Who is This Credit Card Best For?
Takes improving their finances seriously and wants recognition for using credit responsibly
Looks for deals that make a limited budget go further
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, so students have to be willing to keep up with the schedule to get the most value.
First-year cash-back bonus match
Bonus for good grades
No penalty fee on the first late payment
No foreign transaction fee
No annual fee
Potentially high APR
Limited international acceptance
Doesn't allow co-signers
- First-year cash-back bonus match: Rather than offering a traditional sign-up bonus that requires you to meet a minimum spending amount, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned in the first year, dollar for dollar.
- Bonus 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.
- No penalty fee on the first late payment: 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. But, you’ll want to set a reminder or schedule an auto payment. You could be charged a late fee of up to $39 for your second late payment.
- No foreign transaction fee: Planning to study abroad or travel internationally over the summer? This is a good card to take with you because you won’t be charged extra fees for purchases made in foreign currencies.
- No annual fee: While typical of student credit cards, the absence of an annual fee means you can enjoy all the perks of the card at no extra cost.
- Potentially high APR: This card actually has a lower APR than other student credit cards, but you’ll still want to avoid paying it. Your final APR is based on your credit score. If you don’t have the best credit score—which is normal for someone just starting out with credit—your APR could land on the higher end of the range making it more expensive to carry a balance.
- Limited international acceptance: Discover has limited worldwide acceptance compared to credit cards issued by other major processing networks.
- Complicated rewards: Discover requires you to enroll in the quarterly 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 a tricky system to navigate.
- Doesn't allow co-signers: Federal law requires young adults under age 21 to have their own verifiable income to be approved for any credit card. Discover doesn’t allow you to apply with a co-signer, so signing up with an adult who does have income isn’t an option.
Discover does a new cardholder bonus a little differently than other cards that pay a one-time bonus for spending a certain amount within a specific time period. At the end of your first year, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned in the first 12 billing cycles. 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.
Everyone’s budget is different. But to get an idea of the potential value of this bonus, let’s assume the average student spends $12,148 a year (half 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 $188 in cash back each year. That would make the first-year match worth $188, too. Considering many 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.
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.
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 for gift cards or instant eCertificates in increments of $20 or automatically at the Amazon.com checkout. You won’t lose any value by doing this. Each dollar of cash back is worth a dollar when redeemed at Amazon.
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. 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.
Discover offers an extra $5 of value when you redeem rewards for a gift card, meaning $20 of cash back can get you a $25 gift card.
- Ranked highest in customer satisfaction: Discover has ranked highest for credit card customer satisfaction among U.S. credit card companies by J.D. Power two years in a row.
- 24/7 customer service: Discover offers 24/7 live, U.S.-based customer service by phone, online and in-app messaging.
- Manage your account on the mobile app: The Discover Mobile app is available through the Apple App Store or via Google Play.
- Free monthly FICO score: Discover offers tools to help you manage your credit. Get a free FICO score on your monthly billing statements, whether you view your statement by mail, online, or on your mobile device. Your FICO score is based on information in your TransUnion credit report. Monitoring your credit allows you to see how your credit actions affect your credit score and help you build a solid credit score from the start.
- Check to see if you’re prequalified: You can use Discover’s online prequalification tool to see if you qualify without completely applying and without hurting your credit score.
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.
Discover offers several standard security features like zero fraud liability and the option to set up transaction alerts. On top of that, the card also has some stand-out tools.
- Lock and unlock your card any time: The “Freeze it” feature lets you switch your account on and off to prevent unauthorized purchases from being made on your account, which is helpful if you lose or misplace your card. As long as your account is frozen, Discover won’t authorize new purchases, cash advances, or balance transfers to your account. You can have peace of mind that your subscriptions and other recurring transactions will still be processed.
- Free overnight card replacement: If you do lose your card, Discover will send you a new card overnight, for no additional charge.
- Free identity monitoring: Sign up for for Discover’s free Social Security number and identity alerts service to catch signs of identity theft earlier. Once you sign up, Discover will let you know whenever a new account is listed on your Experian credit report. Plus, you’ll receive notification if your personal information, like your Social Security number, has been placed on risky websites.
Discover it Student Cash Back Card's Fees
The Discover it Student Cash Back Card doesn’t come with a lot of fees, and the ones it charges are in line with industry standards.