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.
May 20, 2022

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Our Take

4.6

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.

Jump to: Full Review
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.74%-22.74% Variable APR
Intro APR
0% intro APR on Purchases for 6 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months
Rec. credit score
630-689 (Average)
Apply now

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

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No annual fee

  • Qualify with limited/bad credit

  • Bonus categories

  • Intro APR period

  • Reports to the three major credit bureaus

Cons

  • Complicated rewards

Alternate Pick: Simple rewards with no credit
Petal 2 Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" 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. Petal's cards are issued by WebBank.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual fee

$0

Annual fee

$0

Annual fee

$0

Regular APR

13.74%-22.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

13.74%-22.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

20.24% 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
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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! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. 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 13.74%-22.74% 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.

  • 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. For students without a credit history, the rewards are far superior to just about every other option. 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 2022

Q1 (Jan. 1–March 31)

• Grocery stores*. • Fitness clubs and gym memberships.

Q2 (April 1–June 30)

• Gas stations. • Target.

Q3 (July 1–Sept. 30)

• Restaurants. • PayPal.

Q4 (Oct. 1–Dec. 31)

• Amazon.com. • Digital wallets.

*The grocery stores category does not include grocery purchases at Walmart or Target or at other superstores or wholesale clubs.

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.

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 13.74%-22.74% 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.

See NerdWallet's roundup of the best credit cards to have for even more options.

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.

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

Methodology

NerdWallet reviews credit cards with an eye toward both the quantitative and qualitative features of a card. Quantitative features are those that boil down to dollars and cents, such as fees, interest rates, rewards (including earning rates and redemption values) and the cash value of benefits and perks. Qualitative factors are those that affect how easy or difficult it is for a typical cardholder to get good value from the card. They include such things as the ease of application, simplicity of the rewards structure, the likelihood of using certain features, and whether a card is well-suited to everyday use or is best reserved for specific purchases. Our star ratings serve as a general gauge of how each card compares with others in its class, but star ratings are intended to be just one consideration when a consumer is choosing a credit card. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.
Frequently asked questions
How do you earn rewards with the Discover it Student Cash Back?

The card pays 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 spent each quarter (requires activation) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. (See current and past bonus categories here.) New cardholders also get a bonus offer that the issuer describes this way: "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! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match." You can earn statement credits for getting good grades, too.

Does the Discover it Student Cash Back have a rewards limit?

Although the amount of bonus cash back you can earn per quarter is limited, there's no limit to the total cash back you can earn. Even after you hit the quarterly cap on bonus spending, you still earn 1% in those categories.

Do you have to be a student to get the Discover it Student Cash Back?

You must be a student enrolled at a two- or four-year college or university to be eligible for the Discover it® Student Cash Back.

Is it hard to get the Discover it Student Cash Back card?

The Discover it® Student Cash Back doesn’t require a FICO credit history, making it easier for beginners to credit to qualify. You’ll still have to meet other requirements, including being a student and having sufficient income, so approval is never guaranteed. Credit cards for those under 21 years old tend to have strict requirements to qualify.

Which Discover student card is best?

Discover offers two student cards; the right one for you depends on your spending and account management habits. (See a side-by-side comparison.) The Discover it® Student chrome offers decent ongoing rewards and is a good fit if you value the simplicity of a low-maintenance card. If you’re willing to put in some effort to activate bonus categories each quarter and keep them top of mind when you spend, the Discover it® Student Cash Back may offer more value.

What happens to the Discover it Student Cash Back card when I graduate?

Once you notify Discover of your graduation, the issuer removes the “student” designation from your card account. You get to keep the same card and the rewards that come with it, but post-graduation you’ll be considered a Discover it® Cash Back cardholder. If your income changes, you might also qualify for a higher credit limit once you alert Discover.

Can you get the Discover it Student Cash Back with no credit history?

Yes, you can qualify with no credit. The Discover it® Student Cash Back does not require a FICO credit history, although you have to meet other eligibility standards, including having sufficient income.