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Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review

overall rating

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The Discover it Student Cash Back card offers no annual fee, a generous 5% cash back on rotating spending categories, and an exceptional match of all of the cash back earned during the first year as a cardholder. It also has an introductory 0% APR promotion on new purchases.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Overall Rating
Discover it® Student Cash Back
On Discover's Secured Site.
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — automatically.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Balance Transfer Fee 3% if completed by February 10, 2021. After that, 5% of the amount of each transfer.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
how this card stacks up
When compared among all student cards in our database:
Low Interest
Security/Customer Experience
Low Fees
worst best

Full Review of Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card

  • High rewards on rotating spending categories

  • Potential for a large bonus the first year with cash back match

  • Introductory 0% APR for six months on purchases

  • Reward for maintaining good grades

  • Spending categories have to be manually activated

Pros Explained

  • High Rewards on Rotating Spending Categories: Student credit cards don't often offer strong rewards. For example, the Deserve Edu card, another commonly used student credit card, gives just 1% cash back on all purchases, with no way to earn higher rewards. However, with the Discover it Student Cash Back card, cardholders earn 5% cash back on spending categories that rotate each quarter, such as gas, groceries, or purchases. These rewards max out at $1,500 in spending each quarter. But this card also offers unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Potential for a Large Bonus the First Year with Cash Back Match: Few student credit cards provide one-time offers, so this card's match of all the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardmember is especially valuable. There’s no limit to how much you can earn for this bonus. If you earn $200 in cash back rewards, Discover will double it to $400 total. 
  • Introductory 0% APR for Six Months on Purchases: The Discover it Student Cash Back card has an introductory 0% APR offer for six months on new purchases, giving you time to pay off a new laptop or textbooks without worrying about interest charges. After that promotional rate expires, this card’s variable APR will be 12.99%–21.99% variable. The 0% APR offer really makes the Student Cash Back card stand out from other student credit cards. Neither the Deserve Edu card nor the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One—two major student credit cards—have an introductory APR offer, so opting for the Discover it Student Cash Back card could help you save money.
  • Reward for Maintaining Good Grades: Cardholders receive a $20 statement credit for each school year their GPA is 3.0 or higher. You can earn the reward for up to five years, for a maximum of $100 in possible rewards for good grades.

Cons Explained

  • Spending Categories Must be Manually Activated: There's a catch to this card's potentially valuable rewards structure: you have to log in to your account and manually activate the spending categories each quarter to earn 5% cash back. Otherwise, you only earn 1% cash back on your purchases. 

This Card is Best For

  • Avatar for Cash Back Strategist Persona
    Seeks to maximize cash back earnings across spending categories
    Cash Back Strategist
  • Avatar for Annual Fee Averse Persona
    Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
    Annual Fee Averse
  • Avatar for College Student Persona
    Currently enrolled in an accredited four year college or university
    College Student

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is an excellent option for students who are organized enough to activate the rotating spending categories each quarter. If you can remember to do this—or if you set up calendar reminders on your phone or through email—the 5% rewards can add up.

Let’s say you spend the maximum of $1,500 per quarter on qualifying purchases in the spending categories and earn 5% cash back. You'd earn $300 per year from these cash back rewards alone, which is a decent amount of extra spending money. Even better, your cash back is matched after your first year as a cardmember, so that $300 in rewards doubles to $600.

But if you have trouble remembering to activate the spending categories, this card is probably not for you. Instead, you'd be better off with another credit card that offers a flat cash back rate. For example, the Discover it Chrome for Students card allows cardholders to automatically earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. And, you also get 1% cash back on all other purchases with both cards.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card One-Time Offer

With many credit cards, you earn a one-time offer if you spend a certain amount within the first three months of opening an account. However, this card matches all of the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardmember, and there’s no limit to how much the company will match. If you earn $200 in rewards, Discover will match it, giving you a total of $400. That’s a huge benefit for students on a tight budget, and a potentially bigger bonus than most student credit cards offer given the match.

Rewards Earning Details

With the Discover it Student Cash Back card, cardholders earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on rotating spending categories and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

For 2021, the spending categories are: 

  • January through March: Grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS
  • April through June: Gas stations, Select streaming services, and Wholesale Clubs
  • July through September: Restaurants and PayPal
  • October through December:, Target, and

Let's say you spend $7,000 per year with this card, using it to pay for gas, groceries, textbooks, toiletries, and eating out at sit-down or fast food restaurants. If you spent the maximum of $1,500 per quarter within each spending category, you’d earn $300 in rewards at the 5% rate. On the remaining $1,000 spent, you’d earn 1% cash back for an additional $10 in rewards. That would give you a total of $310 in cash back rewards. 

Plus, with this card’s offer for new cardmembers, Discover would match all of the cash back you earned during your first year, so you'd have $620 in rewards.

Rewards Redemption Details

With this card, you can redeem your rewards at any time, for any amount. If you have at least one cent accrued in rewards, you can redeem it for statement credits, electronic deposits to your bank account, donations to select charities, or you can use it to pay for purchases at retailers like 

Once you’ve accrued at least $5 in rewards, you can choose to redeem them for gift cards, which can help you get even more value. For every $20 you exchange into a gift card, you get a $25 card—giving you a $5 bonus. Current gift cards include Old Navy, The Gap, American Eagle, and more.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

To get the most value from this card, cardholders must remember to activate the 5% spending categories each quarter. Discover will email reminders, but you may find it helpful to set up your own calendar reminders on your phone or email account, too. 

You should also use this card to pay for all of your purchases within the 5% spending category each quarter. If you spend the maximum $1,500 per quarter at the 5% cash back rate, you’ll get $300 per year in cash back rewards. 

Since you only earn 1% cash back on other purchases after your first year as a cardmember, when the cash back match promotion expires, it may be worth switching to another credit card once you’ve hit the $1,500 spending limit or to earn greater rewards on purchases outside of that quarter’s 5% spending category. 

For example, the Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students card offers cardholders 3% cash back in the category of their choice, and they can choose gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvements. If you opt for gas and spend $2,094 per year on fuel—the national average for American households—you'd earn $62.82 in rewards. 

The Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students card also gives you 3% in the category of your choice, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on the first $2,500 in combined spend in the 3% and 2% categories each quarter), and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Standard Benefits

  • Freeze it on/off switch: If you lose your card, you can freeze your account from the mobile app or online to prevent unauthorized charges. 
  • Free FICO credit score: View your FICO credit score for free on your monthly statement or any time online.

Cardholder Experience

The 2020 J.D. Power U.S. Credit Card Customer Satisfaction Study ranked Discover second out of 11 national card issuers. It scored 837 which was higher than the national average of 810.

Discover’s customer service team is based in the United States, and is available 24 hours a day. You can get help through a secure messaging platform or you can speak to a representative by calling 1-800-DISCOVER.

Security Features

As a Discover cardmember, you get access to a host of security features, such as free Social Security number alerts. When you do so, Discover will monitor your information and will notify you if your Social Security number is found on the dark web. You'll also receive alerts if new credit accounts are opened on your Experian credit report.

Our Verdict

If you’re still in college and don’t mind manually activating the 5% spending categories, the Discover it Student Cash Back card is an excellent choice. With its potential for high rewards and a valuable cash back match for new cardmembers, the benefits can be significant. 

However, if you'd prefer a card that offers a flat rewards rate or automatic enrollment so you don't have to remember to activate the categories, you’d be better off with another credit card.

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Discover it® Student Cash Back
overall rating
Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Investopedia Credit Card Rating Methodology
Investopedia is committed to delivering the best credit card recommendations in the industry. We’ll tell you when a card is good, we’ll tell you when a card is bad, and we’ll only call a card the best if we would recommend it to our friends or family members.
Overall Star Rating Explained
To rate credit cards we objectively assess, score and weight nearly 100 individual card features which roll up into five major feature sets: fees, interest, rewards, benefits and security/customer service. Here’s how we weighted those feature sets for the overall star rating of a card:
We have applied our proprietary rating methodology to every generally-accepted credit card in the U.S. domestic market to allow consumers to make fully informed choices. It’s important to note that for our overall score that we make a number of assumptions about how you would be using your credit card:
  1. While we make no assumption as to whether balances are carried on a given card we do assign varying weights to all credit cards’ introductory APR (if present) in addition to the regular, long term purchase and balance transfer interest rates.
  2. We utilize BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) income and average category spending data to calculate annual earnings rates for rewards cards that offer cash back, points or miles rewards at a set rate on all spending or in consideration of bonus rewards for certain spending categories, like gasoline, groceries, restaurants or travel.
  3. We determine the maximum points value of rewards cards by dividing the points, cash back or miles required to exchange for the retail price of the most valuable redemption option (for example, in the case of a card that offers a domestic roundtrip airline ticket as a redemption option vs. another redemption option of lesser value that requires the same amount of points or miles to acquire, we would base the rewards value on the airline ticket).
  • Cards that are selected best overall in their respective categories generally feature most if not all of the following attributes:
  • Low or Reasonable Fees Credit card fees come in many forms but the primary ones involve those for annual card membership and balance transfer. There are a myriad of reward and non-reward card options that charge no annual fee but for the many that do assess an annual fee the cost is often justified by their lucrative ongoing rewards and initial signup bonuses. Balance transfer fees are occasionally waived during introductory periods with certain cards, a factor which is heavily and positively weighted in our scoring model for cards offering this benefit. When charged, balance transfer fees range between 3% - 5%, which we grade accordingly. Other standard fees can generally be avoided, such as those for paying late or taking cash advances but we rate those relative to other cards in the market for reference, though with less weight assigned
  • Competitive Interest Many cards offer 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for varying lengths and then revert to a permanent or regular APR (based on a variable rate tied to the prime rate) that applies to any balances not paid in full. We rate both introductory APR percentage and length (in months) along with the midpoint of the variable regular APR interest rate range.
  • Valuable Rewards Credit card reward programs can be based on cash back, points or travel rewards (which can be generic or travel partner-specific, as with airline and hotel co-brand card programs). For cards that offer rewards we determine the value per dollar spent along with average redemption values and assign more favorable ratings to cards that offer superior consumer value. We also assign value to sign-up bonus offers and their initial spending requirements, when present.
  • Excellent Benefits Credit card benefits cover a range of offerings like concierge service, TSA Pre-check, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, lost luggage assistance and free credit scores. We rate cards on the number and level of over a dozen standard and upscale benefits and provide extra weighting emphasis for those travel-related perks that apply to premium travel cards when present.
  • Solid Security/Customer Service Security and customer service features like lost or stolen card replacement, being able to lock one’s card from an issuer app and 24 hour customer support are becoming more standard across the card market and we provide a significant amount of weighting to features in this area.
  • You can also read the full version of our methodology for a more in-depth look at how we assess cards and award them the best in various categories.