Discover it Student Cash Back Review 2023: College students earn cash back and build credit history

Written by Glen Luke Flanagan / January 18, 2023
Reviewed by Robin Saks Frankel

Inside this article

  1. Introduction
  2. Discover it Student Cash Back basics
  3. Discover it Student Cash Back other details
  4. Alternate student credit cards
  5. Should you get the Discover it Student Cash Back?
  6. Discover it Student Cash Back summary
  7. Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

Building a stellar credit history while still in college can set you up for success later in life, influencing things like the rates you’ll be offered on auto loans and mortgages, whether you’re approved when applying to rent an apartment, and even certain job applications. The Discover it Student Cash Back is a great choice for a credit card that can aid you on this journey.

Most important when considering a first card to build credit, Discover reports your spending and payment activity to all three major consumer credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each of these bureaus maintains a credit report on consumers. Some credit cards may report to just one or two of the credit bureaus, making them a less-than-ideal choice.

Also important, the Discover it Student Cash Back charges no annual fee. You may decide later in life it’s worth paying an annual fee for a credit card with premium rewards and benefits, but for the time being, you’re better off with one that rewards you but doesn’t charge you to carry it.

Let’s talk about those rewards: Cardholders earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. The 5% rate is on the first $1,500 of eligible spending each quarter.

And, Discover will automatically match all the cash back earned in your first year with the card.

It does take a little effort to activate a new category every quarter, but Discover typically sends out reminders when the time to do so rolls around. Overall, this student card has a lot to offer.

Discover it Student Cash Back basics

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Welcome bonus: Discover will automatically match the cash back you earn in your first year with the card (the first 12 billing cycles or 365 days, whichever is longer).

  • Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 spent (when you activate). Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Intro APR: 0% for six months on purchases. 10.99% for six months on balance transfers from the date of the first transfer.

  • Regular APR: 16.74% - 25.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee: 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% on future transfers.

  • Other perks and benefits: Free access to your FICO Score, Social Security number Dark Web alerts (when you enroll), and Discover’s Freeze feature.

  • Reports to all three credit bureaus: Yes

  • Pre-approval tool offered by issuer: Yes

  • Recommended credit score: New to credit

Discover it Student Cash Back other details

Discover it Student Cash Back rewards

The Discover it Student Cash Back card earns 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 spent (when you activate). Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. If you were to max out the $1,500 spending cap each quarter, that would be $300 in cash back per year at the 5% cash-back rate.

Plus, thanks to Discover’s cash-back match welcome bonus, earnings in the first year are doubled. For instance, maxing out the quarterly categories would net $600 in cash back.

You can redeem your cash back for any amount at any time as a deposit to a bank account or a statement credit to your card, or for gift cards from a variety of retailers starting at just $5. Additional options include donations to charity and using rewards at Amazon and PayPal.

Rewards won’t expire. If your account is closed or you haven’t used your credit card in 18 months, Discover will automatically credit your account with any accrued rewards balance.

Discover it Student Cash Back APR details

The Discover it Student Cash Back offers intro APRs of 0% for six months on purchases and 10.99% on balance transfers. After, a 16.74% - 25.74% variable APR applies.

There’s a 3% intro balance transfer fee, with a fee of up to 5% on future transfers.

Discover it Student Cash Back benefits and perks

  • Free FICO Score: FICO is the scoring model most commonly used when lenders are evaluating whether or not to extend credit. By tracking your FICO Score through your Discover account, you can make sure that you’re building a strong credit profile.

  • SSN alerts: When you activate this feature for free, Discover will alert you if your SSN is found on any of thousands of sites on the Dark Web.

  • Freeze it: If you happen to misplace your card, you can freeze it online or in the mobile app to prevent new purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances.

Discover it Student Cash Back drawbacks

  • May not be widely accepted: Discover is now accepted at most merchants in the United States that take credit cards, but that’s not necessarily the case outside the country. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are often still better for travel abroad.

  • It’s possible to find a longer intro APR offer: While the Discover it Student Cash Back has a six-month intro period, that’s not the best deal in town. For example, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students has an 18-month intro period.

  • Categories require activation: If you don’t remember to activate each new quarterly category, all purchases will earn a mere 1% cash back rather than 5% back.

Alternate student credit cards

Discover it Student Cash Back vs. Discover it Student Chrome Credit Card

The Discover it Student Chrome charges no annual fee and earns 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, 1% back on other spending. Plus, Discover will match the cash back you earn in your first year with the card.

There are also intro APR periods: 0% for six months on purchases and 10.99% for six months on balance transfers (from the date of the first transfer). After, a 16.74% - 25.74% variable APR applies. Transfers are subject to an intro 3% balance transfer fee, up to 5% in the future.

The Discover it Student Cash Back offers higher earning potential than the Discover it Student Chrome. However, students who spend frequently on gas and dining—and don’t want to deal with activating rotating categories—may prefer the simplicity offered by the latter card.

Discover it Student Cash Back vs. Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students keeps things simple with 1.5 points per dollar spent. Points can be redeemed for a value of 1 cent each as statement credits to offset eligible travel and dining purchases. There’s also a welcome bonus of 25,000 points after making at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. 

The card charges no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee—great for studying abroad.

And, as a Visa, this card will be widely accepted in the U.S. and outside the country too.

Finally, there’s a long intro APR period: 0% for 18 months on purchases and on balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After, a 17.74% - 27.74% variable APR applies. A 3% balance transfer fee ($10 minimum) applies to all balance transfers.

Discover it Student Cash Back vs. Chase Freedom Student Credit Card

The Chase Freedom Student charges no annual fee and earns 1% cash back on all purchases. While the rewards rate is subpar, the card could be a good choice for students who are thinking ahead and want to build a relationship with Chase early—after all, the bank issues some of the most popular rewards credit cards on the market, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

There’s a welcome bonus for new Freedom Student cardholders: $50 after making a first purchase within three months of account opening. Plus, cardholders can earn a Good Standing Reward worth $20 after each account anniversary for up to five years. Earning this reward is simple, as Chase defines “good standing” to mean your account is open and not in default.

The card has a 18.74% variable APR and charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Should you get the Discover it Student Cash Back?

The Discover it Student Cash Back is an excellent choice if you’re enrolled in a two- or four-year institution, want to start building credit, and are willing to activate rotating cash-back categories.

However, students planning to travel abroad may wish to consider a Visa or Mastercard credit card, since cards on those networks are more widely accepted in some countries than Discover.

Discover it Student Cash Back summary

Annual fee:$0
Rewards:Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 spent (when you activate). Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Intro APRs:0% for six months on purchases and 10.99% for six months on balance transfers.
Regular APR:16.74% - 25.74% variable
Balance transfer fee:3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% on future transfers.
Foreign transaction fee:None
Benefits:Free FICO Score, SSN alerts when you activate and the ability to freeze your card online in case you’ve misplaced it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a student credit card?

A student credit card is a credit card designed for college students. Such cards will be more accepting of people with limited or no credit history than more high-end credit cards.

When selecting a student credit card, check that it reports to all three credit bureaus, doesn’t charge an annual fee, and has a reasonable APR range. While you don’t want to make a habit of carrying a balance from month to month, if you ever need to do so, a card with an APR of 20% or higher will hit you with more costly interest charges than a card with a lower APR. 

Some student cards earn rewards, and that can be a nice way to offset your spending. However, building good credit by always paying on time and keeping your utilization—how much of your credit limit you’re using—low should be your priorities, not trying to rack up lots of rewards.

How can I earn rewards with the Discover it Student Cash Back Card?
What kind of student do you have to be to qualify for the Discover it Student Cash Back Card?
What happens to my Discover it Student Cash Back Card when I graduate?

About the Authors

Glen Luke Flanagan

Glen Luke Flanagan

Glen Luke Flanagan is a deputy editor on the credit cards team at Sound Dollar. Prior to joining Sound Dollar, he covered credit cards, credit scoring and related topics as a deputy editor at Forbes Advisor and a senior writer at LendingTree. He’s passionate about helping people understand personal finance so they can make the best decisions possible for their wallet.

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Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards and personal finance writer and editor for Sound Dollar. Previously, she covered credit cards and related content at other national web publications including Forbes Advisor, NerdWallet, Bankrate and HerMoney. She's been featured as a personal finance expert in outlets including CNBC, Business Insider, CBS Marketplace, and has appeared on or contributed to The New York Times, Fox News, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, NPR, International Business Times and NBC, ABC and CBS TV affiliates nationwide.

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