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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 cash back 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.
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.
You’ll be able to earn 5% cash back rewards on a variety of purchases that students typically end up making. And Discover will double all the cash back you earn in your first year, making this card even more valuable.
There’s no annual fee to worry about, and a 6-month 0% introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers. Although it’s not very long, this gives you a chance to use the card for a bit without paying any interest on your purchases. But you always have to make the minimum payments.
The extra benefits are basic, but you’ll also be able to monitor one of your FICO 8 Credit Scores with Discover’s FICO Credit Scorecard. This is great for students, who need to build up their credit and learn about it as they go.
Discover is known to be very consumer-friendly, making them a good choice for young people who are less familiar with how credit cards work. Discover has consistently ranked at the top or in a close second place for customer satisfaction in national surveys.
The Discover it for Students is an excellent card for college and university students to use to start building their credit. On top of that, it provides good rewards and favorable terms. Overall, it’s a very competitive offer.
Insider Advice: Using This Card as Part of Your Credit Card Strategy
- Keep an eye on the rewards program calendar because your 5% cash back category changes every 3 months.
- Activate your 5% cash back bonus categories in advance. You won’t earn cash back at that rate until you do.
- Discover will double the cash back you earn in your first year. So try to make a decision on any big purchases you’ve been thinking about before that year ends.
- Redeem your cash back for gift cards when possible. You’ll get at least $5 added to every gift card redemption, sometimes more.
- Don’t use your cash rewards to pay for purchases at checkout, like at Amazon.com. You won’t earn cash back when you pay with rewards, so just pay with your card like normal.
- The Cash at Checkout feature let’s 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 the merchants may have their own limits and fees.
- Use your 6-month 0% 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.
- Avoid paying interest on this card by paying your balance in full every billing period. The card will be free to use because there’s no annual fee, and you’ll be helping your credit too.
- 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.
- Be sure to always use this card responsibly to build your credit quickly and without any setbacks. Eventually you’ll be able to qualify for a more rewarding credit card with better terms.
- 5% cash back in categories that rotate throughout the year, on the first $1,500 spent each quarter (see calendar below)
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Cashback Match: new cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year
The 5% cash back calendar for 2019 is:
|Quarter||5% Cash Back Category|
|January – March||Grocery Stores|
|April – June||Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft|
|July – September||Restaurants, PayPal|
|October – December||Amazon.com, Target, Walmart.com|
You will 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. This means 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. This 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.
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 4 options above, and avoiding number 5. The gift card option will offer a bonus on your redemptions, so use it first whenever possible.
Statement Credits and Bank Account Deposits
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.
Whenever you redeem for gift cards you’ll get some extra value added to the redemption. This makes it the best redemption option for this card, unlike most other cards.
Each gift card redemption will get at least $5 added for free, and more in some cases. There are many categories of retailers available, so you should often be able to find one you can use.
Some examples include:
|Merchant||Cash Back Redeemed||Gift Card Value|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||$45||$50|
Gift cards are available in both digital and physical form. Physical gift cards will take up to 4 weeks to arrive by mail.
You can donate your cash back to a good cause if you so choose. Discover provides an easy way to make a direct donation. You can send your rewards to any of the following organizations:
|ASPCA||Children’s Miracle Network||Make-A-Wish Foundation®|
|American Cancer Society||Junior Achievement||Operation Homefront|
|American Red Cross||Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation||World Wildlife Fund|
Pay with Rewards
You can link your Discover account with a few participating merchants, including Amazon.com. This will let you pay for purchases through them directly with your cash back rewards.
We do not recommend this method because when you pay with rewards you won’t earn any cash back. If you’re paying with rewards at Amazon.com you could be missing out on 5% cash back, for example. So, we suggest you always pay with your card to earn cash back, and then redeem your rewards through a different method.
Cash Back Rewards for Good Grades
Discover will offer a $20 cash back reward for every year that you get a 3.0 GPA or higher.
This deal is available for five years. Cardholders must apply for this reward, it is not automatic.
FICO® Credit Scorecard
Discover’s FICO® Credit Scorecard provides access to one of your free FICO credit scores online, along with alerts if it changes. Discover will use the FICO 8 Credit Score from your TransUnion credit report. This service is not limited to cardholders; anyone can make use of it.
Many issuers today will offer free access to one of your FICO credit scores, but if you don’t have another way to check your TransUnion score this card is a good option for that. Discover also includes quite a bit of advice and information about credit scores, breaking your score down by category and providing specific tips for improving it.
If you’d like a way to check out your actual TransUnion credit report for free, whenever you want, take a look at the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) below. Capital One provides this very option, along with access to your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report. Anyone can access this service, it’s not limited to cardholders.
Cash at Checkout
When shopping at participating locations, you can get cash back immediately by charging an additional amount over your purchase. There is no extra fee from Discover and this will be counted as part of your purchase, rather than as a cash advance.
You can get a maximum of $120 every 24 hours in this way, but individual stores will have their own cash back limits and in some cases they will charge a fee. Some examples are below.
Take note that you will not earn cash back rewards on any cash you get at checkout.
This is a great feature because it provides a way to get cash directly through your credit card without taking out a cash advance, which is pretty amazing if you’re familiar with the high interest rates that always accompany cash advances. Most credit card issuers other than Discover do not provide this option.
There are a few dozen participating stores, but they include:
|Albertson’s||Army and Air Force Exchange Service||Big Y||Farm Fresh||GetGo||Heinen’s|
Although Safeway is listed as a participating merchant on Discover’s site, we were informed by Safeway that they no longer offer this cash at checkout service.
Here are some current cash back limits and fees:
|Retailer||Cash Back Limit||Fee|
|Dillons||$100 per purchase||$3 for any amount over $100|
|Dollar General||$40 per purchase||$1.50|
|Kroger||$100 per purchase||$3 for any amount over $100|
|Meijer||$50 per person, per day||None|
|Sam’s Club||$100 per purchase||None|
|Walmart||$100 per purchase||None|
Refer a Friend for a Statement Credit Bonus
As a cardholder, you can earn a statement credit bonus for referring friends to apply for Discover credit cards. You must send them the referral link you get from Discover, and they must use that link to apply.
If your friend is approved you will earn a $50 statement credit bonus. If your friend makes his first purchase within 3 months of opening the account, he will earn a $50 statement credit bonus too.
You can refer a maximum of 10 friends per year, and your account must not be late on payments or over the credit limit to qualify for this benefit.
The Discover it for Students comes with a few benefits that aren’t listed here, and occasionally the offers will change. There are also important account management and security benefits, like fraud protection, free Social Security Number alerts, and the ability to quickly freeze your account to prevent new purchases.
Read more about the benefits, and check the Guide to Benefits that comes with the card to learn what you have access to.
The Costs & Fees
|Intro APR for Purchases||Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR||Cash Advance APR||Minimum Credit Limit|
|0% for 6 months||15.24%–24.24% Variable||27.24% Variable||$500|
|Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Balance Transfer Fee||Cash Advance Fee|
|$0||None||3%||5%, $10 minimum|
|Penalty APR||Late Fee||Returned Payment Fee|
|None||$0 the first time; up to $37 after that||Up to $37|
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 will be completely free to use.
The introductory 0% APR is pretty short at just 6 months. But this is to be expected for student credit cards, which are designed for people with limited credit. This is nice feature for students because it gives you half a year to learn about your card before you’ll start accruing interest. Just be sure to always pay your minimum payment, or you could lose this 0% 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.
|Discover it for Students Card Support||1-800-347-3085|
|U.S. General Card Support||1-800-347-2683|
|Outside U.S. General Card Support||1-801-902-3100|
Discover’s phone support is excellent compared to other credit card companies. When calling you will probably reach a U.S.-based customer support center.
Whenever we’ve called they’ve shown themselves to be professionals. Their customer service representatives have been friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to help. Instead of giving the same rehearsed response over and over, like some representatives are known to do, Discover’s reps will think about what you say and provide a useful answer.
Even when we’ve asked some of our more obscure credit questions, Discover’s reps have been able to handle them quickly and efficiently. We never had to be put on hold, or to call again hoping to get a different representative.
That’s probably part of the reason why they’ve always been either winning or coming in second place in J.D. Power’s annual U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Survey. They won in 2015 and 2016, before coming in second to American Express in 2017.
|Support Page||Discover Card Help Center|
Among credit card issuers, Discover has a very easy to navigate and well-laid-out site. You’ll be able to find everything you would normally need to know about the rewards, benefits, and other card features.
You can get in touch with them by live online chat, though this is limited to Discover customers and account holders only. They also have a phone line and physical mailing address.
Discover has a dedicated Help Center where you can find:
- contact details
- account management details and links
- statement and payment info
- card reward info
- card benefit info
- security and fraud info
The Bottom Line
If you’re a student and would like to start building good credit, the Discover it for Students card 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 5 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.
There are several other student credit cards, made for people with limited credit. Check out some alternatives to the Discover it for Students below.
How to Apply for the Discover it for Students
You will need to be enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college or university to be eligible for the Discover it for Students.
Applying for this card offer is simple. Just click the Apply Now button below and you’ll be taken to Discover to provide your personal information.
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.
Alternatives to the Discover it for Students
- Discover it® Chrome for Students (Review): $20 reward for good grades, 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, double cash back the first year
- Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students (Review): 12-month 0% intro APR, 3% cash back in your choice of a category, 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
- Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students (Review): No annual fee, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment, 2,500-point signup bonus
- Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review): No annual fee, 1.25% cash back when you pay on time, CreditWise credit monitoring service
- Discover it® Secured Credit Card (Review): No annual fee, requires security deposit, 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, double cash back the first year
The Discover it Chrome for Students (Review) is very similar to the Discover it for Students. 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.
The Discover it Chrome for Students provides:
- 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 per quarter
- 1% cash back everywhere else
- Cashback Match: get double the cash back in your first year of use
- $20 cash back reward every year you get a GPA of 3.0 or higher
So you’ll get a set amount of cash back throughout the year for gas and at restaurants. If that sounds more appealing than rotating reward categories, this could be a better reward structure for you. This card might be better for people who commute to and from school and buy a lot of gas. (If you commute, check out our picks for the best gas credit cards)
The bonus category is the only difference between the Discover it for Students and the Discover it Chrome for Students. Both cards will double the cash back you earn in the first year. They also have the same exact extra benefits, APRs, fees, etc.
Which rewards do you like better? Both cards have terms that are favorable for students. The only choice you have to make is the type of purchases you want to earn cash back on. If you have a good understanding of credit cards and some positive experience with them, you can even consider using both cards. Use the Discover it whenever you’ll get 5% back, and use the Discover it Chrome for gas and at restaurants. But remember to use the Discover it for gas and restaurants during their months to get the most cash back you can.
The Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students (Review) is quite a rewarding option for students. It has no annual fee, and offers the same kinds of cash back categories that you’d find on many regular reward cards. In particular, it focuses on three popular bonus categories.
- 3% cash back in one category of your choice:
- Online shopping
- Home improvement/furnishings stores
- 2% cash back at:
- Grocery stores
- Wholesale clubs
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Introductory bonus: $200 cash rewards bonus by spending $1,000 in the first 90 days after account opening
The cash back you earn in the 3% and 2% bonus categories is limited to a quarterly maximum of $2,500 in combined spending. After that limit is reached you’ll earn 1% cash back on those purchases. So that’s a potential $75 cash back every 3 months, assuming you only buy gas and get the 3% rate.
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.
And the $200 cash rewards signup bonus is quite easy to get compared to other cards too. It will only take $1,000 in spending to get it. To earn that much cash back with the Discover card in the first year, when Discover will double the rewards, you’d need to spend $2,000.
The Cash Rewards also provides bonus cash back for Bank of America bank account holders. You’ll get a 10% bonus added to your cash back whenever you redeem it into a BofA checking or savings account. That can go a long way, assuming you use the card for years. As long as you redeem into a BofA account, you’ll effectively be getting:
- 3.3% cash back at gas stations
- 2.2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
- 1.1% cash back everywhere else
And if you have a large account balance, that bonus can be increased to 25%, 50%, and even 75%.
The Cash Rewards card has a longer 0% intro APR period. It provides 12 months at 0% APR for purchases and balance transfers. That’s twice as long as the Discover card, so it’s clearly a better offer.
The extra benefits are pretty much the same between these cards. They both have some standard shopping and travel protections. And they both provide access to your FICO Score 8 based on your TransUnion credit report.
Take a look at the bonus categories of these cards. That’s where the main differences lie. If you’re often buying gas and groceries, the Cash Rewards is a good way to earn rewards throughout the entire year. But if you don’t have many of those expenses yet, the rotating categories of the Discover it for Students might have more to offer. You could also use both of these cards, as long as you understand how to use credit cards responsibly. Use the Cash Rewards card for gas, groceries, and wholesale club purchases. And use the Discover it whenever you’ll earn 5% cash back with it, including for those categories just mentioned.
The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students (Review) is a Mastercard designed to help students improve their credit. It has no annual fee and provides some modest rewards, but they’re not bad for student credit cards:
- 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on entertainment (equivalent to 2% cash back)
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases (equivalent to 1% cash back)
- Signup bonus: 2,500 points for spending $500 in the first 3 months after account opening (equivalent to $25 cash back)
Yes, the restaurant category does include bars, along with cafes and fast food. The entertainment category is very broad, including many things you’d expect along with some things you might not:
|Entertainment Category: 2 points per dollar|
|live entertainment and theatrical productions||live sporting events||concerts||movie theaters||amusement parks|
|tourist attractions||museums and art galleries||record stores||video rental stores||on-demand internet streaming media|
So you’ll be able to earn points when you go out to eat, and on a wide variety of fun activities. Netflix and cash back, anyone? There’s some overlap here with the rotating categories of the Discover it for Students. But if you want a card to consistently earn cash back on dining and these entertainment purchases, the Citi card is a good option. Take note that Redbox is not included in the entertainment category, because they don’t use a Merchant Category Code.
The signup bonus is pretty small with the Citi card, however. By spending $500 you’ll only get 2,500 points, which you can redeem for $25. That’s a pretty low bonus compared to many cards, but it is better than nothing. For a comparison, you’ll get a $200 cash rewards bonus by spending $1,000 with the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students, as mentioned above.
The extra benefits of the Citi card are a bit more valuable, but you might not end up using them very often. These include a concierge you can call for non-emergency help of all kinds, like finding gifts, making reservations, and getting travel information. There’s also the Citi Private Pass feature, which provides a variety of entertainment-related benefits. These mostly consist of presale, preferred, or exclusive ticket deals. That one is worth checking before buying concert tickets or attending other live events.
The Citi card comes with a 0% intro APR for purchases for 7 months. That’s pretty comparable to the 6 months you’ll get with the Discover card. But the Citi card also has a 3% foreign transaction fee, while the Discover card has none. So it’s not quite as good for students who are studying abroad because you’ll be charged extra. But on the other hand it’s a Mastercard, so it will be accepted at more merchants around the world than Discover.
The big difference here is between the set bonus categories of the Citi card and the rotating categories of the Discover card. Which types of purchases do you make more often? Do you go out to dinner and a movie every weekend? Or would you get more out of the 5% cash back on a variety of spending throughout the year? If you spend a lot of money in the Citi card’s entertainment category, you may want to consider getting that card just for those purchases. Then use the Discover it whenever you’ll earn 5% cash back with it.
- 1% cash back on all purchases
- an increase to 1.25% cash back if you pay your monthly bill on time
So this card is not very rewarding compared to the others on our list. Since you should always pay your bills on time you should expect to get 1.25% cash back for every purchase. But that’s not much of an increase over the 1% cash back you’ll get with most credit cards.
However, this card can still be a good option for students who are just starting their credit profiles and have a tough time qualifying for credit cards. As long as you use it responsibly, you’ll improve your credit and eventually will be able to qualify for a more rewarding card.
Capital One also provides their CreditWise® service to everyone, cardholder or not. You’ll be able to check and monitor your VantageScore 3.0 credit score, based on your TransUnion credit report. It also provides access to your TransUnion credit report itself, a pretty unique feature. CreditWise will help you improve your credit by offering specific tips based on your score and financial situation. Although the VantageScore isn’t as popular as the FICO Credit Score, this is still a useful way to monitor and build your credit.
The Journey Student Rewards card has no foreign transaction fee, like the Discover card. But the Journey card is also a Visa, which has more acceptance worldwide than Discover. So the Journey card might be more useful if you’re studying abroad.
The Capital One card is less rewarding than the Discover it for Students card, and the benefits aren’t quite as good either. But if you can’t qualify for the Discover card, this is a good second pick to work on improving your credit.
As a student, this might be a good entry into the world of credit cards. It provides a great way to build your credit, and has many of the same card features as the Discover it for Students.
There are just a few differences. The Discover it Secured offers:
- 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
- A 23.99% APR for purchases and balance transfers
- A 10.99% introductory balance transfer offer for 6 months
You will also need to provide a refundable security deposit of at least $200 when you are approved. This will fund your credit limit, and can be increased. The more you deposit, the higher your credit limit will be. Discover will review your account every 8 months. If you use your card responsibly, they may return the security deposit and allow you to continue using the card.
The Discover it Secured does not provide the $20 annual reward for good grades.
Other than that, the other card terms are mostly the same as the Discover it for Students. That includes the Cashback Match, the extra benefits, FICO 8 Credit Score access, etc. But Discover it Secured cardholders can’t refer friends for statement credits.
If you can’t qualify for the Discover it for Students, the Discover it Secured is another good way to earn rewards while you improve your credit. After building up a positive credit history you’ll be able to get some much better rewards credit cards.
For more on building credit and financial resources for students, take a look at our Guide to Credit Cards for Students.
If you’d like to learn about the non-student version of this card, check out our review of the Discover it® Credit Card.
Do you have the Discover it for Students credit card? How do you like it? Leave your own review, we’d love to hear what you think!
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