The Bottom Line: If you don't mind keeping track of bonus categories that change every three months, this card is a winner either as an everyday card or as part of a multicard rewards-mazimizing strategy.
Quick FactsView rates and fees
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
- Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
- Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Pros & Cons
Cash back match at the end of your first year
Bonus cash back categories
No annual fee
Intro APR period on Purchases and Balance Transfers
Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better
Alternate Pick: Customizable rewards
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
Pick your own bonus categories
Unlike the Discover it® Cash Back, which picks bonus categories for you, this card earns 5% cash back in two categories you choose, on up to $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter; unlimited 2% cash back in another category you pick; and 1% on everything else. There's a solid sign-up bonus and no annual fee.Read our review
The Discover it® Cash Back features first-rate 5% cash-back rewards in rotating quarterly categories — but you don't get those rewards automatically, activation is required, and spending caps apply.
Even so, for people who prefer cash back and don’t mind putting in a little work, this $0-annual-fee card is well worth it.
NERD NOTE: Discover offers a card similar to this one called the Discover it® Balance Transfer. It offers the same rewards, but the introductory 0% APR period is shorter for purchases and longer for balance transfers. Read our review of the Discover it® Balance Transfer.
Discover it® Cash Back: Basics
Card type: Cash back.
Annual fee: $0.
Sign-up bonus: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
5% back in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter (requires activation); 1% after that.
1% back on all other purchases.
Redemption: You can redeem cash back in any amount, except in the case of gift certificates and eCertificates, which start at $20. Redemption options include:
Direct deposits into any account.
Statement credits on your credit card.
Donations to select charities.
Shopping at Amazon. (You can do this by signing in to your Amazon account, linking that account to your eligible Discover card, paying with that card and applying your cash back at checkout.)
Gift cards and eCertificates.
Foreign transaction fees: None.
Balance transfer fee: A 3% introductory fee and up to 5% on future balance transfers. Terms apply.
Free access to FICO score.
Access to Discover's free Social Security number monitoring service.
The card's current quarterly bonus categories are listed below:
Why you might want the Discover it® Cash Back
The robust rewards and benefits on the Discover it® Cash Back make it one of the most valuable everyday cash-back cards available.
5% cash back in rotating categories
You'd be hard-pressed to find a card with no annual fee that earns more than 5% cash back in bonus categories, which for the Discover it® Cash Back have recently included things like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more.
If you max out the 5% rotating quarterly category rewards each year on this card — that is, if you activated and spent up to $1,500 in those categories each quarter all year — you’d earn $300 in bonus cash back, plus 1% back on every other purchase. For many shoppers, those lucrative ongoing rewards make this card a keeper.
A potentially valuable sign-up offer
The Discover it® Cash Back comes with an uncommon sign-up bonus for new cardmembers in their first year: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
For example, if you earned $500 in rewards, Discover will give you another $500 in cash back at the end of your first consecutive 12 months of being a cardholder. For folks who plan to do a lot of spending on the card during that time, this unusual offer could prove incredibly valuable.
Introductory 0% APR period
The Discover it® Cash Back offers plenty of breathing room for paying off balances after opening the account. It comes with a generous offer: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR. The introductory balance transfer fee is a 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms) of the amount transferred, which is on par with other balance transfer cards. (For folks who need more time to pay off a balance transfer, consider going with its sibling card, the Discover it® Balance Transfer, instead.)
If you want to make a large purchase and pay it off over time, this is an especially valuable perk. Just keep in mind that if you're using the card as a balance transfer option, you'll likely want to avoid making new purchases with it, and instead use the card solely for paying off debt — and that might mean missing out on the rich sign-up bonus offer.
Discover it® Cash Back vs. Chase Freedom®
Looking at cards that offer 5% cash-back rewards on rotating quarterly categories? Chances are the Chase Freedom® has been on your radar, too. At first glance, this card seems like a mirror image of the Discover it® Cash Back. But if you look a bit closer, a few important differences stand out.
What these cards have in common:
5% cash-back rewards in rotating quarterly bonus categories on the first $1,500 in purchases each quarter. All other purchases earn 1% back.
Broad bonus categories.
Requirement to activate quarterly categories.
No annual fee.
What's different about the Chase Freedom®:
Sign-up bonus can be earned quickly: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. (With the Discover it® Cash Back, you have to wait until the end of the first year to get your bonus.)
Slightly longer introductory 0% APR offer: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 17.24% - 25.99% Variable APR.
Rewards can be earned retroactively if you activate the categories by the 14th date of the third month of the quarter; this is not the case with the Discover it® Cash Back.
It charges foreign transaction fees.
For more information about how these cards differ, read NerdWallet's article comparing the Discover it® Cash Back and the Chase Freedom®.
Why you might want a different card
The Discover it® Cash Back isn’t the best fit for everyone. Here’s why you might want to look elsewhere.
other cards offer simplicity
With rotating bonus categories that require quarterly activation, the Discover it® Cash Back is a relatively complicated card. If you want something more straightforward, try the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer.
This card offers an impressive 2% cash back on everything — 1% back on purchases and 1% back when you pay them off. With it, you can rake in big rewards for everyday spending without having to mess with bonus categories. Its annual fee is $0.
you can't choose bonus categories
With the Discover it® Cash Back, you don't have a say in which categories earn 5% cash back. With the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, it's a different story. You earn 5% cash back in two categories you choose from a list, on up to $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter. You'll also earn unlimited 2% cash back in another category chosen from a separate list. You get 1% cash back on everything else. The annual fee is $0. The card also comes with a New Cardmember bonus: $150 after you spend $500 in eligible net purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
And if you want to see how this card compares with other rewards cards, refer to our list of best credit card offers.
Should you apply?
If you prefer a no-fuss card, you might want to pass on the Discover it® Cash Back. But if you’re willing to put in some extra effort for top-notch cash-back rewards, it might be the perfect fit for you.
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