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

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 Cash Back card, that’s not too different from Discover’s flagship cash back card. However, its terms are more restrictive, and it includes a slightly higher APR and less generous introductory APR.

The Discover it® Cash Back card, in contrast, offers a bigger credit limit than you’ll get on the student version and a more generous promotion, including a 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers (then a variable APR of 11.99% to 22.99%). But it doesn’t have as many safeguards as the Discover it Student card, so students could potentially get into bigger trouble with it. Young adults new to credit are also unlikely to qualify for the Discover it Cash Back card. Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, so a student would need to have a significant credit history and income to qualify.

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Student Cash Back

Card 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 (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in rotating categories (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
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 rewards value in first year ($1,325 monthly spend) $442 $398

Introductory APR

Again, the Discover it Cash Back has a 0% intro APR for 14 months on new purchases and balance transfers, though there is a 3% balance transfer fee (and future balance transfer fees can go up to 5%). The Discover it Student also has a 0% intro APR, but only for six months on new purchases, then the regular variable APR will rise to 12.99% to 21.99%.

For parents who fear their child will spend a lot with the freedom of plastic, forget payment deadlines and carry debt, the longer intro APR on the Discover it Cash Back makes more sense. However, the shorter intro APR and higher regular APR on the Discover it Student card are also strong deterrents to students who’ve never had a credit card before and may end up training them to have better payment habits.

If the thought of your student amassing a huge debt without your knowledge terrifies you, you could always apply for the Discover it Cash Back card yourself and add your kid as an authorized user. Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, but it does allow authorized users. As an authorized user, even if account holder bears the responsibility for payment, you could build credit history and increase your credit score. It also gives kids an opportunity to earn a significant amount of cash, without the risk of owning their own card.

Annual fee

Good news: Both the Discover it Cash Back and the Discover it Student Cash Back have no annual fee, which is good for students considering education these days is getting more and more expensive. For either card, you’ll earn a solid amount of cash back without paying anything for the card itself.

Other perks

Discover it Cash Back

Discover it Student Cash Back

  • 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
  • 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

Both cards have other benefits that suit students incredibly well including viewing your FICO credit score for free on the Discover account, no late fee on your first late payment and no foreign transaction fee, in case you decide to spontaneously visit your friend studying abroad. If you lose the card or it gets stolen (anything can happen at school), you can easily freeze it until you have time to report the loss and request a new card.

Discover it Student Cash Back: Best for undergrads and credit newbies

If you’re still in college and under 21, then you won’t qualify for either card unless you can prove 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. Since Discover doesn’t allow co-signers, and if you’re determined to be the cardholder (versus an authorized user), you’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re underage and don’t have a part-time job.

Nevertheless, the Discover it Student Cash Back is one of the strongest student credit cards out there. The 0% intro APR for six months, simple rewards structure, late payment fee waiver and no annual fee are all features designed for students who are new to credit. The credit limit on the Discover it Student is also likely to be fairly low, preventing students from significantly overcharging.

Discover it Cash Back: Best for grad students or people who live off campus

In contrast, the Discover it Cash Back suits grad students or upperclassmen who live off campus – people who earn more and spend more. The card awards larger credit limits, but you must have a good or excellent credit score and, therefore, some credit history, to be approved. Unlike the Discover it Student card, this is a card you can use regularly for everyday purchases, considering the Discover quarterly bonus categories calendar. The categories include gas stations, grocery stores and Target, which students who live on campus are unlikely to charge.

The gas and grocery categories perfectly suit those who commute to school or eat at home every day, rather than those with a campus meal plan.

Bottom line

For most young students, the Discover it Student card is a clear winner. Students without any credit history are not only more likely to qualify for it, but the card’s strong limits also make it more difficult for them to rack up a lot of debt.

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

Source: creditcards.com