Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Balance Transfer

1
Lyndon Stratford/iStock/Getty Images
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

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 . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired.

Choosing between the Discover it® Cash Back and the Discover it® Balance Transfer credit cards can be tough. Both cards feature the exact same rewards rates and sign-up bonus, so the main difference lies in their introductory APR periods.

Both cards offer a great option for balance transfers, depending on your budget and timeline. The Discover it Balance Transfer offers an introductory 18-month 0 percent APR on balance transfers while the Discover it Cash Back offers 0 percent for 14 months (both have 11.99 percent ⁠to 22.99 percent variable APR thereafter).

The biggest difference between the two is the promotional APR for purchases. The Cash Back offers the same introductory 0 percent APR for 14 months on purchases, while the Discover it Balance Transfer only has a six-month 0 percent APR on purchases (again, both cards have 11.99 percent ⁠to 22.99 percent variable APR after that).

Card comparison overview

 Features Discover it Cash Back Discover it Balance Transfer
Welcome bonus Cashback Match
(all cash back earned within the first 12 months will be matched for essentially double first-year rewards)
Cashback Match
(all cash back earned within the first 12 months will be matched for essentially double first-year rewards)
Rewards rate
  • 5% cash back on purchases in rotating categories each quarter (up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 when you activate, then 1%)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • 5% cash back on purchases in rotating categories each quarter (up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 when you activate, then 1%)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory APR 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable APR) 0% intro APR for 6 months on purchases and 18 months on balance transfers (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR after that)
Annual fee $0 $0

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Balance Transfer highlights

With the exact same rewards structures and Discover’s fantastic Cashback Match welcome offer, the Discover it Cash Back and Discover it Balance Transfer credit cards will have some fierce competition for a place in your wallet. Here’s a breakdown of the two cards:

Sign-up bonus winner: Tie

Both the Discover it Cash Back and Discover it Balance Transfer benefit from Discover’s Cashback Match offer. This means Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year with no limit. You don’t even have to worry about activating or requesting the match at the end of the year. Discover will add it to your account automatically.

Rewards rate winner: Tie

Both cards feature the same ongoing rewards rate. Each quarter, you’ll be able to activate rotating bonus categories that earn you 5 percent cash back up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 on purchases, then 1 percent. These categories include things like groceries, restaurants, gas stations, travel and online retailers. If you forget to activate or make purchases outside the rotating categories, you’ll earn 1 percent back on every purchase with no limit.

Annual fee winner: Tie

Even though both cards offer a decent rewards structure and reasonable APR offer transfers, there’s no annual fee. You can rack up rewards while saving money with no worries about an annual fee.

Balance transfer fee winner: Tie

Both credit cards come with a 3 percent intro balance transfer fee, with an up-to-5-percent fee on future balance transfers (see terms).* The Discover it Balance Transfer could be a better choice for its longer introductory APR period for balance transfers.

Introductory APR period winner: It depends

If you have a balance on another card that you want to transfer, the Discover it Balance Transfer is the better option. Offering a 0 percent introductory APR for 18 months on balance transfers (11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR after that), this card will give you more time to pay off your balance without paying interest.

However, if you’re looking for a card that will give you plenty of time to pay off a large purchase without paying interest, the Discover it Cash Back will work better. You’ll have a 14-month 0 percent introductory APR after you open your card (then 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR thereafter), a timeframe that blows away the six months on purchases offered with the Discover it Balance Transfer card.

Which card earns the most?

The Discover it Cash Back and Discover it Balance Transfer both earn exceptional rewards for low-cost credit cards. You can’t lose with either card because they have the exact same rewards rates and welcome bonuses. Using either card exclusively for at least the first full year will guarantee that you earn a big cash back bonus after your first year of card ownership.

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Balance Transfer

Let’s say you use your credit card for $3,000 in purchases each month. If you completely forget to activate the bonus category each quarter, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase automatically. This sends you home with $360 in cash back, annually.

However, you’ll boost your rewards if you set a calendar reminder to activate your bonus categories each quarter. Using the example above, you’ll earn $300 worth of cash back annually from your 5 percent rotating bonus category spending (up to the $1,500 on purchases quarterly cap, then 1 percent) and another $300 from the rest of your spending (which earns 1 percent back). This brings you to a total of $600 in cash back earned each year. Plus, with Discover’s first-year Cashback Match welcome offer, you could get double that without lifting a finger.

Why you should get the Discover it Cash Back

The Discover it Cash Back is great if you want a low-cost rewards card with the option to earn big rewards on everyday spending. With no annual fee and a 0 percent introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers for 14 months (11.99 percent ⁠to 22.99 percent variable APR thereafter), your cost to carry this card will be next to nothing, giving you ample time to rack up cash back rewards (as long as you’re willing to activate the bonus categories every quarter).

Additional benefits

If needed, you can freeze your account from either the mobile app or website. Discover will also monitor your credit and provide credit score updates at no charge. If you ever have a problem or question with your account, you can chat with Discover’s U.S.-based customer support team.

Redemption options

You can redeem your cash back rewards as statements credits or an electronic deposit into a bank account. Or you can use them to make purchases at select merchants, donate to an eligible charity or redeem for gift cards (gift cards range from $5 to $200, in increments of $5).

Recommended credit score

The Discover it Cash Back requires a good to excellent credit score to qualify (between 670 and 850).

Why you should get the Discover it Balance Transfer

If you’re trying to knock out your credit card debt from a different high-interest credit card, the Discover it Balance Transfer gives you 0 percent introductory APR for 18 months on balance transfers (11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR after). This is among the longest intro APR periods for balance transfers. This means you’ll have plenty of time to pay your balance in full before you start accruing any interest.

Additional benefits

Just like the Discover it Cash Back, you’ll be able to freeze your account from the mobile app or website and have access to free credit monitoring, FICO credit reports and Discover’s U.S.-based customer support team.

Redemption options

You can redeem your rewards for gift cards and eCertificates, statement credits, merchandise, an electronic deposit to a bank account or donate to select charities.

Recommended credit score

You’ll need either a good or excellent credit score (between 670 and 850) to qualify.

The bottom line

There is no clear-cut winner between the Discover it Balance Transfer and Cash Back credit cards. Instead, the better choice for you will depend on how you plan to use your card.

If you want to pay off your existing credit card debt with a balance transfer, the Discover it Balance Transfer will best suit you. But if you need to make a big purchase and pay it off over time, the Discover it Cash Back should be your choice.

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Editor