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2020 Discover it® Cash Back Categories: 5% on Groceries, Gas, and More

6 min read
Brendan Harkness By Brendan Harkness Feb 26, 2020 | Updated Mar 27, 2020

Discover it® Cash Back cardholders, rejoice! You can earn rewards at a great rate for no annual fee, and you can plan out your spending for the whole year.

From January through March, you can earn 5% cash back at:

  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS

But take note of the details:

  • The 5% cash back categories will rotate every quarter (every three months)
  • The 5% cash back rate is limited to the first $1,500 in combined spending per quarter; after that you’ll earn 1%
  • You’ll need to activate the categories before you can start earning at the 5% rate (you can do so two months early)

You can visit Discover’s website to activate your categories right now.

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.49% - 24.49% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 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 on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click “APPLY NOW” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Insider tip

The Discover it® Student Cash Back (Review) is very much like the regular Discover it Cash Back card. All the 5% bonus category info here also applies to the student version, though we’ll refer to the non-student card for the most part in this post.

Discover it Cash Back 2020 Calendar

Discover comes out with a new cash back calendar every year, though some categories (like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon) usually make repeat appearances.

Here are the 5% categories for 2020, along with last year’s for comparison.

Quarter 2020 Categories 2019 Categories
January – March
  • Grocery Stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Grocery Stores
April – June
  • Gas Stations
  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • Wholesale Clubs
  • Gas Stations
  • Uber
  • Lyft
July – September
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
October – December
  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com
  • Amazon.com
  • Target
  • Walmart.com
Insider tip

Discover is good enough to release the entire calendar for the year, usually a bit before the previous year ends. This gives you some time to plan out your spending, and if you’re considering applying for the card, you can see how useful it will be in that first year. The other 5% rotating category card of note, the Chase Freedom® (Review), releases the next quarter’s categories only a few weeks before the quarter begins.

Making the Most of This Quarter’s Bonus Categories: Grocery Stores, Walgreens, CVS

  • Clean out the pantry and make room in the freezer: It’s grocery store season for Discover it Cash Back cardholders; aside from the usual, buy long-lasting staples to keep in the pantry or freezer to help get the most of your quarterly spending limit.
  • Stock up on essential meds, makeup, and hygiene products: Grocery store or Walgreens/CVS? Depending on your tastes, and what’s conveniently located, you may find better prices for certain items at one type of store or the other.
  • Don’t mistake superstores for grocery stores: Take note that superstores like Target and Walmart don’t count as grocery stores (but they come up as categories at the end of the year). Wholesale clubs like BJ’s and Costco don’t count either.
  • Use the full $1,500 spending limit: You shouldn’t buy anything you weren’t planning on already, but 5% cash back is an excellent rate, better than you’re likely to get with other cards, so aim to use up the whole limit. If you have room left over, consider buying gift cards for your favorite stores to use throughout the year. Buy them at grocery stores, Walgreens, or CVS (you’ll probably have a wide selection to choose from).

Discover it Cash Back Reward Categories: What You Need to Know

  • From January through March 2020, the first quarter of the year, eligible Discover cardholders can earn 5% cash back at Grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS.
  • The 5% cash back rate is limited to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter; after that, 1% will be earned.
  • Categories must be activated before 5% cash back can be earned; only purchases made after activating will count. You can activate up to two months in advance.
  • You can set up email alerts with Discover to remind you to activate the categories, so you’ll be notified well ahead of time. (Discover may send automatic emails as well.)
  • Q1 bonus categories can be activated starting on November 1.
  • Q2 bonus categories can be activated starting on March 1.
  • All purchases outside the bonus categories will earn 1% back.

A Quick Overview of the Discover it Cash Back

  • CashBack Match: Discover is famous for offering double cash back in your first year, giving you an equivalent of 10% cash back in the bonus categories and 2% cash back everywhere else — one of the most rewarding offers in the game. The extra rewards are added at the end of your first year.
  • FICO Credit Scorecard: Check out the status of your FICO Score 8 whenever you’d like, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Social Security number alerts: Get notified if your SSN is found on any thousands of risky dark web sites.
  • New account and inquiry alerts: Get alerts if any new accounts or credit inquiries show up on your Experian credit report.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 14 months, then 13.49% - 24.49% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

The Discover it Cash Back has a set of features that matches most other Discover cards, with common benefits like the Credit Scorecard and SSN/new account alerts. You’ll get a nice intro purchase APR in case you need to stretch out your spending a bit, along with a good balance transfer offer (but this card is meant mainly for earning rewards on purchases).

How to Make the Most of Your Discover it Cash Back Rewards

The cash back you earn can be redeemed for statement credits or direct deposits, which are the easiest methods. The amount redeemed will just be credited to your card account, or sent to your bank account.

But Discover will give cardmembers a bonus on gift card redemptions, making that the most valuable redemption method. You’ll get at least $5 added to each gift card redemption, and sometimes $10 or even more.

A $5 bonus on a $20 gift card is a 25% increase — pretty significant, and worth exploring.

Gift cards take a bit more time and effort to use, however. You can get digital gift cards in some cases, but have to wait for a physical card to be mailed in others. And then you need to actually have a purchase in mind at the associated store (or they could be good gifts).

So if you’re looking for easy cash back, statement credits or bank account deposits are probably the right moves. But browse the gift card selection, too; if you’ve got an upcoming purchase, or shop at any of those stores with regularity, a gift card will give you more bang for your buck.

Cards to Use With the Discover it Cash Back

The Discover it Cash Back’s rotating categories give it some variability over the course of a year, which could prove useful. But since its 5% categories change every quarter, you’re typically only earning a good rate on those purchases for three months out of the year.

So it’s nice to have some other cards on hand for other expenses, letting you earn a good rate no matter where or when you shop.

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review) is easy to recommend for general spending thanks to its flat 2% rate on every purchase. No categories to worry about, rotating or otherwise; just pull out the Double Cash whenever you’re not spending in a Discover 5% category.

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back for every purchase you make
    • 1% back when you make a purchase
    • 1% back when you pay for that purchase

Key Features

  • Convert cash back rewards to ThankYou points: Your cash back can be converted into ThankYou points, and then transferred to an airline partner or certain other Citi cards.
  • Citi Concierge: Call for non-emergency help whenever you need it, like assistance making travel reservations.
  • ShopRunner membership: Use ShopRunner to get free two-day shipping and returns at participating retailers.
  • Free credit score: Check your FICO Bankcard Score 8 for free, based on your Equifax credit report.
  • Purchase APR: 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers, then 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0
Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.49% - 25.24% Variable

You might say that two 5% rotating category cards is too much (and you might be right). But credit card aficionados might enjoy having two different sets of 5% cash back categories throughout the year.

The Chase Freedom® (Review) is similar to the Discover it Cash Back. It’s got the same $1,500 quarterly limit, and you need to activate your categories. But with the Freedom, after you activate you’ll earn 5% back on every eligible purchase you made throughout the quarter, even purchases made before you activated. Those rewards will be retroactively added to your account.

In 2019 there was no overlap between the Discover and Chase category calendars at all. If you had both cards you would’ve had a wealth of 5% opportunities all year. But Chase only releases the Freedom’s upcoming categories shortly before they’re available, making it difficult to plan.

The Freedom also provides 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022, in addition to its bonus categories.

Quarter 2019 Categories 2020 Categories
January – March
  • Gas Stations
  • Tolls
  • Drugstores
  • Gas Stations
  • Streaming Services
  • Internet, Cable, Phone Services
April – June
  • Grocery Stores
  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Grocery Stores
  • Fitness Club & Gym Memberships
July – September
  • Gas Stations
  • Streaming Services
TBA
October – December
  • Department Stores
  • PayPal
  • Chase Pay
TBA

Key Features

  • Introductory bonus: $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
  • Shop through Chase/Chase Offers: Earn extra cash back and find discounts with select retailers.
  • Chase Credit Journey: Monitor your credit with free access to your VantageScore 3.0, based on your TransUnion credit report, and receive helpful insight into the factors influencing the score.
  • Shopping and travel protections: Purchase protection, extended warranty protection, travel and emergency assistance services, roadside dispatch, auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 16.49% - 25.24% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0
See how these 5% rotating category cards stack up

Chase Freedom vs. Discover it® Cash Back: 6 Factors To Consider

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0*
Regular APR13.99% - 23.99%* Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn up to $550 cash back in the first year.
  • $150 bonus after spending $500 in eligible net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
  • 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases ($100 per quarter) on two categories you choose. That adds up to $400 cash back!
  • 2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category, like gas stations or grocery stores.
  • 1% cash back on all other eligible net purchases.
  • No limit on total cash back earned.
  • 0% Intro APR* on balance transfers for 12 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 13.99% – 23.99%
  • No annual fee*
  • Great Offer from U.S. Bank, a 2020 World’s Most Ethical Company® – Ethisphere Institute, February 2020

Here’s another 5% cash back category card, with a sweet twist: You get to choose two of your own 5% categories (and a 2% category!) each quarter, giving you unmatched flexibility as your spending habits change throughout the year.

The categories include some rare finds that Discover doesn’t usually cover, like electronics stores, streaming services, and department stores. There are even perpetually useful categories like cell phone providers and home utilities (very rare finds). It’s one of the best credit cards for some of those expenses.

With Discover, you’re stuck with whatever they’ll give you; but the Cash+ lets you adjust as the year progresses, so you can set up the perfect categories to complement the Discover rewards calendar.

5% Cash Back Categories (Pick Two)
Ground Transportation Fast Food Cell Phone Providers
Department Stores Home Utilities Select Clothing Stores
Electronics Stores Sporting Goods Stores Movie Theaters
Gyms/Fitness Centers Furniture Stores TV, Internet & Streaming Services
2% Cash Back Categories (Pick One)
Gas Stations Grocery Stores Restaurants
  • Introductory bonus: $150 cash bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days after account opening
  • Free credit score: See your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Visa Signature Concierge: Call for personal assistance with travel bookings, dining reservations, business services, and more.
  • Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection: Get perks at select hotels like a $25 food and beverage credit and room upgrades when available.
  • Shopping and travel protections: Purchase security, extended warranty, auto rental collision damage waiver, roadside dispatch
  • Purchase APR: 13.99% - 23.99%* Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 billing cycles on Balance Transfers*, then 13.99% - 23.99%* Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0*

Learn More About the Discover it Cash Back

Excited? We covered the major card features here, but you can dig deeper in our Review of the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card.

Just don’t forget the main rule when it comes to the rewards: Activate your cash back categories before each quarter starts, because you won’t start earning at the 5% rate until you do. Consider setting up Discover’s email alerts, or set your own reminders.

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.49% - 24.49% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 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 on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click “APPLY NOW” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Was this helpful?
At a glance

The Discover it® Cash Back credit card offers 5% cash back in categories that rotate every three months, for no annual fee. You need to activate your 5% categories ahead of time, and you’ll have to deal with a quarterly spending limit.

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