Discover it® Cash Back vs. Discover it® chrome

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For those who prefer cash back rewards from their spending, the Discover it cash back credit cards offer a lot of upsides. With no annual fee, each of the cards features a different bonus cash back category and an automatic Cashback Match for the first year, giving them plenty of upside for lasting rewards.

While the Discover it® Cash Back offers up to 5 percent cash back after activation in rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent), the Discover it® chrome offers steady cash back in two categories.

Which one is best for your wallet? It all depends on your spending habits and personal preferences.

Main details

Cards Discover it Cash Back Discover it chrome
Welcome bonus Cashback Match for the first year Cashback Match for the first year
Rewards rate 5% cash back after activation on rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 %); 1% back on all other purchases 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); 1% back on all other purchases
Intro APR 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR after) 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR after)
Annual fee $0 $0

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it chrome highlights

In many ways, the Discover it Cash Back and the Discover it chrome are very similar cards. Not only do they come from the same issuer, they offer the same 1 percent cash back rewards with every purchase.

The major difference between them are the bonus categories. While the Discover it chrome offers 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each calendar quarter (then 1 percent), the Discover it Cash Back offers 5 percent cash back in rotating categories each calendar quarter after activation on up to $1,500 in purchases (then 1 percent). Here’s how the two cards break down head-to-head.

Welcome bonus winner: Discover it Cash Back

Both the Discover it Cash Back and Discover it chrome offer the same exact welcome bonuses, effectively making them tied in this category. Both also offer an introductory 0 percent APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 14 months—followed by a variable APR between 11.99 percent and 22.99 percent—a $0 annual fee and a Cashback Match for the first year, effectively doubling the cash back cardholders earn.

What gives the Discover it Cash Back the edge in this category is the amount of cash back that you can earn over the year. If you spend the maximum $1,500 on the bonus categories every quarter, you could potentially earn $300 in cash back over the 12-month period. Compared to the Discover it chrome, the Discover it Cash Back could yield up to around 75 percent more cash back in one year. We’ll break down the math further below.

On the downside, Discover it Cash Back cardholders are required to activate the quarterly bonus to get 5 percent cash back on spending in the categories. If you do not activate it in time, you won’t get the bonus.

Rewards rate winner: Discover it Cash Back

In head-to-head rewards, the Discover it Cash Back has the clear advantage over the Discover it chrome. With 5 percent cash back on activated rotating categories each quarter for up to $1,500 in purchases (then 1 percent), the upside is much higher for the Discover it Cash Back.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions. Again, the Discover it Cash Back yields higher spending rewards only if you remember to activate the quarterly bonus. Additionally, although the Discover Cash Back calendar is published annually, there’s no guarantee that the bonuses will be in categories you regularly spend in (or would spend $1,500 per quarter in). For example, the 2021 third quarter bonus categories are restaurants and purchases via PayPal. Unless you are spending an average of $500 per month between the two categories, you may not be able to maximize the bonus.

In comparison, the Discover it chrome offers steady 2 percent cash back rewards for up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter in two categories—gas stations and restaurants. Furthermore, the quarterly bonus doesn’t require activation, meaning you automatically get 2 percent cash back every time you use your card for gas and dining until you hit the quarterly limit. For those who prefer simplicity, the Discover it chrome card may offer a better yield.

Annual fee winner: Tied

Discover is unique among credit card issuers because it offers rewards with no annual fee on all of its credit cards. Both the Discover it Cash Back and Discover it chrome come with $0 annual fees, meaning there’s nothing but upside when spending on both cards.

Foreign transaction fee winner: Tied

The Discover it credit cards have two particular advantages when it comes to international transactions. First, all Discover cards charge no international transaction fees on spending abroad. Before you travel, you may have to alert Discover of your travel plans to ensure your card works around the world.

Second, Discover cards are particularly useful for those traveling to Asia, as the company has reciprocal agreements with four major Asian networks. Discover cards will work on China’s UnionPay network, JCB network in Japan, BC Card network in South Korea and RuPay network in India. If you are planning a trip to Asia in the near future, the Discover card may help you manage your spending with minimal difficulty.

Which card earns the most?

Based on the simple math, the Discover it Cash Back has the highest potential to earn cash back compared to the Discover chrome card. With the potential to earn 5 percent cash back after activation on rotating categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent, cardholders could earn a maximum of $300 in cash back rewards in a year. When the Cashback Match welcome offer is applied, that bonus goes up to $600.

The bonus works, however, only if cardholders remember to activate the bonus category every month. Without activation, that same $6,000 in spending would only earn $60, even in the bonus categories. Comparatively, the Discover it chrome offers a steady 2 percent cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases without activation on up to $1,000 in spending every quarter. If cardholders spent $1,000 in those categories every three months, their maximum cash back would be $80, which would be matched in the first year up to $160.

Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it chrome spending example

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household earned $82,852 in 2019 while spending $63,036. This includes $8,169 in combined food spending, $2,094 in gasoline and motor oil and $1,883 in apparel and services. We’ll apply these spending figures to both the Discover it chrome and Discover it Cash Back.

Based on the current Discover it Cash Back calendar, cardholders in 2021 would earn 5 percent cash back in the following categories:

  • January through March: Grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS
  • April through June: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and streaming services
  • July through Sept.: Restaurants and PayPal
  • October through Dec.: Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com

In the first three months of the year, the average household using the Discover it Cash Back card would earn 5 percent cash back (upon activation) on $1,160.75 in grocery store spending (up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, then 1 percent). In the second quarter, the heightened cash back percentage would apply to $523.50 in gas station purchases, while the third quarter would earn elevated cash back on $881.50 of restaurant spending. All other spending would earn 1 percent cash back, breaking down as follows:

  • Grocery store spending: $58 earned in cash back in the first quarter, $35 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
  • Gas station spending: $26 earned in cash back in the second quarter, $16 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
  • Restaurant spending: $44 earned in cash back in the third quarter, $26 in cash back earned for the rest of the year

Combined with apparel and services spending at 1 percent cash back, the average household using the Discover it Cash Back card on all their spending could potentially earn $224 in cash back. When the Cashback Match for the first year is applied, the total jumps to $448 over the first 12 months.

The Discover it chrome card offers 2 percent cash back on up to $1,000 in gas station spending and restaurant purchases each quarter (then 1 percent) with no activation required. Here’s how the spending would break down based on the same categories:

  • Grocery store spending: $45 in cash back
  • Gas station spending: $41 in cash back (based on 2 percent cash back earned on $523.50 in gas station purchases each quarter)
  • Restaurant spending: $71 in cash back (based on 2 percent cash back earned on $881.50 in restaurant purchases each quarter)

After apparel and services spending is applied at 1 percent cash back, the average household using the Discover it chrome card for all their spending could earn $176 in cash back. After applying the first year Cashback Match offer, that sum jumps to $352.

On the same category spending between, the Discover it Cash Back card could earn $96 more cash back compared to the Discover it chrome card in the first year, and $48 more in subsequent years.

Why should you get Discover it Cash Back?

If everything is identical, the Discover it Cash Back card potentially offers more cash back for everyday spending. In order to unlock the bonus, cardholders have to activate the bonus category on their cards every three months.

Smart shoppers who set a reminder to activate the bonus categories could earn more cash back from spending with the Discover it Cash Back. Even at the relatively low limit of $1,500 per quarter, maximizing the spending would yield more returns than the Discover it chrome card.

Additional benefits

Like all Discover cards, the Discover it Cash Back card comes with two distinct benefits. First, cardholders have the ability to “freeze” their card if it is lost or stolen. Users also have $0 fraud liability, so they aren’t on the hook for any unauthorized spending. Those who opt-in can also get Social Security protection, notifying account holders any time their number is found on the “dark web” or malicious websites.

Redemption options

One of the best things about the Discover it credit cards is that cardholders can use their cash back as soon as they earn it to erase purchases made on their card. Redemptions start at $0.01 and can be used on anything they buy on their card.

Recommended credit score

Because this is a rewards card, it’s recommended that applicants have good to excellent credit before applying. Our credit score recommendation is between 670 and 850.

Why should you get Discover it chrome?

Although the Discover it Cash Back card offers more potential rewards, there’s a lot to be said for simplicity. For those who don’t want the hassle of activating quarterly bonuses, juggling changing categories or just want simple rewards, the Discover it chrome offers easy-to-earn cash back rewards without jumping through any hoops.

Additional benefits

Like the Discover it Cash Back card, the Discover it chrome card comes with the ability to freeze lost or stolen cards, as well as the Social Security tracker for those who opt-in. Other benefits of all Discover cards include FICO score access for free each month and U.S.-based customer service from the company’s J.D. Power and Associates award-winning team.

Redemption options

In line with other Discover cards, cardholders can redeem their rewards as soon as they earn them. Rewards start at $0.01 and can be used for statement credits toward anything purchased on the credit card.

Recommended credit score

Although the rewards may not be as high as other cards, it’s still recommended that applicants have a good to excellent credit score, between 670 and 850.

The bottom line

For smart spenders, cash back rewards can offer a lot of upside over time. Those who don’t mind doing some spending management could get big rewards from the Discover it Cash Back card. On the other hand, those who seek simple and stable cash back rewards may prefer the Discover it chrome. Either option still provides long-lasting rewards that can help you get closer to your next big goal.