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Discover it Student chrome review: This student credit card rewards good grades and matches your first-year earnings dollar-for-dollar

CNBC Select breaks down the rewards, benefits and fees associated with the Discover it Student chrome to help you decide if it's right for you.

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Getting into college is a time for celebration, but also a time for financial planning. Though it is harder to save money in college, especially while working entry-level or hourly jobs, one way to set yourself up for lifelong financial health is by being intentional with your credit card and building your credit score.

The Discover it® Student chrome is designed for this very purpose. Even if you don't have a long history of credit use, this cash-back card starts you out with a low credit limit and lets you earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%). It even rewards you for good grades.

Below, CNBC Select breaks down the rewards, benefits and fees associated with the Discover it Student chrome to help you decide if it's right for you.

Discover it Student chrome review

  • How to qualify for the Discover it Student chrome
  • Rewards
  • Additional benefits
  • Fees
  • Bottom line

Discover it® Student chrome

Discover it® Student chrome
On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    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

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year of account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 6 months on purchases; 10.99% APR for the first 6 months on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.49% - 23.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

Pros

  • Unique welcome bonus that doesn’t set minimum spending requirements
  • Intro 0% APR for 6 months on purchases
  • $20 Good Grade Reward when you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA during the school year (for up to five consecutive years)
  • First late payment fee is waived

Cons

  • 2% cash back on gas and restaurant purchases is limited to $1,000 in spending each quarter
  • Discover cards aren’t as widely accepted as cards from Mastercard or Visa, so you may run into issues trying to pay at certain merchants
  • You must be a U.S. citizen to qualify for this card

How to qualify for the Discover it Student chrome

Applying for a student credit card is an accessible way to start building credit history. To qualify for a Discover student credit card, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have some independent income, like a part-time job.

It's also important to have no major faults on your credit report (like a tax lien or a lot of denied credit applications).

If you are denied a student credit card, another option is to apply for a secured credit card that's meant for building credit. Capital One is known for helping its cardholders grow their credit limits by automatically increasing credit lines once the first five monthly payments are made on time, and some consumers even qualify for the Capital One® Secured Mastercard with deposits as low as $49.

Discover it Student chrome rewards

Imagine earning cash back from late-night fast-food study sessions or road trips on the weekends.

The Discover it Student chrome rewards cardholders with 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%). Taking full advantage of this reward by spending $1,000 a quarter on gas and dining would earn you $20 every three months.

The Discover it Student chrome also lets you earn 1% cash back on all other spending. At the end of your first year, Discover will match all of the cash back you've earned dollar-for-dollar.

You can redeem your cash back in the following ways:

  • Statement credits to offset your bill
  • Electronic deposits to your bank account
  • Gift cards
  • Charitable donations to select organizations
  • Pay with cash back at designated merchants, like Amazon.com

Your rewards never expire, but if you don't use your card for 18 months, Discover will automatically apply your cash back to your account balance.

Additional benefits

Getting good grades in college can feel like a lot of work with very delayed rewards. The Discover it Student chrome helps college students stay motivated to keep their GPA at a 3.0 or higher with the Good Grade Reward.

Here's how this unique credit card perk works: Once you indicate that you are enrolled in college, you are eligible for this once-a-year reward. Simply submit your grades during the months of May to August, and if you have maintained a 3.0 or higher, the $20 reward will be applied to your account within seven business days. This benefit is good for five consecutive years from the date you open your account, meaning you can earn up to $100 just for being an A (or B) student.

Fees

The Discover it Student chrome has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. Currently, this card offers no interest for the first six months on purchases (after 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR). This is helpful when purchasing those textbooks that seem to grow more expensive every year.

Another noteworthy feature is that, unlike many credit cards, the Discover it Student chrome charges no fee for your first late payment, nor will paying late increase your APR.

Bottom line

The Discover it® Student chrome is an excellent card for building credit and setting college students up for lifelong success. Cardholder reviews on Discover's site average 4.8 stars and cite the U.S.-based customer service that is available any time.

With a 6-month intro 0% APR for purchases (after 14.49% to 23.49% variable APR), this card could help a new college student buy dorm room essentials and textbooks.

However, if extra cash would help you pay for that new laptop, you may want to consider applying for a credit card with a welcome bonus, like the Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card, now with a $50 bonus offer when you make your first purchase.

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value for students, CNBC Select analyzed popular credit cards available for college students looking to build credit.

We compared each card on a range of features, including: credit limit, rewards program, introductory and standard APR, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered any special student-centric programs that offer incentives or extra rewards.

Because it's unusual for college student cards to have robust rewards programs, we did not analyze how many rewards points you can earn in the first year. For students who are looking to build their credit history and develop strong financial skills, it's more important to practice good credit card habits — spending within your means, paying your balance on time and in full — than try to optimize your points balance.

Information about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard and Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.