What is a Discover Card

Discover Card is a credit card brand known for its pioneering cashback rewards program, and is one of the most accepted credit card brands in the U.S. and around the world.


Discover Card is a brand of credit card offered by Discover Financial Services. Discover is one of the largest credit card brands in the U.S. and around the world, alongside Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. In contrast to Visa and MasterCard, Discover issues its credit cards directly through its own Discover Bank. As of 2016, Discover was the sixth-largest credit card issuer in the U.S., and the most widely-accepted credit card brand around the world.

The first Discover Card was issued in 1985 by securities firm Dean Witter Reynolds, which was then owned by Sears, Roebuck and Company. Upon launch, Discover Card became a popular alternative to other credit cards because holders were not charged an annual fee. Discover also pioneered the cashback bonus perk for cardholders, offering a percentage refund on purchases to cardholders who used the card frequently.

Today, the Discover Card is one of the flagship products of Discover Financial Services, which also offers a variety of direct banking products and services through its Discover Bank arm, including student loans, home equity loans, and personal loans.  Headquartered in Riverwoods, Illinois, in 2017 Discover employed 15,000 people.

Discover Financial Services also offers a host of payment services, including the Discover Network, a comprehensive payments network; PULSE, one of the largest electronic funds transfer networks in the U.S., and Diners Club International.

In 2015, thanks to a payment-network agreement established with China’s UnionPay,  Discover Card became the most widely-accepted credit card brand.

A Brief History of Discover Card 

1985: Dean Witter begins test marketing the Discover card. On September 17, 1985, a Sears employee used a Discover card for the first time, with a purchase of $26.77 in at an Atlanta Sears store.

1986: Dean Witter launches the Discover card nationally with a commercial broadcast during Super Bowl XX. The Discover Card is launched without an annual fee, and begins to pioneer cashback rewards to cardholders.

1989: The Discover Network signs its millionth merchant account in the United States.

1993: Sears spins off Dean Witter Financial Services as its own publicly-traded company.

1997: Dean Witter merges with Morgan Stanley.

1999: Discover Financial Services rebrands as the parent organization for Discover Card.

2000: Greenwood Trust Company, owned by Discover since 1985, is rebranded as Discover Bank.

2002: Discover introduces the first keychain credit card.

2005: Discover Financial Services acquires the PULSE payments network, and establishes a strategic alliance with China’s UnionPay, laying the groundwork for Discover to become the most widely-accepted credit card brand in the world.

2007: Morgan Stanley spins off Discover Financial Services as an independent publicly-traded company.

2008: Discover Financial Services acquires Diners Club International.

2012: The first Discover cards are issued internationally through banks in Ecuador and Russia.