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Discover it Student Cash Back vs. Discover it Student chrome

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Andersen Ross Photography Inc/Getty Images
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If you’re looking for a student credit card with competitive rewards and no annual fee, the Discover it® Student Cash Back card and Discover it® Student chrome are likely on your radar.

While these two cards are very similar, they differ in rewards structures. The Discover it Student Cash Back card offers a higher cash back rate on bonus spending categories that alternate every quarter. On the other hand, the Discover it Student chrome card offers a lower cash back rate, but the spending categories don’t change throughout the year and may be better suited for some students.

Read on to find out which student credit card will give you higher rewards based on your spending.

Main details

Features Discover it Student chrome Discover it Student Cash Back
Annual fee $0 $0
Sign-up bonus Cash back earnings are matched by Discover at the end of your first year Cash back earnings are matched by Discover at the end of your first year
Rewards
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
  • 1% back on all other purchases
  • 5% cash back on each quarter’s activated rotating categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1%)
  • 1% back on all other purchases
Intro APR
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months
  • 10.99% intro APR on balance transfers for 6 months
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months
  • 10.99% intro APR on balance transfers for 6 months
Variable APR 15.24% to 24.24% variable 15.24% to 24.24% variable

Discover it Student chrome vs. Discover it Student Cash Back highlights

Welcome bonus winner: Tie

Known as Discover’s Cashback Match program, both cards will match the cash back you earn at the end of your first 12 months of card ownership. Technically, the rewards here are the same, and the best card for you will depend on your spending and how much cash back you’ll be able to receive from each card in the first place. However, the Discover it Student Cash Back card has the potential to offer much higher rewards (which you’ll see in our spending example below), and the welcome bonus will double them.

Rewards rate winner: Discover it Student Cash Back

The Discover it Student Cash Back offers 5 percent cash back on each quarter’s activated rotating categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1 percent) and 1 percent back on all other purchases. Here’s a look at Discover’s 2022 cash back calendar to help you determine if these categories could benefit you:

Quarter 2022 cash back categories
Q1: January through March
  • Grocery stores
  • Fitness clubs
  • Gym memberships
Q2: April through June
  • Gas stations
  • Target
Q3: July through September
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4: October through December
  • Amazon.com
  • Digital wallets

The Discover it Student Cash Back card will allow you to earn higher rewards, provided you spend in the categories listed above. Given that these categories are common enough, there’s a good chance you’ll receive more from this card’s rewards compared to the Student chrome — as long as some of them apply to you.

On the other hand, the Discover it Student chrome offers 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Overall, the Student Cash Back offers a higher rewards rate (5 percent compared with 2 percent) for more diverse categories as opposed to strictly gas stations and restaurants. On top of that, the Student Cash Back rewards you for up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, while the Student chrome is capped at $1,000.

Annual fee winner: Tie

Both the Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Student chrome have no annual fee.

Foreign transaction fee winner: Tie

Neither card charges foreign transaction fees, making them both a great choice when it comes to traveling outside of the U.S. — for example, if you plan on studying abroad one semester.

Which card earns more?

The card that earns you more cash back will depend on how much you spend in particular shopping categories. The Student Cash Back offers higher rewards, but the rewards are limited to certain categories and alternate quarterly. Here’s an example to better understand how this works:

Discover it Student chrome vs. Discover it Student Cash Back spending example

Let’s say you spend $1,000 per month for three months on everyday spending, and you use your Discover card for $150 in grocery purchases, $100 on gas, $50 at restaurants and $200 on miscellaneous expenses (including online shopping for your dorm and holiday purchases).

Now, say you open the Discover it Student Cash Back toward the tail end of September. If you do all of your miscellaneous spending through Amazon.com or by utilizing digital wallets (such as Apple Pay or Google Pay), you’d earn $30 in cash back over the course of three months. Further, you’d earn $9 in cash back for your gas, grocery and restaurant purchases over the course of three months. Overall, that’s $39 in cash back.

On the other hand, say you instead choose to open up the Discover it Student chrome. You’d earn $4.50 on grocery purchases, $6 on gas purchases and $3 on restaurant purchases over the course of three months. Overall, that’s $13.50 in cash back.

Of course, this is just one spending example. If you can afford to spend more and max out your card’s categories for a particular quarter, this is what you can expect to earn (not including any non-category purchases earning 1 percent back):

  • Discover it Student Cash Back: $75 in cash back
  • Discover it Student chrome: $20 in cash back

Why should you get the Discover it Student chrome card?

Additional benefits

The Student chrome comes with an on/off switch to freeze your account at any time through the mobile app. You can activate the switch if you misplace your card or to prevent future purchases.

You’ll also be able to activate Discover Identity Alerts to be informed whenever someone pulls your credit (so you can recognize potential fraud) and if your Social Security number ever appears on the dark web. Credit monitoring like this usually comes at an extra cost. Further, you can view your FICO credit score for free with this card.

Redemption options

With the Discover it Student chrome, you can redeem your cash back rewards at any time, and you don’t need to wait for a minimum amount to redeem them. Options include receiving cash back as a direct deposit or statement credit, gift cards, paying with your rewards at Amazon.com or via PayPal and donating rewards to charity.

Recommended credit score

One of the great things about the Discover it Student chrome is that no credit history is needed to be eligible, making it specifically geared toward students who don’t yet have a credit score.

Why should you get the Discover it Student Cash Back?

Additional benefits

With the Discover it Student Cash Back, you’ll also be able to view your FICO credit score for free. In addition, this card comes with free credit monitoring services, which will alert you if your Social Security number ever appears on the dark web and every time someone pulls your credit.

Redemption options

Just like the Student chrome card, you can redeem your cash back rewards at any time with no minimum amount required. The same redemption options apply.

Recommended credit score

The Discover it Student Cash Back card does not require a credit history to be eligible.

The bottom line

The Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Student chrome are two top choices for student cards and are solid choices for students looking for a starter card to build their credit.

They both offer competitive cash back rewards rates, access to Discover’s Cashback Match program and no annual fee. The main difference will come down to whether you want to receive a higher rewards rate on rotating cash back categories or prefer a lower (but consistent) rewards rate on restaurants and gas purchases.

Before you choose a student card, be sure to check out the other top student credit cards we recommend.

Written by
Leeron Hoory
Leeron is a New York-based journalist and writer with experience covering finance, fintech and real estate. She has also reported on topics ranging from daily news, arts and culture and politics. 
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Part of  Introduction to the Discover it Student Chrome Card