Updated Feb 18, 2021 | Published Feb 19, 2020 • 11 min read
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Perhaps the best student card on the market, the Discover it for Students offers excellent cash back rates for young people looking for their first credit card. With 5% back in rotating categories and double rewards in your first year, it’s a great way to start building a credit history.
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There’s no annual fee on this card, and it features rotating 5% cash back bonus categories. Discover’s Cashback Match will double that to 10% in the first year, giving you a chance to earn quite a lot of cash back.
The extra benefits are fairly basic, but you’ll get a $20 statement credit reward for every year that you get a GPA of at least 3.0. You can also monitor your credit through the FICO Credit Scorecard, and get advice for improving it.
All in all, it’s a great card for students who are new to credit cards and have a limited credit history. Keep reading to find out more and learn how to use it like a pro.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Regular APRSee Terms
Our Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars
We give the Discover it for Students Credit Card 5 out of 5 Stars because it’s one of the best card offers for college students. If you’ve never had a credit card before this is a perfect place to start.
Why We Like It
5% cash back in categories that change every three months
Double cash back in your first year
Free FICO Score 8 from your TransUnion credit report
No annual fee
Why It Could Be Better
Benefits don’t provide much extra value
Insider Advice: Getting the Most Out of Your Card
Keep up with the reward calendar: Keep an eye on the rewards program calendar because your 5% cash back category changes every three months.
Activate your bonus categories: Activate your 5% cash back bonus categories in advance — you can do so quite a bit ahead of time. You won’t earn cash back at the 5% rate until you do.
Earn double cash back: Discover will double the cash back you earn in your first year, a pretty sweet deal. So try to make a decision on any big purchases you’ve been thinking about before that year ends.
Redeem for gift cards, statement credits, or direct deposits: Redeem your cash back for gift cards when possible. You’ll get at least $5 added to every gift card redemption, sometimes more. Statement credits and direct deposits are good options too, though.
Get cash when you need it: The Cash at Checkout feature lets you get cash with your Discover card at participating merchants. This is useful because it will count as a purchase, rather than a cash advance. But be aware that merchants may have their own limits and fees.
Pay over time with no interest: Use your See Terms introductory APR to pay off purchases at no interest. Be sure to always make the minimum payment every month or you could lose this intro rate.
Monitor your credit: Improve your credit with the help of Discover’s FICO Credit Scorecard. This handy tool provides a way to explore your FICO 8 Credit Score. You’ll also get specific tips to improve your credit.
You’ll earn 5% on select purchases that will change every three months (quarterly) and 1% everywhere else. Just be sure to manually activate these categories, or else you’ll only earn that 1%.
Another key aspect to the Discover it for Students is that your rewards are doubled your first year, thanks to Discover’s Cashback Match. That means you’ll actually earn an equivalent of 10% back for the categorial purchases, and 2% back everywhere else. So you should take advantage of this card as often as you can during those initial 12 months.
5% cash back in categories that rotate every three months (see calendar below), on the first $1,500 spent per quarter, then 1% (activation required)
1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double cash back in the first year (awarded after the first year)
The 5% cash back calendar for 2021 is:
5% Cash Back Categories
January – March
Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS
April – June
Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services
July – September
October – December
Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com
You’ll need to manually activate the reward categories before you can start using them. You can do this a couple months beforehand, and Discover will prompt you to do so. You won’t start earning rewards at the 5% rate until you activate, so it’s important to remember this. Most credit cards don’t require this kind of activation.
These 5% cash back rewards are only good for the first $1,500 in purchases you make in that particular category. After that you’ll earn 1% back on those purchases, so you can earn up to $75 in cash back per quarter at the 5% rate.
Cardholders will get the valuable Cashback Match from Discover. This unique signup bonus will double all the cash back you earn in your first year. It’s a great deal because it will scale up to double your rewards no matter how much you spend, and it covers all the cash back you earn in the first year.
If you happen to like everything about this card except the rewards program, check out the Discover it Chrome for Students below. It has all the same features, except a different reward structure.
Looking to max out your rewards in a category, but not sure if you’ll be able to spend enough in three months? Use your Discover it card to buy gift cards through eligible merchants. You can earn at the 5% rate while it’s active, and then spend your gift cards when it’s convenient for you.
Discover will always provide at least $1 for every $1 in cash back that you’ve earned, no matter how you redeem your rewards. That’s a good deal compared to most credit cards, which have some less-rewarding options.
You’ll have five different options for redeeming your cash back:
As a statement credit to reduce your balance
Directly into a bank account of your choice
For gift cards
As a charitable donation
Pay with rewards at select retailers, like Amazon.com
We recommend always using one of the first four options, and avoiding number five. The gift card option will offer a $5 bonus on your redemptions, at least, so use it first whenever possible.
Statement credits and direct deposits are both easy ways to redeem your cash back. A statement credit will lower your card’s account balance, while a direct deposit will be sent to your bank account.
Good Grade Reward: Discover will give you a $20 statement credit reward for every year that you get a 3.0 GPA or higher, for up to five years.
FICO Credit Scorecard: Access your FICO Score 8 whenever you’d like for free, based on your TransUnion credit report.
Cash at Checkout: At eligible retailers you can get cash at checkout, a handy way to get some money without going to an ATM. The extra cash will be counted as part of your purchase.
Refer a Friend bonus: Earn a $50 statement credit bonus for every friend you refer who’s approved, up to 10 friends per year. If your friend makes a purchase within three months of opening the account, he or she will earn a $50 bonus too.
$0 Fraud Liability Guarantee: If your card is lost or stolen, you are not liable for any fraudulent charges made to your account. Contact customer support immediately if you suspect fraud.
Fraud Protection: Discover monitors your account around the clock for suspicious or unusual activity.
Free Social Security number alerts: Discover searches for your Social Security number on thousands of risky sites and will alert you if your information was compromised.
New account alerts: Get notified of credit inquiries and new accounts on your Experian credit report.
The Terms & Fees
Balance Transfer APR
Cash Advance APR
See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms
Foreign Transaction Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Cash Advance Fee
Returned Payment Fee
This is quite an inexpensive card since it has no annual fee. As long as you pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest and fees, it can be completely free to use.
The intro rate is a nice feature for students because it gives you time to learn about your card before you’ll start accruing interest. Just be sure to always pay your minimum payment, or you could lose the intro rate.
Discover is quite forgiving when it comes to the penalty terms and fees. There is no high penalty APR, which some issuers will apply if you make late payments or go over the credit limit. Your first late payment fee will be waived as well, which should serve as a warning.
It’s important to always use your credit card responsibly. But if you make a mistake with this card you won’t be punished too harshly, compared to other cards. These generous terms are another reason why this is a good card for students who are new to credit cards.
The Bottom Line
If you’re a student and would like to start building good credit, the Discover it® Student Cash Back may be for you. Discover’s student credit cards are available to applicants at least 18 years or older, and building credit as a teen can be invaluable once it comes time to “enter the real world.”
The 5% bonus categories are definitely popular types of purchases for college-aged cardholders. The cash back rewards are generous, especially for cards designed for people with little to no credit. And the fact that Discover will double all the rewards you earn in your first year makes the deal even better. Don’t forget to sign up for the 5% bonus reward categories each quarter.
There’s also a nice little incentive to get good grades with this card, which could provide a maximum of $120 cash back over five years. The extra benefits are pretty basic. But the ability to monitor your credit as it changes from month to month is a great tool for students who are starting to build up their credit.
This card allows you to earn rewards at a great rate potentially for free, all while improving your credit. Use it responsibly, always paying your bills on time. If you pay off your balance in full each billing period you’ll never have any interest charges to worry about. And that strategy will be perfect for building your credit quickly, too.
You can apply for the Discover it for Students securely on Discover’s website.
They’ll check your credit reports from the major credit reporting bureaus, along with other financial information. You’ll also need to provide proof that you’re a student, like a student ID or class schedule.
Since this is a student credit card, it’s designed for people with limited or no credit. That means students who are just entering the world of credit have a better chance of being approved than with other cards.
Qualifications and Requirements
Must be 18 to apply
Student status: Must be enrolled in a two- or four-year college or university
Personal information: Name, date of birth, Social Security number, U.S. citizenship status
Address and contact information: Home address, phone number, email address
Financial information: Total annual income, monthly mortgage or rent payment
The Discover it® Student chrome (Review) is very similar to the Discover it Student Cash Back. If you don’t like the 5% cash back categories of the regular Discover it for Students, the Chrome version might be right for you.
It might also be better for commuters and people who purchase gas frequently (if you commute, check out our picks for the best gas credit cards).
You’ll have to take a look at the rewards each card offers and choose the one that’d work best for your spending habits.
You can even consider using both cards. Use the Discover it Student Cash Back whenever you’ll get 5% back, and use the Discover it Student Chrome for gas and at restaurants. But remember to use the Discover it Student Cash Back for gas and restaurants during their months to get the most cash back.
If you don’t want to keep track of rotating reward categories, the Bank of America card provides a somewhat simpler cash back structure. In this case you’ll be able to choose the category you’d like to earn 3% cash back in for the upcoming month, or just set it once and leave it. This is a pretty valuable rewards program, especially because of the rare online shopping category.
The rewards are really where the main differences between these two cards lie. The rotating categories of the Discover it for Students offers more opportunities to earn cash back, but if you’re only buying gas and groceries, the Bank of America card could be the better choice for you.
SafePass: Add another level of protection to your online banking by requiring a six-digit code to access your account.
Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99%–23.99% Variable
Annual fee: $0
$200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
New Offer: Maximize your cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement /furnishings
Now earn 3% cash back in your choice category and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
You can update your choice category for future purchases once each calendar month using the Mobile banking app or Online banking, or do nothing and it stays the same.
No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.99%–23.99% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.
Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
It also makes it less rewarding than the other cards on this list. However, it could still be a good option for students who are just starting to get into the credit world and can’t yet qualify for better cards.
Again, it’s less rewarding than the Discover it for Students, but it does offer stronger benefits. So if you can’t qualify yet for the Discover it card, this is a nice second option.
While technically not a student card, the Discover it® Secured (Review), is designed for people with limited or no credit, therefore potentially helpful for students.
There are only a few differences between the Secured and the Discover it for Students, most notably that it is a secured card. That means you’ll need to provide a refundable security deposit ($200 minimum) which will then fund your line of credit.
But for the most part, the two cards are very similar. You won’t be rewarded for your good grades, but if you can’t qualify for the Discover it for Students, the Secured offers a great way to still earn rewards and build up credit.
Unlike the Discover it card, there are no rotating categories to keep track of, providing a simpler rewards earning experience. You’ll also earn points rather than cash back, and rather than earning at restaurants, you’ll get points on groceries.
So if you’re more likely to stay in and cook, or just prefer not to eat out, perhaps this is the card for you. Or, why not get both? Use the Discover it when you’ll earn 5% cash back on your purchases, and use the Citi Rewards+ when the categories rotate from grocery stores and gas.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
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