Discover it® Cash Back review: Discover’s flagship rewards card
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Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card Overview
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.
What are the pros and cons?
- Rewards can be hit or miss depending on whether your spending aligns with the cycling categories
- No opportunity to get more value from rewards by transferring them to other loyalty programs
- The rotating category rewards program requires quarterly activation and may be too complex for first-time rewards cardholders
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 5 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 15 months
- Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent for the first 15 months
- Regular APR: 13.49 percent to 24.49 percent variable
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 cardholder 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 rates
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 the rewards worth?
Each cash back “cent” is worth an equivalent 1 cent when you redeem it. For example, if you spend $1,500 buying gifts for your entire family from Amazon.com during the fourth quarter of 2022 after activating the bonus category, you would earn $75 cash back on those purchases because they fall into one of the 5 percent categories for that quarter (activation required, then 1 percent).
All reward options carry a 1:1 redemption rate, which isn’t always common when it comes to Amazon.com or 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 percent to 20 percent value to the balance (depending on the merchant).
Other cardholder perks
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 its card features to focus on its signature low-cost reward offerings.
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. In fact, Discover ranked second overall in the most recent 2021 study, having previously won first place five times and tying for the top spot in 2014.
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.
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 15 months after signing up. Once the intro period is over, the regular variable APR applies and ranges from 13.49 percent to 24.49 percent variable — which could be well below the average current interest rate, even for a low-interest card.
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 $41 fee.
There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3 percent, up to 5 percent fee on future balance transfers (see terms). The cash advance APR is currently at 26.49 percent variable. Cash advance fees are either 5 percent of the amount or $10 of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater.
First-year card value vs. ongoing 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 to a month in advance.
|Benefits and costs||First-year value||Ongoing value (no welcome offers)|
|Yearly rewards*||+$399||+$399 (may change depending on announced quarterly categories and your personal spending)|
|Welcome offers||+$399 (matches first-year rewards)||—|
|Perks (of monetary value)||N/A||N/A|
*Based on our formula used to calculate each card’s average rewards rates and average ongoing rewards value, using Bureau of Labor Statistics spending data and an assumed $15,900 yearly spend over three years ($1,325 per month).
Bankrate staff experience
Around the Bankrate office, there are plenty of Discover it Cash Back 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 will 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 rotating category cards thanks to its low-cost terms, but you may be able to earn more rewards and enjoy richer card features by going with another card.
Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it® chrome
Since the Discover it® chrome carries the same welcome offers and low fees, the Discover it Cash Back vs. chrome debate boils down to reward consistency. The chrome card may be a more manageable choice since you can rely on its 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants, but that rate is limited to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter across those categories. All other purchases earn 1 percent, like with the Discover it Cash Back.
Although the Discover it chrome appears to offer steadier rewards, its categories’ spending limit scuttles the card’s cash back potential compared to the Discover it Cash Back. Based on the budget from the first-year versus ongoing value table above, the Cash Back card would earn $399 per year while the chrome card would scrape by with $205 per year. Keep in mind that this significant rewards difference also affects your first-year cash back match bonus, meaning the chrome card’s welcome offer is worth $194 less. So although the Discover it chrome appears more reliable, the Discover it Cash Back is a much more valuable card to have in your corner.
Discover it Cash Back vs. Chase Freedom Flex℠
As far as rotating category cards go, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ may be the best on the market. Choosing between the Discover it Cash Back and the Freedom Flex may seem like a no-brainer thanks to the Flex card’s additional year-round 3 to 5 percent back categories, superior benefits (including fantastic travel insurance and World Elite Mastercard perks) and ability to improve reward value toward travel with a Chase Sapphire card, but there are a few other elements at play you should consider.
The Freedom Flex has an equivalent 15-month 0 percent intro purchase and balance transfer APR (Intro Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3 percent of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater in the first 60 days), but the Discover it Cash Back has minimal fees, including a much lower interest rate: 13.49 percent to 24.49 percent (variable APR) versus 15.74 percent to 24.49 percent (variable APR). Unlike the Freedom Flex, the Discover also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, a penalty APR or a first-time late payment fee (up to $41 afterward). It’s also worth noting that Chase only announces its 5 percent quarterly categories a month or so ahead while Discover provides its bonus categories the year before. Discover’s cash back match offer also has the potential to be a lot more rewarding than the Freedom Flex’s $200 cash sign-up bonus (must spend $500 within the first three months).
Granted, the Chase Freedom Flex will provide more value for most cardholders — especially if you already have a Chase rewards card. However, the Discover it Cash Back may be wiser for cardholders that may want lower rates and fees for emergency expenses, more predictable rotating categories or a better-rated customer service experience (Chase ranked fourth in J.D. Power’s latest card satisfaction survey).
Best cards to pair with the Discover it Cash Back card
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 purchases outside each of those seasonal categories.
A top-tier flat-rate card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card would be excellent for covering purchases beyond your rotating categories and their quarterly spending limits since it can earn 2 percent cash rewards on purchases . In the same vein, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® would also be a prime choice for its boosted 1.5 percent cash back flat-rate, plus its additional unlimited categories can lend a bit of stability for staple purchases outside Discover’s cash back calendar. These categories will rake in 5 percent back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022), 5 percent on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3 percent on dining and drugstore purchases.
Using a flexible travel card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, with your Discover card will reward your travel spending and other everyday categories that Discover can’t cover year-round. For a slight $95 annual fee, you’ll be able to earn 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel through Chase’s online portal and on Lyft purchases (Lyft offer through March 2022), plus 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs). Other travel purchases will net 2X points while all other purchases get 1X points. What’s more, you can then redeem these points toward travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards for an additional 25 percent value boost.
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. Its high-earning rewards scheme maximizes Discover’s cash back match bonus, potentially making it one of the best first-year reward offers for a no annual fee card. The Discover it Cash Back carries perhaps the lowest rates and fees you’ll find, and it’s accessible with just a “good” or higher credit score (670+ FICO score).
Although isn’t the most feature-rich or newcomer-oriented card in its class, the Discover it Cash Back card’s focus on accessibility, affordability and excellent customer service give it all the hallmarks of a great first rewards card for those who don’t mind putting in a little elbow grease to make it shine.