Discover it Student Cash Back vs. Student Chrome: It Hinges on Habits

The best fit for you depends on your spending personality and whether you crave low maintenance or elevated rates.

Melissa LambarenaJune 11, 2020

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With similar names and many of the same perks, it may seem like the Discover it® Student Cash Back could be the Discover it® Student chrome’s stunt double, or vice versa.

But there is one main difference between the two credit cards — their rewards rates and structures.

The Discover it® Student chrome offers decent ongoing rewards in specific categories, while the Discover it® Student Cash Back credit card earns a higher rate on spending categories that change quarterly.

Both choices are worthy candidates as starter cards, but your spending habits can point you toward the best option.

What’s the same for both

Rewards rate

  • Discover it® Student chrome: Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending in rotating categories that you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The current bonus categories for the Discover it® Student Cash Back are:

Discover bonus rewards categories for 2020

Q1 (Jan. 1 – March 31)

• Grocery stores. • CVS. • Walgreens.

Q2 (April 1 – June 30)

• Gas stations. • Uber and Lyft. • Wholesale clubs. • June only: Home Depot

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Restaurants. • PayPal.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

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

WHICH IS BETTER?

It depends. It all comes down to your spending habits and whether you’re willing to put in a little more work for a higher rewards rate.

For a low-maintenance option, the Discover it® Student chrome will be a better bet, especially if you spend a lot on gas or dining out.

If, however, you don't mind keeping track of bonus categories that change each quarter, the Discover it® Student Cash Back can be a potentially more lucrative option. You’ll have to activate these categories each quarter.

You might also find that some quarterly categories don’t match your spending with the Discover it® Student Cash Back. You’ll still earn 1% on all purchases, though, which is a decent rate for a student credit card.

Sign-up bonus

  • Discover it® Student chrome: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for- dollar match.

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for- dollar match.

WHICH IS BETTER?

It’s a tie. They both have the same bonus and spending requirements to earn it.

Interest rate

  • Discover it® Student chrome: 0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR.

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: 0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR.

WHICH IS BETTER?

Another tie. Both options offer a short break from interest payments if you need some time to pay off expensive textbooks or a new computer. Of course, minimum payments still apply.

Redemption requirements

  • Discover it® Student chrome: There’s no minimum redemption requirement (with a couple of exceptions). Redeem rewards at any amount for statement credit, a deposit into an account or by using your rewards to pay at select merchants, including Amazon. (Redeeming rewards for gift cards or instant eCertificates with Discover partners does require a minimum of $20 earned in cash back.)

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: The same applies to this card.

WHICH IS BETTER?

Yet another tie. Both cards offer the same variety of redemption options. With either card, the flexibility to redeem rewards at any amount is beneficial, especially when you need money for a late-night study session or pizza run.

Which should you get?

  • If you want simplicity: The Discover it® Student chrome is a low-maintenance option that offers a competitive 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% back on all other purchases.

  • If you want to maximize rewards: The Discover it® Student Cash Back can offer higher rewards in specific categories, if you're willing to put in the effort to track those categories and activate them each quarter.

DOES THE REWARDS RATE REALLY MATTER?

When it comes to student credit cards, rewards are nice — and in this case of similar cards, they can be a deciding factor — but what really matters is the opportunity to establish credit. Once you do that, you can qualify for lower interest rates in the future when you buy a car, a house or take out a loan.

Not many student or starter credit cards offer the chance to build credit while also earning rewards, but these cards are among the exceptions. Choose the one that earns the most value for your everyday spending.

Keep in mind that for either card, even if you have no credit history, that may not prevent you from qualifying. If, however, you have a credit history but it's poor, you can consider an alternative option that looks beyond credit scores.

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