By Erin El Issa
If you're a college student, you should build your credit score before you enter the "real world." This not only will help you borrow affordably in the future, but also will prove to landlords, utility and insurance providers, and future employers that you're financially responsible. You can start building credit with a student credit card.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by your student credit card choices, but we've simplified it for you. Look for these three benefits for your first credit card.
1. No annual fee
The term "broke college kid" is one of endearment and universal acceptance that those brave souls who pursue higher education are going to struggle financially. Embrace this -- learning to budget and pinch your pennies is good for you, just in case you have to do it again later. With that in mind, one of the major things a college student should look for in a credit card is no annual fee.
There are plenty of credit cards with annual fees that are worth it for the right person. But chances are, your income and expenses are very low, and you won't meet the required spend to make an annual fee card worth it. Instead, pick a card with as few fees as possible. Check out our database of student credit cards, almost all of which boast no annual fee.
2. Complimentary FICO score access
A FICO score is the most widely used credit score by lenders. Since you'll eventually want to get your own apartment and cell phone, and maybe even a car and a mortgage down the line, you have to work on building your credit. By getting a credit card with a free FICO score, you'll be able to determine if your score-building efforts are working.
Not sure how to start improving your score? We've got you covered. Here's how to build a credit score from scratch in four easy steps.
Of course, don't expect to see a score of 800 right off the bat. Your credit score is made up of several factors, one of which is the length of your credit history. Be patient and enjoy watching your score grow.
3. Rewards on the purchases you make most
If your student credit card has rewards, you'll want to make sure you're getting rewarded for the day-to-day purchases. For most students, this would include groceries, dining out, books, entertainment and maybe gas. Here are a few cards you might consider:
- Sallie Mae MasterCard: Offers extra rewards on gas, groceries and books
- Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students: Offers extra rewards on dining and entertainment
- Discover it® for Students: Offers extra rewards on rotating categories on up to1,500 in spending per quarter
- All three issuers -- Barclaycard, Citi and Discover -- now offer free FICO scores to cardholders.
No matter which card you choose, you should pick a credit card that either offers high rewards on all purchases or bonus rewards on your most common purchases.
Bottom line: Ideally, you'll want a college credit card that boasts no annual fee, free access to your FICO score and rewards on the purchases you make most. Enjoy your broke college years and come out the other side with a degree and an excellent credit score in tow, thanks to your first credit card and responsible credit habits.
This article originally appeared on NerdWallet.