How to Make the Most of the Discover it Card

If you plan your spend accordingly, the Discover it rotating 5% categories can put stellar cash back earning power in your wallet.
How to Make the Most of the Discover it Card

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

If you carry the , you've got a powerful financial tool right there in your pocket. The value of this card is all about the rotating 5% bonus categories. But making the most of those categories means keeping track of them each quarter to maximize your rewards. Let's look at some best practices.

The  is a cash back card with an annual fee of . It pays a flat 1% cash back on all purchases, and 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in bonus categories that change every three months. Category purchases in excess of that amount will revert to the flat 1% rewards rate.

Here are this year's bonus categories:

The card also offers a special promotion when you first sign up. As Discover puts it:

If possible, group your spending in each category so that more of it occurs during the bonus period, at least until you reach the $1,500 spending cap.

Of course, some expenses can be delayed until the bonus category period and some can't. In 2016, for instance, you may be able to save a home improvement project until late summer to take advantage of the bonus category in the third quarter. And you still need to fill your gas tank even though the first quarter bonus on gas has ended.

If you're nearing the end of the quarter and you haven't reached the $1,500 spending cap, you may be able to buy a gift certificate at an in-category store where you frequently shop. For example, you could buy a gift certificate at your local movie theater or your favorite restaurant during the second quarter, which ends June 30.

Just like you shouldn’t buy something solely because it’s on sale, you shouldn’t spend extra money just to get the 5% cash back. Instead, consider maximizing your rewards on things you would've spent money on anyway. Avoid breaking the budget just for a few extra percentage points in your rewards account.


The  will pay the 5% bonus cash back only if you opt into the bonuses every quarter. While you can opt in any time before the quarter ends, you'll only get the rewards boost starting on the date you sign up. That means it's in your best interest to sign up on the first day of the quarter.

If you're likely to forget, we suggest setting a reminder on your smartphone or online calendar, or jotting a note on your paper calendar. That way, you'll remember to log into Discover's website or app on Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1 to activate your bonus categories for the new quarter.

The 's 1% flat rewards rate for all purchases is not too shabby. But you could get a higher rate by carrying additional cards. Here are a few to consider.

Some credit card devotees carry two cards with 5% rotating bonus categories, such as the  and the . That increases the chances that there will be an active rewards category in one of your larger budget areas at any given time. It comes with an annual fee of .

Unless you like to use one card for everything, the Nerds often recommend pairing the  with another card that has a higher flat rewards rate, and then using the other card for purchases not in the 5% bonus categories. The , for instance, pays 1% back on all purchases, but when you pay them off another 1% is deposited in your account. The annual fee is .

Carrying a cash back card like the with a really good travel rewards card like the  is one of the Nerds' favorite strategies. The  pays 3 points per dollar for spending on restaurants, select streaming services and online grocery purchases, plus 2 points per dollar on travel spending — not as high as 5%, but available all year with no cap. There is an annual fee of .

It's no accident that the shows up on our site a lot. The Nerds like it for its low fees, and we appreciate that the bonus categories match up nicely with the way most people spend money. This card is best suited to people who don't want a set-it-and-forget-it flat rate rewards card, but enjoy maximizing their rewards.

On a similar note...
Dive even deeper in Credit Cards