Discover it® Cash Back card review: High bonus value, but not for everyone

Man thinking about the Discover it Card Image: Man thinking about the Discover it Card

Editors’ Rating

This card has been rated as a cash back card. The rating reflects what our editorial team considers to be important features for this category of card. Learn more about our rating system here.

4.0

star rating

In a Nutshell

The Discover it® Cash Back offers strong value for a cash back card with no annual fee, but it’s not guaranteed to suit everyone’s shopping habits. If you have a relatively steady budget and prefer a more straightforward experience with a cash back credit card, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Availability of products, features and discounts may vary by state or territory. Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about our team.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

Editors’ Rating

This card has been rated as a cash back card. The rating reflects what our editorial team considers to be important features for this category of card. Learn more about our rating system here.

4.0

star rating
Pros Cons
High rates on bonus categories Bonus categories change every quarter
Cashback Match feature adds lots of potential value Cash back bonus requires quarterly activation
No annual fee to eat into your rewards value Rewards rate for non-bonus categories isn’t especially good


What you need to know about the Discover it® Cash Back

Earn cash back rewards with no annual fee

It’s nice to see no annual fee for a cash back card, because you won’t have to pay an upfront cost that cuts into the value of your rewards. None of Discover’s credit cards come with an annual fee, and Discover it® Cash Back is no exception.

Rotating cash back categories provide lots of potential value

Unlike many cash back cards, the Discover it® Cash Back card changes its bonus categories on a rotating basis every quarter — and you’ll need to activate your categories every quarter to earn the bonus rate.

The card’s rewards program includes a stellar 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in qualifying purchases in those rotating categories each quarter (then 1% afterward). That means you can earn a maximum of $300 from the bonus rate every year.

Cash back can be redeemed as a deposit to a bank account or as a statement credit, which are both good options if you want a straightforward rewards experience. You can also redeem your rewards for gift cards or purchases on Amazon or through PayPal, or you can choose to donate them to select charities.

Rotating categories aren’t for everyone

This Discover it® Cash Back card’s bonus rate gives good value for a cash back card, but keep in mind that you’re not getting the same high rate on the same categories each quarter. So even though Discover frequently offers its bonus rate in common spending categories like gas stations and groceries, each quarter’s categories aren’t guaranteed to appeal to everyone all the time. 

For instance, the card might give you 5% cash back on purchases at grocery stores in the winter and 5% back on purchases at restaurants in the summer. That’s great if you tend to spend roughly the same in each of those two categories. But someone who prefers to cook at home might see fewer rewards or feel like they need to eat out more during those summer months, and vice-versa.

If you want a sense of how the card’s categories line up with your everyday purchases, you can check out our article detailing Discover’s cash back category calendar. In addition to gas stations, past categories have included wholesale clubs, grocery stores, restaurants and rideshare services such as Lyft and Uber.

Cashback Match could make for a rewarding first year

The Discover it® Cash Back credit card doesn’t come with a traditional sign-up bonus, but its Cashback Match feature could end up earning you more than the bonuses offered by many other cash back cards with no annual fee. That means you can end up with more value than what you earn when you activate and hit the quarterly spending cap on the card’s 5% rotating bonus categories.

Here’s how the Cashback Match program works: At the end of your first year of card membership, Discover will match all the rewards you’ve earned. To be clear, that doesn’t mean it’ll double whatever rewards you have in your account — instead, it’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned after the first 12 consecutive billing periods, even if you’ve already redeemed them.

In effect, that means you’ll eventually earn a minimum of 2% back on all purchases during your first year of card membership — 1% cash back on purchases plus Discover’s 1% Cashback Match.

And when you take advantage of the 5% bonus categories in your first year, you’ll earn an eventual total of 10% on those categories before you hit the spending cap. Once you hit the cap, you’ll default to the base rate of 1% cash back on all purchases, plus the additional 1% Cashback Match applied at the end of your first 12 billing cycles.

Intro APR offers could be tricky to manage

The Discover it® Cash Back card offers an introductory 0% purchase APR that runs for 14 months from the date your account opens, and you’ll see an ongoing variable purchase APR of 11.99% - 22.99% once that period ends.

The card also offers an introductory 0% APR for balance transfers for 14 months from the date of your first transfer. After that, you’re looking at a variable APR of 11.99% - 22.99%. Additionally, balance transfers have to post to your account by a specific date (currently Oct. 10, 2020) for the intro offer to apply. You’ll also pay a 3% balance transfer fee, which could rise to as high as 5% after the promotional period’s cutoff date.

After the balance transfer intro period ends, you’ll pay an ongoing variable APR of 11.99% - 22.99% on any leftover amount of that transferred debt.

These intro offers for balance transfer and purchases can come in handy if you want to finance a big purchase, run into emergency expenses or need to pay off existing debt.

These are both solid low-interest offers (depending on the rate you’re approved for), but it can be tricky to balance 0% APR offers with the promise of rewards, especially when you know Discover will match those earnings at the end of your first year of card membership. Paying off debt is usually complicated enough without having to track separate spending on the same card. Keeping things simplified by using only one of these offers at a time is something to consider.

Other features of the Discover it® Cash Back

The Discover it® Cash Back card offers several more notable features. Here are a few worth knowing before you decide if you should apply.

  • Late payment fee waiver — If you miss a payment, Discover will waive the typical fee of up to $40 on your first late payment. If you’re late on another payment though, expect the usual fee.
  • Free online FICO® score — Your online account will include free access to a FICO® credit score to help you track your credit.
  • Overnight card replacement — If you lose your card, you can request a new one with complimentary overnight shipping to ensure you don’t go long without it.

Who this card is good for

The Discover it® Cash Back card offers clear value for anyone who doesn’t mind putting in a little more work to earn rewards.

On the other hand, this card probably won’t be great if you’re looking for a more straightforward rewards experience.

If you have a steady budget and think you’ll continue to do most of your spending in one or two categories, it’s probably a better idea to seek out a card that will give you more consistency from month to month.

Not sure this is the card for you? Consider these alternatives.

If you’re not sold on the Discover it® Cash Back card, take a look at these other rewards credit cards.

  • Discover it® Miles: This card might appeal to Discover fans who want to use their miles for both travel and cash back redemptions.
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: If you’re a student who likes the Discover it® Cash Back, you might want to check out this card, which offers an additional reward for students.
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: This card is a good option if you’d prefer a simpler cash back card with no categories to track.