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Student credit cards can be a great first step into the world of credit. These relatively low-risk starter credit cards can help students build their credit for the next stage of their lives. And as a plus, some student cards offer cash back so you can earn rewards on your spending. You just have to decide what kind of rewards card you want based on your spending habits.
We’re going to take a look at how a flat-rate rewards card like the Chase Freedom® Student credit card compares to the Discover it® Student chrome — two no-annual-fee options that can earn you cash back on your purchases.
|Chase Freedom Student||Discover it Student chrome|
|Welcome bonus||$50 cash bonus after your first purchase within three months of account opening (in the form of 5,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points)||Automatic Cashback Match after the first year|
|Intro APR offer||N/A||
Chase Freedom Student vs. Discover it Student chrome
Welcome bonus winner: It depends
The winner of this category will vary depending on your spending habits. The Chase Freedom Student card offers a $50 welcome bonus after your first purchase within three months of account opening. However, the Discover it Student chrome will match all of your cash back earnings at the end of your first year.
Even as a student, it’s entirely possible to spend enough on the Student chrome and exceed the Chase Freedom Student’s $50 welcome bonus. In fact, just spending a mere $208 a month in dining and gas each month on your Student chrome card would bring you to $50 in cash back for the year and another $50 for via Cashback Match — leaving you with a total of $100 in cash back rewards for the first year. The true winner in this category will depend on how much you plan to spend throughout the year.
Rewards rate winner: Discover it Student chrome
We chose the Discover it Student chrome for this category because it offers a 2 percent cash back rate on two incredibly common spending areas for any young person — restaurants and gas (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1 percent). Even if you don’t spend a lot of money on these categories, you’ll still earn 1 percent back on all other purchases, which matches the Freedom Student’s 1 percent back rate.
It’s worth noting that the Freedom Student card also offers 5 percent back on Lyft rides, which if you use frequently, could mean a higher rate of cash back.
Foreign transaction fee winner: Discover it Student chrome
If you’re planning on studying abroad and prefer using a credit card as your main form of payment, it’s important to ensure the option you choose doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees — or, in other words, an additional fee on purchases made outside of the United States.
The Discover it Student chrome card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which would make it the better option compared to the Chase Freedom Student’s 3 percent fee.
Which card earns the most?
As we explained above, what you get out of your student credit credit card will depend on your spending habits. If you have exceptionally high Lyft usage or simply prefer a flat-rate cash back card, the Freedom Student card could be your card of choice. If you spend more on dining and gas, in particular, the Discover it Student chrome would certainly provide more cash back.
Here’s a spending example to show how much you’d earn with each card:
|Spending category||Annual spending||Chase Freedom Student||Discover it Student chrome|
In this spending example, you’d earn over $65 more each year with the Student chrome card. And if you also factor in each card’s welcome bonus, these figures jump to $182 for the Chase Freedom Student and $396 for the Discover it Student chrome.
Why should you get the Chase Freedom Student?
Even with a lower rate of cash back, there are still some benefits to owning a card in the Chase family. For one, you’ll have access to a standard slate of card benefits. But more importantly, the Chase Freedom Student — while marketed as a cash back card — technically earns highly lucrative Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Plus, you may have the option (though not guaranteed) to upgrade your Chase credit card to a more premium option as you build a history of responsible usage with your student account.
There are some additional perks of the Chase Freedom Student that are worth noting:
- $20 Good Standing bonus ($20 credit each year, up to five years, for keeping your account in good standing)
- Purchase protection
- Extended warranty coverage
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
- Redemption options
Here are all the ways you can redeem your cash back:
- Statement credit
- Check in the mail
- Gift cards
- Travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Note, not all redemption options will get you 1 cent per point in value. In some cases, you might earn less. This can happen frequently when it comes to merchandise, gift cards and Amazon.com purchases. Make sure you understand the value you are getting for your rewards when it comes time to redeem them.
Recommended credit score
You should have good to excellent credit (or a score between 670 and 850) for the best approval odds with this card.
Why should you get the Discover it Student chrome?
In our opinion, this card provides much more potential for rewards, both your first year and beyond. Further, this card is very light on fees — your first late fee is waived (after that, up to $41) and there are no foreign transaction fees. Like the Freedom Student card, you may also be eligible for a higher credit line or be able to upgrade to a more premium Discover product post-grad with responsible usage.
Additional card benefits
- 0 percent intro APR on purchases for six months, followed by a variable APR between 15.99 percent to 24.99 percent
- 10.99 percent intro APR on balance transfers for six months, followed by the same variable APR between 15.99 percent to 24.99 percent
- Account protection (the ability to “freeze” your account from Discover’s mobile app)
- Free credit score access and protection
Here’s how you can redeem your cash back:
- Electronic deposit into any eligible account you designate
- Statement credit to your account
- Physical or digital gift cards to partner merchants
- Pay with cash back at select merchants
- Charitable donations to select charities
Recommended credit score
The Discover it Student chrome card is designed for students with no credit or limited credit history. So, you can be approved without a credit score.
The bottom line
Although the Chase Freedom Student and Discover it Student chrome seems like a reasonable matchup, the truth is that most students will get more value from the Student chrome card — and by a substantial amount.
In all actuality, you probably won’t earn loads of cash back with either card as a student because, odds are, you won’t be a big spender at this time in your life anyway. The real value of these cards is that they help you build credit, get a foot in the door with top credit card issuers like Chase and Discover and eventually “graduate” to better credit card offerings.
Our advice is to simply choose the best student credit card for your spending habits. Then, use it responsibly to lay a financial foundation that will serve you well down the road.