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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 cash back structure 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 better for your wallet? It all depends on your spending habits and personal preferences.
|Cards||Discover it Cash Back||Discover it chrome|
|Welcome bonus||Cashback Match for the first year||Cashback Match for the first year|
|Intro APR||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (16.24% to 27.24% variable APR after)||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (16.24% to 27.24% variable APR after)|
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, but they also offer the same 1 percent cash back rewards on general purchases.
The major difference between them is 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 when you compare the finer details.
Welcome bonus winner: Discover it Cash Back
Both the Discover it Cash Back and Discover it chrome offer the same exact welcome bonuses, which essentially ties them in this category. Both also offer an introductory 0 percent APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 15 months — followed by a variable APR between 16.24 percent and 27.24 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 your first 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 must activate the quarterly bonus to get 5 percent cash back on spending in the categories. If you do not activate the bonus in time, you won’t earn at the 5 percent rate.
Rewards rate winner: Discover it Cash Back
In head-to-head rewards, the Discover it Cash Back has a clear advantage over the Discover it chrome here. 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 enroll in the bonus categories each quarter. Additionally, Discover has opted to release its cash back categories one quarter at a time, rather than all at once annually like it did in the past. As a result, 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 first quarter of the Discover cash back calendar for 2023 offers bonus cash back on grocery stores, drug stores and select streaming services. Unless you are spending an average of around $167 per month between the three 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 in terms of cash back.
Annual fee winner: Tie
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.
Foreign transaction fee winner: Tie
The Discover it credit cards have two advantages when it comes to international transactions. First, all Discover cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees on spending abroad. However, 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.
Although Discover cards are accepted in over 200 countries, there are some variations in the acceptance level among those countries. If you take a look at the Discover international acceptance map, the issuer offers a range of acceptance ratings for countries on the map, including high acceptance, growing, just starting and no acceptance. If you are concerned about using your Discover card during travel, review the map so you are prepared before you set out.
Which card earns the most?
Based on simple math, the Discover it Cash Back has a higher 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 three months. Without activation, that same $6,000 in spending would only earn $60 in cash back, 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 $87,432 in 2021 while spending $66,928. This includes $8,289 in combined food spending ($5,259 at home and $3,030 away from home), $2,148 in gasoline and motor oil and $1,754 in apparel and services. We’ll apply these spending figures to both the Discover it chrome and Discover it Cash Back.
Since Discover now releases its rotating categories one quarter at a time, we based our calculations on the 2022 calendar. In that year, cardholders would earn 5 percent cash back in the following categories:
- January through March: Grocery stores, fitness clubs and gym memberships
- April through June: Gas stations and Target
- July through September: Restaurants and PayPal
- October through December: Amazon.com and digital wallet purchases
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 $1,314.75 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 $537 in gas station purchases, while the third quarter would earn elevated cash back on $757.50 of restaurant spending. As for the fourth quarter, let’s assume that you bought all your apparel on Amazon.com, so you’d earn cash back on $438.50.
All other spending would earn 1 percent cash back, breaking down as follows:
- Grocery store spending: $66 earned in cash back in the first quarter, $39 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
- Gas station spending: $27 earned in cash back in the second quarter, $16 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
- Restaurant spending: $38 earned in cash back in the third quarter, $23 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
- Apparel spending: $22 earned in cash back in the fourth quarter, $13 in cash back earned for the rest of the year
Combined altogether, the average household using the Discover it Cash Back card on all their spending could potentially earn $244 in cash back. When the Cashback Match for the first year is applied, the total jumps to $488 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 needed. Here’s how the spending would break down based on the same categories:
- Grocery store spending: $53 in cash back
- Gas station spending: $43 in cash back (based on 2 percent cash back earned on $537 in gas station purchases each quarter)
- Restaurant spending: $61 in cash back (based on 2 percent cash back earned on $757.50 in restaurant purchases each quarter)
- Apparel spending: $18 in cash back
In total, the average household using the Discover it chrome card for all their spending could earn $175 in cash back. After applying the first-year Cashback Match offer, that sum jumps to $350.
On the same category spending the Discover it Cash Back card could earn $138 more cash back compared to the Discover it chrome card in the first year, and $69 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. To unlock the bonus, cardholders have to activate the bonus categories on their cards every three months. Even at the relatively low limit of $1,500 per quarter, maximizing the spending would yield more returns than the Discover it chrome card.
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 number protection, notifying account holders any time their number is found on the “dark web” or malicious websites.
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 to get statement credit on anything they buy on their card.
Other redemption choices include gift cards, which start at $5 and go up to $200, and charitable donations. Another popular redemption option is using your cash back rewards for Amazon.com purchases at checkout. Just link your Discover it card to your Amazon account to start redeeming this way.
Recommended credit score
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.
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 number 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.
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 as statement credits toward anything purchased on the credit card. You may also use your Discover cash back for Amazon.com and PayPal purchases, as well as gift cards and charitable donations.
Recommended credit score
Although the rewards potential may not be as high as with 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 advantages 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.