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Discover it® Cash Back vs. Discover it® Student Cash Back: Which is best for you?

Though the cards' rewards are similar, their features appeal to different types of students

Summary

The Discover it Cash Back and Discover it Student Cash Back are two great options for college students — we’ll help you decide which is best for you.

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If you’re a student shopping for your first credit card, or a parent comparing cards on your kids’ behalf, you may be wondering whether to apply for a card that’s designed specifically for college students, or if you should stick with a more general credit card.

The answer depends, in part, on what kind of student card you’re considering, how old a student is and what limits you want to set. Discover, for example, offers a student cash back card, the Discover it Student card, that’s not very different from Discover’s flagship 5 percent cash back card. But its terms are more restrictive, and it includes a slightly higher APR and a less generous introductory APR.

The Discover it Cash Back card, by contrast, offers a bigger credit limit than you’ll get on the student version and offers a more generous promotion, including 14 months of interest-free purchases and balance transfers (then a variable APR of 13.99-24.99 percent). But it doesn’t have as many safeguards as the Discover it Student card, so students could potentially get into bigger trouble with it. Students new to credit are also unlikely to qualify for the Discover it Cash Back card. Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, and so a student would need to have a significant credit history and income to qualify.

Here’s what else you should consider when comparing the two cards:

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Student Cash Back

Discover it Cash Back
Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back
Rewards rate
  • Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in rotating categories
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • Bonus purchases are capped at $1,500 each quarter
  • Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in rotating categories
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • Bonus purchases are capped at $1,500 each quarter
Sign-up bonus
  • Matches your cash back at the end of the first year
  • Matches your cash back at the end of the first year
Annual fee$0$0
Estimated yearly rewards value ($3,600 spend) $76$85 (including $20 statement credit for good grades)
Pros
  • Ability to choose your card design or color
  • Exceptional sign-up bonus if you regularly spend more than $500 a month
  • Generous 5% cash back rate for bonus purchases
  • Bonus categories are broad and typically include popular spending categories, such as gas, restaurants and groceries
  • Can redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards, charity or Amazon.com purchases
  • Lower credit card APR and fees
  • $20 statement credit for good grades
  • Ability to choose your card design or color
  • Decent sign-up bonus, depending on how much you spend
  • Generous 5% cash back rate for bonus purchases
  • Bonus categories are broad and typically include popular spending categories, such as gas, restaurants and groceries
  • Can redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards, charity or Amazon.com purchases
  • Lower credit card APR and fees
Cons
  • There are fewer safeguards to protect students from making costly mistakes
  • You have to opt in to receive a 5% bonus
  • You have to track quarterly spending categories
  • You must spend a relatively large amount to receive a substantial bonus
  • You can’t transfer your cash back to airline or hotel partners
  • You will likely have a lower credit limit
  • The introductory APRs aren’t as generous
  • You have to opt in to receive a 5% bonus
  • You have to track quarterly spending categories
  • You must spend a relatively large amount to receive a substantial bonus
  • You can’t transfer your cash back to airline or hotel partners
Who should get this card?
  • Grad students
  • Students who live off campus
  • Kids and parents who want to share a credit card
  • Credit newbies
  • Undergrads

Best card for credit newbies: Discover it Student

If you’re still in college and under 21, then you won’t qualify for either card unless you can prove that you earn an independent income. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires underage cardholders to show they have enough income coming in to afford their own card, or they need to get a co-signer to help out. Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, though, and so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re underage and don’t have at least a part-time job.

If you’re over 21, but still new to credit, you may have an easier time qualifying for the Discover it Student card. But unless you’ve got a solid credit history under your belt and a significant income, you probably won’t qualify for the non-student version. The Discover it card generally requires good to excellent credit to qualify for, regardless of how old you are.

Best card for undergrads: Discover it Student

The Discover it Student card offers student-friendly perks that are especially attractive for undergrads. For example, it offers a $20 statement credit every year (for up to five years) that you earn at least a 3.0 GPA. In addition, the student card offers stylish card designs you can pick out yourself, which is a nice perk for undergrads who like to customize accessories. The student card also offers more peace of mind for parents.

For example, the credit limit is likely to be fairly low, so students won’t be able to significantly overcharge. In addition, it holds students back from overcharging by limiting its interest-free promotion – a perk that could encourage some students to overspend. Student cardholders get just six months to take advantage of interest-free purchases. Meanwhile, students who already have some debt are offered an introductory balance transfer rate of 10.99 percent.

Discover it vs. Discover it Student credit card perks

Discover it Cash Back

Discover it Student

  • Choose your credit card color or design
  • Free FICO credit score
  • No late fee on cardholders’ first payment
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Free Social Security alerts
  • Free Experian credit monitoring
  • Ability to freeze account in seconds
  • $20 statement credit every year students earn a 3.0 GPA
  • Choose your credit card color or design.
  • Free FICO credit score
  • No late fee on cardholders’ first payment
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Free Social Security alerts
  • Free Experian credit monitoring
  • Ability to freeze account in seconds

Best card for grad students: Discover it Cash Back

The Discover it card, by contrast, is more generous. In addition to giving cardholders up to 14 months to carry a balance interest-free, it also awards larger credit limits. Grad students who are applying for a second card – or experienced upperclassmen – will likely appreciate the Discover it card’s flexibility. Unlike the Discover it Student card, this is a card you can use regularly for everyday purchases, without being limited by an unusually low credit limit.

With the student card, by contrast, you may only be granted $1,000 or less in available credit. So if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month, you may not be able to earn much in rewards without bumping up against your limit.  With the Discover it card, by contrast, you’ll likely have a large enough limit to maximize your rewards spending, even if you occasionally carry a balance.

We estimate that Discover it Student cardholders can earn roughly $57 in cash match bonus earnings by spending about $300 a month in various categories. Discover it cardholders, by contrast, might earn as much as a $189 cash match bonus  if they regularly charged $1,000 a month.

Sample Discover cash match earnings

Discover it Cash Back: $1,000 in monthly spending

Discover it Student: $300 in monthly spending

$1,000 x 1.58% average cash back rate x 12 months = $189

$300 x 1.58% average cash back rate x 12 months = $57

Best card for students who live off campus: Discover it Cash Back

If you’re an older student or a grad student living off campus, you may also get more out of the Discover it card – if you can qualify for it. Most of the bonus categories for the Discover it card are for everyday spending categories that students who live on campus are unlikely to use. For example, the Discover quarterly bonus categories calendar often includes gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

But if you commute every day to school, or eat at home, rather than use a campus meal plan, then a quarterly 5 percent bonus on everyday spending categories, such as gas and groceries, could be a real money-saver. Older students who live off campus are also more likely to spend money on restaurants and other categories that earn a 5 percent bonus.

Consider, for example, how much you’d earn if you regularly spent more than $300 a month on 5 percent bonus categories. You’d eke out at least $180 on bonus categories alone. A student who can barely manage to spend $100 a month on bonus categories, by contrast, would only earn around $60.

Sample bonus earnings

Discover it Card: $300 in monthly bonus spending

Discover it Student card: $100 in monthly bonus spending

$300 x 5% bonus x 12 months = $180

$100 x 5% bonus x 12 months = $60

Best card for sharing between kids and parents: Discover it Cash Back

The Discover it card may also be a good pick for parents and students who want to share a credit card. Although Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, it does allow authorized users. As a result, parents could apply for the Discover it card and add their kids as authorized users.

Parents would be responsible for paying the bill. However, the card would still help kids build a credit history. It would also give kids an opportunity to earn a significant amount of cash, with less risk than owning their own card.

By sharing the same card, parents and kids can pool their cash back and earn far more back than they would be able to earn on their own. That strategy could be especially lucrative in the first year when Discover matches cardholders’ earnings.

Bottom line

For most students, the Discover it Student card is a clear winner: Students are not only more likely to qualify for it; they’ll also be given strong limits that make it more difficult for them to rack up a lot of debt.

The Discover it card, by contrast, is harder to get and more risky. However, it’s also more flexible and potentially more lucrative since it’s likely to give cardholders more room to charge new purchases. Older students and those who live off campus may also get more out of the Discover it card since it offers 5 percent cash back on purchases they’re more likely to make, such as gas and groceries.

Students who live on campus, by contrast – or who live at home with their parents – may want to consider the Discover it® Student chrome, which offers 2 percent cash back all year (on up to $1,000 in spending per quarter) on restaurants and gas station purchases.

See related: Discover cash back calendar, Discover balance transfer guideGuide to responsible credit use in college

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Published: December 11, 2018

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: September 18th, 2019
Business
15.45%
Airline
17.38%
Cash Back
17.52%
Reward
17.39%
Student
17.58%

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