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

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Updated on Monday, June 5, 2017

If you are a student, a credit card can be a great way to build your credit score. It can also be a useful tool when shopping online or renting a car. But credit cards also come with a temptation — to spend too much. We recommend getting a student credit card as long as you have the self-discipline to pay your statement balance in full every month and use the card wisely.

Discover it is one of our favorite credit cards for students — largely because it charges no annual fee, offers generous cash back and rewards the right behavior. There are some other nice perks — like a free FICO® score. The Discover it® Student Cash Back card is featured as one of our recommendations for best student credit cards of July 2020.

What We Like About the Discover it® Student Cash Back

You can easily build your credit history and score.

This credit card reports to all three credit bureaus, which will help you establish credit and improve your score with wise use over time. Our tip: never use more than 10%-20% of the available credit, so you keep your utilization low. Pay your bill on time every month (ideally, automate the payment). By the time you graduate, you should have an excellent score.

You will be able to see your FICO® score for free.

It is getting much easier to get your credit score for free — you do not need to take out a credit card to have access. However, we do like that you will be able to see your FICO® score on your statement and online. This will help you keep tabs on your credit as you learn about it and (hopefully) see it increase over time. Having a good credit score when you graduate can be very helpful – especially if you want an auto loan, mortgage or apartment.

Monitor Your Social Security Number for free.

Discover will monitor your Social Security Number and alert you if they find your Social Security Number on any of thousands of risky websites when you sing up. This is a great feature that will help alert you of possible fraud and add an extra layer of protection to your account.

Interesting feature: rewards for good grades.

This credit card also has a sweet bonus: you can get a $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years. This is a nice feature to reward what really matters in college — getting good grades and graduating.

And, yes — there is cash back.

Discover invented the concept of cash back in the 1980s, and they are regularly generous with the rewards that they offer. On this card, you can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

There is another bonus.

At the end of your first year as a cardholder, you will get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned – automatically. That will be a really nice one year anniversary gift.

Watch Out for These Pitfalls

Interest rates are not low.

This is not unique to Discover — but most student cards charge higher interest rates 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.

Who the Card is Best For

If you are a responsible student looking to build your credit while earning rewards along this way, this card could be appropriate for you.

Alternatives

While this card is a great choice, there may be better options depending on your situation.

Spend a lot at Gas Stations and Restaurants?

If you’re a commuter student, the Discover it® Student chrome card may make more sense. This card offers many of the same perks as the Discover it® Student Cash Back, like the Good Grades Rewards program and a cash back match at the end of your first year. But the Discover it® Student chrome offers a higher 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.

If You Want to Travel Abroad

If you plan on traveling abroad, consider the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®. Because the card is a Visa, it will have more acceptance overseas. And Capital One does not charge foreign transaction fees – making this a great travel companion. In addition, you can earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.

Student Credit Cards: FAQs

A student card is a credit card specially designed by a lender to get college students started with credit. It helps them build a relationship with customers early on and helps you build your credit score.

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. That’s because the bank has no way to prove you are a reliable borrower yet since you have little to no credit history. 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.

Let’s say you charged $300 to your student card for books at the start of the semester. If you made a minimum monthly payment of $9, it would take four years and four months to pay off a card with a 21.4% annual percentage rate (APR). At that point you would have paid a total of $460, assuming your books were your first and only charge on the card.

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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