Discover it Cash Back Review

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The Discover it Cash Back is a rotating cash-back credit card, one of several types of cash-back cards. It gives you money back on all your purchases and even more back in categories such as groceries or gas that rotate quarterly. It’s a good fit for heavy credit card users who don’t mind working a little to earn rewards. 

Discover it® Cash Back

overall rating
Discover it® Cash Back
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 11.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 14 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
Ratings Breakdown
for Interest
for Fees
for Rewards
for Credit
Current Offer

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

Who Is This Credit Card Best For?

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    Deal Seeker
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    Savvy Saver

The Discover it Cash Back is a good option for anyone who wants to earn cash back on their purchases with no annual fee. Bonus categories rotate every quarter, and in 2019 include groceries, gas stations, restaurants, rideshare companies, and some online retailers. Consumers who spend in those categories are positioned to earn plenty of cash back—especially when you consider that Discover will double all the cash back you earn in the first year. 

But keeping on top of those categories requires some work. You have to sign up for bonus categories each quarter and perhaps remember to use this card instead of another card on purchases in those categories during that time. So, the card is best for people who don’t mind going the extra mile to maximize their rewards.

  • Exceptional rewards potential

  • No annual fee

  • Excellent customer service

  • Rewards require work

  • Earning caps

  • No competitive perks

Pros Explained

  • Excellent rewards potential: While you’ll only earn 1% back on your regular spending, we like the fact this card gives you 5% back on the first $1,500 every quarter that you spend in the rotating categories. Discover’s 5% categories tend to be ones consumers can benefit from, making it easy to strategically max them out. Plus, Discover will double all your rewards the first year. 
  • No annual fee: While not having an annual fee is standard among cash-back credit cards, it’s still nice to know you’ll never pay an ongoing fee to keep this card. 
  • Excellent customer service: Discover consistently ranks high in customer satisfaction studies and takes several steps to earn that reputation. 

Cons Explained

  • Rewards require work: Where some cash-back cards let you rack up bonus rewards just for using your card, the Discover it Cash Back makes you “activate” your card to earn 5% in bonus categories each quarter. If you fail to activate within the specified time period, you’ll miss out on the bonus rewards. 
  • Earning caps: You'll earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in bonus categories each quarter, but only 1% in those categories once you surpass that threshold. This means you can only earn $75 in bonus cash each quarter. 
  • No competitive perks: This card has none of the usual perks similar cards offer, such as extended warranties, rental car insurance, or travel insurance. 

Discover it Cash Back Bonus

Discover cards don’t offer the kind of sign-up bonuses that other credit cards do; you won’t earn a lump sum when you spend a certain amount in the first 90 days. Instead, you’ll see all your cash back doubled after your first year using the card. While you’ll have to wait longer to get it, you could easily earn twice as much as a traditional bonus on another card.

Based on our calculations and average household spending in the U.S. ($24,297 in 2018, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics), you’ll earn about $376 in rewards each year you have the card. That would make your first-year cash-back match worth $376, too. 

Earning Points & Rewards

You’ll earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in the bonus categories for any given quarter, and then 1%. The categories rotate and must be activated each quarter to earn the bonus cash. You’ll also rack up an unlimited 1% back on any other spending, and none of your cash back expires. 

Discover it 5% Cash-Back Calendar For 2020
Period 5% Cash-Back Rewards Categories When to Enroll
Q1 (January-March) Grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS Now
Q2 (April-June) Gas stations, Uber, Lyft, and wholesale clubs Now
Q3 (July-September) Restaurants and PayPal Now
Q4 (October-December),, and As soon as Aug. 1

While $376 is our estimate of your annual cash-back potential based on average household spending, you’re certainly not limited to that. If you max out each quarter’s bonus categories, you’d earn $300 a year just for those purchases, plus 1% on everything else.

Redeeming Rewards

Rewards earned with the Discover it Cash Back can be redeemed any time and for any amount. Redemption options include:

  • Gift cards or e-certificates starting at $20
  • Charitable donations starting at one penny
  • Statement credits to your Discover account starting at one penny
  • Transfers to a bank account starting at one penny
  • Purchases made at starting at one penny

How to Get the Most Out of This Card

Make sure to activate your bonus categories each quarter and use the card to the best of your ability, perhaps planning big-ticket purchases in advance. Also charge as many regular purchases as you can since all your cash back will be doubled after the first 12 months. 

Since your cash-back rewards are worth exactly 1 cent a piece no matter how you use them, cash them in however you want. 

Customer Experience

Discover offers a highly-rated mobile app that currently boasts 4.8 out of 5 stars on iTunes and 4.6 out of 5 stars on Google Play. It ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction for U.S. credit card mobile apps, according to data from international marketing firm J.D. Power You can use the app to:

  • Monitor your account
  • Make payments
  • Redeem your rewards
  • Chat with customer service representatives

Discover also offers U.S.-based customer service that is available any time of the day or night, which is likely part of the reason it ranked No. 1 out of major credit card issuers in J.D. Power’s 2019 Credit Card Satisfaction Study. Discover earned 842 out of 1,000 points in the study, compared to the industry average of 806. 

In addition, Discover provides customers free access to their FICO credit score and other key credit information with monthly credit card statements.

Security Features

  • Discover Identity Alert: This feature will notify you if your Social Security number or personal details are found on the dark web, where hackers sell and buy information. You can also set up free alerts to notify you any time a new account is opened in your name.
  • Discover’s Freeze It: Lets you freeze your account at any time to prevent new purchases, cash advances, or balance transfers.
  • Free overnight shipping for lost or stolen cards: Get replacement cards quickly within the U.S. for no additional charge.

Discover it Cash Back’s Fees That Stand Out

Most of the card’s fees are in line with industry standards for cash-back cards, but note the lack of foreign transaction fees—whatever you buy abroad won’t cost an extra fee, as it does with some credit cards.  

Plus, the first time you miss a payment, you won’t be charged a late fee and your interest rate won’t increase to the penalty APR. That’s unusual among credit cards.

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Discover it® Cash Back
overall rating
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 11.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Our Methodology
At The Balance, we are dedicated to giving you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.
  • Our Reviews Are Always Impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive. The scores and reviews come directly from the data we collect and our editorial expertise, and we focus on three areas:
  • How Much Does It Cost? With credit card debt at an all-time high, we believe you should know the cost of carrying a balance. Because of that, we give regular purchase APRs significant weight in overall scores, and cards receive low marks if they have an array of pricey fees.
  • What Are the Rewards Worth? Cards accumulate rewards in different currencies—points, miles, cash back—and their values vary widely. To simplify the problem, we built a system that fairly compares rewards and gives them a dollar value. We do this by looking at the ways you can earn and use rewards, which includes evaluating Americans’ typical spending habits and analyzing common travel patterns.
  • Does It Make Your Life Easier? Our scoring system favors cards that accept a wide range of credit profiles and offer simple solutions for things like checking your credit score or contacting customer service. Finally, we give preference to credit cards that have several tools for dealing with fraudulent charges.
  • For every review on The Balance, we hold the credit cards to these standards, and we set the bar high. While we recognize the appeal of splashy features like six-digit sign-up bonuses, our approach ensures that credit cards with the best combination of value, affordability, and accessibility receive the highest scores. See our full methodology for more details.