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The Ultimate Student Credit Card portfolio!

School has started. You're walking through the hallways and common areas of your college or university and there they are. The booths from all the banks pitching you on your first credit card. Well at least that's how it was when I was in university 20+ years ago. Not sure if its the same anymore but the premise is the same. As a student out of high school the time is now for you to start building your credit all the while starting to learn the ins and outs of reward programs. The key to achieving this is through credit cards and more than likely some of you will get them to run credit. You need to. You don't have much money and need to stretch things out. But you need to be smart. Don't get yourself into a lot of debt. Don't make the mistake many of us have done in the past. Be proactive. Get yourself those credit cards but limit yourself, or better yet put payments on the cards before you even use them. That way you know you can afford what you are putting on them. I won't go into the major details of running and not running balances for a long time in this feature as it is meant as a feel good one, you are excited to get your first credit cards and lets keep it that way. So with that said what are the best choices for a student? Read on!

In this feature of Rewards Canada's Ultimate Credit Card Portfolios we look at the ultimate one for students. Not only does it feature cards primarily targeted at students but it also brings in the world of loyalty rewards, which for students should primarily be looked at as supplemental cash. As we have always recommended you should carry a Visa, a Mastercard and an American Express card in your wallet. The reason why is that there are benefits, promotions and earning potential unique to each brand of credit card regardless of the version of the card you have. We won't go into detail here as you can read all about it in our feature on how to Maximize your Miles and Points but here we outline one card from each brand that will help you as a student get your first credit card(s) and start building up that ever so important credit score. Ultimately there are various options that could be utilized for such a portfolio but we look at one card from each issuing family that we feel are the best fit for students.

Now this wallet is for the typical starving student running student loans and perhaps one that may have a hard time making ends meet. This is not a wallet for students who may have an $80,000 a year job while going to school (lucky you if you do!) or for those who are more well off and are relying on the bank of mom and dad to pay for everything including annual fees on high end cards. If the case is that you are in the latter group you should check out our other Ultimate Wallets where you can pick specific reward programs that provide great value for being able to spend lots on those cards.

So what is Rewards Canada's Ultimate Student Credit Card portfolio? It is the following three cards:

Mastercard - BMO CashBack MasterCard for Students

American Express - SimplyCash™ from American Express

Visa - SCENE® VISA card

Two of the cards are heavily targeted to the student community. The SCENE Visa Card and the BMO CashBack Mastercard for students, Either of these cards should be easy enough for most students to apply and be approved for. The third card, Amex's SimplyCash Card isn't marketed as a student card but with no annual fee and a decision by American Express to remove income requirements for all of their cards it also should be relatively easy to get for most students. Remember though, no card is guaranteed to approve you even if you meet the requirements that are laid out but these three definitely have better odds for you to get.

Five Key Benefits of this portfolio

  • Two of the cards are targeted specifically to students which means you should be approved for at least one of them!
  • You can earn up to $250 cash back in welcome bonus offers
  • Standard cash back earn rates of 0.5% to 1.25%
  • All three cards have no annual fees
  • Two of three cards have extended warranty and purchase protection benefits. Buy those expensive, fragile items with one of these cards

Tips for this portfolio

  • Allow some time between your applications for the cards to make sure you can meet the required spend and maximize the return of those welcome bonuses
  • Start with one of the student specific cards first if you have zero or very little established credit. Once that card begins reporting to the credit bureaus and your credit rating increases then go for the American Express card
  • If you feel it may be tough to be financially responsible don't get all three cards - take a look at your spending habits and get the one card that suits those spending habits the best. It is easier to be responsible with just one card
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Why you want to get each of these cards - AKA the benefits they provide!

This portfolio is mainly about three things for the student. Establishing a credit rating, being able to have credit and being able to save money by utilizing the rewards associated with the cards. And there is one more important aspect to this portfolio and that is no annual fees as you need all the cash you can spare.

The first card you'll want to grab in this portfolio is the BMO CashBack Mastercard for Students as the welcome bonus on the card provides the highest return out of the three cards. The current offer is 5% cash back on all purchases made in your first three months of having the card. The bonus maxes out on $500 spending in each month which means you can earn a total $75 cash back at the 5% level. Note that the current end date for this offer is October 31, 2020 (that's the last day to apply and have this bonus applied to the card) After that the card earns 3% back on up to $500 of grocery purchases for each statement cycle. This is a big return even when comparing it to many cash back cards that come with annual fees! So you'll want to put all your grocery purchases in this card to earn those bigger bucks, however if you hit that $500 spend level before your statement cycle is up you'll want to make those purchases on the Simply Cash card as it will earn more than the 0.5% the BMO card gives after the $500 level. That brings us to this card's other earn rates of 1% cash back on recurring bills (cable, streaming services etc.) and you'll only want to pay for those with this card if you choose not to get the SimplyCash card or if one of those merchants doesn't accept Amex. Finally all other purchase on this card only earn 0.5% cash back, so once again if you have the SimplyCash card use that unless the place doesn't accept Amex. One of the best features of this card however is near instant access to your cash back rewards, as long as your rewards balance is $1 or more you can request to receive the cash back!

The second card in the portfolio, the SimplyCash Card from American Express provides a decent limited time start up bonus of 4% back on all purchases in the first six months of having the card. That bonus maxes out at $200, so make sure that during the first three months of having this card you try to funnel as much of your spending in those categories to the card, that if you don't get the BMO card. In fact you shoud probably spread out your card applications so that you can maximize these welcome bonuses and not be strained with trying to meet all the minimum spending requirements at once! Once you receive the welcome bonus on this card and also after meeting any minimum requirements for the other cards in the portfolio you'll want to put as much of your credit card spend outside of groceries on this card since it has the highest regular earn rate out of the three at an amazing 1.25%. The card also features Extended Warranty and Purchase Protection insurance which is always good for things like new TVs and hot plates for your dorm room. The biggest drawback of this card is your access to the cash back rewards - it is only awarded once per yer in September - so while it might not help you for this year of schooling it will be there waiting for you at the start of next year.

Finally rounding out this portfolio is the SCENE Visa Card from Scotiabank. This has been the mainstay credit card for students for many years and continues to be a popular choice. Students love their movies and movies can be expensive so what better way to save your cash when going to the theatre than by using a loyalty program designed for movie goers. With a current sign up bonus of 2,500 points when you spend $500 you are looking at 2 movies worth of points. The good news with SCENE is that it is not limited to movies at Cineplex. SCENE has a great partnership with Recipe Unlimited, the operator of something like a dozen or more restaurant brands in Canada. This means you can use the points earned on this credit card to save on your dining at places like Harvey's, Montana's, Swiss Chalet and more. You can redeem 1,000 points for $10 off your bill at these restaurants which means the 2,500 point sign up bonus can save you $25 on food. For purchases you'll only want to pull this card out for Cineplex purchases (in theatre or online) as it earns 5 points per dollar which is as much as a 5% return. Outside of that the card earns 1 point per dollar spent which equates to a 1% return. So if you have all three of these cards, have no more welcome bonus to earn and a place doesn't accept Amex and isn't a 3% grocery purchase from BMO put the spend on this card as the 1% back is better than the 0.5% on the BMO card. Redeeming points is pretty easy - if you have 100 points you can redeem for $1 off an in-home rental from Cineplex, 500 points you can redeem for $5 off food and drink at Cineplex or Harvey's, 1,000 points for $10 off at other dining partners or redeem for movies from 1,250 points and up.

Current Card Details

Card Card Features

BMO CashBack® MasterCard®*(Student)

· Welcome offer: Get 5% cash back in your first 3 months (up to $100 cash back)
· Then get 3% cash back on grocery purchases, 1% cash back on recurring bill payments and 0.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases!*
· Now earn the highest cash back on groceries in Canada without paying an annual fee!†
· Get cash back every time you spend, plus start building a healthy credit history
· Best BMO CashBack Mastercard for Students
· Want to get your cash back ASAP? Now you can redeem your cash back anytime through direct deposit, as a credit on your statement or into your BMO InvestorLine account*
· No Annual fee*
· Receive a discount on car rentals*
· Extended Warranty*
· Purchase Protection*
· Interest Rate: Purchases 19.99% Cash Advances 22.99% (21.99% for Quebec residents)

Apply Now

BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information

*Terms and conditions apply
†Based on a comparison of the non-promotional grocery rewards earn rate on cash back credit cards with no annual fee as of Aug 20, 2020.

SimplyCash™ Card from American Express

Card Type: Credit   
Annual Fee: $0 Additional Card Fee: $0
Annual interest rate 19.99% on purchases and 21.99% on funds advances; Missed payment applicable rates, 23.99% and/or 26.99%

• New SimplyCash™ Card from American Express Cardmembers can earn 4% cash back on purchases (up to $200 cash back) for the first 6 months of Cardmembership
• Earn 1.25% cash back on purchases when your Welcome Rate ends
• No limit to the amount of cash back you can earn after your Welcome Rate ends
• Access virtual events and special offers curated for Cardmembers with American Express® Experiences
• Insurance coverage and 24/7 Customer Service
• American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information click the Apply now link. Conditions apply

Apply Now

Scotia SCENE Visa Card

• Earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points with your first $750 in everyday purchases in first 3 months1\
• Earn 1 Scene+ point for every $1 you spend on credit card purchases
• Earn 5 Scene+ points for every $1 you spend on SCENE Visa purchases at participating Cineplex Entertainment theatres or online at
• Rates, fees and other information are effective as of Mar 1, 2021. Subject to change.

Apply Now

There you go. With these three cards you are pretty much covered as a student who is just starting in the credit card and loyalty game. You'll establish that credit, learn the basics of rewards programs and when you leave university and move on to the real world you can move into the higher end of the game with cards that have annual fees, loyalty programs that provide more rewards or even more cash back than this portfolio.

Other Card Options:

Although we feel the combination above is your best bet there are other card options that can fit the bill for all three of the issuers. For the Mastercard you can look at BMO's other student card, the BMO No Fee AIR MILES Mastercard On the Amex side take a look at the Scotiabank American Express Card . For the Visa portion there are lots of options from many banks and credit unions with cards like the RBC Rewards Visa+ being a good option for students.

Rewards Canada's Student Resources:

Talk to us!

Do you have any other tips for the Ultimate Student Credit Card portfolio! Tell us in the comments section below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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