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Comparing Student Cards: Capital One vs. Discover

Oct. 3, 2018
Credit Cards, Student Credit Cards
Capital One vs. Discover Student Credit Cards
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In many ways, establishing good credit is as important to college students as maintaining a good GPA. A credit card is one of the best ways to build a credit history and show that you can handle credit responsibly. Among the most popular choices in student credit cards are the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® and the Discover it® Student Cash Back. Let’s compare them side by side and see which one might be better for you.

At a glance
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® Discover it® Student Cash Back
Annual fee $0 $0
APR  The ongoing APR is 24.99% Variable APR 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
Rewards program Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time. 5% on revolving categories; 1% on all other purchases. Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
Who would want each card?
Good for:
  • Both students and nonstudents
  • Someone who always pays on time
  • Someone with average credit
  • College students
  • Someone who wants a lower APR
  • Someone with average credit
Bad for:
  • Someone who tends to make late payments
  • Someone who is not a student

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® vs. Discover it® Student Cash Back: The basics

These cards have a lot in common:

  • Both have no annual fee.
  • Both have no foreign transaction fee.
  • Both are available to people with average credit.
  • Both offer cardholders free credit scores.

Either card would be good for credit newcomers who want to track their credit score and who want to travel abroad as cheaply as possible.

Key differences:

  • You don’t have to be a student to qualify for the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, although the card is marketed specifically toward students. By contrast, you must be a student to get the Discover it® Student Cash Back.
  • If you’ll be carrying a balance, interest rates are important. The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. The ongoing APR is 24.99% Variable APR for Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.

Nerd Tip

Although both of these cards are marketed as “college student credit cards,” simply being a student is typically not enough to qualify for a credit card. For example, if you’re under 21, issuers may require you to have a full-time income. Read more about student card requirements.

The rewards

The rewards on each card may end up being the decider here.

The rewards program on the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® program is set-it-and-forget-it. You get 1% cash back on everything, plus an additional 0.25% in any month when you pay on time. If you make your first five payments on time, you may get a credit line increase. This can help boost your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio — the percentage of your available credit that you’re using.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back’ rewards program is a little more complex. You earn 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter (on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter), and 1% back on everything else. You have to remember to opt in to the bonus categories each quarter. You’ll get a $20 statement credit each year for having a GPA of 3.0 or higher. And this card adds a sweet bonus down the line: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.

This year’s 5% cash-back categories for Discover are:

Discover bonus categories for 2018
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

The extras

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® rewards you for good credit management: Paying on time earns you a higher cash-back percentage and possibly a credit line increase. You can also choose your monthly due date to make it easier to manage your money. And you have access to your credit score so you can chart your progress.

Discover it® Student Cash Back rewards you for good grades. And if you slip up and pay late, you won’t have a late-payment fee the first time ($35 if you make the same mistake again) and your APR will not increase.

This card also has Discover’s “Freeze it” feature. When you register your card with the Discover app or online, you can “turn your card off” if you lose it or it’s stolen. No one — even you — can make any transactions with the card until you turn it on again. Although both cards have zero fraud liability, this feature can save a lot of hassle if you think your card may be merely misplaced rather than truly missing.

Which card should I get?

With these details in mind, think about how you live. Which features will benefit you the most? If you expect to do a lot of spending in the 5% bonus categories and you don’t mind tracking those categories, go with Discover it® Student Cash Back. On the other hand, if you just want a decent cash-back rate with no complications, you pay on time and you’d like to get some benefit for doing so, consider the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.

Regardless of which card you choose, remember that the main purpose of a student card is to help you build a solid credit history. Do your part by spending only what you can afford to pay back and by paying on time every month.

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon