Review of the Discover it® Credit Card

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Reviews

Dec 18, 2017 | Updated Sep 04, 2019

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The Discover it Cash Back Credit Card is quite popular. It offers 5% cash back on select categories of purchases that rotate throughout the year.

Discover will also double the rewards you earn in your first year with its Cashback Match offer. Since this card has no annual fee that means you can earn quite a profit.

You’ll get a 14-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers, which is fairly good for cards like these. A regular rate of 14.24%–25.24% Variable will apply after that. It also comes with some standard shopping and travel protections, and you can check one of your FICO scores for free whenever you want.

The Discover it can potentially provide a lot of cash back completely for free. Keep reading to learn more and see if it’s right for you.

Our Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

We give the Discover it credit card 5 out of 5 Stars because it’s a great offer that you can have completely for free. You’ll have the potential to earn quite a lot of cash back with the 5% reward categories — especially because Discover will double your rewards in your first year of use.

The costs and fees are very favorable for the cardholder as well. There’s no annual fee to worry about and a 14-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers. You won’t find a penalty APR they could apply if you mess up, and your first late fee will be forgiven. The minimum credit line is only $500, but you can request credit limit increases over time.

The extra perks and benefits are not bad, pretty much like the basic protections you get with most no-annual-fee reward cards. These include being able to check up on one of your FICO Credit Scores, getting cash back at checkout, and some handy account management tools.

Discover has received frequent praise for its customer service, often winning or almost winning J.D. Power’s annual U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study. They came in second in 2013, tied with American Express for first in 2014, and won outright in 2015 and 2016. 2017 saw them come in a close second to American Express. So you can generally expect to get some useful help if you have an issue, either by phone or online through their live chat.

Overall, the Discover it rewards card is pretty easy to get, providing a way to earn rewards at a high rate completely for free. Just avoid gaining interest and your cash back will be all profit.

Insider Advice: Using This Card as Part of Your Credit Card Strategy

  • Check up on the 5% cash back calendar, to remind yourself which category is currently active and what is coming up next. This will help you always shop with the right card and get the most rewards.
  • Be sure to sign up for those 5% cash back categories in advance. Log in to your account and activate them manually — you won’t start earning at the 5% rate until you do.
  • Try to redeem your cash back for gift cards when possible. They always provide more than $1 for every $1 in cash back you redeem.
  • Use the 14-month 0% intro APR for purchases to pay off expensive items at no interest, as long as you pay them off in that time period. Be sure to pay the minimum payment every month or you could lose this intro rate.
  • Use the 0% intro APR for balance transfers to move a balance away from an account with a higher interest rate onto this card. This is a pretty good balance transfer offer but it will take up part of your credit limit if you use it. Take note that there are other cards designed specifically for balance transfers, with long 0% APR periods and no transfer fees.
  • The Cash at Checkout feature can be a great way to get cash with your credit card because it will count as a purchase, rather than as a cash advance. Only available at some participating stores. Discover does not charge a fee, but the merchant may have its own limits and fees.
  • Use this card to monitor your FICO Score 8 based on your TransUnion credit report. You’ll also get tips for specific advice on how to improve your credit.
  • You can make this card completely free to use by avoiding interest and fees. Just pay your balance in full every billing period.
  • This card has no penalty APR, but that doesn’t mean you can just make late payments and go over your credit limit with no consequences. Doing so will still hurt your credit, so always use your card responsibly.

Logging In To Your Account

Once you’ve been approved for the Discover it card, you can log in to your account at discover.com. You’ll see your account details, and a variety of options to view your balance, manage your account, redeem rewards, and request services.

Logging in to your Discover account

Discover account details

The Rewards

Earning

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate every three months (see calendar below), on the first $1,500 spent per quarter (then 1%)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double cash back in the first year (awarded after the first year)

Take note that you must manually activate your 5% cash back rewards every quarter, and you won’t earn at the 5% rate until you do. This is as simple as logging in and clicking “Activate” and you can do it months in advance, so be sure to do so.

The 5% cash back calendar for 2019 is:

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 5% offer has a quarterly maximum of $1,500 worth of spending. After you spend that much in the category, you’ll earn 1% cash back. For example, you’ll earn 5% cash back at grocery stores from January to March on the first $1,500 you spend, and only 1% back after that.

Discover is offering to double the cash back you earn in your first year. That means you’ll get 10% cash back in those categories and 2% back for every other purchase. That makes this one of the most rewarding credit cards on the market, especially for no annual fee. This is a great deal because it scales up to match however much you spend, and one you probably won’t find on any other card. You’ll receive that extra cash back after one year of using the card.

Redeeming

No matter which redemption method you choose, you’ll be able to get at least $1 for every $1 in cash back that you’ve earned. The gift card option actually provides more than $1 back for every $1 you’ve earned, making it the most potentially rewarding method.

You’ll have five different options for redeeming your cash back:

  1. As a statement credit to reduce your balance
  2. Directly into a bank account of your choice
  3. For gift cards
  4. As a charitable donation
  5. Pay with rewards at select retailers, like Amazon.com

As you can see you’ll have a few different options when you want to redeem your cash back. We recommend using one of the first 4 options above.

Looking to max out your rewards in a category, but not sure if you’ll be able to spend enough in three months? Use your Discover it card to buy gift cards through eligible merchants. You can earn at the 5% rate while it’s active, and then spend your gift cards when it’s convenient for you.

Statement Credits and Bank Account Deposits

The easiest way to redeem your cash back is with a statement credit or direct deposit. Statement credits will lower your balance, and direct deposits will simply wind up in your bank account.

Gift Cards

Redeeming your cash back for gift cards at specific retailers is actually a good option with the Discover it. In every case you can get more than $1 for every $1 in cash back you redeem.

The offers will vary, but you will always get at least $5 added to each card for free. There are a wide variety of retailers to choose from, in many different categories. Some example offers include:

  • Redeem $20 to get a $25 gift card for Brooks Brothers
  • Redeem $45 to get a $50 gift card at Chili’s
  • Redeem $45 to get a $50 gift card for iTunes
  • Redeem $90 to get a $100 gift card at Sephora

Gift cards are available in both digital and physical form. Physical gift cards will take up to 4 weeks to arrive by mail.

Charity

If you want to donate your rewards to a good cause, Discover provides an easy way to make a direct donation. You can send your rewards to any of the following organizations:

ASPCA Children’s Miracle Network Make-A-Wish Foundation®
American Cancer Society Junior Achievement Operation Homefront
American Red Cross Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation World Wildlife Fund

Pay with Rewards

You’ll have an option to link your Discover account with certain retailers, like Amazon.com. This will let you pay for purchases through them directly with your cash back rewards.

We do not recommend this method because when you pay with rewards you won’t earn any cash back. This would be a mistake if you’re shopping at Amazon.com and could potentially earn 5% cash back. So, we suggest you always pay with your card to earn cash back, and then redeem your rewards through a different method.

The Benefits

The Discover it comes with a pretty good set of standard benefits, providing certain types of coverage when you shop and travel.

FICO® Credit Scorecard

Discover’s FICO® Credit Scorecard provides access to one of your free FICO credit scores online, along with alerts if it changes. Discover will use the FICO Score 8 from your TransUnion credit report.

Many issuers today will offer free access to one of your FICO credit scores, but if you don’t have another way to check your TransUnion score this card is a good option for that. Discover also includes quite a bit of advice and information about credit scores, breaking your score down by category and providing specific tips for improving it.

Discover’s FICO Credit Scorecard

Cash at Checkout

When shopping at participating locations, you can get cash back immediately by charging an additional amount over your purchase. There is no extra fee and this will be counted as part of your purchase, rather than as a cash advance.

You can get a maximum of $120 every 24 hours in this way. But individual stores will have their own cash back limits and in some cases they will charge a fee. Some examples are below.

Take note that you will not earn cash back rewards on any cash you get at checkout.

This is a great feature because it provides a way to get cash directly through your credit card without taking out a cash advance, which is pretty amazing if you’re familiar with the high interest rates that always accompany cash advances. Most credit card companies other than Discover do not provide this option.

There are a few dozen participating stores, but they include:

ACME Dillons Dollar General Glenn’s Markets Kroger Meijer
Randall’s Sam’s Club Shop ‘n Save SuperValu Village Super Market Walmart

Although Safeway is listed as a participating merchant on Discover’s site, we were informed by Safeway that they no longer offer this cash at checkout service.

Here are some current cash back limits and fees:

Retailer Cash Back Limit Fee
Dillons $100 per purchase $3 for any amount over $100
Dollar General $40 per purchase $1.50
Kroger $100 per purchase $3 for any amount over $100
Meijer $50 per person, per day None
Sam’s Club $100 per purchase None
Walmart $100 per purchase None

Refer a Friend for a Statement Credit Bonus

As a cardholder, you can earn a statement credit bonus for referring friends to apply for Discover credit cards. You must send them the referral link you get from Discover, and they must use that link to apply.

If your friend is approved you will earn a $50 statement credit bonus. If your friend makes his first purchase within 3 months of opening the account, he will earn a $50 statement credit too.

You can refer a maximum of 10 friends per year, and your account must not be late on payments or over the credit limit to qualify for this benefit.

Other Benefits

These are the most interesting benefits of the Discover it card, but this list does not cover everything it offers. There are also important account management and security benefits, like fraud protection, free social Security Number alerts, and the ability to quickly freeze your account to prevent new purchases. Read more about the benefits, and check the Guide to Benefits that comes with the card to learn what you have access to.

The Costs & Fees

Annual Fee Intro APR for Purchases and Balance Transfers Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR Cash Advance APR Foreign Transaction Fee
$0 0% for 14 months 14.24%–25.24% Variable 27.24% Variable None
Penalty APR Late Fee Returned Payment Fee
None $0 the first time; up to $37 after that Up to $37

There’s no annual fee required to use this card, and you’ll get a pretty long 0% introductory APR for both purchases and balance transfers. That makes this card a good choice if you want to pay off some large purchases over time at no interest, or transfer a balance away from a card with a high APR.

Discover has no foreign transaction fees on any of their cards, making them good options if you’re traveling outside the country. Most other cards will charge a fee of up to 3% on purchases when traveling abroad.

Discover is also quite forgiving when it comes to the penalty terms. Your first late payment fee will be waived as a courtesy, and there is no penalty APR to apply if you’re late on a payment or over-limit, like many other cards.

The Bottom Line

The Discover it is one of the more popular and rewarding credit card offers, with 5% cash back on categories that rotate every 3 months. This card gets a big boost too, since Discover’s Cashback Match will double the rewards you earn in your first year of use.

Being able to earn 10% back on select purchases and 2% back for every other purchase, all for no annual fee, is a great offer that you won’t find anywhere else.

The rewards you can earn are the main attraction with this card, but you’ll also get a pretty long 0% intro rate on purchases and balance transfers. The extra perks and benefits are decent but not spectacular, giving you a way to monitor one of your credit scores and some basic protections. The ability to get cash at checkout can be pretty handy, as long as you tend to shop at one of the participating retailers.

This is a nice card to have because Discover’s customer service is better than most. They consistently win or come in near the top of customer satisfaction surveys. Their representatives are typically friendly, and should be able to help with any questions or issues you have with your card. You can also download the Discover mobile app to keep track of your card and access the benefits and services.

The Discover it is a fairly simple card that many people find to be quite rewarding. Just keep an eye on the current 5% cash back category, and be sure to activate your rewards every quarter.

How to Apply for the Discover it Card

Want to apply for or learn more about the Discover it? Just click the Apply Now button below, and you’ll be taken to Discover to apply. They’ll check your credit reports from the major reporting bureaus when making their decision.

You are going to need relatively good credit to be approved.

Alternatives to the Discover it Card

 

The Discover it® Chrome (Review) is very much like the regular Discover it, with the only difference being that it has a different reward structure.

Instead of offering 5% cash back rotating categories, the Discover it Chrome offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, and 1% cash back everywhere else.

Discover will double the rewards you earn in the first year with this card as well. So for that initial year you’ll get 4% back on gas and at restaurants, and 2% back everywhere else.

Everything else about these cards is the same: no annual fees, the same 0% intro APR periods, the same extra perks and benefits. The only difference to consider here is the reward structure, but that means these cards could actually be used together quite effectively.

Just use the Discover it whenever you’ll earn 5% cash back, and use the Discover it Chrome for gas and at restaurants. But take note that sometimes the Discover it will provide its 5% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, so you will want to use it on those occasions.

 

The Chase Freedom® (Review) has no annual fee and offers 5% cash back categories that switch throughout the year, just like the Discover it card. However, the types of purchases you’ll earn 5% back on will be different between these cards.

Here are the recent 5% cash back bonus categories, plus the 2019 categories up to the third quarter:

QUARTER 5% CASH BACK CATEGORY
2018: October – December Department Stores, Wholesale Clubs, Chase Pay
2019: January – March  Gas Stations, Tolls, Drugstores
2019: April – June Grocery Stores, Home Improvement Stores
2019: July – September Gas Stations, Streaming Services (includes Netflix, Hulu, Sling, Vudu, FuboTV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora and Spotify)

As you can see there is quite a bit of overlap between these cards, in many cases offering the same categories in the same months. These categories are subject to change from year to year, and there is no guarantee of what categories you might get in the future. But you probably would never need to use both of these cards at the same time, overall.

You’ll need to activate your 5% cash back categories with the Chase Freedom just like the Discover it, but in this case the Freedom card has the advantage. Even if you forget to activate your rewards until the quarter is almost over, Chase will retroactively apply that 5% cash back to all the eligible purchases you previously made. This is a great feature in case you forget to activate. But with the Discover card you will only earn 5% back after you activate the category, and there is no forgiveness if you forget to activate. So you could potentially miss out on your rewards with the Discover card.

Instead of doubling your rewards after the first year, the Chase Freedom’s signup bonus lets you earn $150 cash back for spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months. This is a pretty good offer compared to most reward cards, which often require you to spend at least $1,000 for the signup offer. You would need to spend a minimum of $1,500 with the Discover it to earn that much cash back in your first year, when Discover will double your cash back to 10%.

The other card features are pretty comparable between the Chase Freedom and Discover it. The Freedom card has no annual fee, with a 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers before the 16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR kicks in. The extra benefits and protections are pretty much the same for both cards, but you won’t be able to check your credit scores with the Freedom card.

 

The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card (Review) is another popular reward card with no annual fee. Instead of offering rotating 5% cash back categories, this card gives you the ability to choose your 3% category each month:

  • 3% cash back in one category of your choice:
    • Gas
    • Online shopping
    • Dining
    • Travel
    • Drugstores
    • Home improvement/furnishings stores
  • 2% cash back at:
    • Grocery stores
    • Wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

The 3% and 2% categories are limited to the first $2,500 spent per quarter; after that you’ll earn 1% back in those categories.

The Bank of America card also provides a $200 cash rewards signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, which is a pretty good offer. To earn that much with the Discover it in your first year you’d have to spend a minimum of $2,000 when Discover will double your cash back to 10%.

One of the main differences between these cards is that the Cash Rewards card will add a 10% bonus to your cash back if you redeem it into a Bank of America checking or savings account. This can add up to quite a bit over time, and is a feature that most cards don’t have. This bonus can be increased to 25%–75% for Bank of America Preferred Rewards members, which requires having at least $20,000 in combined balances at Bank of America. This could mean some big increases in rewards for Bank of America clients.

The other benefits are pretty similar between these cards, both coming with basic shopping and travel protections. Each card allows you to access your FICO 8 Credit Score for free whenever you want. They both come from your TransUnion credit report so there is no difference there. The Cash Rewards card does not allow you to get cash at checkout like the Discover card.

The primary difference between these cards is how they offer rewards: either on a rotating schedule or not. Since they offer their cash back for different types of purchases, you could use them together in combination. Use your Cash Rewards card for gas, groceries, and at wholesale clubs, and use the Discover it whenever you’ll get the 5% cash back. Take note that sometimes the reward categories will overlap, and at those times it will be best to use the Discover it at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and eligible online merchants, including Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Uber, and Lyft.

 

Unlike the other cards on our list, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (Review) comes with an annual fee of $95 (Rates & Fees).

But for that price you’ll be able to earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, making this one of the best credit cards for grocery shopping. That applies to the first $6,000 you spend each year, then you’ll earn 1% on that category for the rest of the year. You’ll also reap rewards in a few other categories:

  • 6% cash back for:
    • U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000, then 1%)
    • Select U.S. streaming services
  • 3% cash back for:
    • U.S. gas stations
    • Transit
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Introductory bonus: $250 statement credit for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months

The Discover it provides a potential 10% cash back at grocery stores, but only during that first year when you’ll get double rewards, only during certain months out of the year, and only on the first $1,500 you spend on groceries in those months. Usually you can only expect to get grocery stores as a category for the Discover it for 3 months out of the year, and you’ll have a quarterly maximum too.

So each of these cards is a good option for buying groceries, but the Blue Cash Preferred gives you that 6% cash back throughout the entire year. That comes to a potential $360 cash back every year on groceries, with the $6,000 limit. The Discover it, providing 10% cash back on groceries for the first $1,500 you spend, can provide a maximum of $150 cash back for groceries in that first year. And after that first year you’ll only get the regular rate of 5% cash back on groceries, for a maximum of $75 cash back per year.

As you can see, the Blue Cash Preferred has the potential to be more rewarding when it comes to shopping at U.S. supermarkets. This is true even after you deduct the $95 annual fee from the cash back you’ll earn (Rates & Fees). When it comes to U.S. supermarkets it’s a more convenient option in most cases, because people usually buy groceries year-round, not just a few months out of the year.

In addition to the possible 6% cash back you’ll earn at U.S. supermarkets and on streaming subscriptions, you’ll also get 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, along with 1% back everywhere else. You’ll also have access to extra discounts and deals at specific retailers through Amex Offers. These features let you earn even more cash back than described above, making the Blue Cash Preferred even more competitive.

American Express is the only company to beat Discover in recent years when it comes to customer service, winning in 2017. Their scores are pretty close, however, so you can expect to get great customer support from their representatives compared to other credit card companies.

These are both good reward cards but you don’t have to choose just one or the other. You could use them both, using the Discover it whenever you can get 5% cash back, except for U.S. supermarkets. Just remember to use your Discover card when you’ll get 10% back for groceries during your first year. This will let you earn rewards at a pretty high rate on a variety of purchases all year long, while only paying one annual fee.

There is another version of the Blue Cash card with no annual fee, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (Review). It provides 3% cash back for U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%) and 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. If you don’t spend as much on groceries every year, this could be a better option than the Blue Cash Preferred.

Not the card for you? Learn much more about rewards credit cards and see our picks for the best ones!

If you use the Discover it credit card, how do you like it? Leave your own review of the Discover it card, we’d love to hear from you!

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For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.

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