August 11, 2022

Discover It Student Cash Back Credit Card: The Best Option for Most College Students

If you’re in college, you can apply for a student credit card to help you…

Discover It Student Cash Back Credit Card: The Best Option for Most College Students

If you’re in college, you can apply for a student credit card to help you build credit, earn rewards or provide an emergency source of financing, without the hassle of stringent credit checks.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back* offers the best of all those features. Its rewards program is arguably the one of the best — depending on your budget — and the welcome bonus is currently unmatched. And even if you don’t want to use a credit card regularly, a short introductory APR makes this a good option if emergency expenses were to arise.

And while all student credit cards are pretty forgiving when it comes to credit checks, Discover does not require a credit score at all — though the card can help you build your credit. Between that and higher-than average rewards, this credit card can provide the best value for most college students. (It’s also one of the few credit cards that allows you to choose from a handful of different designs.)

Below we’ll review the rewards program, welcome bonus and other features, and suggest some other considerations.

Read more: Best Debit Cards for College Students

In this article

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Intro OfferIntro 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.

APR14.49% – 23.49% Variable

Intro Purchase APR0% for 6 months

Recommended Credit Fair/New to Credit

Reward Rates

  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Balance Transfer APR10.99% for 6 months

Balance Transfer APR14.49% – 23.49% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $41.

Foreign Transaction Fees None

  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Rewards and redemption

While the rewards rate is higher than most credit cards, the rewards program is a little more volatile. You earn 5% cash back on quarterly rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You do have to activate each category manually through your account each quarter.

The current quarterly 5% rewards categories through the end of the year are:

  • July through Sept. 2022: Restaurants and PayPal purchases
  • Oct. through Dec. 2022: Amazon.com and purchases made through digital wallets.

For all other purchases, you’ll earn a standard 1% cash back per dollar spent. You can redeem your cash back as a statement credit in any amount, or you can apply your cash back directly to Amazon.com purchases or at participating online stores with PayPal.

Building your credit with the Discover it Student Cash Back

Like with other credit cards, you can build your credit with the Discover it Student Cash Back with responsible use.

At minimum, this means making your monthly credit card payments on time. You at least want to make the minimum payment on time each month, but you should aim to pay more than this amount — ideally the entire statement balance — each month to avoid interest charges.

You also want to keep your credit utilization ratio low. This ratio represents how much credit you have compared to the amount of credit you’re using. Ideally, you want to use less than 30% of your credit line at any given time. So if you have a $2,000 credit limit, you will want to make sure you have less than a $666 balance at any time to help boost your credit score. 

Welcome bonus

Even if you never use the bonus rotating category, the Discover it Student Cash Back’s welcome bonus, called the Unlimited Cashback Match, may make this card worthwhile.

At the end of your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match all the cash back you earned in the prior 12 months and post that amount to your account as a bonus. This means that if you earned $200 in cash back throughout the year based on your expenditures, Discover will give you another $200. You will have to wait until the end of your first year with Discover to get this cash back welcome bonus, but the potential value of this bonus is beyond what comparable student cards offer. 

Introductory APR

Some credit cards offer a low introductory APR period, which gives you a route to avoid interest during this time period. You could use this intro APR period to finance large purchases, but we recommend only using this feature if an unexpected necessity or emergency pops up. 

The Discover it Student Cash Back card offers a 0% introductory APR for 6 months. After that, you’ll be subject to a 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR. 

If you do use the introductory APR to cover a charge, make sure you make all the minimum payments on time — otherwise, you could forfeit the promotional rate and start racking up interest. You should aim to pay off the whole balance in full by the end of the promotion to avoid interest charges. Your billing statement will tell you how much of your balance is subject to the promotional or regular APR each month. 

Other cards to consider

Discover it® Student Chrome

The Discover it® Student Chrome* is comparable to the Discover it Student Cash Back in many ways, but it’s geared more toward college commuters. Instead of rotating cash back rewards, it offers smaller, more consistent rewards on gas and restaurants.

You’ll earn 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants, on up to $1,000 in combined spending each quarter. Cafes, takeout, delivery and fast food all count toward the restaurant category. You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases, but you also get the benefit of the Unlimited Cashback Match with this card. The introductory APR is identical to that of the Student Cash Back, too.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card isn’t necessarily ideal for commuters, but any student who is frequently buying their own meals may get good use out of this card.

The SavorOne student earns you 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores. Entertainment includes movie theaters, sports promoters (professional and semi-professional live events), amusement parks, tourist attractions, aquariums, zoos, dance halls, record stores, pool halls and bowling alleys. Meanwhile, popular streaming services include Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus. Note that Target, Walmart and other superstores don’t count as grocery stores, so you’ll only earn 1% back at these retailers.

Otherwise, there is no introductory APR and the welcome bonus doesn’t have as much potential — you earn a $100 cash bonus when you spend $100 on the card in your first three months. Despite these weaknesses, the cash back rewards rates still make this one of the strongest student credit cards available.

FAQs

How does a student credit card work?

Student credit cards typically offer those with limited or no credit a way to start building credit and create a credit history. They generally come with lower credit limits than typical credit cards and don’t charge annual fees. And they often have novice-friendly features, including late payment forgiveness, incremental credit limit increases over time and credit education resources. Reward rates may be lower than for standard cash-back and travel credit cards, however, making student credit cards a lower-risk, lower-reward financial tool.

How is a student credit card different from a secured credit card?

While some people choose to build credit with a secured credit card — that is, a card where you’ve backed your credit limit with a cash deposit — student credit cards work a bit differently. Student credit cards don’t generally require cash upfront, but these cards typically only offer a small credit line, sometimes just a few hundred bucks. That way, the student can use the card to build credit without the risk of racking up too much credit card debt (which leads to bad credit).

What do you need to qualify for a student credit card?

A typical nonstudent credit card application requires a high credit score (around 650 or so) and at least a few years of credit report history. To get a student credit card, however, you often don’t necessarily need either, though some proof of financial experience and responsibility helps when it comes to securing a credit card offer. The issuer may ask you for information regarding any income you may have (even if it’s from family), and any checking account or savings account you may have. You do need to prove enrollment generally in a four-year college, community college or other higher education institution.

What are the features of a student credit card?

In addition to more relaxed eligibility requirements, the best student credit cards will offer some of the following features:

  • Special rules for credit newcomers such as minimal late fees and no-penalty APRs
  • Lower credit limits — usually between $500 and $2,000
  • Cash-back rewards program on spending
  • A “reasonable” APR — usually between 15% and 20%

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back credit cards, welcome bonus credit cards, travel rewards credit cards and balance transfer credit cards. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card. 

*All information about the Discover it Student Cash Back and Discover it Student chrome has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.