2021 Review of the Discover it® Student Cash Back – The Best Student Credit Card?
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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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Our Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars
We give the Discover it® Student Cash Back 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
The Discover it Student Cash Back is one of the most rewarding student credit cards. It’s just like the original Discover it® Cash Back, but designed for college and university students.
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.
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 it off each month: Avoid paying interest on this card by paying your balance in full every billing period, unless you’re using the 0% rate. The card will be free to use because there’s no annual fee, and you’ll be helping your credit too.
- 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.
The 5% cash back calendar for 2021 is:
|Quarter||5% Cash Back Categories|
|January – March||Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS|
|April – June||Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services|
|July – September||Restaurants, PayPal|
|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.
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:
- Gift cards (best value)
- Statement credits
- Deposit into a bank account
- Charitable donations
- 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
|Purchase APR||Balance Transfer APR||Cash Advance APR|
|See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms||See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms||See Terms|
|Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee|
|Balance Transfer Fee||Cash Advance Fee|
|See Terms||See Terms|
|Penalty APR||Late Fee||Returned Payment Fee|
|None||See Terms||See Terms|
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.
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 Do I Apply for the Discover it Student Cash Back?
You can apply for the Discover it Student securely on Discover’s website by following the link below.
What Credit Scores Do I Need to Qualify for the Discover it Student Cash Back?
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.
You’ll need to provide proof that you’re a student, like a student ID or class schedule.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who does Discover consider to be a student?
Discover indicates that in order to qualify for its student cards, you’ll need to provide proof you’re enrolled in either a two-year or four-year college.
Still unsure if this is the student card for you? Take a look at some of the other best credit cards for students.
What happens to the Discover it Student Cash Back after I graduate?
Once you graduate, Discover will reclassify your account as a non-student account. You’ll be able to keep your card, and continue to earn rewards, but your card will change from the student version into the Discover it® Cash Back (Review). So that means you’ll lose your Good Grade Reward benefit as it doesn’t apply to non-students.
What are the 2021 cash back categories for the Discover it Student Cash Back?
The 2021 cash back categories are:
- January–March: Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS
- April–June: Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, Select Streaming Services
- July–September: Restaurants, PayPal
- October–December: Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com
But keep in mind you have to manually activate the cash back categories each quarter. If you don’t, you’ll only earn 1% cash back instead of 5%.
Alternatives to the Discover it for Students
Not the right card for you? Well, stick around because we’ve put together some alternatives that might fit a little better. Take a look!
For more cards that might be up your alley, take a look at the Best Student Credit Cards.
If you’d like to learn about the non-student version of this card, check out our 2021 Review: The Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card – Best Cash Back Card?.
Do you have the Discover it for Students credit card? How do you like it? Leave your own review below, we’d love to hear what you think!
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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