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Discover is both a credit card issuer and a network, meaning you’ll never find any of its popular cards networked through Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. However, the company doesn’t need the help of the other network giants.
In the past decade, Discover has really stepped up its credit card game with their “it” family of cards. They’re known for having great U.S.-based customer service, which comes in handy if you need to call them up. All Discover cards have no annual fee.
Is there a Discover card that’s right for you? There are three main categories of cards: cards for good or excellent credit, cards for students, and a card for people with bad credit.
The regular Discover it card has rotating 5% bonus reward categories, which change every quarter. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. The amount of cash back you can earn in the 5% categories is capped at a quarterly maximum of $1,500. Cardholders will also enjoy a generous intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers to help spend down debt.
About a month before the new quarter begins, Discover sends an email with a link to click to activate the upcoming quarter’s 5% category. If you don’t activate it you won’t earn 5% in the bonus category. With Discover’s Cashback Bonus, it effectively earns 2–10% cash back the first year, depending on where you spend. These are the 2019 categories:
|Quarter||5% Cash Back Category|
|January – March||Grocery Stores|
|April – June||Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft|
|July – September||Restaurants, PayPal|
|October – December||Amazon.com, Target, Walmart.com|
This card earns 2% cash back rewards at restaurants and gas stations on the first $1,000 spent across both categories, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. With the Cashback Bonus, that’s effectively 4% at restaurants and gas stations for the first year.
The Discover it Miles earns “miles” instead of cash back, although they aren’t specifically travel rewards: you don’t earn more miles for travel purchases, and there’s no advantage to redeeming the miles for travel. The Miles card is essentially a cash back card that earns an unlimited 1.5% on all purchases.
Similarly to the Cashback Match, Discover will double miles earned in the first year. There are no blackout dates when it comes to mile redemptions — you can redeem for any past purchases at any time, including all travel purchases. This travel card has no foreign transaction fees, but Discover has limited acceptance outside the U.S.
Other than savings at Shop.NHL.com and a discount on an NHL.TV subscription, this card is pretty much the same as the regular Discover it above. It’s designed for hockey fans, and cardholders get to pick a favorite team for the card design.
Discover offers two student credit cards that are similar to the Discover it and Discover it Chrome cash back cards offered for non-students. They also both come with a “good grades bonus,” which means Discover will give you a $20 statement credit for each school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher (for up to five years).
This is Discover’s secured credit card offering for people with bad credit histories. Despite being secured, this Discover card is a real credit card that can help you build your credit with the three major credit bureaus. It’s also a rewards card, which is rare when a security deposit is needed.
You’ll need to provide bank account details on the application. This bank account is used to fund the security deposit, which will determine your credit line. This is a refundable security deposit on the condition that you demonstrate responsible use.
Every eight months Discover will review your credit and card activity; if it likes what it sees, it may return your security deposit and allow you to keep using the card.
However, if you want to switch to a different Discover product entirely you’ll need to apply for an unsecured line of credit with the other account separately.
All Discover cards earn rewards in one form or another, and you can redeem cash back as a statement credit. Their rewards programs offer other redemption options, like applying cash back to a purchase at Amazon.com checkout, but then you won’t be earning rewards on the purchase.
Discover also offers the option to redeem for gift cards. This can get you higher value for your cash rewards than you’d get with a statement credit because you will always get at least $5 added to each card, in addition to the cash back amount you redeem. This is different from most credit card issuers, where you’ll usually get a lower rewards value when you redeem for gift cards.
Most Discover credit cards come with an introductory offer that can be used for balance transfers or new purchases. This can be useful if you want to save money while paying off existing debt, or make a big purchase and pay it off over time while earning rewards.
With all of their cards, Discover offers a complimentary FICO® Credit Score as part of its free Credit Scorecard, which shows the areas where you can change behavior to increase your credit scores. This FICO Score 8 is based on your TransUnion credit report.
The intro offer for all Discover cards is the Cashback Match, which is a program where Discover will double cash back you earn in the first year. This extra cash back is awarded at the end of the first year.
All Discover cards come with the same set of benefits, which has been drastically reduced. Cardholders get:
To apply for any Discover card you’ll need to provide standard personal information like your name and address, a Social Security number, annual income, and the amount you pay for housing per month. You can fill out a credit card application on their website, or by calling 1-800-DISCOVER (1-800-347-2683).
In addition to credit cards, Discover Bank offers checking accounts and personal loans, including personal loans, home equity loans, and student loans. You may get special loan offers from Discover once you establish a banking relationship with them for credit cards.
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