Discover it® Student chrome Review: Build Credit and Earn Cash Back

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Updated on Monday, June 5, 2017

Discover has created one of our favorite credit cards for students, the Discover it® Student chrome. You can build your credit without worrying about an annual fee. You can get a $20 statement credit every year if your GPA is above 3.0. And you can earn some serious cash back. Discover lets you earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. There is also a generous bonus for new customers: At the end of your first year, all of the cash back that you earned will be matched. The Discover it® Student chrome card is featured as one of our recommendations for best student credit cards of September 2020.

How the Card Works

Discover is famous for cash back. In the 1980s, when all credit cards charged an annual fee and offered no rewards, Discover changed everything by offering a credit card with no annual fee that actually paid its customers cash back. Discover has continued to innovate and has one of the better cards on the market for college students.

The Discover it® Student chrome reports to all three credit bureaus. As a college student, building your credit history is the primary reason to get a credit card. And you should never have to pay an annual fee to build your credit score. To get the best results, try to keep your balance low and make your payment in full and on time every month.

Discover has one of the most flexible cash back programs on the market. With most credit cards, you have to earn a minimum amount of cash back before you can redeem. Fortunately, that is not the case with Discover. Even if you only have $1 of cash back, you can redeem it. And with this card, there are multiple ways to earn.

If you spend a lot of money at gas stations and restaurants, this card is a great choice. You can earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our favorite feature is that Discover offers a statement credit for good grades. For the next five years, every year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, you can get a $20 statement credit.

On top of all of this, for new cardmembers, Discover will match whatever cash back you earn during the first year. To do this, Discover will add up all the cash back you’ve earned on your student card and match every bit of it at the end of the first year.

All of this put together can make the card very lucrative. Imagine you spend $300 a month — with $200 of it at gas stations and restaurants. During the first year:

  • $200 a month of spending in gas stations and restaurants would earn $48 cash back during the first year.
  • $100 a month of spending in all other categories would earn $12 cash back.
  • Altogether, you will have earned $60 cash back. Discover would then match that cash back at the end of your first year, meaning you could earn another $60.
  • And, if you have a 3.0 or higher GPA, you could get the “Good Grade Reward” on top.

There are a few other nice perks that come with the card. You will have access to your FICO® score for free, so that you can watch your score evolve. And Discover has invested heavily in some nice features, including the ability to freeze your account with the push of the button if you don’t want it used (for example, while traveling) as well as free Social Security Number monitoring — where Discover will alert you if they find your Social Security Number on any of thousands of risky websites.

How to Qualify for the Card

Discover knows that you are a college student — so you do not need to have a long credit history or a high credit score. You will need to have a job with income, so that you can prove that you can afford the card.

Having a limited credit history is just fine. However, it will be much more difficult to get approved if you have missed payments or have collection items. Limited history is good, but bad history is difficult.

What We Like About the Card

At MagnifyMoney, this is one of our favorite student credit cards. Here is why

Generous cash back (that rewards the right behavior).

Discover has always been a leader in cash back, and this card is no exception. 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants is the highest rate we have found for college students. No other card that we could find offers a $20 statement credit for good grades — and we like that Discover rewards a 3.0 GPA with a statement credit.

What We Don’t Like About the Card

APRs are not low.

This is not unique to Discover — but most student cards charge higher APRs because students are higher risk. Your goal with a student card is to build your credit history — not to go deeper into debt. So long as you pay your statement balance in full and on time every month, you should not have to worry about the interest rate.

Limited acceptance overseas — especially in Europe.

If you plan on studying abroad or backpacking across Europe, you might find it difficult to use your Discover card. In Asia, you get better coverage with JCB (Japan) and China UnionPay. However, in Europe you will be relying upon the Diners Club International network, which is limited.

Alternatives to the Card

Discover it® Student chrome is one of our favorite cards — however, it is not for everyone. Here are some other options to consider:

If You Don’t Spend Money in Gas Stations or Restaurants

The 2% cash back sounds great — but if you don’t own a car and eat all of your meals in the dining hall, Discover it® Student chrome might not be your best bet. You actually might want to consider another card offered by Discover, the Discover it® Student Cash Back. It has all of the benefits that we like in Discover it® Student chrome, including Good Grade Rewards, and a free FICO® score. With this card, earn 2% cash back at Gas stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. With rotating categories, there is a better chance that you can earn more cash back in a category where you spend money.

If You Want to Travel Abroad

If you want to travel abroad, you should find a Visa or MasterCard option that does not charge a foreign transaction fee or annual fee. The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® does just that. In addition to the $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, you can earn up to 1.25% cash back. You earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.

Bottom Line: Who Benefits Most from this Card

If you are a college student with good grades (3.0 GPA or higher) who wants to build your credit score and earn some cash back along the way, this is a good card. If you spend most of your money on gas and restaurants, this becomes a great card.

Student Credit Cards: FAQs

A student card is a credit card specially designed by a lender to get college students started with credit. The major difference between a student credit card and a regular credit card is that the student card will likely have a higher interest rate. Regular cards tend to average about 15% annual interest. In a recent MagnifyMoney study, we found the average student credit card carries an interest rate of 21.4%.

Your goal with your student credit card is to build your credit so that by the time you graduate, you have a healthy credit score in the high 600s to mid 700s. That way, when you graduate, you’ll be in a great position to make larger purchases like a new car or your first home. At that point you may actually want to earn rewards, and you’ll qualify for the best cards because you have a great score.

You should really only get a credit card if you want to build your credit score, not because you need extra money to make ends meet. If you can’t afford your monthly expenses as it is, a credit card might only make things worse.

The easiest strategy is this: Set up one recurring bill (like your Netflix or Spotify account) on your card. And pay it off in full each month. Follow that advice while you’re in school and you will absolutely graduate with a great credit score.

You can still build up your credit without having to open a card on your own. Ask your parents if you can become an authorized user on their account. All of their good credit behavior will be reported on your credit report as well. Also, consider opening a secured credit card. It’s a tool that’s meant precisely to help build credit but doesn’t have the same risks as a regular credit card. Read more about secured cards here.

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