Discover it Student Cash Back Review [2021]: A+ Rewards and a Bonus for Good Grades

The Discover it Student Cash Back card provides 5% back on rotating bonus categories, plus a cash back match after your first year as a cardholder.
Last updated May 1, 2021 | By Christy Rakoczy

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As a student, chances are good your budget is tight and you need to make your money stretch as far as possible. A cash back credit card can help you do that by providing you with money back on every purchase you make.

Finding a good cash back card as a student is a challenge. After all, you need a card you can qualify for, and that can be difficult if you don’t have a long credit history. Plus, it needs to be affordable and offer cashback rewards on the spending you do most.

Fortunately, you have options, whether you're a current student or a recent grad. And one of the best student credit cards is the Discover it Student Cash Back card.

Cash Back for Those New to Credit

Discover it Student Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

up to 5% cash back

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on purchases
  • 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories quarterly
  • Matched cash back at the end of your first year
  • $20 statement credit each year for 3.0 GPA or higher
  • No annual fee

Drawbacks

  • You must be a student
Card Details
  • Automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year
  • 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Intro purchase 0% offer: 0% for 6 months then 12.99% to 21.99% (variable)
  • Intro balance transfer 0% offer: 10.99% (on balance transfers that post to your account by November 10, 2021) for 6 months then 12.99% to 21.99% (variable)

In this Discover it Student Cash Back card review:

Who should get the Discover it Student Cash Back card?

The Discover it Student Cash Back card is the perfect card for students who don't mind doing a little bit of work to maximize their credit card rewards. That's because this card's rewards program provides 5% back on rotating categories each quarter, on up to $1,500 in purchases. To get the most from this card, you need to be willing to activate the quarterly bonus and keep track of which spending provides the highest rewards.

Bonus categories include spending at grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and Amazon. So if you have an on-campus meal plan, never eat out and rarely drive, this probably isn't the card for you. But if you do venture off campus for food, gas, and groceries, or if you're a frequent Amazon shopper, you can't beat the cash back this card offers. And as an added bonus, you automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year.

Card basics

Card type Student
Credit card issuer Discover
Annual fee $0
Welcome bonus You automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year
Rewards rate Up to 5% cash back
Recommended credit score Fair
Intro APR 0% APR for 6 months

Discover it Student Cash Back card benefits and perks

  • Generous sign-up bonus: With this card, you automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year. There are no limits and you don't have to do anything to sign up for this bonus.
  • Good grades rewards: If your GPA is 3.0 or above during the school year, Discover provides you with a $20 statement credit. You're eligible to earn this credit annually for up to five years.
  • Hefty bonus rewards: If you activate your quarterly bonus cash back categories, you can earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Free credit scores: Track how your credit score is changing with a free score available on your monthly statement or by signing into your Discover account using your online or mobile app.
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases: Pay 0% interest on new purchases charged to your Discover it Student Cash Back card for the first 6 months that you're a cardmember.
  • Few fees: This card comes with no foreign transaction fee and the first late payment fee is waived. (You'll need to pay a late fee if you miss a subsequent payment, though.)
  • Identity theft protection tools: Not only does Discover monitor for suspicious activity, but you can also use Discover’s Freeze it feature to prevent any new transactions from being made using your card. 
  • Additional monitoring tools: With this card, you'll also get Experian credit report monitoring, so Discover will notify you if someone opens a new account in your name. It also offers a monitoring tool that alerts you if your Social Security number appears on the dark web.

Drawbacks to the Discover it Student Cash Back card

  • Acceptance: Discover cards aren't as widely accepted as Amex, Mastercard, and Visa cards. If you plan to travel, you'd likely be better off bringing a different card to ensure it's accepted as your destination. 
  • Quarterly spending categories: While this card does offer a high cash back rate in bonus categories each quarter, you need to remember to activate the quarterly categories. If you don't spend much in a particular bonus category, you might not get much value from the higher earnings rate.  
  • Cashback match: Discover matches the cash back you earn with this card at the end of your first year as cardmember, but the benefit stops there. You won't receive a cashback match in subsequent years. 
  • Limited intro APR: While this card does offer a 0% intro purchase APR to help you avoid interest charges for the first 6 months, it does not have an intro APR for balance transfers.
  • Spending cap: There is a quarterly maximum on cashback bonus rewards with this card. If you spend beyond that maximum, you'll only earn 1% cash back.

Earning & redeeming cash back

Potential earnings in years one and two

Here's a look at how your cash back can add up with the Discover it Student Cash Back card.

Remember, this is an estimation. The actual value will be determined by how much you spend and in which categories you spend.

Year one earnings: $670

Year two earnings: $335

These values are based on the FinanceBuzz Credit Card Rewards Valuation Model which takes a look at points earned via spending, the intro bonus, and the annual fee.

The values don't account for the cash back you'd earn by activating the quarterly bonus categories. If you regularly activate and spend in those categories, you'll likely get much more value from this card.

Best ways to earn

The best ways to earn cash back on the Discover it Student Cash Back card is to activate the quarterly bonus categories and spend within those categories each quarter.

For example, you could opt to buy all the textbooks you'll need for the year on Amazon during the quarter when you get 5% cash back from Amazon purchases. Or you could spend primarily on groceries during the month you get the bonus for this spending and save your dining out budget for another quarter when you're rewarded for restaurant purchases.

You'll also want to sign up for the card during a year when you plan to spend a lot to take advantage of the cash back match.

Maximizing your redemptions

The Discover it Student Cash Back Card provides cash back you can redeem in the form of a statement credit, deposit to your bank account, gift card, or for Amazon.com purchases. Cash back can be redeemed at any time and doesn't expire as long as your account remains active.

The nice thing about the fact the card offers cash back, rather than points or miles, is you don't have to figure out the most strategic way to redeem to maximize the value of your rewards. You can simply claim the cash back you earn. Just remember to activate the bonus categories every quarter to maximize your rewards. 

The bonus categories change from year to year and have included ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft in the past. For 2021, the bonus spending categories are as follows:

  • Grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS (January-March)
  • Gas stations, wholesale clubs, select streaming services (March-June)
  • Restaurants and Paypal purchases (July-September)
  • Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com purchases (October-December)

Discover it Student Cash Back card FAQs

Is Discover it good for students?

The Discover it card isn't targeted to students, but the Discover it Student Cash Back card is — and it offers similar cardholder perks and benefits. If you're in school and want a rewards card that provides 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter, on up to $1,500 in purchases, this is a great card for you.

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

You have to be a student to be eligible for the Discover it Student card. However, there are other Discover it cards available even if you aren't currently attending college.

What is the limit on the Discover it Student card?

Credit limits vary based on your financial situation but student cards usually have lower credit limits than other Discover cards.

What is Discover’s cash back match?

Discover's cash back match is a bonus offered to new Discover customers who sign up for the Discover it Student Cash Back card or for other eligible Discover cash back cards. Cardholders will automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year.

What credit score do you need for the Discover it Student Cash Back card?

You'll likely need a fair to good credit score to get approved for the Discover it Student Cash Back card. A fair FICO score typically ranges from 580-669, while a good score ranges from 670-739.

Other cards to consider

While the Discover it Student Cash Back Card is a great card for building credit and getting rewarded on your everyday purchases, it isn't the only student card out there. There are a few others you might consider if you're looking for the best credit cards to use while you are in school. Other options that could be good first credit cards for college students include the following:

  • Citi Rewards+ Student Card: Unlike the Discover it, this card doesn't provide rotating cash back. Instead, you'll get 2X points at supermarkets and gas stations for first $6,000 in purchases each year, and 1X points on all other purchases. This card has a unique feature that allows you to round up your rewards, so if you spend $12 on lunch, you can earn 20 points. Plus, it offers a generous welcome bonus: earn 15,000 bonus points after $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. 
  • Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®: This card provides a much lower rewards rate — get 1% cash back on all purchases and 1.25% cash back each month you make an on-time monthly payment. However, there's no limit on what you can earn. The biggest benefit of this card is that you can automatically get automatic consideration for a higher credit line as quickly as 6 months after account opening. While this can help you build credit, the Discover student card offers better rewards.

Cash Back for Those New to Credit

Discover it Student Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back

Special Offer

Automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of the first year

See how these cards compare:

Citi Rewards+ Student Card
Citi Rewards+ Student Card
  • 15,000 ThankYou Point welcome offer
  • 2X ThankYou Points at supermarkets and gas stations
  • 10% ThankYou Points back for the first 100,000 redeemed per year
  • Automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on each purchase
  • No annual fee
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Earn up to $60 in streaming service credits with on-time payments
  • Boost cash back to 1.25% with on-time payments
  • No annual fee

Author Details

Christy Rakoczy Christy Rakoczy has a Juris Doctorate from UCLA Law School with a focus in Business Law, and a Certificate in Business Marketing with an English Degree from The University of Rochester. As a full-time personal finance writer, she writes about all things money-related but her special areas of focus are credit cards, personal loans, student loans, mortgages, smart debt payoff strategies, and retirement and Social Security. Her work has been featured by USA Today, MSN Money, CNN Money and more, and you can learn more at her LinkedIn profile.