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Discover it for Students Review: A Rewarding Introduction to Credit

Credit Cards, Student Credit Cards
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Discover it for Students Review: A Rewarding Intro to Credit - NerdWallet

Student credit cards are generally good for only two things: teaching young people to use credit, and helping them establish a credit history so they’ll be able to qualify for other types of loans in the future.

The Discover it® for Students, however, is a rare beast among student cards. In addition to the above, it offers cash-back rewards, a bonus for good grades and tools for managing credit. It does all of this with remarkably low fees. That’s why it’s among our choices for the best credit cards for college students.

Discover it® for Students

Discover it® for Students

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 630
    689
    Average
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Earn 5% Cash Back in rotating categories each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate
    • Qualify with average credit
    • Bonus cash back categories
    • No annual fee
    • 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months
    • No foreign transaction fee

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 13.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 25.99%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

    Intro APR

    • 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months
  • Additional Information
    • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
    • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Target now through December 2017, on up to $1,500 in purchases when you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
    • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
    • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
    • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
    • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
    • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
    • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Low fees

We’ll get this out of the way first: How much is it going to cost you to carry this card? Not very much. Discover offers consistently low fees across all its credit cards, and the Discover it® for Students is no exception.

  • $0 annual fee.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No late fee for the first missed payment. After that there’s a late fee of up to $37. Your interest rate won’t get jacked up for being late, either.
  • Balance transfer fee of 3% if you want to take advantage of the introductory APR offer: 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% Variable APR.
  • Cash advance fee of either $10 or 5% of the amount of the advance, whichever is greater.

» MORE: Discover credit cards mobile app review

Let’s talk rewards

The Discover it® for Students pays you 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. You get 1% back on all other spending, including bonus category spending above the $1,500 cap. To get the bonus rewards, you have to activate the category every quarter. We suggest setting a calendar reminder so you don’t miss out.

The current categories are:

DISCOVER BONUS CATEGORIES FOR LATE 2017 AND 2018
Q4 2017 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Amazon.com and Target
Q1 2018 (Jan. 1 – March 31)Gas stations and wholesale clubs
Q2 2018 (April 1 – June 30)Grocery stores
Q3 2018 (July 1 – Sept. 30)Restaurants
Q4 2018 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Amazon.com and wholesale clubs

This card doesn’t have a traditional sign-up bonus, in which you get a lump of cash as a reward for using your new card. Instead, the bonus comes at the end of your first year, and it’s tied directly to how much you spent: Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

In addition to the cash-back rewards based on your purchases, Discover offers a bonus for good grades: For every school year that you have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, Discover will give you $20. The bonus is available for up to five years. That way, you can treat yourself when you’ve been hitting the books especially hard.

Discover’s other student credit card

Perhaps the bonus categories on the Discover it® for Students aren’t in areas where you normally spend very much money. Discover offers another student credit card, the Discover it® chrome for Students, that structures its cash-back bonuses differently.

Instead of giving 5% cash back on a kaleidoscope of changing bonus categories, the Discover it® chrome for Students pays 2% all the time on just two: restaurants and gas. These may be especially attractive for students commuting to campus, but the 2% rate applies only to your first $1,000 in combined restaurant and gas spending each quarter.

You’ll still earn a flat 1% back on all other spending, and you won’t have to remember to sign up for quarterly bonus categories. Otherwise, the Discover it® chrome for Students and the Discover it® for Students are very similar in features and in their fee structures.

But that 2% back on restaurant and gas spending allows for a maximum of $20 in bonus cash back per quarter, plus 1% of all other spending. By comparison, bonus cash back on the Discover it® for Students tops out at $75 per quarter, plus 1% on all other spending. We especially like the Discover it® for Students because the potential rewards are so much higher.

You can find out how this student card compares against others by visiting NerdWallet’s list of the best credit card offers right now.

Interest rates

It’s unusual for student credit cards to offer a 0% APR period, but once again, the Discover it® for Students is the exception: 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% Variable APR.

This is useful when you need a while to pay off an especially large purchase, like a semester’s worth of textbooks, or a place to sit down in your first off-campus apartment.

The promotional APR on balance transfers isn’t as generous as that for purchases, and keep in mind that Discover also charges a balance transfer fee equal to 3% of the amount transferred.

Other perks

If your card is lost or stolen, you can quickly prevent someone from taking it for a joyride by using Discover’s Freeze It® on/off switch. Most credit card issuers offer the ability to suspend your account quickly, but Discover has put considerable attention into developing a convenient tool, and it shows. The tool is available online and through Discover’s mobile app.

One helpful feature is that it doesn’t freeze every type of activity on your account: Recurring payments can still go forward, which is great if your cell phone carrier is a expecting a payment.

Discover also offers free access to your credit score on your monthly statement and online, an increasingly common practice for major credit card issuers. NerdWallet, too, offers access to credit scores for free.


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What’s not to like?

Poor international acceptance rates. Compared with MasterCard and Visa, Discover’s acceptance abroad is more limited. So even though the Discover it® for Students doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, we don’t recommend setting off for your semester abroad with only this card in your pocket.

No more co-signer option. Discover used to be one of NerdWallet’s darlings because it allowed students to qualify for a credit card by asking a parent to co-sign on the account, a rarity among major credit card issuers. It stopped allowing co-signers at the end of 2016, but Discover assures us that the company is still committed to helping people who are new to credit.

» MORE: Which credit card issuers allow co-signers?

Nerdy insight

Be aware that simply being a college student is not enough to qualify you for a student credit card. If you’re under 21, you’ll need to show proof of income for most student cards. Read more about student card requirements.

One of the better options for students

The fact that Discover offers a low-fee student card with high rewards makes us makes us believe them when they say they’re committed to new-to-credit customers. If much of your spending falls within Discover’s rotating bonus categories, you could hardly find a better student credit card than the Discover it® for Students.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.