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-maximizing strategy.
Quick FactsView rates and fees
Pros & Cons
No annual fee
Intro APR period
Requires good/excellent credit
Alternate Pick: Simple, rich rewards
Compare to Other Cards
11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR
0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers
0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months
0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Get more smart money moves — straight to your inbox
Become a NerdWallet member, and we’ll send you tailored articles we think you’ll love.
The Discover it® Cash Back features a high cash-back rate 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.
Discover it® Cash Back: Basics
Card type: Cash back.
Annual fee: $0.
Sign-up bonus: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
5% back in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter (requires activation).
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 $5. Redemption options include:
Direct deposits into any account.
Statement credits on your credit card.
Donations to select charities.
Shopping at Amazon and via PayPal. (You can do this by linking your eligible Discover card to your Amazon or PayPal accounts, 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:
Discover bonus rewards categories for 2021
Q1 (Jan. 1 – March 31)
• Grocery stores*. • CVS. • Walgreens.
*The grocery stores category includes Walmart Grocery Pickup & Delivery, but not grocery purchases inside Walmart or at other superstores such as Target or wholesale clubs.
Q2 (April 1 – June 30)
• Gas stations. • Wholesale clubs. • Select streaming services.
Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)
• Restaurants. • PayPal.
Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)
• Amazon.com. • Target.com. • Walmart.com.
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 would 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 would 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: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
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 introductory offer: 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR. The balance transfer fee is an introductory 3% of the amount transferred, but can be as high as 5% on future balance transfers (see terms). That's on par with other balance transfer cards.
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. That might mean missing out on the rich sign-up bonus offer.
Discover it® Cash Back vs. Chase Freedom Flex℠
Looking at cards that offer 5% cash-back rewards on rotating quarterly categories? Chances are the Chase Freedom Flex℠ 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 in rotating quarterly bonus categories on the first $1,500 in purchases each quarter. All other purchases earn 1% back.
A variety of bonus categories. Historically, they’ve ranged from broad options like restaurants and gas stations to specific retailers like Walgreens or Amazon.com. Past bonus categories can help you see what types of categories to expect in the future.
Requirement to activate quarterly categories.
No annual fee.
What's different about the Chase Freedom Flex℠:
Sign-up bonus can be earned quickly. You don't have to wait a full year to collect your bonus. A lot of people can claim it with less than a month's worth of spending.
Fixed bonuses in certain categories: Not only will you get rotating bonus categories, but you'll also earn heightened rewards anytime on certain purchases. Get 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and drugstores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Slightly longer introductory 0% APR offer.
Rewards can be earned retroactively if you activate the categories by the 14th of the third month of the quarter; this is not the case with the Discover it® Cash Back.
Bonus categories aren't announced all at once: Unlike eligible Discover cards, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ doesn't reveal its full slate of quarterly bonus categories for the entire year. Category announcements come only a couple of weeks before the start of a new quarter, which can make it harder to plan purchases.
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 Flex℠.
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.
Choose a bonus category
With the Discover it® Cash Back, you don't have a say in which categories earn 5% cash back. With the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, it's a different story. You earn 3% cash back in a category of your choice (from among six options); 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 per quarter in combine spending in the 3% and 2% categories, then 1%); and 1% cash back on everything else. For the 3% category, you can choose from gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings, and you can change the category each month.
If you want to see how these cards compare 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.
Cashback Match details from Discover: No purchase minimums. After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will match all of the cash back rewards you've earned and apply them to your account in the following one or two billing periods. If your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program at the time we calculate your potential award, your cash back will not be matched. You've earned cash back rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.
Frequently asked questions
Discover offers 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months. You must opt in (or “activate”) online to be eligible for the latest categories. Once you do, you get 5% cash back on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending in the bonus categories. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. The 5% categories include common expenses like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and Amazon.com. See current and past categories here.
There’s no limit to how much total cash back you can earn. The 5% rewards are limited each quarter, but even after you hit the $1,500 quarterly spending cap in those categories, you’re still earning 1%.
The simplest way to redeem cash back with Discover is to take the money as a statement credit. If you have, say, $30 in cash back, you can apply it to your account and reduce your balance by $30. You can also get your cash back as a direct deposit into a bank account, spend it on Amazon.com or via PayPal, or redeem it for gift cards.
Discover doubles the rewards you earn in the first year — but only in the first year. This is a special offer only for new cardholders.
You’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for the Discover it® Cash Back. Generally speaking, this is defined as a score of 690 or better. But a credit score alone isn’t enough to qualify for any credit card. Issuers take into account your income, existing debts and other information.