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Rotating Category Bonuses With No Annual Fee

The Discover it® Cash Back card is a mainstay among top cash-back credit cards. Its rotating bonus categories give cardholders the chance to maximize rewards on everyday purchases, and the first-year Cashback Match offers the chance to earn far more than a traditional cash-back credit card sign-up bonus.

At the same time, there are instances where the Discover it Cash Back card might not be the best option. Here’s what you need to know to make a decision for yourself.

The Discover it Cash Back card offers a great way to maximize your rewards on select spending categories, and those categories change every three months, giving you the chance to rack up cash back in different areas of your budget.

The card offers 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories and 1% back on all other purchases. However, during the first year, you'll get the chance to double all the rewards you earn.

Sign-Up Bonus

The Discover it Cash Back card doesn't offer a traditional sign-up bonus. Instead of giving you a set amount after you meet a minimum spending threshold, Discover simply matches all the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardholder.

In other words, you'll get 10% cash back on the bonus categories that rotate quarterly and 2% back on everything else. Depending on how much you spend, you can easily rack up more cash back over 12 months than what you'd get with another card's sign-up bonus.

For comparison, most cash-back credit cards with sign-up bonuses offer $150 or $200. But if you can max out your 5% categories with the Discover it Cash Back card every quarter, that's an extra $300, or up to a quarterly maximum rewards amount of $75 on top of the $75 quarterly maximum you're already getting.

The only caveat is that Discover doesn't give you the Cashback Match until the end of the year. But that dollar-for-dollar match can be great for big spenders.

Rewards Rates

The Discover it Cash Back card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent quarterly in rotating bonus categories and 1% back on all other purchases. The bonus categories can encompass an actual spending category or a single merchant.

You need to activate your Cashback Bonus each quarter, but that's as easy as clicking on the button in your reminder email, logging in to your online account or calling 1-800-DISCOVER. 

The quarterly maximum rewards amount you can earn from the Cashback Bonus is $75.

How to Redeem Your Discover Cash Back

The card issuer offers a few different ways you can redeem your cash back. For direct cash back, you can request to have cash deposited into your bank account or receive a statement credit on your card account. 

Alternatively, you can use your rewards to shop online at or via PayPal, buy gift cards or donate your cash back rewards to charity.

If you use your rewards to buy gift cards, Discover will give you up to 20% more value, depending on the merchant. For example, you may only need to redeem $20 in cash back to get a $25 gift card.

Intro APR

This Discover card offers an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers. 

You can use the promotional intro APR on purchases to make a large purchase and pay it off interest-free over time. You can also use the promotion to make and pay down a balance transfer from another credit card.

One thing to note, however, is the balance transfer fee. For the first three months or so, there's an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of the transfer amount. On future balance transfers, the balance transfer fee is 5%.

Like other intro APR offers, this card's promotion is a true 0% APR offer. In other words, if you don't pay off your balance before the promotional period ends, you'll only have to pay interest on the remaining balance. 

Note that there's another version of the Discover it that offers a longer balance transfer promotion, albeit at the expense of the intro APR on purchases, which is shorter.

Regular APR

Once the intro APR promotional period ends, the regular APR on the Discover it Cash Back card will be variable, determined by your creditworthiness. The fact that it's a variable APR means that your rate can fluctuate with market rates.

Fees: Annual Fee, Foreign Transaction Fee and Other Costs

The Discover it Cash Back card doesn't charge an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee. It's fairly standard for a cash-back credit card not to charge an annual fee, but most charge foreign transaction fees.

The only catch is that Discover cards aren't widely accepted outside of the United States. So even if you don't have to pay a fee for purchases made abroad, you may have a hard time finding different places to use your card.

There's no late payment fee the first time you're late, but there is a $40 fee on subsequent late payments. There's also a $40 returned payment fee, as well as a 5% cash advance fee, with a $10 minimum.

Discover it Cash Back Card Benefits

Discover doesn't really offer many ancillary card benefits that stand out. In fact, most of the benefits you'd get with this card are available on most other cards. Some of the benefits Discover lists include:

  • Zero-liability fraud protection
  • Free FICO credit score access
  • Spend analyzer
  • Dashboard for recurring charges
  • Contactless payments
  • Ability to freeze your card
  • U.S.-based customer service

One benefit that's relatively unique is the Social Security number alert. The card issuer will notify you if your Social Security number has been found on any of thousands of websites on the dark web. If you receive such an alert, it means that someone may try to steal your identity, so you can take steps to protect yourself, such as freezing your credit or adding fraud alerts to your credit reports.

Discover it Cash Back vs. Chase Freedom FlexSM

The Discover it Cash Back card is one of two major credit cards that offer quarterly rotating rewards. The Chase Freedom Flex also offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent quarterly at different places or categories. 

As previously mentioned, the Chase Freedom Flex doesn't announce bonus categories for the full year, instead opting to unveil the next quarter's categories one at a time.

This can be frustrating for people who are considering the Chase Freedom Flex but aren't sure if the categories will be a good fit for their spending. The good news is that while not identical, both the Discover it Cash Back card and Chase Freedom Flex offer similar enough categories to make that less of an issue.

For new cardholders, the Freedom Flex offers a one-time $200 bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months, as well as 5% cash back on up to $6,000 in gas station purchases during the first year. Depending on how soon you want a sign-up bonus, this could be a better option than Discover's Cashback Match. 

The Chase Freedom Flex's other rewards rates also give it an advantage over the Discover card. Rates include 5% back on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back at drugstores and on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, and 1% back on non-bonus spending. 

Finally, if you have the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you can transfer rewards earned with your Freedom Flex to your travel card and get more flexibility and value with your redemptions. Neither card charges an annual fee, but the Freedom Flex does charge a foreign transaction fee.

Discover it Cash Back vs. Citi® Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card, from our partner Citi, is a flat-rate cash-back credit card that offers 2% cash back on all of your purchases—that's 1% back as you make a purchase and another 1% back as you pay it off.

The card also offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, although it doesn't offer a similar promotion for new purchases. The intro balance transfer fee is 3% for the first four months, then it's 5% on future balance transfers. There's a $5 minimum fee.

Unlike the Discover it Cash Back card, the Citi Double Cash Card doesn't offer any kind of introductory cash-back bonus. And again, the Cashback Match ensures that you effectively earn at least 2% back on all of your purchases during the first year.

After the first year, though, it wouldn't hurt to use both cards in tandem to ensure that you're maximizing your rewards. You can use the Discover it Cash Back card for its 5% Cashback Bonus categories and the Citi Double Cash Card for all other purchases.

Both cards have no annual fee, but the Citi Double Cash Card does charge a foreign transaction fee.

Is the Discover it Cash Back Card Right For You?

The Discover it Cash Back card is an excellent option if you want a straight cash-back credit card with the chance to earn higher rewards on everyday purchases in its bonus categories. 

If your spending generally aligns with the quarterly categories the lender lists for the current year, it can be a solid choice. Additionally, during the first year, Discover's Cashback Match makes it worth using this card for just about all of your purchases.

That said, after that first year, it's likely a good idea to get another card, such as the Citi Double Cash Card or the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for all of your non-bonus spending. That way, you can ensure that you're always earning more than a measly 1% back. 

That said, the Discover it Cash Back card isn't a great card to take with you on a trip abroad, even with the fact that there's no foreign transaction fee. If you want the card, plan to have a Visa or Mastercard backup in case you can't use your Discover card.

Before you apply for the Discover it Cash Back card, make sure you take some time to research and compare other cards. In addition to the rewards program, you'll also want to consider the new-cardholder bonus, intro APR promotions and other features. There's no credit card out there that's the best for everyone, so it's important for you to know what you want in a card and which one will best suit your needs.

Regardless of which card you choose, it's always a good idea to consider using multiple credit cards to maximize your rewards and other value you can get from different credit cards.


Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and credit card expert. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and worked in financial planning, banking and auto finance before writing full-time for NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero. Ben is now a full-time freelance writer and enjoys traveling and spending time with his two kids. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, Success and Slickdeals.