Why I got Discover it Cash Back this holiday season—and why you should too

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As October rolled in, I couldn’t wait to furnish my apartment that was sitting mostly empty since I’d moved states in March. The holiday season is perfect for big purchases with all the sales going on, and oh, I had a lot of big purchases to make.

When the time came, all I needed was the right credit card.

My credit is young and haunted by the mistakes I’d made in my early twenties, so my options were a bit limited. Capital One had recently upgraded my Secured Mastercard® from Capital One to the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which was as exciting as Christmas morning. Still, its 1.5 percent cash back rate didn’t seem that appealing when I thought about how much I was going to spend, especially considering my sad $1,500 credit limit.

But then, I checked CardMatch™ and saw a Discover it® Cash Back offer. If you see a card on CardMatch, that means you have great chances of being approved. There was nothing to think about. I practically squealed with joy. It is the cash back credit card to have in the fourth quarter of 2020. So, I applied.

Flash forward two months and I’ve saved about $325 with this card.

Let me tell you how.

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Why I got the Discover it Cash Back

A little bit about the card first: Discover it Cash Back is a rewards credit card that earns 5 percent cash back in bonus categories that you need to activate every quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter, then 1%). All other purchases will get you 1 percent back. At the end of your first year with the card, Discover also matches all the cash back you’ve earned as an intro offer, sweetening the deal.

The bonus categories rotate quarterly. Unlike Chase, which maintains a veil of mystery, announcing the Chase Freedom Flex categories right before they launch, Discover reveals its cash back calendar in its entirety a year ahead.

And you know what, I can appreciate that. I like predictability in my financial life very much indeed.

This is what the Discover cash back calendars are looking like for 2020 and 2021:

Quarter 2020 categories 2021 categories
Winter (January – March) Grocery stores
Grocery stores
Spring (April – June) Gas stations
Wholesale clubs
The Home Depot
Gas stations
Select streaming services
Wholesale clubs
Summer (July – September) Restaurants
Holiday (October – December) Amazon.com

As you can see, during the holiday season, the Discover it Cash Back rewards you generously for shopping on Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com.

Can you see why I got so excited?

These are my three favorite places for uncontrollable shopping (I’m only joking—always exercise self-control when shopping so you don’t incur credit card debt). Amazon has its Prime Day, during which Target and Walmart are holding their own sales events to keep up. Then there’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas sales. The potential for savings is enormous.

How my Discover it Cash Back saved me $325

As I’ve mentioned, my apartment was pretty empty. I had a bed, and my dining zone was more or less furnished—but the rest was a vast space of light beige walls and hardwood floors with a tiny futon in the middle.

I planned on working on my living room and kitchen, which was also rather bare. As you can probably imagine, that meant a lot of buying—from a TV, to a coffee table, to kitchen appliances to utensils (as I didn’t even have those).

With such expenses, meeting the category’s $1,500 spending cap looked easy. The credit limit I got on my Discover it Cash Back was $4,500, which didn’t look too bad—as a reminder, you shouldn’t use over 30 percent of your available credit to avoid damage to your scores.

The perspective of carrying credit card debt made me anxious, as I’m sure it does many young people, but since the Discover it Cash Back comes with 14 months of 0 percent intro APR (11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR after that), I was certain I had plenty of time to pay off the balance.

The Discover it Cash Back comes with 14 months of 0 percent APR…[so] I was certain I had plenty of time to pay off the balance.

When Amazon Prime Day came, and I started shopping, the savings made me dizzy. Of course, a lot of those came from the deals themselves. For example, I got almost $70 off an Instant Pot (what a terrifying machine, but it makes me feel like a real adult) and $50 off in coupons and Prime discounts.

But then, as I was shopping, an amazing offer sprang at me: $50 off a $150 purchase if I use my Discover rewards to cover any portion of the purchase. At that point, I’d already used the card for grocery shopping with Amazon Fresh, so I had a bit of cash back. I used $1 of it to get the discount.

I had a lot of hopes to get a TV during Prime Day too, but after checking Honey, I realized Amazon had actually raised prices on the TVs I was interested in prior to the sales event. So, I got my TV on Walmart.com, which still earned me 5 percent cash back.

By now, I’ve met the spending cap and finished paying off the balance, meaning I’ve already got $75 from the bonus categories. And I will get $75 more in October next year, thanks to the cash back match. That’s great savings in my book.

Overall, I’ve saved almost $325 shopping for my apartment (and buying some groceries), $120 of which came from deals and over $200 from my Discover it Cash Back. That’s almost 22 percent of the $1,500 I’ve spent. Ka-Ching!

Why you should look into Discover it Cash Back too

‘Tis the season of giving—and the season of spending. But even if it wasn’t, and even if there were no epic sales events going on during the holiday season, I’d still recommend this card.

Amazon, Walmart and Target are major retailers, and it’s hard to imagine what you can’t buy from either of them. This makes earning cash back easy. This would be a fantastic bonus category at any time of the year, but for me it’s especially so in the fourth quarter.

Another important thing is, I only had fair credit when I applied. Supposedly, you need good credit to get a decent rewards card like this, but my Experian FICO score was at 660 when I got approved for the Discover it Cash Back. I can only assume my previous relationship with the issuer might have played a role since I also have a savings account with Discover, but that’s pure speculation and might have made no difference at all.

For that reason, I think you might want to take a chance too—even if your credit isn’t good yet. If you don’t see Discover it Cash Back in CardMatch, you can try to get preapproved before you apply. Preapproval doesn’t affect your credit score and can show you which Discover cards you’re likely to qualify for.

Good luck! Meanwhile, I’m going to start a list of all the gift cards I’m going to buy at grocery stores in the first quarter of 2021 to get another $150 in cash back.

Written by
Ana Staples
Credit Cards Reporter and Young Credit Analyst
Ana Staples is a reporter for Bankrate and an expert on all things credit basics and personal finance for the younger generation.