at certain retailers.
- There’s a minimum redemption requirement of $20.
Best student credit card for money management
Koho Prepaid Mastercard *
At a glance: You are pretty much approved with a pre-paid card like this one. It’s like a debit/gift card with the accessibility of a credit card. Plus, it’s made to help cardholders keep within their budget while building a credit score with financial coaching and its handy app tools, including spending insights. Plus Koho Prepaid Mastercard offers a “rounding up” feature for additional savings.
- Annual fee: $
- Earn rate: Earn 0.5% cash back with the Koho account. When you shop at partner stores, you’ll get up to 5% cash back on purchases (plus an additional 2% back for Koho Premium account holders).
- Interest rate: Cash advances %
- Welcome bonus: None
- As a prepaid credit card, you don’t pay interest since you don’t actually carry a balance. You put money in your account before you can spend it. This is great for anyone looking to stick to a budget while building a credit score.
- It also offers a “round up” feature, which tallies up purchases to the closest amount of your choosing ($1, $2, $5 or $10) and sets that money into your savings.
- If you need to build up your credit rating, you can enroll with Koho; it will report your spending habits to the credit bureau.
- It features spending insights to help you keep track of your finances. And, for those who need a bit more hands-on help, Koho offers financial coaching.
- The minimum deposit is $500, so this could be tight for some students during the school year.
- There is no welcome offer to take advantage of right now.
- Using the tools to help build up your credit rating will cost $7 a month.
- There are no bonus categories.
Plastk Secured Visa Credit Card *
At a glance: Not everyone goes to school with a clean slate, and that’s okay. If that’s you, a secured credit card is a better option. You put money on the card, which can then be used if you default on any payments. Why we chose this one: The deposit is just $300.
- Annual fee: $120
- Interest rate: Purchases 17.99%, cash advances 21.99%, balance transfers 17.99%
- Earn rate: Earn 1 point for every $1 spent
- Welcome bonus: Customers get 5000 Rewards Points ≈ $20.00 redeemable after 3 months*.
- It offers rewards on everyday purchases, unlike most barebones secured cards.
- The welcome bonus is competitive.
- It’s accessible for many students.
- Annual fee of $48, as well a $6 monthly fee.
- There’s a minimum deposit of $300, but it’s better than the average secured credit card requiring deposits of $500 and higher.
Best student credit card for entertainment perks
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card for students *
At a glance: If your safe place is a movie theatre to get away from dorm drama or to get some headspace away from reading, consider this card. What you spend at the cinema can turn into some nice perks.
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: 1 Scene Point for every $1 spent; 2 Scene Points for every $1 spent at Cineplex theatres or cineplex.com
- Interest rate: Purchases 19.99% cash advances 22.99% balance transfers 22.99%
- Welcome bonus: Receive up to 10,000 bonus Scene+ points within your first year.
- Scene+ points are pretty versatile for a points program. For example, you can book flights with any airline without having to rely on a specific travel agency or portal. Plus, you can redeem for other travel items, such as Airbnbs. It’s one of the best points programs available to Canadians.
- Another bonus, the rewards are great for things outside of a typical student budget. Treat yourself for managing the stresses of school by using the rewards on things like movies, takeout, gift cards from retailers, flights, hotels and more.
- You can save 25% off base rates for car rentals at participating Avis and Budget rental locations in Canada and the U.S.
- The earn rate will soon be changed on Oct. 1, 2022. So you will notice that the earn rate is dropping from five-times the points down to two-times the points at cinemas. The good news, though, is that points will be doubling for select grocery stores.
- There are bonus points for other common spending categories, like gas or dining, meaning fewer ways to maximize your returns. So, you would have to go to the movies regularly to really take advantage of the bonus earn rate.
- Not as flexible as a cash back program, but redeeming is straightforward for travel items.
In-Depth: THE BEST CREDIT CARDS BY CATEGORY
- Overall Best Credit Cards in Canada
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Travel Credit Cards
- Best Cash Back Credit Cards
- Best No Fee Credit Cards
- Best Low Interest Credit Cards
- Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Applying for a student credit card is pretty straightforward, although there are a few eligibility requirements to keep in mind.
- You’ll need to be the age of majority in your province. That’s either 18 (in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan) or 19 (in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Yukon).
- If you don’t earn an income, you may need to provide proof that you receive some form of financial support, such as allowances from your family or a scholarship.
As a new credit card holder, it’s a smart idea to review your options before you apply. Check out what different banks are offering and choose a card that best matches your lifestyle and spending habits. Each application does affect your credit score , so you’ll want to avoid applying for multiple credit cards needlessly. Stick with one card as you learn the ropes and start building your credit history.
The short answer is yes, provided you use your credit card responsibly. Your credit card use is one of the things that determines your credit score. Your credit score is like a report card for your finances—the higher your score, the better—and it can affect your ability to get a loan or a mortgage, or even to rent an apartment. You’ll want to start building your credit rating as early as possible. Being a secondary cardholder on your parents’ card doesn’t count toward it, which is one reason you might want to get your own student credit card. Responsible credit card use is one of the most efficient ways to establish your credit history, build your credit score and prove you can be trusted to manage borrowed money. Beware of overspending, though. Late or unpaid bills can devastate your rating.
You know you need to be responsible in how you use your credit card—but what, exactly, does that mean? Read on for tips on using your credit card to beef up your credit score and avoiding any problems.
Check your payment due dates
You probably know that credit card bills arrive every month, but that doesn’t mean the due date for your payment is on the first day. The date that begins your billing cycle depends on when you are approved for the account, and it could be any day of the month. Make note of the due date and make sure you pay on time.
Pay off your balance in full
If you’re going to be responsible with your credit card, you won’t use it to spend money you don’t have. Do not go into debt. It’s best practice to pay off your bill in full, on time, every month. Not only will this boost your credit score, but it will also help you avoid costly interest charges.
Heed the minimum balance
If you do overspend, you will still need to pay off some of your balance. Your bill will show a total balance and a minimum payment. You must pay at least the minimum payment, on time and every month, no matter what. Missing payments is one of the worst things you can do for your credit score. Paying only the minimum means that you’re accumulating interest on the unpaid balance. At an average of around 20%, this can add up quickly.
In case it’s not clear: Don’t overspend! Credit is borrowed money, and a credit card isn’t a debit card. All the money you charge to your card must be paid back. If you don’t or can’t, you’ll find yourself racking up interest charges in addition to wrecking your credit rating.
Don’t max out your credit card
Your credit card will have a credit limit; that’s the amount of money you can technically borrow on it. But spending all the way up to your limit—that is, maxing out your card—is reckless. It will be harder to pay off your balance. Use your card selectively for smaller purchases, at least initially, and consider using debit for almost everything else.
For the Best Student Credit Cards ranking, we ran the numbers based on $1,000 in monthly spending using Ratehub.ca’s‡ credit card tool while also factoring in sign-up bonuses, income qualification requirements and student-oriented rewards. We made the following assumptions on monthly expenditures: grocery spend of $250, gas of $100, restaurants of $100, bill payments of $62.50, travel of $87.50, entertainment of $112.50, pharmacy purchases of $37.50 and other purchases of $250.