A student credit card plan: 825,000 points by graduation


a group of credit cards on a table

I’ve previously written a few posts with recommendations for teenagers and students who are interested in getting into the credit cards rewards game:

I can boil down the advice from those posts to a few bullet points:

  • Preparation (before age 18):  Parents who are responsible with their credit can add the teen as an authorized user to a few of cards in order to help build credit.  See: Building (and viewing) teenage credit.
  • First card: I recommend the Discover It for Students Card.  Worst case, if not approved for credit, the student will be offered a fee-free secured card (which will help build credit).
  • Wait 6 months: The student should wait about 6 months before signing up for more cards in order to build a credit history with their Discover card.
  • Do business: If the student can qualify for business cards, make sure to go for those since they won’t have any negative impact on the ability to sign up for additional consumer cards in the future, nor will they impact the student’s credit score (except for the very small temporary hit caused by a hard inquiry).  See “Chase Business Ink as a student starter card” for more on this topic.

My son is currently a junior in college (I know!!!  I can’t believe it either!) and I’m feeling like we haven’t done enough to take advantage of his points earning power.  We need a plan for going forward.  Quite a few readers have asked for the same.  A typical email says “OK, my child signed up for the Discover It for Students card like you suggested.  Now what?”  In this post, I’ll attempt to answer that question…

My son’s credit card experience to-date

Here’s a record of the cards that my son has signed up for so far:

What we can infer from this information:

  • If the IHG card rejection is any indication, 3 months isn’t long enough to wait after opening the Discover card.  That’s why I now recommend waiting 6 months.  Of course, it’s only one little data point and he might even have been approved if he had called for reconsideration.
  • Amex cards are easy to get. If minimum spend requirements can be met (maybe a parent can help?), these are low hanging fruit.  Unfortunately most have high annual fees that are not waived the first year.
  • The Rakuten Visa is tough for almost everyone to get.  There’s a known work-around that involves freezing freezing Sagestream and ARS credit reporting (details here).
  • Chase business cards are fair game, especially the fee-free ones (which can be approved with lower limits).
Applying for Business Credit Cards

Yes, you have a business: In order to sign up for a business credit card, you must have a business. That said, it's common for people to have businesses without realizing it. If you sell items at a yard sale, or on eBay, for example, then you have a business. Similar examples include: consulting, writing (e.g. blog authorship, planning your first novel, etc.), handyman services, owning rental property, renting on airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, etc. In any of these cases, your business is considered a Sole Proprietorship unless you form a corporation of some sort.

When you apply for a business credit card as a sole proprietor, you can use your own name as your business name, use your own address and phone as the business' address and phone, and your social security number as the business' Tax ID / EIN. Alternatively, you can get a proper Tax ID / EIN from the IRS for free, in about a minute, through this website.

Is it OK to use business cards for personal expenses? Anecdotally, almost everyone I know uses business cards for personal expenses. That said, the terms in most business card applications state that you should use the card only for business use. Also, some consumer credit card protections do not apply to business cards. My advice: don't use the card for personal expenses if you're not comfortable doing so.

Plan overview

The easiest and quickest way to amass points and miles is through credit card signup bonuses. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this won’t hurt your credit score long term as long as you pay your credit card bills in full each month and avoid charging near your limit (e.g. it’s better to keep your credit utilization low relative to the amount of credit you have available). In fact, many people see their credit score increase a few months after starting to sign up for multiple cards. The general process for earning points this way is described in our Start Here page.

Signup Rhythm

In the plan described below, I recommend that the student sign up for 1 consumer card every 6 months, plus up to two business cards per year by signing up 3 months after each consumer card.  The overall flow looks like this:

High school senior: Sign up for Discover It Miles card

Each year of college:

  • October: Sign up for consumer card
  • January: Sign up for business card (optional)
  • April: Sign up for consumer card
  • July: Sign up for business card (optional)

The months shown above are just examples.  Space out the applications with 90+ days between them.  Of course it is fine to go slower if this signup pace is too aggressive for you.

Cancel or downgrade

For those cards with annual fees, the student should cancel or downgrade to a no-fee card once the second year annual fee comes due.  I especially recommend downgrading since it’s a good idea to keep your first few cards open forever.  In the long run this will help the average age of your credit which is a component of your credit score.


This plan makes the following assumptions:

  1. The student is beginning with a relatively good credit score.  For background, see: Building (and viewing) teenage credit.
  2. The student has a way to meet minimum spend requirements.  Perhaps a parent will help?
  3. The student will be responsible with their credit.  Specifically, they will pay their credit card bill in-full each and every month.

The last point is particularly important.  Late fees and interest payments can quickly cost the student more than the rewards are worth if they don’t pay in full and on time every month.  In my son’s case, I helped set up his Discover account to automatically pay the full balance each month from his checking account.


Before signing up for any new cards, I recommend signing up for Travel Freely. This is a free web-based tool that walks you through the process of signing up for cards to earn big bonuses. The tool keeps track of your cards including your 5/24 status, alerts you when time is running out to complete minimum spend, alerts you when annual fees are nearly due, and much more. I consider it essential for anyone starting out.

Here’s the link to sign up (for free) with Travel Freely. Full disclosure: Frequent Miler and Travel Freely have a business relationship, but only because I believe that this tool is truly useful for anyone into signing up for cards for their bonuses. I use it to manage my signups and those of several family members as well (including my son, of course). You can read more of my thoughts about Travel Freely here: Take the stress out of credit card bonus hunting: Travel Freely.

Card recommendations

The following recommendations are based on current signup bonuses.  I’ve heavily favored cards with no annual fees or with the first year free under the assumption that students have less money available for ongoing credit card fees.  If you’re willing to incur first year annual fees, it’s possible to earn far more rewards.

Bonus details change regularly so consider this only a template that can and should be altered according to your needs.

18th Birthday

  • Go for your first card:
    Card Offer
    $50 + First Year Double + $20/year ⓘ Friend-Referral
    Get $50 after first purchase. All cashback earned in first 12 months will be doubled including 5% earned in rotating categories. Plus, get $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
    No Annual Fee
    Information about this card has been collected independently by Frequent Miler. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Wait at least 6 months before the next steps (and adjust the dates accordingly):

Freshman Year

Sophomore Year

Junior Year

Senior Year

Add it all up

Assuming success at getting approved for all of the above cards and in meeting the spend requirements, and assuming that the signup bonuses stay roughly the same, the student should earn the following numbers of signup bonus points (not counting points additionally earned from spend):

  • Chase Freedom: 20K
  • Chase Ink Business Unlimited: 50K
  • Wells Fargo Propel: 30K
  • Amex Delta Gold: 60K [Note: 60K offer isn’t available at the time of this writing, but it is likely to return]
  • Capital One Venture Rewards: 50K
  • US Bank Cash Rewards: 50K ($500)
  • IHG Traveler: 60K
  • Chase Ink Business Cash: 50K
  • Citi AA Platinum: 50K
  • Chase United Explorer Business: 50K (assuming the student doesn’t spend $25K for the full 100K offer)
  • Hilton Honors: 75K
  • Bank of America Business Travel Rewards: 25K
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 60K
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred: 80K
  • Bank of America Amtrak World: 40K (+ $100 statement credit to more than offset the first year annual fee)
  • AA Aviator Business: 75K

In total, we’re looking at 825,000 points in four years. It’s actually possible to do far better than this, but I think that this plan offers a solid start with very low first year annual fees.

Note that while I avoided most of the crazy big spend requirements, I didn’t try too hard to minimize them.  The assumption is that a parent will help or that the student learns how to increase spend and get most of it back.  For those who want to earn rewards but are not willing or able to put big spend on their new cards, you can find great options in this post: Best offers for low spenders.

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For the teenagers’ first card application at age 18, how to deal with the application without his/her personal income?


Hi Greg: I’m curious if you have an opinion of the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students (which offers $250 in travel rewards) vs. Discover IT as the starter card (I would help my son meet the minimum spend)?

[…] A student credit card plan: 825,000 points by graduation […]


How can a student get approved for a card with no or limited income? Does you son work? Thanks Paul


Thanks Greg! Do you have any idea what the minimum income requirements are to get the cards you suggested?


Another thing. The student may need a job that will give them a paycheck. My daughter did a lot of babysitting and made some pretty good money, but discover and everywhere else we called wouldn’t count it as income. We couldn’t even get her a secured card. Once she got a job with a paycheck she was approved right away for the discover student card.


I’ve been “stuck” thinking about what card to advise my son (19) to apply for and this is a pretty good game plan for moving forward. Lots to digest.

Thanks for creating this post.


A word of caution, some of these cards have credit history requirements that would put them out of the reach of most college undergrads. Particularly business cards. The Citibusiness card requires a 5 year credit history. BoA and Barclay’s biz cards also have a credit history requirement, at least greater than about 3 years for both. When asking around, the figure that’s usually agreed on for those 2 banks biz cards is a 5 year credit history requirement.

The Citibusiness credit history requirement is well documented in points and miles circles. I’m giving the BoA and Barclay’s figures from personal experience (family member denials). US Bank seems to have similar requirements for their biz cards.

Amex and Chase biz cards, thankfully, are much less strict in this regard.


From what I’ve seen, a non Amex/Chase biz card is likely going to have a difficult time passing manual underwriting (especially reconsideration) if the applicant’s only card with a lengthy credit history is an AU card.

That being said, I have seen a few positive DPs with the citibusiness card, but those are rare. The other banks mentioned I think would be even tougher (I’m having flashbacks of nightmare recon calls with Barclay’s and BoA). Biz recon MO for most banks is to go over your record (and business! ) with a fine toothed comb.

The recommended card to get an AU for is Chase due to their backdating.

So to answer your question, Ok?, I don’t know, but at least they’ll have a shot.


Why don’t u folks pick the right card then CALL the bank before and tell them what ur doing .
Bankers like kids too some were kids themselves but not all.


If they do well with credit and have a high score that will help them get a top job .On the other hand a low score they won’t get that job so keep a close eye on what their doing . Award points are a Game u can’t increase ur wealth with them just enjoy life more which is nice .


Greg, timely post. Daughters 18th bday is Monday…….



Good call on the 6+ month wait for new applications after Discover, that was my experience as well.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to say to start with Discover in the start, but then you say go with freedom as the first card?
Also IME, chase won’t approve for any of the branded cards until you’ve got a year’s worth of credit history (I was declined for the old IHG card w 7mo history just before it went away, and recon said 1yr+ history).

Another thing that may or may not come into play with this plan, is the ability to get approved on the grounds of minimum credit line needed to get approved.
For example, Visa signature cards have $5k min, while MasterCards’ minimum is $2k at most (for world elite). You seem to suggest MasterCards early on, so that’s definitely good.


I’ve found the minimum credit line to always be disclosed on that long T&C page, where the APR stuff is and all that. Might be a different rule for Biz cards, but it’s definitely $5k for personal Signatures. $10k for Visa Infinity cards, too.