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
- 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 Amazon.com 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.
- 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
Seeks to maximize cash back earnings across spending categories
Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
Currently enrolled in an accredited four year college or university
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: Amazon.com, Target, and Walmart.com
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 Amazon.com.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.