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Discover it® Cash Back review: Discover’s flagship rewards card

It’s one of the best no-annual-fee cards for low rates and fees, cash back, first-year value and customer service if you don’t mind rotating categories.

 /  15 min
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At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for and how we rate our cards. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

Snapshot

4.4

Bankrate rating
Info
Rating: 4.4 stars out of 5

Bottom line

Cardholders that don’t mind a little elbow grease to make their rewards cards shine will find the Discover it® Cash Back is one of the best no-annual-fee credit cards for low rates and fees, cash back, first-year offers and customer service.

Best For Cash Back Category Variety
  • Rewards value
    Rating: 4 stars out of 5
    4 / 5
    APR
    Rating: 4 stars out of 5
    4 / 5
    Rewards flexibility
    Rating: 3 stars out of 5
    3 / 5
    Features
    Rating: 2 stars out of 5
    2 / 5
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Cashback Match

Intro offer

Info

1% - 5%

Rewards rate

Info

$0

Annual fee

18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR

Regular APR

Discover it® Cash Back overview

In exchange for a bit more strategizing than a typical cash back card, the Discover it® Cash Back offers one of the highest rewards rates for various everyday expenses on a quarterly basis.

To maximize your earnings, you’ll need to activate your categories and track your spending to adjust to Discover’s quarterly categories. But this extra effort could make Discover’s Cashback Match® the most valuable first-year offer available for a personal cash back card.

Although the Discover it® Cash Back can be an excellent tool for earning cash back, you’re at the mercy of Discover’s rotating category calendar and spending limits for the elevated rewards rate. If a quarter’s category isn’t appealing, you may have trouble maximizing your rewards for that quarter. And if there’s a category that works especially well for you, you can only push that value so far before you’re capped. You should consider another no-annual-fee credit card if you’re not a fan of the extra legwork it takes to maximize rotating categories.

The combination of a strong cash back rate, a potentially high welcome offer, limited fees and a solid intro APR period solidify the Discover it® Cash Back as an excellent all-around credit card.

  • Credit Card Cash Back

    Rewards

    • 5 percent cash back after activation on rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent)
    • 1 percent for all other purchases

    Expert Appraisal: Good
    See our expert analysis

  • Rewards

    Welcome offer

    • Automatic Cashback Match: All cash back earned at the end of the first year is matched.

    Expert Appraisal: Exceptional
    See our expert analysis

  • Credit Card Apr

    0% APR offer

    • 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 15 months
    • 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months
    • 18.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable ongoing APR

    Expert Appraisal: Good
    See our expert analysis

  • Credit Card Search

    Rates and fees

    • No annual fee
    • No foreign transaction fee
    • No fee for the first late payment (then up to $41)
    • No penalty APR
    • 3 percent intro balance transfer fee, up to 5 percent fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

    Expert Appraisal: Good
    See our expert analysis

  • Congrats

    Other cardholder perks

    • Acclaimed, U.S.-based customer service 24/7
    • Free FICO score access
    • Free credit monitoring service and alerts
    • Freeze it® card locking in the mobile app
    • $0 fraud liability

    Expert Appraisal: Typical
    See our expert analysis

Discover it® Cash Back pros and cons

Pros

  • Checkmark

    The rotating categories offer some of the highest rewards on a no-annual-fee card.

  • Checkmark

    This card has some of the lowest rates and fees available.

  • Checkmark

    The Cashback Match program could be the strongest welcome offer among no-annual-fee cash back cards since it matches an unlimited amount of cash back earned in your first year.

Cons

  • The card’s bonus categories may not be useful if your spending doesn’t align with that quarter’s categories, which Discover typically announces around a month beforehand.

  • Bonus category spending is capped at $1,500 per quarter, which may not be enough for people with bigger budgets.

  • The rotating category rewards program requires quarterly activation and may be too complicated for first-time rewards cardholders.

Why you might want the Discover it® Cash Back

The Discover it® Cash Back isn’t the only rotating rewards card with a high cash back rate, but it stands out thanks to its unique first-year offer and low fees.

Rewards rate: Stellar cash back for savvy spenders

Earning cash back with the Discover it® Cash Back takes a little effort because you’ll need to keep track of the rotating bonus categories and enroll each quarter, but the bonus cash can be well worth it. Although Discover no longer releases the entire year’s bonus categories, the categories tend to align with seasonal expenses and include at least one major everyday category. You can take advantage of higher rates when those categories surface in Discover’s calendar.

You can redeem your Discover rewards for cash back as a direct deposit to your chosen account or as a statement credit to your card balance. You also have the option to use your rewards for gift cards or charitable donations to select charities. All reward options carry a 1:1 redemption rate, which is rare for non-cash redemption choices. Discover’s partner gift cards also sweeten the deal by occasionally add 5 percent to 20 percent value to the gift card balance, depending on the merchant.

Welcome offer: Potentially best in class

The Discover it® Cash Back welcome offer differs from the typical sign-up bonus on other cards: Discover’s Cashback Match program takes the total amount of cash back you accumulate by the end of your first year and matches it with a lump-sum payment to your account. That means the more you use your Discover it® Cash Back card, the bigger your bonus. Maximizing your 5 percent categories’ $1,500 spending cap each quarter after activation will result in $600 total at the end of your first year — $300 from spending and another $300 from Cashback Match. That’s a worthwhile reward well above the usual welcome offer on other no-annual-fee cash back cards.

Rates and fees: Some of the lowest on the market

Only a few credit cards can match Discover’s rates and fees. There’s no annual fee, no penalty APR for late payments and no penalty fee for the first time you make a late payment (up to $41 after that). Even the ongoing variable APR could be well below the average current interest rate, making this a potentially great low-interest card.

0% APR offer: Solid intro APRs make it a well-rounded card

The Discover it® Cash Back offers new account holders a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for the first 15 months (then 18.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable APR). This offer is generally the longest intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers you’ll find with a rewards card. There is also the typical intro balance transfer fee of 3 percent, up to 5 percent on future balance transfers (see terms).

Intro APR offers are always a welcome feature on reward cards as they can provide a lot of flexibility in saving on interest on new purchases or helping you pay down an existing card debt interest-free. And unlike a dedicated 0 percent intro APR card, the Discover it® Cash Back can continue to deliver value after the 0 percent intro period ends. 

Why you might want a different cash back card

Although the Discover it® Cash Back can be a rewarding credit card, its rotating category program may not fit everyone’s spending habits. Other cards may be more suitable for your regular purchase categories or offer unique features that add more value.

Rotating categories: Not suitable for everyone

The 5 percent cash back rotating categories require activation and have a $1,500 combined purchase limit each quarter before your cash back rate drops to 1 percent back on all purchases. You’ll need to track your spending and potentially change how or where you shop every few months to maximize your cash back. These factors could make this card too high maintenance for some people, especially first-time cardholders who want to start with a simpler rewards experience.

There’s also no guarantee which categories Discover will boost in any given quarter or whether they’ll align with your expenses. If you’re stuck with incompatible categories for three months the card can’t do much for you, regardless of the high earning rates.

Lightbulb

Bankrate Insight

The Discover it® Cash Back used to have a leg up over its rival, the Chase Freedom Flex card, since Discover previously announced the entire next year’s quarterly categories in advance. This was incredibly helpful for planning your rewards strategy. However, Discover no longer announces its categories that far ahead of time.

Perks: Few benefits beyond rewards and limited fees

The Discover it® Cash Back's benefits are light beyond its cash back and minimal fees. You’ll have basic perks like $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases, free FICO score access, Social Security number protection after activation and the ability to freeze your card whenever you like, which can be helpful if your card is lost or stolen.

However, the only remarkable benefit is Discover’s acclaimed customer service which consistently ranks at or near the top of J.D. Power’s credit card customer satisfaction surveys

But if you’re not concerned with customer service or won’t run into the fees that Discover waives, you may find the perks on competing cards more attractive.

First-year value vs. ongoing value

The Discover it® Cash Back is a frontrunner for first-year value with no annual fee, thanks to Discover’s CashBack Match offer. During your first year, this feature could make the Discover it® Cash Back card a significantly better option than competing cards, depending on how much you spend. 

You can earn 5 percent cash back on up to $6,000 in spending per year (up to $1,500 in rotating category purchases each quarter when you activate the bonus category, then 1 percent. Here's a look at the sort of value you can expect if you're able to max out your cash back in the card's rotating categories, taking into consideration the card's first-year offer.

Benefits and costs First-year value Ongoing value (no welcome offers)
Yearly rewards* +$465 +$465 (may change depending on announced quarterly categories and your personal spending)
Welcome offers +$465 (matches first-year rewards)
Perks (of monetary value) N/A N/A
Annual fee $0 $0
Total value $930 $465

*Based on our formula used to calculate each card’s average rewards rates and average ongoing rewards value, using Bureau of Labor Statistics spending data and an assumed $22,500 yearly spend over three years ($1,875 per month).

*Discover it® Cash Back offers 5 percent cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter, enrollment required (on up to $1,500 maximum, 1 percent thereafter). Earn unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year with no maximum.

We tried it: Here’s what our experts say

Bankrate credit cards writer Ryan Flanigan uses the bonus categories on his Discover it® Cash Back to his advantage.

I max out the bonus categories every quarter on this card. They’re always in categories that I can spend in, for reasonable amounts that don’t feel forced. I like that I can redeem cash back for merchant gift cards to add extra value to my earnings.

And the first-year value is unrivaled. I could maximize all the quarterly bonus categories for at least $300 back, plus another $300 from Discover matching my cash back at the end of my first year with the card. Then, every year after I can get another $300 if I max out all the rotating categories.

— Ryan Flanigan, Writer, Credit Cards

How the Discover it® Cash Back compares to other cash back cards

The Discover it® Cash Back is one of the best rotating category cards thanks to its low-cost terms, but you may earn more rewards and enjoy richer card features by selecting another card.

Image of Discover it® Cash Back
Bankrate Score
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Apply now Lock
on Discover's secure site

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

Cashback Match
Info

Rewards rate

1% - 5%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Image of Discover it® Chrome
Bankrate Score
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Apply now Lock
on Discover's secure site

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

Cashback Match
Info

Rewards rate

1% - 2%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Image of Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Bankrate Score
Rating: 4.8 stars out of 5
4.8

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

$200
Info

Rewards rate

1% - 5%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info

Best cards to pair with the Discover it® Cash Back

Stacking different cards is a great way to ensure you earn the most rewards. While the Discover it® Cash Back earns a fantastic rate on its quarterly categories, there are better options for travel purchases and purchases outside its seasonal categories.

Who is the Discover it® Cash Back right for?

If you fall into any of these cardholder profiles, Discover’s flagship credit card can be a great addition to your wallet.

Bankrate’s Take — Is the Discover it® Cash Back worth it?

The Discover it® Cash Back is perfect for people who can adjust their spending habits to take advantage of Discover’s cash back calendar each quarter. Its high-earning rewards scheme maximizes Discover’s unique welcome offer, making it one of the best sign-up bonuses for a no-annual-fee card. The Discover it® Cash Back also carries perhaps the lowest rates and fees available from a major issuer, and it’s accessible with just a “good” or higher credit score (670+ FICO score).

Although light on features, the Discover it® Cash Back’s focus on accessibility, affordability and excellent customer service make it a great rewards card for those who don’t mind putting in a little elbow grease to make it shine.

**The information about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

How we rated this card

Document
150+
cards rated
Congrats
50+
rewards programs valued
Location
1800
data points analyzed
Credit Card Reviews
40+
perks evaluated

We rate credit cards using a proprietary card scoring system that ranks each card’s estimated average rewards rate, estimated annual earnings, welcome bonus value, APR, fees, perks and more against those of other cards in its primary category.

Each card feature is assigned a weighting based on how important it is to people looking for a card in a given category. These features are then scored based on how they rank relative to the features on other cards in the category. Based on these calculations, each card receives an overall rating of 1-5 stars (with 5 being the highest possible score and 1 being the lowest).

We analyzed over 150 of the most popular rewards and cash back cards to determine where each stacked up based on their value, cost, benefits and more. Here are some of the key factors that influenced this card’s overall score and how the score influenced our review:

Frequently asked questions

Written by
Garrett Yarbrough
Writer, Credit Cards

Bankrate expert Garrett Yarbrough strives to make navigating credit cards and credit building smooth sailing for his readers. After regularly featuring his credit card, credit monitoring and identity theft analysis on NextAdvisor.com, he joined the CreditCards.com and Bankrate teams as a staff writer to develop product reviews and comprehensive credit card guides focused on cash back, credit scores and card offers.

Edited by Senior Editor, Credit Cards
Reviewed by Former Senior Editor, Credit Cards

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.