Discover it Student Cash Back vs Discover it Student chrome

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Discover it Student Cash Back vs Discover it Chrome for Students

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If you’re a college student with little to no credit history, using a Discover student card responsibly can help you: 

  1. Establish a solid credit foundation
  2. Practice good spending habits
  3. Save money on common expenses while in school 

Discover offers two cards for students: Discover it® Student Cash Back and Discover it® Student chrome. Their biggest differentiator is the way they earn cash back: 

  • Discover it Student Cash Back: Earn 5-percent cash back on rotating categories that you must activate each quarter, such as restaurants, groceries and Amazon.com (on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter, then 1 percent). Earn 1-percent cash back on non-bonus category spending.
  • Discover it Student chrome: Earn 2-percent cash back on gas and dining on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Earn 1-percent cash back on all other purchases.

Discover it Student Cash Back vs Discover it Student chrome

  Discover it Student Cash Back
Discover it Student Cash Back 
Discover it Student chrome
Discover it Student chrome
Rewards rate

 

  • 5% cash back on rotating quarterly bonus categories that you must activate each quarter (on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

 


 

  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

 

 

Sign-up bonus
Cashback Match™ (all cash back earned at the end of your first year is matched)
Cashback Match™ (all cash back earned at the end of your first year is matched)
Annual fee
$0 $0
Estimated yearly rewards value (for someone who spend the quarterly bonus limit and no more) $300 $80
Pros

 

  • No annual fee
  • Higher cash back rate than most student cards
  • Special first-year bonus not offered by other card issuers
  • $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to next five years

 

 

  • No annual fee
  • 2% cash back on categories popular for students
  • Special first-year bonus not offered by other card issuers
  • $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to next five years

 

Cons

 

  • Not all bonus categories may be relevant for all college students
  • Only 1% cash back offered on non-bonus categories
  • Have to wait till the end of your first year to collect the introductory bonus

 

 

 

  • Bonus rewards are capped after $1,000 in combined spending each quarter
  • Only 1% cash back offered on non-bonus categories
  • Have to wait till the end of your first year to collect the introductory bonus

 

 

Who should get this card?

 

  • Students with a healthy budget
  • Students who don’t mind tracking categories/spending to maximize rewards
  • Students who do a lot of grocery shopping 

 

 

  • Students with smaller budgets
  • Students who are new to credit and want a simple rewards program
  • Students who dine out often

 

 

Best for students with a smaller budget: Discover it Student chrome 

The Discover it Student chrome caps 2-percent cash back earnings on gas and dining after spending $1,000 each quarter. That means in order to max out your rewards, you’d need to spend an average of $333 per month on combined dining and gas. Of course, you can use the card for other purchases to earn 1-percent cash back, but in order to get the most bonus rewards, you’d need to spend that full $333. 

Conversely, to max out the bonus rewards on the Discover it Student Cash Back, you’d need to spend an average of $500 per month on bonus categories. 

For a lot of college students, putting $500 or more per month on a credit card, especially in a specific spending category, is unrealistic. Again, this isn’t to say you’re required by Discover to spend that full amount every month, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should try. If less than $500 in spend per month is more closely aligned with your budget, go with the Student chrome card.

Best for students with some credit card experience: Discover it Student Cash Back 

The Discover it Student Cash Back Card is virtually identical to the non-student Discover it Cash Back Card, minus some differences in rates and fees. For this reason, it’s really a junior version of Discover’s most popular product. Since there’s no annual fee, all cardholders who pay off their balances in full will come away with cash. 

In order to get the most out of the card, though, you’ll need to practice a few habits more often found in savvy credit card users: 

  • Activate quarterly bonus categories. Although it’s a simple step, you’ll need to log on to your account and activate the bonus category each quarter. 
  • Plan your spending in advance. If the current bonus category includes gas stations, it’s a safe bet that the next quarter won’t also include gas stations. If the current quarter is coming to a close and you still haven’t met the $1,500 bonus cap, consider buying a gas station gift card. You’ll earn 5-percent cash back on that purchase and can use the gift card later on when you’d otherwise only earn 1-percent cash back on gas.
  • Change habits to shop at qualifying stores. Grocery stores will often be featured as a bonus category at some stage in the year, but it’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean you’ll earn 5-percent cash back on all groceries. Purchases at big box stores like Target and Walmart will not qualify as grocery store purchases. If you normally grocery shop at Walmart or a wholesale club like Costco, you’ll need to consider an alternative. Note that wholesale clubs are often a bonus category by themselves. 

Although a lot of these habits are relatively simple, they require some strategizing and aren’t the ideal experience for some people. If you’re a student who’s completely new to credit cards and you’d prefer a simple rewards program, Discover it Student Cash Back isn’t your best option.

Which card should you choose? 

Although most college students can benefit from using either of Discover’s student cards, the two are not the same. Think about your own financial situation and set a specific credit goal for yourself. Using your new credit card responsibly will allow you to not only manage expenses and score some cash, but build the foundation for bigger earnings after college. 

Are you simply trying to establish a credit score and the rewards you earn in the process are just a nice benefit? If so, go with the Discover it Student chrome. 

Are you comfortable enough with your budget to jump through a few hoops to maximize the cash rewards you earn with your credit card? If so, go with the Discover it Student Cash Back.  

See related: Student credit cards: The definitive guideYoung adults shouldn't wait too long to get started with credit, Guide to responsible credit card use in college


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Updated: 11-21-2018