Discover it® Student Cash Back review

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Best student cash back card

Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 6 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
10.99% for 6 months
Regular APR:
12.99% - 21.99% Variable
Terms and Restrictions Apply | Rates and Fees

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Discover it® Student Cash Back Card Overview

If you’re a student in the market for a starter credit card, the Discover it® Student Cash Back card offers perhaps the highest rewards rate you’re likely to find on a card for applicants with no credit history.

Having the cash back power of the full-fledged Discover it® Cash Back card plus Discover’s unique low fees makes this a leader among student credit cards. Unless you’re considering a card with a simpler rewards program, this Discover student card should make your short list.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Advantages

  • 5 percent cash back on activated rotating category purchases (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter, then 1 percent) and 1 percent on all other purchases
  • No annual fee, foreign transaction fees or penalty APR and the first late payment fee is waived (up to $40 thereafter)
  • Matches all cash back earned in your first 12 months

Disadvantages

  • Rotating categories might be high maintenance for students new to credit cards
  • No purchase or travel protection benefits

A deeper look into the current card offer

Quick highlights

  • Rewards rate: 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 on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: All cash back earned within the first 12 months will be matched
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Purchase intro APR: 0 percent for six months
  • Balance transfer intro APR: 10.99 percent for six months
  • Regular APR: 12.99 percent to 21.99 percent variable

Current welcome offer

As with the issuer’s cards for those with good credit and above, Discover’s rewards program matches all the cash back you earn during your first 12 months as a Discover it Student Cash Back cardholder.

While the first-year cash back match offer differs from the typical cash back sign-up bonus — which you’d receive upfront after meeting a spending requirement within a set time frame — this style of welcome offer could be to a student’s advantage. This allows students to focus on building credit instead of overspending for a bonus since there isn’t a limited-time spending requirement.

Perhaps one of the main reasons that cash back matching is a great incentive is because many starter cards simply don’t carry welcome offers. Outside of Discover’s cards, two of the most popular student-centric offers are the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students card’s one year of Amazon Prime Student subscription reimbursement after spending $500 on purchases within your first three months of card membership, and the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One card’s $5 monthly statement credit on select streaming subscriptions for up to 12 months, available after each on-time monthly payment.

In fact, if you spend more than $4,000 in your first year across your 5 percent rotating categories, you’ll earn more cash back than the biggest student intro bonus on the market: the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students‘ $200 cash bonus after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days.

Cash back

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is a rotating category card, meaning it earns higher cash back rates in bonus spending categories that cycle each quarter. In exchange for higher reward rates, your combined category purchases are capped at a $1,500 quarterly limit.

If juggling these category restrictions and remembering to activate your categories each quarter seems intimidating for an entry-level card, the Discover it® Student chrome card and its year-round bonus categories, though less rewarding, might be a bit easier to handle.

Earning cash back

Upon activation, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back within the Discover 2021 cash back calendar bonus categories up to $1,500 on combined purchases (then 1 percent back). You’ll also collect 1 percent cash back on all other purchases, which is a good deal for student cards. After all, several such cards earn a maximum of 1 percent back.

Usually, there will be two to three cash back categories each quarter that fit with each period’s popular expenses. For example, you’ll typically earn bonus cash back at drugstores and pharmacies in Q1 (January to March) and at online shopping retailers in Q4 (October to December). Discover’s quarterly category calendar is generally reliable from year to year since each year’s categories are announced ahead of time and the categories are pretty similar each year.

Right now you’ll earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in purchases from restaurant and PayPal purchases—perfect for online shopping at the beginning of the fall semester.

Discover cash back 2021 categories

Quarterly categories 2021 Discover it categories
Q1: Jan. through March
  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
Q2: April through June
  • Gas stations
  • Wholesale Clubs
  • Select Streaming Services
Q3: July through Sept.
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4: Oct. through Dec.

Activation period began August 1, 2021

  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com

Redeeming cash back

Discover offers several ways to redeem your rewards. You can receive cash back as a direct deposit into your bank account or as a statement credit. You can also choose to donate your rewards to charity, pay with your rewards at Amazon.com via PayPal or redeem for gift cards.

How much are your rewards worth?

Like other cash back programs, each percentage point of your rewards rate will net you 1 cent back of your total purchase. For instance, 1 percent of a $100 purchase will net you $1 and 5 percent would earn $5 back.

Converting cash back into gift cards or using them for online retailer merchandise usually means stomaching a drop in reward value, but Discover guarantees all redemption options will yield at least a 1:1 value. Redeeming for a gift card with Discover is one of the few times it might be a wise move if you have a specific purchase in mind. Depending on the merchant, cardmembers that select a gift card (ranging from $5 to $200) can have 5 percent to 20 percent in extra value added to the balance.

Benefits

Discover cards are typically light on benefits, but luckily the features are a bit meatier in the student card landscape.

24/7 U.S.-based customer service

Besides value, customer service and security are two of Discover’s founding principles. Its high caliber of credit card customer service has landed Discover a top spot in the renowned J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Survey for five of the past seven years.

You’ll receive 24/7 U.S.-based customer service, a free FICO Credit Scorecard, spending summary reports and in-depth credit monitoring that even scours the dark web for your Social Security number. Credit monitoring services like this normally require a third-party subscription, but the Discover card automatically provides it at no charge.

Rates and Fees

The Discover it Student Cash Back card has the potential to be a low-cost alternative to other credit-building options for students, such as credit-builder loans and starter credit cards. There are no annual fees or foreign transaction fees, which can come in handy while studying abroad. Plus, your first late payment fee is waived (up to $40 thereafter) and you won’t be charged a penalty APR. This gives you a safety net while you’re learning the credit card ropes.

You’ll also get a fantastic chance to water down any interest you might accumulate in the case of an emergency, thanks to the card’s six-month 0 percent intro purchase APR. There’s also a reduced 10.99 percent intro APR for balance transfers for the first six months. Even after this, the ongoing 12.99 percent to 21.99 percent variable APR could be well below the current average interest rate. That’s a blessing considering starter cards are notorious for their high interest rates.

How the Discover it Student Cash Back compares to other student cards

Except for the welcome bonuses mentioned above and any perks that you might find useful, it’s hard for flat-rate student cards to compete since the Discover it Student Cash Back card also earns 1 percent cash back on all purchases. The Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, but this isn’t nearly as rewarding as the Discover it Student Cash Back if you’re able to maximize your 5 percent rotating categories.

The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for Students might be one of the Discover it Student Cash Back card’s biggest competitors on account of its choice categories that can be swapped monthly. It also translates the rewards power of its non-student sibling, the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, into an entry-level card—minus the boosted rewards if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member.

Speaking of translating the rewards power of a full-fledged card, the Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Card has the potential to be more rewarding than the Discover it Student Cash Back—and is much easier to use. For no annual fee, you’ll earn a whopping unlimited 3 percent cash back on popular categories that students can take advantage of nearly every day, such as dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target). What’s more, you’ll also get an entire 8 percent cash back on Vivid Seats purchases (through January 2023) if there’s a concert coming up.

Since it’s probably hard to maximize rotating categories on a student’s budget, the SavorOne Student is likely more rewarding than the Discover it Student Cash Back, but it’s a close call. Based on the  $15,900 average yearly spend (courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and assuming you can maximize your Discover card’s 5 percent categories’ quarterly spending limits, the Discover it Student Cash Back card only earns $29 more per year in rewards than the SavorOne student card.

However, the Discover it Student Cash Back has a big leg up on the student SavorOne card if you think you may carry a balance. The SavorOne student poses a sky-high 26.99 percent (variable) APR with no zeo-interest offers to shield you from interest, so the Discover it Student Cash Back would be far more cost-effective if you think you may ever need some time to pay off any student or emergency expenses that pop up.

Card name Rewards rate Annual fee Welcome bonus
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students
  • 3% cash back on a category of choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 per quarter in combined 2% and 3% category purchases, then 1% back)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
$0 $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days.
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Card
  • Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target)
  • 8% cash back on Vivid Seats tickets (through January 2023)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
$0 N/A
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
$0 N/A

Best cards to pair the Discover it Student Cash Back card with

Since you’re just starting on your credit journey, it’s crucial to focus on building good credit habits and eventually upgrading to a full-grade card instead of chasing rewards. Applying for a second credit card this early might not be the best use of your time, but a cash back card that can earn a flat rate higher than 1 percent back—like the Capital One Quicksilver Student card—could earn more rewards on purchases outside your 5 percent categories or their quarterly spending limit.

Bankrate’s Take—Is the Discover it Student Cash Back card worth it?

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is one of the few student credit cards that offer rewards on par with its issuer’s signature card. Its rotating category cash back is hard to beat, plus the first-year cash back match are outstanding considering this card’s low ongoing rates and fees.

The information about the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card last updated on 05.03.21

Frequently Asked Questions

Discover and most issuers require you to be a U.S. student enrolled at either a two-year or four-year college or university to apply for a student credit card. However, the term "student" doesn't define a certain age range. Student credit cards are primarily meant for young adults just establishing their credit score with a starter card, but you can apply for a student credit card if you're a non-traditional student returning to college as long as you're at least 21. This can be helpful if you're enrolled at a college but you want better rates and benefits than secured credit cards typically offer. Younger students 18 to 21 must provide proof that they can make the credit card payments or have the approval of a cosigner.
Don't worry, you'll still be able to use your student credit card after graduation. Your Discover it Student Cash Back becomes a standard Discover it Cash Back with the same cash back program and card design. Plus, Discover may tag your account as eligible for a credit line increase if you contact Discover to update your personal information and income. However, depending on your credit score and spending, you may want to consider applying to more rewarding cards with better rates once you graduate.
The Discover it Student Cash Back card terms state that you'll start off with at least a $500 credit limit. Although they don't mention a maximum limit you can't request a specific credit limit when applying, you may be able to contact Discover for a higher limit once you've proven your good credit habits.
Both Discover student credit cards offer the same solid rewards, benefits and rates, but they have different cash back programs. Instead of rotating 5 percent bonus categories, the Student Chrome card earns 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1 percent cash back on all other purchases The Discover it Student Chrome might be a better choice for students that don't want to dive into the rewards deep end and track activation periods and several quarterly bonus categories. But unless you've done the math and your budget would earn more cash back from year-round 2 percent gas station and restaurant categories, the Student Cash Back card is the stronger card thanks to its higher rewards rate and quarterly bonus spending cap.
You can certainly use Discover it student cards outside the U.S. In fact, the Discover it Student Cash Back card is a solid choice to take on your study abroad since it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. However, there could be a few drawbacks to using your Discover reward card internationally. Purchases that would normally earn you 5 percent cash back might not earn rewards since Discover's merchant category codes (MCCs) may classify global merchants differently than U.S. retailers. Discover credit cards also have a lower merchant acceptance rate compared to Visa or Mastercard — the largest two networks. This might not be a big issue, though. Discover is accepted at 99 percent of U.S. merchants that accept credit cards and Discover has 18 global network alliances. That means that over 48 million merchants across more than 200 countries and territories will accept your Discover student card.
Here's a list of the streaming services that will earn you 5 percent cash back:
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Amazon Music
  • Apple Music
  • Apple TV+
  • AT&T TV Now
  • BET+
  • CBS All Access
  • DAZN
  • Disney +
  • ESPN+
  • Fubo TV
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Pandora
  • Philo
  • Peacock TV
  • Showtime
  • Sirius XM
  • Starz
  • Sling
  • Spotify
  • Vudu
  • YouTube TV
about the author
Bankrate expert Garrett Yarbrough strives to make navigating credit cards and credit building smooth sailing for his readers. After regularly featuring his credit card, credit monitoring and identity theft analysis on NextAdvisor.com, he joined the CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com teams as a staff writer to develop product reviews and comprehensive credit ...
about the editor
Nouri Zarrugh is a writer and editor for CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com, focusing on product news, guides and reviews. His areas of expertise include credit card strategy, rewards programs, point valuation and credit scores, and his stories on building credit have been cited by Mic.com, LifeHacker, People.com and more. Through his thorough card reviews and...