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Chase Freedom vs. Discover it: 6 Factors To Consider

9 min read
Brendan Harkness By Brendan Harkness Dec 17, 2019 | Updated Jan 14, 2020

The Chase Freedom® and Discover it® Cash Back are iconic, both occupying an interesting niche in the credit card world: 5% cash back bonus categories, that rotate every three months.

They’re similar in a lot of important ways, like having no annual fees and names that are also inspirational phrases (just kidding). But there are also a few differences that could draw you to one or the other.

What are you likely to buy? How much will you spend in your first year? And do you care about extra benefits, or the card issuer?

Overall, they’re both great cash back cards. They’re some of the most rewarding on the market, and the right one for you will depend on your lifestyle and spending habits.

We’ll break down the main features of the Chase Freedom and Discover it below, but first a quick rundown of the basics.

Chase Freedom Discover it
Rewards
  • 5% cash back in changing reward categories, up to $1,500 spent per quarter
  • 1% cash back everywhere else
  • 5% cash back in changing reward categories, up to $1,500 spent per quarter
  • 1% cash back everywhere else
Introductory Bonus
  • $150 cash bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Cashback Match: All cash back earned in the first year is doubled
Benefits
  • Shopping and travel protections
  • Free credit score
  • Social Security number and credit report alerts
  • Free credit score
Introductory Purchase and Balance Transfer APR
  • 0% for 15 months, then 16.49% - 25.24% Variable
  • 0% for 14 months, then 13.49% - 24.49% Variable
Network Visa Discover
Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

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

securely on the issuer's website

Quick Guide

What credit scores do I need to get the Discover it and Chase Freedom?

These cards are generally accessible to people with good credit or better, meaning a FICO Score 8 of at least 670. But take note that credit card approvals rely on more factors than just credit scores, like income.

Card issuers may have their own standards as well, like Chase's infamous 5/24 rule: It states that if you've been approved for five or more consumer cards in the last 24 months (from any issuers), you typically won't be approved for any more Chase cards.

1. Bonus Reward Categories

Here’s the main course.

Each card offers 5% cash back in categories that change every three months, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. That comes to a max of $75 cash back per month at the 5% rate; $300 per year.

Here are the categories from 2019, and what we know for 2020. What catches your eye?

Chase Freedom Categories

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

Discover it Categories

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

Activating Categories

You need to activate your bonus categories each quarter before you start earning 5% cash back. You can activate before the quarter starts, and the deadline is usually a few weeks before the quarter ends.

And here’s an important difference: Once you activate your categories with the Chase Freedom card, you’ll earn 5% back on all eligible purchases going back to the start of the quarter. But the Discover it only earns 5% back after you activate; previous purchases won’t be counted.

This could cost you some cash back, but Discover gives you quite a bit of warning, and will send alerts. So it shouldn’t be too hard to activate on time, and this isn’t a big factor overall.

Planning Ahead

There’s no telling exactly what the bonus categories will be until the issuers reveal them. But you can expect them to include some common purchases like gas and groceries at some point. The other categories are a bit more variable, sometimes including online services like Amazon, PayPal, Uber/Lyft, and streaming platforms.

Discover is pretty good about letting you know the categories ahead of time, releasing all its 2020 categories by November 2019. But Chase plays it closer to the vest, usually only revealing the next quarter’s categories for the Freedom a few weeks in advance.

Redeeming

These cards have some interesting redemption options. If you want to keep it simple, you can just go for cash back or bank deposit redemptions: That’d give you a straight value of 5% cash back in the bonus categories, or $5 for every $100 you spend. If you don’t care much about credit card reward options, you can leave it at that and jump to the next section.

But you can find more value if you dig a bit deeper.

The Discover card’s edge is providing a minimum $5 bonus for every gift card redemption. So if you’re planning a purchase from a specific merchant, have a gift to give, or know you’ll make use of the gift card somehow, this method gives you a bit extra.

Discover gift card redemptions (as of December 2019).

Discover gift card redemptions (as of December 2019).

The Chase Freedom has a more complicated (and potentially more valuable) advantage. You can transfer your rewards to some other Chase credit cards — those in the Ultimate Rewards family. And, if you transfer to certain cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you could then get a bonus on certain travel redemptions; or you could transfer yet again to an airline or hotel loyalty program, where you can find the best deals.

With a smart travel booking you could double your effective reward rate, giving you a 10% cash back equivalent or more!

The Verdict

When it comes to the bonus categories, we’ve got a tie. The right card for you will depend on the types of purchases you’re likely to make, and if the card will cover them. That would be tough to figure out for the Freedom, which could make the Discover it more attractive — unless you aren’t interested in its upcoming categories.

The Discover it gives more transparency, which can be helpful for planning. This makes it a bit more user friendly. The Chase Freedom is more forgiving, providing retroactive rewards if you forget to activate. And if you have certain other Chase cards it could be extra rewarding. So there’s a lot to be gained from each side.

Don’t forget, you could even apply for both cards. That’d give you wide bonus category coverage, and since they have no annual fees you wouldn’t have to worry if don’t use one or the other for a while.

The other big-name 5% rotating category cards are the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, which lets you choose your own categories, and the Citi® Dividend card, which you can’t apply for directly but can product change to. And then there’s the Discover it® Student Cash Back (Review), which is pretty similar to the basic Discover it card, with the same 5% categories. If you’re looking for a student credit card, or know someone who is, it’s hard to beat.

2. Signup Bonus

If the reward categories are the main course, the signup bonus is the side dish you’ve been looking forward to all day. Not quite as important, but definitely worth considering.

You’ve got an interesting choice here.

Card Signup Bonus What You Get
Chase Freedom $150 cash bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months Less overall value, but less spending required
Discover it Cashback Match: All cash back earned in the first year is doubled (awarded after the first year) More overall value, but more spending required

The Verdict

There is no clear winner here. These cards have different kinds of signup bonuses that are valuable in their own ways.

So, what’s your game? Do you want cash back fast? The Chase Freedom gives you that, with a 30% return as soon as you can spend $500 within the first three months of account opening.

The Discover it makes you wait. You won’t get your bonus until the end of your first year. And you’ll only get a 10% cash back equivalent at the most, when the 5% rate is doubled. But if you max out the 5% spending limit each quarter ($1,500), you’ll spend $6,000 and earn $600 in cash back during your first year. $300 of that won’t show up til the end of your first year.

If you max out the Chase Freedom’s 5% rate and get the intro bonus, you’ll earn $450 in cash back: $300 from the 5% rate, and $150 from the bonus. And your cash back rewards will be available more quickly, typically about one billing period after you earn them.

If you want more overall value in the first year, the Discover it can deliver, but only if you max out the 5% categories (or come close). Rather get a decent bonus more quickly and easily? The Freedom’s got you covered.

3. Shopping Portals

An easy comparison here: Chase has a shopping portal, and Discover doesn’t.

What is a shopping portal? It’s a way to earn extra rewards or get discounts at specific merchants with your credit card.

Chase provides the Shop through Chase marketplace for many of its cards, including the Freedom. Just select the deal you want, and be sure to make your purchase through the merchant website that pops up. You’ll earn extra cash back on top of what you’d normally get, which could mean some pretty hefty reward rates.

Shop through Chase deals (as of December 2019).

Shop through Chase deals (as of December 2019).

And the Freedom doesn’t just feature Shop through Chase. It also has the Chase Offers program, which provides discounts at retailers based on how you spend with the card.

The Verdict

Chase wins here, of course. The Freedom has a lot more to offer outside the 5% bonus categories, while the Discover card does not.

Discover used to offer an excellent shopping portal with its cards — Discover Deals — but no longer.

A lot of people probably don’t care about shopping portals, or even know they exist. But they’re potentially quite valuable, and worth exploring if you want to squeeze your credit card for all its worth, or just find out everything it has to offer.

4. Benefits

You won’t find many exciting perks on either card. But you can get some useful services and protections that, if something doesn’t go quite right, could be just what you need.

The Chase Freedom has a pretty nice selection for a no annual fee card. If you’re approved for a Visa Signature version (with a starting credit limit of $5K or more) you’ll even get access to a concierge:

  • DoorDash membership: Get a free membership (DashPass) for three months, and then a 50% discount for the next nine months; DashPass provides free delivery for orders of $15 or more.
  • Credit Journey: An easy way to monitor your VantageScore 3.0 credit score, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Purchase Protection: Eligible purchases are covered against damage and theft (terms apply).
  • Extended Warranty: Eligible manufacturer’s warranties can be extended (terms apply).
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver: Get secondary coverage for eligible rental cars when you decline the rental company’s own insurance.
  • Roadside Assistance: Call for help on the road if you need a tow, jumpstart, tire change, and more; third-party fees apply.
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance: Get reimbursed for eligible non-refundable passenger fares if your trip is cut short for a covered reason, like sickness or severe weather.
  • Travel and Emergency Assistance Services: In a jam? Call for medical and legal referrals while traveling, along with emergency services.
  • Visa Signature Concierge: Call any time for help with travel bookings, dining reservations, finding tickets, and more (Visa Signature cardholders only).

The Discover card doesn’t offer any shopping or travel protections, but you will get some useful credit report and SSN benefits:

  • Credit Scorecard: A handy way to keep track of your FICO Score 8, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Social Security number alerts: Get notified if your SSN is found being used on thousands of risky dark web sites.
  • New inquiry and new account alerts: Get notified if any new credit inquiries or accounts appear on your Experian credit report.
  • Cash at checkout: Get cash back at checkout, like a debit card, at participating merchants (counted as part of the purchase).

Each card also has zero liability protection and fraud protections, which are standard on most credit cards.

The Verdict

Chase wins the benefit round, unless you have a special interest in Social Security number alerts.

Chase has a more standard set of benefits; if you want the Discover card’s benefits, you can get most of them for free from other sources.

Extra card benefits matter to some people; other people, not so much. A lot of cardholders may not even know they’re available, but having your purchases covered against damage and getting reimbursed for interrupted trips could save you quite a bit of cash.

5. Introductory Interest Rates

0% introductory APRs allow you to pay off large purchases over time at no cost, giving you some extra breathing room. Or you can transfer a balance away from a high-interest card, saving money by avoiding interest charges.

The Chase Freedom and Discover it each have solid intro APRs for purchases and balance transfers.

Chase Freedom Discover it
Introductory Purchase and Balance Transfer APR 0% for 15 months, then 16.49% - 25.24% Variable 0% for 14 months, then 13.49% - 24.49% Variable

The Verdict

The offers here are nearly the same; that one-month gap is a distinction without much of a difference.

We call a tie for the intro APR category. Even though the Freedom is technically better, they’re too close to make a big stink about.

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6. Other Features to Consider

These factors could play a role in some situations, for some people.

  • Foreign transaction fee: Discover doesn’t charge extra on purchases in foreign currency, while the Chase Freedom does (3%). But if you’ll be traveling outside the country we suggest looking into travel credit cards, rather than one of these.
  • Network: Visa or Discover? This choice could matter if you plan to use the card outside the country, but otherwise it’s not usually a big deal. Visa has more acceptance worldwide, including Canada and Europe, but the Freedom has that foreign transaction fee so it’s not a great pick for travel abroad. Discover cards don’t have great acceptance outside the U.S., although they can be used widely in Asia.
  • Issuer: Here, the choice is Chase or Discover (because Discover is both a network and a card issuer). Some people might prefer one or the other, for whatever reason. Or maybe you don’t care; it’s not a big deal, they’re both good as far as issuers go.
  • Customer support: It’s not controversial to say Discover’s customer support is better than Chase’s. Discover’s customer service is U.S.-based, and overall we’ve found them to be quite responsive and helpful. Discover always ranks highly in J.D. Power’s annual Credit Card Satisfaction Survey (first place in 2018 and 2019). Chase doesn’t do too bad, coming in fourth both years.

Chase? Discover? Or Both?

Although the Freedom won some of the above categories, those won’t be make-it-or-break-it factors for most people. Start with the reward categories and signup bonuses — if you can’t decide based on those features, consider the rest.

They’re both excellent cards, with good reward rates and terms for no annual fee. So, while it’s an important decision, you can’t really go wrong.

If you find yourself struggling to decide between them, why pick just one?

Most people will be fine with just one or the other, but if they each sound great and you’d use them enough, you can always apply for both. You’d have access to a wide variety of reward categories each year, although this could be a lot to keep track of.

We recommend starting with just one of them, however, especially if you’re new to credit. Take some time to decide how you like it, and if you really need another similar card. If you’re easily hitting the quarterly spending limits or the bonus categories aren’t giving you what you need, consider the other card.

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

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

securely on the issuer's website

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AT A GLANCE

The Chase Freedom and Discover it are solid rewards cards, both offering 5% cash back in categories that rotate every three months (up to $1,500 spent per quarter). The other terms are great too, with no annual fees and fairly long introductory APRs. One of them would probably fit well in your wallet.

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