Discover it Student Cash Back Review: A Rewarding Introduction to Credit

This no-annual-fee card offers the same rewards and new-cardholder bonus as Discover's regular cash-back cards; there's also a statement credit for students with good grades.

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Our Take

4.9

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: This is a great card for a student learning to handle credit. On top of the rewards, you get a free FICO score, low fees and forgiveness for your first late payment.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Recommended Credit Score

Quick FactsView rates and fees

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Earn 5% Cash Back in rotating categories each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you activate

  • No FICO history required.

  • Bonus cash back categories

  • No annual fee

  • Intro APR period on Purchases and Balance Transfers

  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue

  • Bonus rewards categories require quarterly activation

Alternate Pick: Simple rewards with no credit

Petal® Visa® Credit Card

Earn a decent rewards rate on all purchases

This $0-annual-fee card earns up to 1.5% cash back on every purchase with on-time payments. It starts off at 1% cash back on all purchases, and increases to 1.25% after six on-time payments, then 1.5% after 12 on-time payments. It's possible to qualify for this card with no credit history, and no security deposit is required.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Regular APR

12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Regular APR

18.74% Variable

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

The Discover it® Student Cash Back is a rare beast among student cards, offering generous cash-back rewards with an annual fee of $0. And even with no credit history at all, you may be able to qualify.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Basics

Card type: College student.

Annual fee: $0.

Bonus: 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.

Rewards: You’ll earn 5% cash back in categories that change every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter when you activate and 1% back on everything else.

APR: 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.

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Other perks:

  • Payments are reported to the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian), which helps you build credit.

  • Good Grades Rewards offer a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.

  • No late fee on your first late payment.

  • Access to your Credit Scorecard lets you track your progress.

  • Free Social Security number alerts let you know if your information is found on the dark web.

  • Discover's Freeze It feature allows you to block new purchases, balance transfers and cash advances remotely from the issuer's online portal or app, in case your card goes missing.

  • Free overnight shipping helps you quickly replace your card if it's lost, damaged or stolen.

Why you might want the Discover it® Student Cash Back

Standout rewards for a starter card

The rewards program on the Discover it® Student Cash Back is the same as on Discover's regular cash-back credit cards — and far superior to what's available on just about every other card for college students. For an annual fee of $0, you get 5% cash back in categories that change every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter and 1% back on everything else. The 5% categories, which you must opt in to every quarter, tend to be everyday expenses. The current categories include:

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.

Student-friendly ways to earn bonuses

With the Discover it® Student Cash Back, you aren't under any pressure to hit a high spending requirement to lock down a sign-up bonus. Instead, it doubles all the cash back you earned in your first year. For students who don't spend much, this flexibility is a plus.

The card also offers an incentive for good grades. Every year you have a GPA of at least 3.0 (for up to five years), you're eligible for a $20 statement credit.

A 0% intro APR period

Introductory 0% APR offers are a rare find on student credit cards. This card has introductory APRs of 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. You'll get a smooth interest-free transition as you get started with credit and maybe a long enough break to help you pay off some pricey textbooks. Keep track of when the promotional period ends, though; you don't want to be paying the high ongoing APR afterward.

Why you might want a different credit card

Rotating bonus categories

The Discover it® Student Cash Back offers rich ongoing rewards, but its rotating bonus categories can be a hassle to manage and track. If you want a card with bonus categories that stay put, consider the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card. It offers 2 ThankYou points per dollar spent at supermarkets and gas stations (for the first $6,000 spent per year) and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. You'll also get to round your purchases up to the nearest 10 points and earn 10% of your points back (on up to the first 100,000 ThankYou points redeemed per year).

Limited acceptance abroad

Compared with Mastercard and Visa, Discover's acceptance abroad is more limited. So even though the Discover it® Student Cash Back doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, you don't want to set off for a semester abroad with only this card in your pocket. The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, a Visa, is more widely accepted and also skips foreign transaction fees. It offers a decent 1% cash back rate on all spending, plus an extra 0.25% for paying on time.

Not an option for international students

You can qualify for the Discover it® Student Cash Back without a credit history, but Discover confirms that a Social Security number is necessary for approval.

If you lack a Social Security number and a U.S. credit history, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students can be an excellent starter card. The issuer uses its own underwriting process to evaluate applications based on alternative factors such as your bank account and contact information. The card earns 1% cash back on all purchases and it even offers some perks, too. It has a $0 annual fee. Terms apply.

Is the Discover it® Student Cash Back right for you?

The ideal starter credit card should help you build credit at a minimal cost. The Discover it® Student Cash Back does that and more with its annual fee of $0 and rich rewards. For students who can benefit from its rotating bonus categories, it's a good fit.

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