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The Ultimate Student Credit Card portfolio!


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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 its now time for you start building your credit all the while starting to learn the ins and outs of reward programs. The key is credit cards and 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 piece as this piece is 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 too 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 may have a hard time making ends meet. This is not a wallet for students who may have an $80,000 a year job (lucky you if you do!) while going to school 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 can pick specific reward programs that provide great value for being able to spend lots on those cards.

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

American Express - SimplyCash Card from American Express

Visa - SCENE® VISA card

Mastercard - BMO SPC® CashBack® Mastercard®

Two of the cards are heavily targeted to the student community. The SCENE Visa Card and the BMO SPC CashBack Mastercard. Both of these 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 the recent 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.

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 one more important aspect, no annual fees. You need all the cash you can spare.

The first card in the portfolio is the not really marketed to students SimplyCash Cash Card from American Express. It provides a huge start up bonus of 5% back on purchases made at gas stations (for those late night snack runs), grocery stores (racking up cash back on the Ramen noodles!) and restaurants (hey we all like McD's and Timmies!). That bonus maxes out at $250, so make sure that during the first six months of having this card you try to funnel as much of your spending in those categories to the card. After that 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 on this card since it has the highest regular earn rate out of the three at 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 second card is the SCENE Visa Card from Scotiabank. This has been the mainstay credit card for students for many years now 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 5,000 points when you spend $500 (this is the only other spending requirement in this portfolio) you are looking at 5 movies worth of points. Well to be honest, 5 basic movies, no 3D, no ultra AVX etc. Those cost more points. Proper wording would be anywhere from 2 to 5 movies. The good news with SCENE is that it is not limited to movies at Cineplex. SCENE has a great partnership with Cara, 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 5,000 point sign up bonus can save you $50 on food.

Finally rounding out this portfolio is the BMO SPC CashBack Mastercard. Designed for students this card should be really easy to get and once you do they'll give you $60 for getting the card. That's a nice easy bonus to pad your wallet. Outside of that bonus the card will cover your annual fee for getting an SPC card (Student Price Card) which is an essential item for every students wallet providing discounts at over 120 retailers! Its all about saving money! On your everyday spend you'll want to pull this card out for purchases that you can't use your Amex card at. With a 1% return you're getting a little less than the Amex card but its better than 0! Also you'll want this card in your wallet if you shop at Costco since they only accept Mastercard! The SCENE Card above is essentially a 1% back card as well when you redeem for restaurants but does provide slightly higher value if redeeming for basic movies but then again you are limited to those movies whereas this Mastercard is cash back to you that you can utilize on whatever you like.

Card Details

Card Card Features

SimplyCash Card from American Express

SimplyCash Card from American Express
• New SimplyCashTM Card from American Express Cardmembers can earn 5% cash back on all eligible purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants in Canada (up to $250 cash back) for the first 6 months of Cardmembership
• Earn 1.25% cash back on all other purchases and when your Welcome Rate ends
• No limit to the amount of cash back you can earn
• No annual fee for Supplementary Cards
• Access to memorable experiences with American Express Invites®
• Insurance coverage and 24/7 Customer Service
• Optional Balance Transfer Offer to new Cardmembers – Enjoy a special 1.99% introductory interest rate on transferred balances in the first 6 months if you choose to transfer your other credit card balances to this American Express card at time of online application. There is no balance transfer fee at time of application.
• You can use Apple Pay on your eligible device to pay for goods and services at participating American Express contactless merchants
• 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

® VISA* card

• 5,000 bonus SCENE points with $500 in everyday purchases within the first three months.  That's - 5 FREE Movies*
• 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 July 1, 2017.  Subject to change.
• No annual fee
• 20% AVIS rental car discount

Apply Now

BMO SPC®** CashBack® Mastercard®*

BMO SPC®** CashBack® Mastercard®*
Get 4% cashback in your first 4 months*
- and there’s No annual fee
- SPC discounts (Student Price Card Ltd.) of 10% to 15% at hundreds of your favourite stores*
- Earn 1% CashBack on ALL card purchases* without restrictions!*
- Interest Rate: Purchases 19.99% Cash Advances 22.99%

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, 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 just 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. On the Amex side there are two other cards you could consider, the American Express AIR MILES Credit Card or the American Express Essential Credit Card. The latter is not a rewards card but is low interest if you think you might run a balance longer than a few months. 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.. Lastly on the Mastercard side you could look at the other SPC option the BMO SPC AIR MILES Mastercard. It also offers the SPC card membership but earns AIR MILES instead of cash back and of course if you choose Cash Rewards from AIR MILES it is essentially a cash back card.

Talk to us!

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