Discover it® Cash Back review

Bankrate Staff  in  Cash Back How we rate our cards  | 

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Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

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Best for customer service

Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 14 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 14 months
Regular APR:
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Terms and Restrictions Apply | Rates and Fees

Bankrate Rating

 

Best for large cash back potential

  • Rewards Rate5 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
  • Welcome Offer: Automatic Cashback Match for the first year
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Purchase Intro APR: 0 percent for the first 14 months
  • Balance Transfer Intro APR: 0 percent for the first 14 months
  • Regular APR: 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable

Earning cash back from your credit card is an easy way to save a little bit of money on your everyday expenses, and the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card is the perfect low-risk way to get started. Not only does the card charge no annual fee, but it also gets you 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in rotating category purchases each quarter when you activate the bonus category (then 1 percent), as well 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Combined with its low fees, the rewards-earning power could make the Discover it Cash Back a frontrunner if you prioritize ongoing value. But is it the right card for you? If you’re not a fan of the extra legwork it takes to track rotating categories, the quarterly spending limits or the sparse perks beyond rewards, then another no annual fee credit card might be a better fit for your wallet.

Discover it Cash Back card: Current welcome offer

The welcome offer for the Discover it Cash Back card is a bit different from the typical sign-up bonus other cards offer. Discover offers its Cashback Match program, which takes the total amount of cash back you accumulate in your first year and matches it.

With this program, the size of your new card member bonus is up to you — the more you use your Discover cash back card, the bigger your bonus will be. In fact, just maximizing your 5 percent categories’ $1,500 spending cap each quarter after activation will stack another $300 on top of the $300 you already earned, then 1 percent. That’s a worthwhile reward for your patience since it’s well above the usual $150 to $200 upfront welcome offer from other no annual fee cash back cards.

Cash back

Earning cash back with Discover does take a little effort, as you’ll need to keep track of the rotating bonus categories and enroll each quarter, but the bonus cash is well worth it.

Earning cash back

You can earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in purchases in different categories each quarter based on Discover’s 5 percent cash back calendar. You have to activate the bonus each quarter to take advantage of this rate. If you don’t activate a bonus category or if you exceed the $1,500 cap in a bonus category, you’ll earn just 1 percent cash back on your purchases. You’ll also earn 1 percent back on general purchases outside of the quarterly bonus category.

Besides the first-year cash back match offer and the ongoing rewards, Discover also currently offers a $50 referral bonus (up to $500/10 referrals per year) if you refer a friend to select Discover cards, including the Discover it Cash Back.

Redeeming cash back

You can redeem your Discover rewards for cold, hard cash back as an electronic 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 (partner gift cards range from $5 to $200 in increments of $5), charitable donations to select charities or even payments toward Amazon.com and PayPal.com checkout purchases.

To designate a method for redeeming cash back, visit your card account or call the customer service line at 1-800-347-3085.

How much are rewards worth?

Each cash back “cent” is worth an equivalent 1 cent when you redeem it. For example, if you had spent $1,500 buying gifts for your entire family from Amazon.com during the fourth quarter of 2020 after activating the bonus category, you would earn $75 cash back on those purchases because they fall into the 5 percent category for that quarter, than 1 percent.

All reward options carry a 1:1 redemption rate, which isn’t always common when it comes to Amazon.com and PayPal.com checkout reward payments and mile-to-cash back conversion. However, Discover is unique in how its partner gift cards sweeten the deal by adding an extra 5 to 20 percent value to the balance(depending on merchant).

Discover it Cash Back card: Benefits

In addition to the great cash back benefits, the Discover it Cash Back card comes with a light platter of other features. If you rely on traditional perks like purchase and travel protections, you might want to weigh other options since Discover has trimmed their card features to focus on its signature low-cost reward offerings.

Customer service

Discover is well-known for its customer service, consistently ranking at or near the top of J.D. Power’s credit card customer satisfaction surveys. The issuer offers a 24/7 customer service line, free overnight shipping for card replacements and free FICO credit score access on each month’s statement.

Freeze It

If your card is ever lost or stolen, Discover can freeze any new purchases, transfers or cash advances on your account, protecting you from potential identity theft. Keep in mind that some activity will still occur on your card, like prior recurring expenses (such as utility bills), returns, credits, delayed payments, account fees and interest.

If there are ever any unauthorized transactions or purchases on your card, you can still rest assured with Discover’s $0 Fraud Liability benefit, meaning that you won’t be held accountable for those transactions.

Social Security protection

For those who choose to opt-in to this benefit, Discover can search the web and notify you if your Social Security number is found on the dark web or any malicious websites, giving you time to put protections in place around your identity.

Rates and fees

The Discover it Cash Back card offers new account holders a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months after signing up. Once the intro period is over, the regular variable APR applies and ranges from 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable—which could be well below the average current interest rate, even for a low-interest card.

There is a Discover it Cash Back balance transfer fee of 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*. The cash advance APR is currently at 24.99 percent variable. Cash advance fees are either 5 percent of the amount or $10 of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater.

The great thing about this card, though, is that there’s no annual fee, no penalty APR for late payments and no penalty fee for the first time you make a late payment. For all late payments after that, Discover charges up to a $40 fee.

Cost vs. value

When it comes to first-year value with no annual fee, Discover it Cash Back is definitely a frontrunner. Thanks to Discover’s reward match offer, all of the cash back you earn in your first 12 months is essentially doubled. This could make the Discover it Cash Back card a significantly better option for first-year value than competing cards, depending on how much you spend. However, keep in mind that you’ll only get 5 percent cash back on up to $6,000 across the whole year, which amounts to $300 back (earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in rotating category purchases each quarter when you activate the bonus category, then 1 percent).

Considering that the Discover it Cash Back is already a low-cost card with one of the lowest ongoing APRs among the top issuers, you have considerable ongoing value with no costs to offset—unless you eventually want more consistent reward categories or beefier benefits. As far as rotating category cards go, though, Discover gives you plenty of planning time since it announces the next year’s quarterly categories beforehand. That’s much more advance notice than Chase provides for next cycle’s categories: less than a quarter in advance.

Benefits and Costs First-year value Ongoing value (no welcome offers)
Yearly rewards* +$496 +$496 (may change depending on announced quarterly categories)
Welcome offers +$496 (matches first-year rewards)
Perks (of monetary value) N/A N/A
Annual fee -$0 -$0
Total value $992 $496
Total value of balance transfer (if applicable)**
  • Intro APR: 0% for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • Cost of balance transfer fee: $159.45 (3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*)
  • Interest savings: $406
  • Months of payment saved: 1 month
  • Ongoing APR: 11.99% to 22.99% (variable)
  • Minimum rate approximately 29% below average APR
  • Maximum rate approximately 36% higher than average APR

*Based on the following estimates for annual expenditures by category: groceries ($4,600); dining ($3,500); household utilities, fuels and public services ($4,000); household supplies, furnishings and home improvement ($2,800); apparel and services and department stores ($1,800); gas and gas stations ($2,000); transit and rideshares ($800); entertainment ($3,000); personal care products and services, household operations and other miscellaneous spending ($3,300); travel ($2,000); pharmacies and drugstores ($1,300); online shopping ($1,800).
**Pre-transfer card data based on the average credit card debt, average credit card interest rate (at time of writing), minimum ongoing variable APR and the minimum monthly payment to pay off the balance within the transfer card’s intro APR period factored into Bankrate’s balance transfer calculator and credit card minimum payment calculator for comparison.

Expert experience

Around the Bankrate office, the Discover it Cash Back card has plenty of fans that have found it valuable well beyond its honeymoon period. In fact, Ana Staples, one of our credit card and personal finance experts, wrote an entire column about why she picked the Discover it Cash Back card.

I saved over $300 when furnishing my apartment from scratch with this card. I think I’ll love it forever.

— Ana Staples, Reporter for Bankrate

Kelley King, another Bankrate staffer, said that the Discover it Cash Back was her first credit card and she still uses it in her daily life.

I love the rotating cash back categories, especially in the last quarter when Amazon.com is included. This helps me earn cash back on almost all of my holiday gifts and my Prime Membership for next year.

— Kelley King, Bankrate Staff

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

The Discover it Cash Back is one of the top cards in its category, but you may be able to earn more rewards and experience more card features by going with another card. If your shopping habits aren’t compatible with the quarterly categories’ spending cap or the seasonal nature of rotating categories, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express could be a great alternative since it earns 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, then 1 percent.

If keeping track of Discover’s revolving rewards categories is a deal-breaker, opting for a flat-rate rewards card like the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card can be a simpler cash back option.

 

Card Rewards Welcome bonus Intro APR
Discover it® Cash Back
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases from rotating categories each quarter (activation required), then 1% back
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Discover will match all the cash back you earn in your first year with Cashback Match 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR after that)
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%)
  • 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
  • 1% back on all other purchases
Earn $200 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your card within the first 3 months. 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR after that)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
$200 bonus cash after you spend $500 in your first three months 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months (15.49% to 25.49% variable APR after that)

Best cards to pair the Discover it Cash Back card with

Stacking different cards is a great way to make sure you get the most rewards. While the Discover it Cash Back card earns a fantastic rate on its quarterly categories, it’s not the best for travel purchases and rewards. Using a travel card that earns flexible rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, with your Discover card will help you take advantage of spending categories that Discover misses.

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

The Discover it Cash Back credit card is perfect for people who can adjust their spending to take advantage of Discover’s cash back calendar each quarter. It’s a simple cash back card with no annual fee, making it accessible for people who don’t want to invest in a more expensive rewards credit card.

If you find that you’re still working toward the recommended “good” or higher credit score (670+ FICO score) needed for the Discover it Cash Back card but you still want to take advantage of everything a Discover card has to offer, you can look into the Discover it® Secured Credit Card to help build your credit with the three major credit bureaus and with responsible use.

Pros

  • Earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter on rotating categories after you activate, then 1 percent
  • No annual fee
  • Cashback Match program for the first year

Cons

  • Low rewards rate for most purchases
  • No opportunity to get more value from rewards by transferring

Frequently Asked Questions

Discover's 5 percent bonus categories allow you to earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 of combined purchases across all announced, activated categories each quarter (roughly each three months). After reaching the $1,500 spending cap, you'll only earn 1 percent back on those purchases. These bonus categories will usually cover a wide variety of the season's popular expenses or retailers. For example, if the bonus categories for January to March are grocery stores and select pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS (just in time for flu and cold season), you can earn 5 percent cash back on purchases at those merchants (activation required) during that time, up to the quarterly spending limit of $1,500, then 1 percent. Discover announces the categories for their 5 percent Cash Back Calendar at the end of the previous year, but you must remember to activate each quarter's bonus categories or you won't earn 5 percent cash back. The activation dates are usually two months ahead of time, such as May 1 for July to September categories.
Aside from their customer service and low-cost cards, Discover's credit cards are also known for their accessibility. A good to excellent credit score (a 670-850 FICO score, or a 661-850 VantageScore) will make you a prime candidate for the Discover it Cash Back card.
On top of 1 percent cash back on all purchases, the 2021 rotating 5 percent cash back calendar categories are: Q1 (January to March): Grocery Stores, Walgreens and CVS Q2 (April to June): Gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services Q3 (July to September): Restaurants and PayPal Q4 (October to December): Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com
The Discover it Cash Back does not charge an annual fee. In fact, all Discover credit cards have no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR and no late fee on your first late payment (After that, up to $40.).
Unlike many credit cards that typically charge a 3 percent transaction fee for purchases abroad, the Discover it Cash Back and other Discover credit cards do not pose foreign transaction fees.