The Best Credit Cards for University of Alberta Students

March 12, 2020
Student Credit Cards" class="img-responsive wp-image-731235 wp-post-image" alt="What’s the best credit card for students in Canada? We’ve done the homework so you don’t have to." />
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After combing through over a hundred Canadian credit cards, we’ve narrowed our recommendations for University of Alberta students down to just two:

  1. The American Express Cobalt Card: 30,000 welcome bonus points, up to 10% back in rewards on spending on all food and drinks (including groceries, food delivery, restaurants, cafes and bars), and just a $10 monthly fee make this card the most rewarding to students by far. Bonus: It’s also our overall favourite card of 2020.
  2. The Tangerine Money-Back Card: With a rotating set of generous welcome bonuses and no annual fee, this card is the best free option available to students in Canada.

So you’re thinking about getting a credit card for your time at University of Alberta? Well, you’re in luck. Whether you’re a current student at University of Alberta or you’re gearing up to start there soon, this post will show you the best credit cards available to you.

University of Alberta: The Basics

University of Alberta is based in Edmonton, Alberta with additional campuses in Calgary and Camrose. Here’s how the school is described by The Globe and Mail:

“The University of Alberta, located in the province’s capital, is the largest university in the Prairies. The school provides a multitude of options, with 200 undergraduate programs, 500 graduate programs and 450 active student groups.

U of A is home to the second-largest research library in Canada, with a collection that exceeds 4.7 million titles and 8.7 million volumes. In 2016, the university spent almost $25-million on books, periodicals and other reference materials, the most for any university in Western Canada. As one of Canada’s top research schools, U of A also receives the most public research funding of any university in the Prairies.

This past June, U of A graduate Billy-Ray Belcourt became the youngest winner of the annual Griffin Poetry Prize for his debut collection, This Wound Is a World.”

Now that you’re more familiar with University of Alberta, let’s look at why you may want to get a student credit card while you’re studying there.

The Best Credit Cards for University of Alberta Students

University of Alberta

What Are Student Credit Cards?

Student credit cards are just credit cards targeted at, or made especially available to, students.

They’re just like any other credit card in that you still need to pay them off every month, though they do carry a few minor differences: they’re easier to be approved for, they carry lower fees (or no fees at all), and they offer rewards designed for students.

Let’s dig into each of these.

#1 Student Credit Cards Are Easier To Be Approved For

Student credit cards have lower approval requirements than other credit cards, making them the perfect way to build a credit score in your late teens and early twenties and set yourself up for future financial success.

For example, when you want to get an auto loan or a mortgage in your twenties or thirties, the first thing banks will look at is your credit history.

And what’s the best way for a student to develop a strong, reliable credit history?

Getting a student credit card (or two) and paying off the statement balance in full each month.

Most student credit cards do not require you to be earning an income, do not require you to prove your assets (even if you don’t have any assets), and don’t really ask for much from you at all

That’s why we say they’re so easy to be approved for! 

#2 Student Credit Cards Carry Low (Or No) Annual Fees

It’s no secret that students are very careful with their money, which is why student credit cards either carry a low annual fee or are completely free. 

For example, of the five cards we mention below, one of them costs just $10/month, and the other four don’t charge any monthly or annual fees at all.

This sits in stark contrast to premium credit cards like the American Express Platinum Card, which costs $699/year. Of course, you don’t get perks like airport lounge access or hotel elite statuses with free cards, but you can access an impressive amount of benefits with just a small monthly fee, as we show you with the Cobalt Card below.

#3 Student Credit Cards Offer Student-Centric Rewards

The third characteristic of student credits card are their rewards, because when you’re choosing which card to apply for, rewards will often be the deciding factor.

Many student credit cards offer cashback as their primary reward, which can be a great way to put a small percentage of your spending—generally 1-2%—back in your pocket.

But if you want to earn even more, cards that offer a different style of rewards—rewards like movie tickets, flights, or something else—can be a better fit. This is part of the reason we like the Cobalt Card so much: rather than giving you cashback, it rewards you with American Express MR points, which you can redeem for a handful of travel and other purchases at much more favourable rates. 

Now, let’s dive into the cards themselves.

#1 American Express Cobalt Card

Best For: Rewards & Exceptional Value

The American Express Cobalt Card isn’t only an excellent student credit card: it’s also our favourite Canadian credit card of any type in 2020.

Why is the Cobalt Card so good? A few reasons.

First, it comes with an exceptional welcome bonus of up to 30,000 MR points, which you can redeem for rewards worth $600 or more.

But the welcome bonus isn’t all that you get with the Cobalt Card. You also receive $100 USD in annual hotel credit, which you can use at participating The Hotel Collection properties around the world, as well as complimentary room upgrades at those properties, boosting regular hotel stays into luxurious ones.

But perhaps the most exciting perk of the Cobalt Card are its earn rates, because they’re the ticket to supercharging what you earn. Here’s what you’ll earn on your spending with the Cobalt Card:

  • 5x the points on food and drinks, including grocery purchases, food delivery (UberEats, etc.), and spending at bars, restaurants and cafes.
  • 2x the points on travel and transit, including flights, hotels, taxis, public transit and more.
  • 1x the points on everything else.

And that’s still not everything that comes with the Cobalt Card. You’re also backed by a handful of American Express insurance policies, including their emergency medical insurance, flight and baggage delay insurance, car rental insurance, the Amex purchase protection plan, and more.

So before you dismiss the Cobalt Card because of its $10 monthly fee, think about this: would you rather have a free card that gives you next-to-nothing in return, or a $10/month card that gives you all of these bonuses and more?

We’re confident that the Cobalt Card is the best student credit card in Canada. Get yours while this limited-time offer still lasts.

#2 Tangerine Money-Back Card

Best For: Outstanding Cashback

The Tangerine Money-Back Card allows you to choose 2 spending categories—categories like groceries, restaurants and entertainment—that earn 2% cashback. And if you withdraw that cashback into your Tangerine bank account, you’ll unlock a third category for a total of 3 spending categories earning you 2% cashback. 

2% cashback makes the Money-Back Card one of the best cashback credit cards in Canada, and it’s a great deal given that the card doesn’t carry any annual fee. 

Here’s the full list of spending categories eligible for 2% cashback with the Tangerine Money-Back Card:

  • Groceries
  • Restaurants
  • Entertainment
  • Hotels & motels
  • Furniture
  • Gas
  • Recurring bill payments
  • Drugstore
  • Home improvement
  • Public transportation & parking

Purchases that don’t fall into your chosen spending categories will earn 0.5% cashback instead of 2%.

Here are some other features of the Tangerine Money-Back Card:

  • No annual fee: Assuming you pay off your statement balance every month, this card won’t charge you any fees.
  • Generous welcome bonuses: Tangerine frequently changes up its welcome bonuses, but they’re always enticing. Recent welcome bonuses have included 4% cashback for the first 3 months and a $250 statement credit. To see the card’s current welcome bonus, click here.  
  • No limits: Some cards impose limits on how much cashback you can earn in a year, but the Money-Back Card does not.

The Tangerine Money-Back Card is a great option for many students, which is why it’s our #2 pick overall. You’ll get quite a bit more value out of the Cobalt Card, but if you’re just looking for a cashback card with no strings attached, the Tangerine Money-Back Card is still a great choice.

#3 BMO CashBack Mastercard

Best For: A Killer Welcome Bonus

The BMO CashBack Mastercard takes third place on our list for its generous welcome bonus and overall simplicity. Here are the main features of the card:

  • 5% cashback for the first 3 months: This is one of the highest cashback rates you’ll find on any card, though there is one big caveat: you only earn 5% cashback on purchases under $100. Still, it’s perfect for all the little things you’ll need when doing your back-to-school shopping.
  • Car rental discounts: Whenever you rent a car from National or Alamo using your card, you’ll score a discount, perfect for weekend trips with friends.
  • No annual fee

After you’ve held this card for 3 months, your cashback rate will return to its regular 1% level, so we suggest getting this card just before you need to make a series of small purchases. Back-to-school shopping or Christmas both seem like a great fit.

#4 BMO AIR MILES Mastercard

Best For: Frequent Travelers

Does going home for the holidays mean stepping onto a plane, not just taking a long drive? If so, you might want to consider the BMO AIR MILES Mastercard, which earns you AIR MILES Reward Miles with every dollar you spend. Here are the main features:

  • Earn 1 AIR MILES Reward Mile for every $20 spent: These don’t add up nearly as quickly as the MR points on your Cobalt Card, but after a semester or two you might have enough for a free domestic flight.
  • 800 AIR MILES Reward Miles welcome bonus: You’ll earn 400 AIR MILES Reward Miles after your first purchase plus another 400 AIR MILES Reward Miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Those 800 Reward Miles are enough for a flight between Toronto and Montreal! 
  • Double your earnings at partner stores: When you shop at partner stores like Staples, Sobeys, Shell, and the LCBO, you earn 2 AIR MILES Reward Miles for every $20 spent. 
  • No annual fee

#5 Scotiabank SCENE Visa

Best For: Movie-Lovers

The Scotiabank SCENE Visa is designed for one group and one group only: movie-lovers. With a 5x earn rate on Cineplex spending and all of your rewards going toward movies, this card is only for diehard film fanatics.

  • Earn 5 SCENE points per dollar spent at Cineplex: That means that with every $250 you spend in Cineplex cinemas, you earn a free movie. So if your ticket, snacks, and drink come to $25 a pop, you’ll earn a free movie every 10 times you go. Not bad! 
  • Earn 1 SCENE point per dollar on everything else: Regardless of what else you spend on this card, you’ll earn 1 SCENE point per dollar—significantly less than you earn on Cineplex spending, but not a terrible earn rate overall.
  • 1,250 SCENE points = 1 free movie: Once you collect 1,250 SCENE points—either by spending $250 at Cineplex or $1,250 on other purchases—you’ll earn a free movie at any Cineplex cinema across Canada. 
  • 2 free movies after you spend $500 on the card
  • 10% discount on movies every Tuesday
  • No annual fee

We only recommend this card if you’re a serious moviegoer—you’ll have to be at the cinema at least a few times a month to make this one worth your while. With that said, though, it could make a great second card to the Cobalt Card or the Tangerine Money-Back Card: by putting your Cineplex spending on here and all of your other spending on those cards, you’ll maximize your rewards every step of the way.

Our Recommendation: Get the Cobalt Card

After comparing these student credit cards and many more, we highly recommend the American Express Cobalt Card. Its 30,000 points welcome bonus is worth $600 or more, and the card’s $100 USD annual hotel credit, international travel insurance, and generous earn rates make it a clear winner. If the Cobalt Card’s $10 monthly fee seems unnecessary, we’re certain the value you’ll get from the card will exceed it multiple times over every month.

If you’re still unwilling to pay a monthly fee, though, opt for the Tangerine Money-Back Card. It’s the best no-fee card available right now, and while it doesn’t offer the perks and bonuses of the Cobalt Card, it’s still a solid second choice.

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