Full Review of Discover It Cash Back Credit Card
Outstanding cash-back rewards on select categories
First-year cash-back rewards are matched
Decent 0% introductory offer on purchases and eligible balance transfers
Limited options for high-rate rewards
Categories must be activated
Relatively few benefits
- Outstanding Cash Back Rewards on Select Categories: Cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent every quarter on categories that rotate every three months. Examples are grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon.com. Few cards offer such a generous cash back rewards rate, albeit on limited categories. (On other purchases, you receive a fairly standard 1% in cash back.)
- Cash Back for Your First Year With the Card is Matched: At the end of the first year of card ownership, Discover automatically matches all of the cash back you've earned. You don't need to register for the bonus, and there's no limit on how much you can earn through it. This perk could lead to a substantial boost to your first year’s annual rewards, especially if you're able to maximize your spending in the rotating categories each quarter.
- Decent 0% Introductory Offer on Purchases and Balance Transfers: The card offers a 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 14 months after you make a transfer for transfers made by July 10, 2020. That’s not an outstanding length of time compared with other transfer offers in the market. But this bonus has two other advantages over some competing deals. Unlike some offers, it isn't limited to only balance transfers, but includes new purchases as well. The 0% APR balance-transfer offer must be initiated by July 10, 2020 to qualify. And, the transfer fee rises from 3% to 5% of the transferred amount for transfers made after July 10, 2020.
- High-Rate Categories Must Be Activated: This card requires you to activate the rotating categories each quarter in order to earn 5% rewards. Though the issuer makes it relatively simple to do so via its website, mobile app, or over the phone, it's still a chore that you may forget or be too busy to do. If you neglect to activate the bonus, you'll earn only 1% on purchases, including those in the bonus categories.
- Relatively Few Benefits: Beyond its rewards, the Discover it Cash Back has limited perks. Other cards—even those with no annual fees—typically offer a number of robust benefits, including rental-car insurance coverage, travel insurance, and extended warranty protection. You may also want to carry another card for select purchases where you require these and other extras.
This Card is Best For
Seeks to maximize cash back earnings across spending categories
Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
Primarily responsible for household grocery and other major purchases
If you're willing to put in some effort to earn top rewards—as in monitor and register for those with 5% cash back—the Discover It Cash back card can be very lucrative. And its generous cash back match makes the card all the more rewarding during the first year you own it.
It's also a beneficial choice if you have some major expenses coming up. There's a 14-month 0% introductory period on purchases, which means you could carry large expenses at no cost for more than a year—and earn up to 10% in cash back on them, due to that first-year rewards match.
With its 0% APR on balance transfers, the card also has appeal if you’re laboring with a balance on another card on which you’re paying high interest. Or, even if you simply worry you might have to carry a big balance in future. Be aware, though, that to qualify for the 0% introductory rate on balance transfers you must initiate the transfer before July 10, 2020.
The card is also more forgiving than some others to people who miss a payment. There’s no late fee on the first late payment and Discover imposes no penalty APR after you do so, a break that relatively few cards grant.
Discover It Cash Back Credit Card Bonus
Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder. You don't need to sign up and there's no limit on how much you can earn.
That's potentially a very profitable bonus. If you reached the $1,500 maximum on 5% rewards each quarter—hardly a given, admittedly—you would earn a $300 bonus for the year on top of your $300 in cash back rewards. And that's without considering the match on the 1% cash back you’d earn on all other purchases in your first year.
The only downside to this offer is that you'll need to wait until the end of the year to get a credit on your account. Other cards that deliver a cash or points bonus, like the Chase Freedom, give you the bonus within a few months of opening an account, provided you spend a certain amount within that time.
Rewards Earning Details
This card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 each quarter on one or more bonus categories. Those categories rotate, but they’ve recently included purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, along with those from Uber, Lyft, PayPal, Amazon.com, Target, and Walmart. All other purchases you make outside of the bonus categories earn 1% cash back. Categories need to be activated each quarter in order to earn 5%.
Purchases must also fit Discover's definition of the category in order to qualify for high rewards.
Fortunately, those category definitions are generally fairly broad. For example, restaurant purchases encompass those made at full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, and fast food locations. One definition that’s less generous is that of grocery store purchases; as with other card issuers, these omit those made at convenience stores, gas stations, warehouse clubs, discount stores, Walmart, and Target.
This is Discover's calendar of rotating categories for 2020:
- January–March: Grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS
- April–June: Gas stations, Uber, and Lyft and wholesale clubs
- July–September: Restaurants and PayPal
- October–December: Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com
Rewards Redemption Details
You can receive your cash back as a credit to your account, where they can be applied to your balance at any time, or sent electronically to your bank account. There’s also an option to use them directly as payment at certain retailers, including Amazon.com, or to direct them to charities. An additional, potentially lucrative option is to exchange the cash back for a gift card at Discover partners. A bonus of at least $5—it varies by the merchant—is added to the value of the gift card for every $20 you redeem. Partners include American Eagle, Banana Republic, Gap, L.L. Bean, Bath and Body Works, Omaha Steaks, Old Navy, Black Angus, Foot Locker, Nike, and Under Armour.
You must accrue at least $20 in rewards to redeem them for gift cards. For the other redemption methods, you can redeem rewards when you have earned as little as one cent.
Your rewards never expire. If your account is closed or if you haven't used your card in 18 months, Discover will credit your account with your cash back bonus.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
Getting the most out of this card begins with being organized enough yourself to take advantage of Discover's selection of rotating categories. Set calendar reminders to activate the rotating category at the beginning of each quarter, and then use the card accordingly.
You may even want to plan purchases that are flexible in their timing to take advantage of the bonus schedule. For example, you might want to stock up on non-perishable foods and paper goods at the supermarket during a quarter when grocery stores are featured, and postpone purchases of electronic items and beauty supplies until Amazon.com is on the 5% list.
Such planning can help you reach—or at least get closer—to the $1,500 quarterly spending cap for spending in the bonus categories. And that, in turn, is especially lucrative during the first year of card ownership, when the cash back match essentially doubles your cash back earnings. Also, be vigilant about using the card for all other transactions during that year, since it’s unlikely you have another card that pays better than 2% (1% when you buy, the bonus 1% at year's end) on every purchase.
This scenario uses Discover's four quarterly bonus categories for 2020 (in turn, groceries; gas stations; restaurants; and Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com) and assumes your spending is that of an average household in each. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in each quarter you would spend approximately $1,116 on groceries, $527 on fuel, $865 in restaurants, and $467 on apparel, from retailers including Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com.
Assuming you remember to activate each category during its respective quarter, that spending would earn you $148 for the year by using this card. In the first year, including the cash back match, you'd have $296 that could be redeemed at the end of the year. These figures don't take into account other purchases outside of rotating categories on which would you’d earn an additional 1% in cash back.
This scenario assumes higher-than-average spending, preferably to reach the $1,500 spending cap on bonus categories in as many quarters as possible.
Reaching it in all four quarters of a year is not entirely realistic, given that the average spending for many featured categories, as noted above, is a half to a third of $1,500. But we’ll assume our big-spending household is able to reach the spending cap for two of the four quarters.
Using 2020's rotating categories as a guide, we'll say that you're able to spend $1,500 in grocery stores during one quarter and purchases at Amazon.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com in another. We'll also assume you spend as much as the average consumer at gas stations and restaurants for the other two quarters. At the end of the year, your total cash back would be $219, which would rise to $438 in your first year, given the match on cash back rewards. Again, those rewards totals don't take into account other purchases outside of rotating categories, which would earn an additional 1% in cash back.
Discover It Cash Back Credit Card's Outstanding Benefits
- No late fee on your first late payment
- No foreign transaction fee
- No penalty APR
- Social Security number monitoring
- $0 fraud liability on unauthorized charges
- Overnight card delivery
- 24/7 U.S.-based customer service
- Year-end summary
- Free FICO credit score
- Discover identity alerts and account monitoring
- Freeze it on/off switch (from app) to prevent unauthorized charges
According to the 2019 J.D. Power Credit Card Customer Satisfaction survey, Discover is most satisfying card issuer out of 11 card companies surveyed. It has a score of 842, compared with the average of 806 in the survey.
Discover says its customer service is based in the United States. It's available over the phone, on its website, or through the mobile app. Help is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-DISCOVER or you can contact customer service online, including via live chat.
Discover, as with many other card issuers, allows you to freeze and unfreeze your account as needed and to monitor your credit report online or through the mobile app. The company will notify you if there is suspicious activity, and you’re never responsible for unauthorized charges, which are also standard features.
The Discover It Cash Back offers handsome rewards, but you need to pay attention and put forth some effort in order to earn them. Its rotating categories offer a very high rewards rate of 5% in cash back, but you must register every quarter for those. There’s also a $1,500 spending cap on those. That shouldn't be a problem for most households; indeed, if anything it’s likely you'll underspend on many or even most quarters—and so make less on these bonus categories than it might appear at first blush.
Given its unremarkable 1% cash back earnings on all other purchases, this card might best be considered as a supplement to another cash back card that pays more on all transactions. For example, it could pair well with the Citi Double Cash card, which pays an unlimited 1% + 1% combined cash back on all purchases—1% when you buy, and another 1% when you pay the purchase off. Switching between Discover's high rate on rotating categories and using the flat-rate Citi Double Cash card for everything else could best amplify your cash back rewards.
This card has a decent 0% APR offer for balance transfers and purchases. But if a balance transfer is a high priority in your next card, the Discover it Balance Transfer might be a better option. It has a longer (18 months vs. 14 months with the Discover It Cash back card) 0% APR period. Both cards have a 3% fee on balances transferred in the initial months of the account, and a 5% fee for balances transferred after that.