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Discover it® for Students Card Review – 5% Cash Back on Rotating Categories

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At a Glance
4.0 / 5
Rating

Discover it® for Students

  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Rewards: 5% cash back on select quarterly rotating purchases, up to $1,500 in combined category purchases per quarter; unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases, including favored category purchases above the cap
  • Benefits: Double cash back during the first 12 months your account is open; Freeze It security feature; $20 bonus every year your GPA stays above 3.0
  • Intro APR: 0% APR for 6 months on purchases; 10.99% APR for 6 months on balance transfers
  • Fees: $0 foreign transaction fees; balance transfers 3% of the transferred amount; cash advances 5% of the advanced amount ($10 minimum)
  • Annual Fee: None
  • Credit Needed: Average

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

Discover it® for Students is a popular student credit card with a solid cash back rewards program and some nice value-added benefits for current college attendees. With the same baseline 1% cash back earnings and 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories (subject to a $1,500 quarterly spending limit), it’s very similar to the flagship Discover it card. Fellow Discover rewards cards include Discover it Chrome and Discover it Chrome for Students, as well as Discover it Miles, a travel rewards card.

Discover it for Students competes with a number of other student credit cards, including Capital One Journey for Students, Upromise MasterCard, and Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students.

Key Features

First-Year Double Cash Back

On your first cardmember anniversary, Discover automatically doubles all the cash back earned during the previous 12 months, with no restrictions or exclusions. For instance, if you earn $100 cash back in your first year, you get a $100 bonus – boosting your total cash back earnings to $200.

Earning Cash Back Rewards

Discover it for Students earns 5% cash back on select quarterly rotating categories, such as restaurants, department stores, and gas stations. Quarters begin January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st. The 5% cash back benefit is capped at $1,500 in spending across all rotating categories in a given quarter. Once you pass that limit, any additional purchases in the rotating categories earn 1% cash back, with no caps or restrictions. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back, as well. Keep in mind that you need to manually activate your 5% cash back categories each quarter, either online or by calling Discover. Once you activate, earnings are retroactive to the beginning of the quarter.

Redeeming Cash Back Rewards

You can redeem your accumulated cash back rewards for statement credits, pay-with-points at Amazon.com, and bank account deposits in any amount, at any time. You can also redeem for gift cards, starting at a $20 minimum.

Good Grades Bonus

For every year you maintain a 3.0 GPA or better, you’re entitled to a $20 Good Grade Bonus. The bonus functions as regular cash back and can be redeemed in the same fashion as cash back earned through purchases. To earn the bonus, you need to formally apply at Discover.com and provide evidence (such as transcripts) of your grades. Your account must be in good standing when you apply. This benefit is capped at 5 years, even if you remain in school for longer.

Freeze It

Discover’s Freeze It feature lets you freeze your account to all users (including yourself) from any Internet-connected device. Once frozen, no one can use your card to make new purchases or cash advances, though previously scheduled payments and automatic bills continue to process as normal, and any unpaid balances continue to accrue interest. Freeze It is intended to prevent unauthorized card use when you suspect your card has been stolen or your account has otherwise been compromised. Once the danger recedes, you can unfreeze your account and continue to use the same card (if not lost), rather than waiting to get a new one in the mail.

Free FICO Score

Discover gives you a free FICO credit score with every monthly paper or electronic statement. You can also get your FICO score online at any time.

Introductory APR

Discover it for Students comes with a six-month 0% introductory purchase APR and a six-month 10.99% balance transfer APR. To qualify for the balance transfer deal, transfers must be made by the 10th day of the third month after account opening. For instance, accounts opened in March have until June 10th to make transfers.

Important Fees

There is no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers always cost a flat 3% of the transferred amount, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. There is no fee for your first late payment, but subsequent late payments cost $35. Returned payments always cost $35.

Credit Required

This card requires fair credit. You can have a spotty credit history due to limited prior credit usage, and/or some blemishes on your credit report, and still be approved.

Advantages

  1. Generous Rewards Compared to Other Student Cards. In the grand scheme of things, Discover it for Students’ cash back rewards aren’t all that impressive. However, compared with other student cards, they’re quite generous. For instance, no other student card has 5% rotating cash back categories. Capital One Journey for Students pays a flat 1% cash back on all purchases, plus an extra 0.25% for on-time payments, while Citi ThankYou Preferred for Students earns up to 2 points (worth up to $0.01 apiece) on certain purchases.
  2. First-Year Double Cash Back Can Be Huge. If you use Discover it for Students as your primary credit card, its first-year double cash back bonus can make a huge difference in your first-year earnings. No other student credit card offers a comparable bonus.
  3. Good Student Bonus Is Worth Up to $100 Over Five Years. Discover it for Students’ Good Student Bonus pays $20 for every year you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better, up to five years total. That basically a long-term cash back bonus of $100 – a nice boost to an already generous rewards program.
  4. Redeem in Any Amount. Discover it for Students lets you redeem for statement credits, Amazon.com purchases, and bank account deposits in any amount, at any time. That’s an advantage over Upromise MasterCard and Citi ThankYou Preferred for Students, both of which require at least $10 to redeem, or the equivalent amount of points.
  5. No Annual Fee. Discover it for Students doesn’t have an annual fee. That’s great news for cash-strapped students, and a definite advantage over alternatives such as the Citi Secured MasterCard ($25 annual fee) and Capital One QuicksilverOne ($39 annual fee).
  6. Nice Intro Purchase APR. Discover it for Students has a six-month 0% introductory APR, which is a nice perk if you need to make a big upfront purchase, such as textbooks for the coming semester. Many other student credit cards, including Upromise MasterCard and the Capital One Journey for Students, don’t have intro APR periods.
  7. Don’t Need Great Credit to Qualify. Discover it for Students doesn’t expect applicants to have amazing credit. Although this card isn’t meant for students with demonstrably poor credit, it’s definitely within reach if you have some blemishes on your record. By contrast, Upromise MasterCard has higher standards, meaning it’s off limits to many credit-challenged students.

Disadvantages

  1. No Sign-up Bonus. Discover it for Students doesn’t have a sign-up bonus. That’s a disadvantage relative to competing student cards such as Citi ThankYou Preferred for Students, which offers a $100 sign-up bonus.
  2. Need to Manually Activate Bonus Categories. Discover it for Students requires you to manually activate your 5% cash back categories each quarter, either online or by phone. That’s an annoying extra step that’s easy to forget, particularly during school breaks or end-of-semester crunch times. By contrast, Capital One Journey and Upromise MasterCard don’t require category activations.
  3. Few Fringe Benefits. Discover it for Students doesn’t have many fringe benefits not directly related to education. By contrast, Citi ThankYou Preferred for Students has many of the same benefits as the “grown up” version, such as 24/7 concierge service and VIP/pre-sale event access through Citi Private Pass.

Final Word

Student credit cards like Discover it® for Students are great credit-building tools for younger folks who have spotty or nonexistent credit. By using your card responsibly and making timely payments on any balances you accumulate, you demonstrate to future creditors that you’re a responsible consumer while building your credit history.

Over time, you’re likely to be approved for higher spending limits and become eligible for credit cards with more generous rewards. And, like many of life’s lasting friendships and pursuits, it starts in college.

Verdict
4.0 / 5
Rating

Discover it® for Students

Discover it® for Students is a card for students who wish to build their credit, get financial recognition for their academic achievements, and earn cash back rewards on every single purchase they make. With rotating spending categories and a 1% base cash back rate, it’s ideal for a wide range of spending needs, though the 5% category spending limit means it’s not the best option for heavier spenders. If you prefer lots of fringe benefits, don’t like the manual activation requirement, or have poor credit, this probably isn’t the card for you.

This card’s generous cash back rewards, first-year cash back bonus, flexible redemption options, rewards for good academic performance, and relatively low fees are all nice perks. The lack of a signup bonus, minimal fringe benefits, and manual activation requirement all hurt it. Overall, it’s a strong card for lots of different types of students.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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