Discover it Student Cash Back Card Review

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The Discover it for Students Cash Back has plenty to offer students who consistently earn good grades and want to pay as little as possible to use a credit card.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Overall Rating
3.5
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — automatically.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
Ratings Breakdown
for Interest
3.3
for Fees
3.5
for Rewards
2.3
for Credit
4.4
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Who Is This Credit Card Best For?

  • Avatar for Credit Builder Persona
    Takes improving their finances seriously and wants recognition for using credit responsibly See more cards
    Credit Builder
  • Avatar for Student Persona
    Looks for deals that make a limited budget go further See more cards
    Student

This credit card is perfect for students who excel academically, because it offers a bonus to those who make good grades. It’s also best for those who won’t mind doing a little work to maximize their rewards. The highest-earning rewards categories rotate each quarter and require activation, so students have to be willing to keep up with the schedule to get the most value.

Federal law requires young adults under age 21 to have their own verifiable income to be approved for any credit card on their own. However, note that if you are under 21, Discover doesn’t allow you to apply with a co-signer, so applying with an adult who does meet the income requirements isn’t an option.

Pros
  • Generous first-year bonus for new cardholders

  • Excellent rewards-earning rate on quarterly bonus category purchases

  • Extra rewards for good grades

  • Waived first late fee

Cons
  • Complicated rewards

  • Limited international acceptance

Pros Explained

  • Generous first-year bonus for new cardholders: Only about half of all student credit card offers we track advertise a bonus for new cardholders, and this is one of them. Rather than offering a traditional bonus that requires you to meet a minimum spend amount, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned in the first year, dollar for dollar. 
  • Excellent rewards-earning rate on quarterly bonus category purchases: Discover offers the best earning rates on rotating purchases categories many may find useful, such as grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, rideshares, and online shopping. The top cash-back rate—5%—is limited to the first $1,500 spent in the bonus category each quarter, but the rewards are still generous compared to other student cards that offer much lower earning rates.
  • Extra rewards for good grades: Making good grades pays off in more ways than one. Each year you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, you’ll receive a $20 cash bonus. You’re eligible for the good-grade bonus for up to five years.
  • Waived first late fee: If you’ve been cramming for a major exam and forget your payment, Discover won’t penalize you with a late fee on your first late payment, unlike many student cards. But, you’ll want to set a reminder or schedule an auto payment. You could be charged a late fee of up to $40 for your second late payment.

Cons Explained

  • Complicated rewards: Discover requires you to enroll in the quarterly bonus rewards categories, and you have to remember which spending category nets you the highest rewards rate when you’re using your card. You can set reminders about enrolling, but it’s still one extra thing to manage for busy college students. 
  • Limited international acceptance: Discover has limited worldwide acceptance compared to credit cards issued by other major processing networks like Visa and Mastercard.

Bonus for New Cardholders

Most credit cards typically pay a one-time bonus for spending a certain amount within a specific time period, but Discover does things a bit differently. For this new cardholder bonus Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned in the first year. There’s no limit to how much you can earn or how much Discover will match.

The cash-back match structure puts less pressure on you, since there’s no minimum spending requirement to earn a bonus. Sure, the more you spend the more you earn, but you can use this card to earn a bonus that reflects your normal spending habits. Everyone’s budget is different.

But to get an idea of the potential value of this bonus, let’s assume the average student spends about $6,074 a year (about a fourth of what the average U.S. household spends, per 2018 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). If that student used this card exclusively, we estimate they’d earn about $94 in cash back each year. That would make the first-year match worth $94. Considering about half of student cards don’t offer sign-up bonuses of any kind, that’s not shabby. 

Earning Points & Rewards

The Discover it Student Cash Back Card pays 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in special categories or at select retailers that change each calendar quarter. For example, one quarter you might get the bonus rate at Amazon, Target, and Walmart, the next quarter, at grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS. Remember, you must enroll in the category each quarter to get the higher rate. All your other purchases will earn unlimited 1% cash back.

Discover it 5% Cash-Back Calendar For 2020
Period 5% Cash-Back Rewards Categories When to Enroll
Q1 (January-March) Grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS Expired
Q2 (April-June) Gas stations, Uber, Lyft, and wholesale clubs, plus Home Depot (June) Now
Q3 (July-September) Restaurants and PayPal Now
Q4 (October-December) Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com As soon as Aug. 1

You can maximize your rewards by using your card exclusively. Pay your bill on time and in full each month to avoid penalties and interest that can hurt your credit and negate your rewards earnings.

Being a good student also pays off. Each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, Discover will reward you with a $20 statement credit. You can earn the bonus for up to five years.

Redeeming Rewards

You can redeem your rewards at any time for any amount. They can be redeemed for a statement credit, a deposit to your bank account, or a donation to certain charities. You can also redeem rewards at checkout with Amazon or Paypal, and you don’t lose any value when rewards are redeemed this way. Each dollar of cash back is a dollar toward your purchase. 

The only exception? You must have a minimum of $20 to redeem for gift cards or instant eCertificates. 

Your rewards won’t expire. Your account will be automatically credited if it’s closed or you have not used the rewards within 18 months.

How to Get the Most Out of This Card

The quarterly rotating categories mean you’ll have to switch up your credit card spending every few months to maximize your spending and keep a close eye on any new retailers that may be added to the mix. You also have to sign up online or via the mobile app to qualify for the 5% rewards. Make sure you enroll at the beginning of the quarter to earn the best rewards on all your purchases.

To earn the maximum bonus match at first year’s end, you could try to spend strategically in the 5% categories throughout the year. For example, save your big Amazon purchases for the last quarter of the year, or find opportunities to dine out in August. 

Discover offers at least $5 when you redeem rewards for a gift card, meaning $20 of cash back could get you a $25 gift card. If you’re not saving up for a gift card, redeem your cash back for statement credits to help pay off your card bill.

Customer Experience

J.D. Power ranked Discover number one in its 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, which considered the input of over 28,000 customers across 12 credit card issuers. 

If you do a lot of your banking on your smartphone, you’ll also be happy to know that Discover also earned first place in J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Credit Card Mobile App Satisfaction Study.

You’ll have access to U.S-based customer service by phone, online and in-app messaging, 24/7, and you’ll be able to check your FICO score for free each month.

Prequalifying isn’t a guarantee of approval. Discover will ask for more information on the full application, and it’s possible that could disqualify you. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea about whether you qualify by using the tool. 

Security Features

The Discover it Cash Back for Students gives you the opportunity to sign up for free alerts that monitor whether someone has used your Social Security number, opened a new credit account in your name, or inquired about your credit history. 

The card also has a handy feature that lets you instantly freeze your card (and prevent new purchases) if it’s lost or stolen. Discover also offers free overnight card shipping to any U.S. address if your credit card is lost or stolen.

Fees to Watch Out For

In addition to waiving the first late fee, the Discover it for Students Cash Back card won’t increase your interest rate if you’re late on a payment, which is nice, and there aren’t any foreign transaction fees. Do watch out for the balance transfer fee. As long as you transfer a balance during a promotional period, you’ll pay a 3% fee. If you transfer outside of the promotional period, the balance-transfer fee jumps to 5%, which is one of the highest among student cards.

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CURRENT CARD
Discover it® Student Cash Back
overall rating
3.5
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Our Methodology
At The Balance, we are dedicated to giving you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.
  • Our Reviews Are Always Impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive. The scores and reviews come directly from the data we collect and our editorial expertise, and we focus on three areas:
  • How Much Does It Cost? With credit card debt at an all-time high, we believe you should know the cost of carrying a balance. Because of that, we give regular purchase APRs significant weight in overall scores, and cards receive low marks if they have an array of pricey fees.
  • What Are the Rewards Worth? Cards accumulate rewards in different currencies—points, miles, cash back—and their values vary widely. To simplify the problem, we built a system that fairly compares rewards and gives them a dollar value. We do this by looking at the ways you can earn and use rewards, which includes evaluating Americans’ typical spending habits and analyzing common travel patterns.
  • Does It Make Your Life Easier? Our scoring system favors cards that accept a wide range of credit profiles and offer simple solutions for things like checking your credit score or contacting customer service. Finally, we give preference to credit cards that have several tools for dealing with fraudulent charges.
  • For every review on The Balance, we hold the credit cards to these standards, and we set the bar high. While we recognize the appeal of splashy features like six-digit sign-up bonuses, our approach ensures that credit cards with the best combination of value, affordability, and accessibility receive the highest scores. See our full methodology for more details.

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. Discover. "Discover it Student Cash Back." Accessed June 10, 2020.

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Consumer Expenditures - 2018." Accessed June 11, 2020

  3. Discover. "5% Cashback Bonus." Accessed June 11, 2020.

  4. Discover. "Cashback Bonus." Accessed June 11, 2020.

  5. J.D. Power. "Credit Card Rewards War Reaches Inflection Point as Competition Grows, J.D. Power Finds." Accessed June 11, 2020.

  6. J.D. Power. "Feature Overload Strains Customer Satisfaction with Online Banking and Mobile Apps, J.D. Power Finds." Accessed June 11, 2020.

  7. Discover. "Discover it Student Cash Back Application." Accessed June 11, 2020.