Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review

Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review — The Discover it Student Cash Back card provides several benefits without an annual fee. You can earn a generous 5% cash back on everyday purchases at various locations each quarter, such as, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and when using PayPal. This cash back is subject to a quarterly maximum, which you can activate. Additionally, as a new cardholder, you’ll enjoy an outstanding match of all the cash back earned during your first year. Furthermore, the card offers an introductory 0% APR promotion for new purchases.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review
Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review

Full Review of Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card


  • High rewards on rotating spending categories
  • Potential for a large bonus the first year with cash back match
  • Introductory 0% APR for six months on purchases


  • Spending categories have to be manually activated

Pros Explained

High Rewards on Rotating Spending Categories — Student credit cards typically lack robust rewards. Take the Deserve Edu card, for instance, which is a frequently used student credit card. It only provides a mere 1% cash back on all purchases, with no opportunity to earn higher rewards. However, the Discover it Student Cash Back card stands out. Cardholders can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at various locations each quarter, including, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and PayPal payments (up to the activated quarterly maximum). Moreover, this card offers unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Potential for a Large Bonus the First Year with Cash Back Match — Most student credit cards do not offer one-time bonuses, making the Discover it Student Cash Back card’s match of all the cash back earned during the first year as a cardmember particularly valuable. This bonus has no earning limit, meaning there’s no cap on how much you can earn. For example, if you accumulate $200 in cash back rewards, Discover will double it, resulting in a total of $400.

Introductory 0% APR for Six Months on Purchases — The Discover it Student Cash Back card distinguishes itself with an introductory 0% APR offer for six months on new purchases. This feature provides a convenient window to pay off expenses like a new laptop or textbooks without accruing any interest charges. Once the promotional period ends, the card’s variable APR will range from 17.74% to 26.74%. This 0% APR offer sets the Student Cash Back card apart from other student credit cards. Neither the Deserve Edu card nor the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One, both prominent student credit cards, provide an introductory APR offer. Opting for the Discover it Student Cash Back card could result in significant cost savings.

Cons Explained

Spending Categories Must be Manually Activated — There is an important requirement to fully benefit from this card’s rewarding structure: you need to log in to your account and manually activate the spending categories every quarter in order to earn the 5% cash back. Otherwise, your purchases will only qualify for 1% cash back.

This Card Is Best For

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is an excellent choice for organized students who can remember to activate the rotating spending categories every quarter. By doing so, the 5% rewards can accumulate significantly.

For instance, if you spend the maximum of $1,500 per quarter on qualifying purchases within the spending categories, you would earn $300 per year from cash back rewards alone, providing a decent amount of additional spending money. What’s even better is that the cash back is matched after the first year as a cardmember, doubling the rewards to $600.

However, if you struggle to remember to activate the spending categories, this card may not be the best fit for you. In such cases, you would be better off with another credit card that offers a consistent flat cash back rate. For instance, the Discover it Chrome for Students card allows cardholders to automatically earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Additionally, both cards offer 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card One-Time Offer

While many credit cards offer a one-time bonus if you spend a specific amount within the first three months of opening an account, this card takes it a step further. As a cardmember, Discover matches all the cash back you earn during your first year, with no limit on the matching amount. For example, if you accumulate $200 in rewards, Discover will match it, providing you with a total of $400. This benefit is particularly advantageous for students managing a tight budget and can potentially exceed the bonuses offered by most other student credit cards due to the generous match.

Rewards Earning Details

With the Discover it Student Cash Back card, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on rotating spending categories, along with unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Let’s consider an annual spending scenario of $7,000 with this card, covering expenses such as gas, groceries, textbooks, toiletries, and dining out at both sit-down and fast-food restaurants. By spending the maximum of $1,500 per quarter in each spending category, you would earn $300 in rewards at the 5% cash back rate. Additionally, on the remaining $1,000 spent, you would earn 1% cash back, which amounts to an additional $10 in rewards. In total, you would accumulate $310 in cash back rewards.

Furthermore, as a new cardmember, Discover offers to match all the cash back you earn during your first year. Therefore, your rewards would be doubled, resulting in a total of $620.

Rewards Redemption Details

With this card, you have the flexibility to redeem your rewards at any time and for any amount. As long as you have at least one cent in rewards, you can choose to redeem it for various options such as statement credits, electronic deposits to your bank account, donations to select charities, or even use it towards purchases at retailers like

Once you accumulate a minimum of $5 in rewards, you gain the option to redeem them for gift cards, which can provide additional value. Depending on the retailer, you may receive a bonus when exchanging every $20 into a gift card, resulting in a $25 card and a $5 bonus. Different retailers offer their bonuses at various spending thresholds. Currently, gift cards are available for popular brands like Old Navy, The Gap, American Eagle, and more.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

To maximize the value of this card, it’s crucial for cardholders to remember to activate the 5% spending categories each quarter. While Discover sends email reminders, setting up personal calendar reminders on your phone or email account can be helpful as well.

It is recommended to use this card for all purchases within the 5% spending category each quarter in order to fully benefit. By spending the maximum of $1,500 per quarter at the 5% cash back rate, you can earn $300 per year in cash back rewards.

After the first year as a cardmember, when the cash back match promotion expires, the earning rate decreases to 1% cash back on other purchases. At that point, it might be advantageous to switch to another credit card once you’ve reached the $1,500 spending limit or if you wish to earn higher rewards on purchases outside of the current quarter’s 5% spending category.

For instance, the Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students card offers cardholders the flexibility to choose their own 3% cash back category, which can be gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvements. If you opt for gas and spend an average of $1,568 per year on fuel (the national average for American households), you would earn $47.04 in rewards.

Additionally, the Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students card provides 3% cash back in the chosen category, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined spending in the 3% and 2% categories each quarter), and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Standard Benefits

  • Freeze it on/off switch: In case your card is lost, you have the option to freeze your account through the mobile app or online platform to safeguard against unauthorized charges.
  • Free FICO credit score: You can access your FICO credit score for free on your monthly statement or at any time through the online platform.

Cardholder Experience

According to the 2021 J.D. Power U.S. Credit Card Customer Satisfaction Study, Discover was ranked second out of 11 national card issuers. It achieved a score of 837, which was higher than the national average of 809.

Discover takes pride in its customer service, which is provided by a team based in the United States and available round the clock. You can seek assistance through a secure messaging platform or by speaking directly to a representative at 1-800-DISCOVER.

Security Features

As a Discover cardmember, you benefit from a range of security features, including complimentary Social Security number alerts. By enrolling in this service, Discover will actively monitor your information and promptly notify you if your Social Security number is detected on the dark web. Additionally, you will receive alerts whenever new credit accounts are opened on your Experian credit report, ensuring you stay informed about any potential unauthorized activity.

Our Verdict

If you’re currently enrolled in college and don’t mind the manual activation of the 5% spending categories, the Discover it Student Cash Back card is a fantastic option. Its potential for earning substantial rewards, coupled with the valuable cash back match for new cardmembers, can bring significant benefits.

However, if you prefer a credit card that offers a consistent rewards rate or automatic enrollment in reward categories, eliminating the need to remember activation, you would be better served by exploring other credit card options.

For Discover it® Student Cash Back
on Discover’s Secured Site.

Investopedia Credit Card Rating Methodology

At Investopedia, our commitment is to provide the most reliable and trustworthy credit card recommendations in the industry. We strive to give you an honest assessment, highlighting both the positive and negative aspects of a card. Only when we genuinely believe a card is exceptional and would personally recommend it to our friends or family members, do we label it as the best.

Overall Star Rating Explained

We employ a rigorous rating system to evaluate credit cards. This process involves an objective assessment, scoring, and weighting of nearly 100 individual card features. These features are categorized into five major sets: fees, interest, rewards, benefits, and security/customer service. The weightage assigned to each of these feature sets contributes to the overall star rating of a card.

Overall Credit Card Star Rating Category Weightings

Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review
Discover it Student Cash Back Credit Card Review

To ensure consumers can make well-informed decisions, we have applied our proprietary rating methodology to evaluate every widely-accepted credit card in the U.S. domestic market. It is important to understand that our overall score is based on certain assumptions regarding your credit card usage:

  1. We do not assume whether balances are carried on a specific card, but we do consider and assign varying weights to credit cards’ introductory APR (if available), as well as the regular long-term purchase and balance transfer interest rates.
  2. For rewards cards that offer cash back, points, or miles at a fixed rate for all spending or provide bonus rewards for specific spending categories such as gasoline, groceries, restaurants, or travel, we calculate annual earnings rates using income and average category spending data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  3. When determining the maximum value of rewards cards, we assess the points, cash back, or miles required to redeem for the retail price of the most valuable redemption option. For instance, if a card offers a domestic roundtrip airline ticket as a redemption option with the same points or miles requirement as a lesser-valued option, we base the rewards value on the airline ticket.

Cards that are deemed the best overall in their respective categories typically possess most, if not all, of the following attributes:

Please note that our ratings aim to provide a comprehensive evaluation, enabling consumers to make informed choices when selecting credit cards.

Low or Reasonable Fees

Credit card fees can take various forms, with two primary types being annual card membership fees and balance transfer fees. While there are numerous options available that do not charge an annual fee, for those cards that do have one, the cost is often justified by the attractive ongoing rewards and initial signup bonuses they offer. Some cards may waive balance transfer fees during introductory periods, which is a factor given significant positive weightage in our scoring model for cards with this benefit. When balance transfer fees are charged, they typically range between 3% and 5%, and we assess them accordingly. Other standard fees, such as late payment fees or cash advance fees, can generally be avoided. However, we still evaluate and compare these fees relative to other cards in the market for reference, though with lesser importance assigned to them in our rating process.

Competitive Interest

Numerous credit cards provide a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for different durations, after which they switch to a permanent or regular APR. The regular APR is typically variable and tied to the prime rate, and it applies to any outstanding balances that are not paid in full. In our rating system, we assess both the percentage and length of the introductory APR, as well as the midpoint of the range for the variable regular APR.

Valuable Rewards

Credit card reward programs can offer various types of rewards, such as cash back, points, or travel rewards. Travel rewards can be either generic or specific to travel partners, as seen in airline and hotel co-brand card programs. When evaluating reward programs, we assess the value per dollar spent, average redemption values, and prioritize cards that provide superior consumer value. We also consider the value of sign-up bonus offers and their associated spending requirements, if applicable.

Excellent Benefits

Credit card benefits encompass a wide range of offerings, including concierge service, TSA Pre-check, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, lost luggage assistance, and free credit scores. When evaluating cards, we consider the quantity and quality of these standard and premium benefits. Additionally, we give added weight to travel-related perks that are applicable to premium travel cards, if available.

Solid Security/Customer Service

Security and customer service features, such as card replacement in case of loss or theft, the ability to lock one’s card using the issuer’s app, and 24-hour customer support, are increasingly common in the credit card market. We assign considerable weight to these features when evaluating cards.

Read Also

Leave a Comment