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Discover it® for Students: Is It The Best Student Card?

Opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the issuer. We may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program. For a full list of our advertisers, including American Express, see our disclosure page.

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"The Discover it® for Students is one of the best student cards available. It provides features which help newcomers to the world of credit cards."

Contents

For college students, there just aren't many credit card options that will treat you like an adult. While the best credit cards tend to be rewards-focused most cards catered to students have poor if any rewards at all. Fortunately, the Discover it® for Students is one of the few cards that offers students the same benefits as holders of the standard Discover it® ­- Cashback Match™ card. The Discover it® for Students offers a competitive 5% cash back on rotating categories when you sign up (capped at $1,500 in spending each quarter) which, if used even somewhat frequently, will provide fantastic rewards to any student trying to stretch their dollar further. Plus, at the end of your first cardmember year, Discover will double all the cash back you've earned (offer only available to new cardmembers). This is one of the best benefits we've seen on any cash back card, since it will effectively make your cash back rate 2% to 10% for those first 12 months, up to the quarterly limits.

Pros

  • No Annual Fee
  • Rewards are as good as some top-tier credit cards' perks
  • $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years

Cons

  • Some rotating categories might not be useful for students
  • Discover cards are not as widely accepted at all places

Review: A Great Option For Students Looking To Build Credit

For students looking to build their credit, few cards provide an option as good as the Discover it® for Students. Among all student credit cards, the Discover it® for Students provides one of the higher cash back rewards. Not only that, but it is designed with a newcomer to credit cards in mind. The Discover it® for Students has built-in safety mechanisms that can protect you from common mistakes that first-time cardholders might make on their first credit card.

One feature that we like about the Discover it® for Students is the "No Penalty Rate", which is a pretty big deal when it comes to downside risks. Even if students fail to make monthly payments on time, they won't risk having their credit card's interest rates raised to a high level. Keep in mind though that you still risk getting a knock on your credit score at the very beginning of building credit history, so you're still fully incentivized to make your payments on time.

Furthermore, the Discover it® for Students also rewards its cardholders with different bonus categories every three months that undergraduates can earn up to 5% cash back on, when they are activated. These range from gas, restaurants, to home improvement stores. The bonus categories are capped at the first $1,500 in spending each quarter.

For new cardmembers, all the rewards you earn are doubled at the end of the first year. This same perk exists on other cash back Discover it® credit cards, and it's what makes these cards stand out beyond it's competitors. In the very least, this benefit helps make up for the fact that the Discover it® for Students has no welcome bonus.

If you're a student with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, Discover will provide you with even better rewards. New members who meet the aforementioned qualification, will be awarded $20 cash back each school year for up to 5 years. This benefit is, of course, reliant upon you being in school. Therefore, we anticipate most individuals will only be able to take advantage of it for approximately 4 years. Still, that is a decent $80 rewards for those who manage to maintain that 3.0 GPA over that time.

Discover it® for Students Benefits and Features

To help you understand the Discover it® for Students we took an in depth break down of the cards features and explain what we think about each.

Annual Fee $0
Purchase APR 13.99% - 22.99% Variable
Card Details
  • New! Free Social Security Number alerts, we’ll monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.*
  • 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 in rotating categories each quarter like Amazon.com, restaurants, ground transportation and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • 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 & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 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.

The Rotating Bonus Categories from Discover it® for Students

Each quarter the types of stores and spending where you are eligible for bonus cash back change. Stores which fall into the right category, during the right time of year will earn you up to 5% cash back on your purchases. Note that this is capped at a maximum quarterly limit of $1,500 – this translates to a maximum cash back rewards of $75 ($1,500 x 0.05 = 75). All other spending nets students with the Discover it® for Students 1% back, with no cap.

For maximum savings, be sure to be aware of when you can save most on your big purchases – especially those you can put off by a few months in order to receive a greater bonus. Below is the 2016 calendar that can give you an idea of the types of categories involved.

Jan - Mar 2016 Apr - Jun 2016 Jul - Sep 2016 Oct - Dec 2016
Gas & Ground Transportation Restaurants & Movies Home Improvement & Amazon.com Amazon.com & More

How Good are the Bonus Categories for Students?

Previously, there was a mismatch between the bonus categories that Discover had on its student card with the typical undergraduate calendar at university - one of the drawbacks of sharing benefits with the non-student credit cards is that some of the bonus categories were hit or miss for students. For instance, the ‘Home Improvement and Furniture’ category for the second quarter of 2016 probably wasn't something most college students would have take advantage of. Given that it takes place at the end of the school year, when finals and papers are a top priority, we're not sure any college-aged person is looking to update their dormitory and living arrangements.

Thankfully for the 2016 calendar year, the Discover it® for Students credit card has accounted for this, and designated their fourth quarter for back-to-school oriented spending. That's perfect timing for students traveling back to school who are looking to buy textbooks via Amazon. Gas and ground transportation in the first quarter might help to cover basic refueling needs for students who live off-campus and drive to classes. As the weather gets warmer from April to June, and more undergraduates venture outdoors, the Discover it® for Students card bumps up spending when it comes to eating out and other entertainment activities. Lastly, the bonus for holiday shopping will come in handy for presents for roommates or sorority and fraternity friends.

How Do I Maximize my Cash Back on the Discover it® for Students?

While it is not always possible to make 100% of your spending fall into a bonus category, we wanted to present you with an idea of what to expect if even a portion of it does. To do so, we considered an individual with a hypothetical budget of $1,000 – the sum here really doesn’t matter, the rewards rates will apply to your total spending as well. What does matter is what percentage of your total spending will be located in what category: bonus or general?

What we did was take increments of $250, in order to paint a clearer picture of where an individual could fall. For example, say you spend $250 on bonus categories, earning 5% cash back, while the other $750, earns you 1% cash back. Therefore, your total cash back becomes:

  • Bonus Categories: $250 x 0.05 = $12.50
  • Other Spending: $750 x 0.01 = $7.50
  • Total Rewards: $12.50 + $7.50 = $20
  • Rewards Rate: $20 Total Rewards / $1,000 (which was what you spend in total) = 2%

Therefore, by making just 25% of your total charges fall into the bonus rotating category each quarter, you can have an effective rewards rate of 2%. Below is a table showing you different percentages of spending and what the resultant effective rewards rate will be. The table below shows approximate rewards rates depending on estimated spending in the bonus categories.

Spending in Bonus Categories Effective Rewards Rate
0% 1%
25% 2%
50% 3%
75% 4%
100% 5%

Redeeming Cash Back

An additional feature of the Discover it® for Students, which is not present in many other cash back credit cards, is the ability to use the cash earned at any point. While other cards, such as the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer, credit your statement for the total amount of cash back earned, Discover it® for Students users can choose to, at any point, use their balance to shop at the online retailer Amazon. There is no loss if you choose to redeem your rewards in this way. $1 earned through Discover it® for Students cash back equals $1 you can spend directly on amazon.

Credit-Building Tools on the Discover it® for Students

As we mentioned, one of the best features of the Discover it® for Students is the fact that it has no penalty APR. Under most credit cards, if you're late on a payment for more than 30 days, the card company can raise your interest rate to the Penalty Rate or Default Interest Rate. This is a pretty big deal since that rate is usually close to the maximum allowable by law. (To see what penalty rates are like by issuer see our credit card interest rate article here) Generally speaking, this can be anywhere from 10-15% higher than your original APR and the rate can apply indefinitely. It means your balance can become almost twice as expensive.

It is understandable that studying for finals or stressing over research term papers can result in the occasional late or missed credit card payment. With the Discover it® for Students, even if you do fail to make your payment on time, you won't risk getting penalized by Discover with high interest rates on financing charges. Keep in mind though that, while there is no immediate penalty, credit card users still adversely impact their credit score, so there is still a premium on making timely payments.

One last noteworthy aspect of the Discover it® for Students is its credit score reporting. With this card, students have the ability to constantly monitor their credit score. Each month their FICO score is presented to them on their statement – if you want to know your current score sooner, Discover also provides this number online. This option gives students insight into how their spending and payment habits affect their credit score – a lesson they can take with them to other credit cards down the line.

How does the Discover it® for Students compare to Other Credit Cards?

To help you make a better comparison use our tool to compare the Discover it® for Students with the other student credit card options. Our interactive graphing tool below allows students to enter in their estimated monthly spending across different types of categories to see how their rewards rate can compare across several credit card options they might be considering. In addition to their rewards, users can also see other metrics such as interest rates, and annual fees, etc.

Edit Monthly Spend: $1,430
General:
Gas:
Groceries:
Airlines:
Hotel:
Dining:
Office:
Utilities:
Computing:
Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the Rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s sign-up bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards Value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any sign-up bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Discover it® for Students
$0 1.43%
$171
Discover gives a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. (New cardmembers only)
$514
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0
APR 13.99% - 22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • New! Free Social Security Number alerts, we’ll monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.*
  • 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 in rotating categories each quarter like Amazon.com, restaurants, ground transportation and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • 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 & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 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.

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
171 x $1 = $171
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 514
Chase Freedom®
$0 1.37%
$150
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
$493
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0
APR 15.99% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter like gas stations, restaurants and drugstores
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.99-24.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
0 x $1 = $150
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 493
Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Credit Card for College Students
$0* 1.18%
$25
Earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou points after you spend $500 within the first 3 months
$423
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0*
APR 15.49% - 25.49%* (Variable)
*Rates and Fees

Card Details

  • Earn 2,500 bonus points after spending $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • 2,500 ThankYou® Points are redeemable for $25 in gift cards, electronics and other great rewards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • Earn 2X Points on Dining Out & Entertainment
  • Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • No annual fee*

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.01 = $398
Bonuses
2,500 x $0.01 = $25
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 423
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
$0 1.80%
$100
Get $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $100 back in the form of a statement credit.
$650
Graph Card Read Review More Details

Terms and Limitations Apply

Annual Fee $0
APR 13.99%-24.99% Variable
*Rates and Fees

Card Details

  • $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • No annual fee.
  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, 1% back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 13.99% to 24.99%.
  • Expanding merchant acceptance: Over 1 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in the last year.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.
  • Terms Apply.

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 550 x $1 = $550
Bonuses
0 x $1 = $100
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 650
Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
$0 0.95%
$0
$343
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $0
APR 24.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There's no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards won't expire for the life of the account
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you

Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One® and is not part of our independent analysis.

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 343

Discover it® for Students vs Discover it® chrome for Students

The most difficult choice for some may come when having to decide between the Discover it® for Students or its chrome variant. The Discover it® chrome for Students card works a little differently than its sibling card. The chrome version has no rotating categories. Instead, cardholders receive 1% cash back for all purchases except for those made at gas stations and restaurants – there, students can receive 2% (up to $1,000 per quarter). The bonus category on the Discover it® chrome for Students is at least more tailored towards student spending than some of the Discover’s rotating categories. This certainly adds to the card’s functionality.

Because of the different rewards structure, choosing between the cards should come down to the following consideration. If one’s spending is far more limited in both scope and amount, the Discover it® chrome for Students provides better value. However, if you enjoy spending freedom and often shop around for things included in the standard edition’s rotating categories, the Discover it® for Students is a far better card.

Both cards offer the same "double your rewards at the end of the first year" perk.

Discover it® for Students vs Chase Freedom®

The Discover it® for Students is a card which works in a similar way to the Discover it® for Students. There are rotating categories, which give 5% cash back on certain purchases during certain times of the year – exactly like the Discover it® for Students. The one thing the Chase Freedom® has over the Discover it® for Students is the signing bonus. The Chase Freedom® cardholders are given the chance to earn $150 if they spend $500 within 3 months of receiving their card. Over the course of 4-5 years, students who maintain a 3.0 GPA can make up for this difference in welcome bonuses, however, with Discover's 'good grades' promotion.

Discover it® for Students vs Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer is one of the best cash back cards around. As mentioned previously, the Discover it® for Students falls into the ‘rotating category’ type of cash back credit cards. The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer is one of the best cards which fall into the opposite camp – flat rate cash back. No matter when or how you use your Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer, you will earn 1% back on your purchases, and another 1% when you pay those purchases off.

For a consumer who is not concerned about working to maximize the value of their card, by making purchases at optimal times and for optimal categories, the Discover it® for Students can have more value. However, if you simply want a no-hassle card which provides great rewards, then the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer is a no brainer.

Discover it® for Students vs Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express follows the same flat rate structure of the Citi Double Cash. Users earn 3% cash back at US supermarkets (capped at $6,000 per year), 2% back at U.S. gas stations, and 1% back everywhere else. This structure is more difficult to manage than something like the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer, however it is still simpler to keep track of than Discover it® for Students changing categories. Students should look to the their spending patterns, and which merchants they frequent to guide their decision between the two cards.

Bottom Line: Is the Discover it® for Students Worth It?

Students looking for their first credit card have a lot to gain by applying for the Discover it® for Students. This card requires a certain level of involvement and monitoring in order to maximize its value. If consumers are looking for less hassle and a flat rewards, at the cost of losing a few bonus categories, the Discover it® chrome may be a better option. Ultimately, the Discover it® for Students is a fantastic card for building credit, regardless of which variant you choose to go with.

Resources for Discover it® for Students

How do I use my cash back at Amazon.com?

To see how to use Discover it® for Students cash back credit on Amazon, follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/shopwithpoints/marketing.html?ie=UTF8&inc=cbbusage&pr=swpdfscbb.

How do I apply for the Discover it® for Students?

To apply, visit Discover's website..

How do I check my FICO score, if I am already a Discover it® for Students cardmember?

You can check your credit score at any point by logging into your Discover online account, through card member services. You can also see your most recent credit score printed on your monthly statement.

Comments and Questions

Advertiser Disclosure: Some of the offers that appear on this website are from companies which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The site does not review or include all companies or all available products. For more information please see our Advertiser Disclosure.