Discover it® Cash Back vs. Discover it® chrome review

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In a Nutshell

While the Discover it® Cash Back and Discover it® chrome cards have a lot of matching features, the Discover it® Cash Back has a higher earnings ceiling. But heads-up: The Discover it® Cash Back requires that you keep track of rotating categories and remember to activate them each quarter.
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Discover it® Cash Back vs. Discover it® chrome

  Discover it® Cash Back Discover it® chrome
Best cash back rate 5% in rotating categories 2% at gas stations and restaurants
Quarterly cap on bonus category spending $1,500 $1,000
Ease of redeeming cash back Easy Easy
Annual fee $0 $0

What you need to know about each card

These two cards have more in common than they do differences. Here’s a list of features and benefits that these cards share.

  • No annual fee
  • Automatic match on all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year
  • No minimum to redeem cash back
  • Easy to freeze your account
  • Free FICO® credit score included on monthly statement, mobile and online

Despite all the ways that these cards are similar, they do have a few important differences. Here’s what you need to know.

Discover it® Cash Back

While the Discover it® Cash Back offers unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases, cardholders are able to earn 5% cash back in bonus rotating categories, which change on a quarterly basis. Here’s the schedule of bonus categories.

  • October–December 2021: Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com
  • January–March 2022: Grocery stores as well as fitness club and gym memberships
  • April–June 2022: Gas stations and Target
  • July–September 2022: Restaurants and PayPal
  • October–December 2022: Amazon.com and digital wallets

There are a couple of important things to note about how the Discover it® Cash Back bonus categories work. First of all, the 5% bonus is not unlimited. You’ll earn the 5% cash back rate on up to the first $1,500 spent on bonus category purchases each quarter. After that, you’ll earn 1% cash back on purchases in those categories.

Also, cardholders must “activate” their bonus categories each quarter in order to earn the 5% cash back rate. If you don’t, you’ll earn only 1% cash back for bonus category purchases. Chase Freedom Flex℠ — another popular card that offers 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories — uses this “activation” method as well.

From our partner

Discover it® Cash Back

4.7 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

See details, rates & fees

If you feel like having to activate rotating bonus categories each quarter would be too much of a pain, the Discover it® Cash Back may not be the card for you.

Quick tip: Set it so you don’t forget it

I’ve personally found rotating bonus categories to be hard to keep track of. Sometimes I’ll forget to activate my bonus until a month or two into the quarter. But I began setting reminders on my phone each quarter to activate my bonus, which has helped. So if you’re worried about missing an activation window for bonus categories, a phone reminder could help.

Discover it® chrome

Discover it® chrome doesn’t have rotating bonus categories. Instead, it offers a much simpler rewards system. The card offers 2% cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases on up to $1,000 spent in combined purchases each quarter (1% after that), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. That’s $500 less than the spending cap on the Discover it® Cash Back.

If you spend a lot of money on gas and eating out, or if you value simplicity, this card may sound more appealing to you.

From our partner

Discover it® chrome

5.0 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

See details, rates & fees

But keep in mind that the $1,000 spending cap is pretty low, especially when you consider that there are other cards with no spending caps. For example, the Citi® Double Cash Card offers up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy and 1% when you make your payment, all with no spending cap.

The winner: Discover it® Cash Back

If you don’t mind keeping up with rotating categories, then you can earn a lot more each year with the Discover it® Cash Back card.

It really boils down to simple math. With the Discover it® Cash Back card, if you were to max out your bonus categories each quarter, you could earn an annual total of $300. If you max out the Discover it® chrome’s gas and restaurant bonus categories each quarter, you’d earn an annual total of $80 in cash back.

The difference in earning power though becomes more apparent when you take into account the cash back match that both cards offer after your first year. That would bring the max bonus cash back you could earn with the Discover it® Cash Back card up to $600 and up to $160 for the Discover it® chrome — a $440 difference.

Of the two cards, the Discover it® Cash Back card is the clear earner, but it may not be the better option if you don’t like keeping up with rotating categories. But even if that’s the case, we’re still not sure that the Discover it® chrome would be a good option compared to other cards out there.

Instead, you may be better off choosing a card that offers a bigger bonus on gas and restaurant purchases. Or you may want to choose a flat-rate cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card or the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card.


What to consider when applying for cash back cards

When you’re applying for a cash back card, you need to consider how much time, thought and effort that you can put into your rewards strategy. If you’re passionate about maximizing your cash back–earning potential and don’t mind juggling multiple cards — if it means more cash in your pocket — then the Discover it® Cash Back could be a great card to add to your wallet. You may even want to consider using it in tandem with the Chase Freedom Flex℠, since Chase’s 5% cash back on quarterly bonuses may be in different categories.

But if you want a credit card that you can “set and forget,” a flat-rate cash back card might be a better choice for you.

Redemption flexibility is something else you’ll want to consider. For instance, while both of the Discover cards have no minimum amounts for cash back redemption, some cards have higher cash redemption minimums.

Finally, you may want to consider available sign-up bonuses before choosing a cash back card. While the cash back match that the Discover cards offer could be considered a valuable sign-up bonus, you have to spend more to earn more. Other cash back cards offer a flat sign-up bonus if you reach the minimum spending requirement (usually within a three-month span).

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either type of sign-up bonus, but you’ll want to consider which kind appeals most to you.

Not sure either card is for you? Consider these alternatives.


About the author: Clint Proctor is a freelance writer and founder of WalletWiseGuy.com, where he writes about how students and millennials can win with money. When he’s away from his keyboard, he enjoys drinking coffee, traveling, obse… Read more.