Life as a Discover it Cash Back cardholderUpdated: June 28, 2019

Last year, I wrote about my experience applying for and receiving the Discover it Cash Back credit card. It’s been a little over 12 months now, and as such, I wanted to write a follow-up post detailing what it’s been like in this first year with Discover. Sometimes the ads you see for credit cards can make the bonuses attached to them seem a little too good to be true, and it isn’t always easy to know whether you’re making the right choice.

As someone with decent but not excellent credit, I knew I wanted a card designed for people with my kind of credit that would let me earn a lot of cash back while also helping me keep a sharp eye on my finances as I worked to improve my credit scores, two things Discover it offered. The Cashback Match bonus was also attractive — after all, who doesn’t love bonuses? While it’s certainly exciting to get a new credit card and start using it, more important is how you feel about it down the road. Did my first year with Discover it Cash Back leave me wishing I could take it back or looking forward to another year (or more) of card membership? Stick with me to find out.

What does Discover it Cash Back offer?

Before I dig into the details of my first year owning this card, let’s go over the basics of what it has to offer. To start, Discover it Cash Back earns 5% cash back on purchases you make in special categories, which rotate every quarter (up to the quarterly maximum, currently $1,500, then you’ll earn 1%) and 1% cash back on everything else. Plus, after your first year, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned dollar-to-dollar, meaning if you’ve earned $200 cash back in the first year, Discover will match that for a total of $400 back. Next, this card offers cardholders a 14-month 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers (then the go-to variable rate applies) — with a 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms) — and no pesky annual fee or foreign transaction fees. A myriad of other cardholder perks include security features like Discover Freeze it, social security number protection and financial tracking tools.

What I like about owning this credit card

There’s a lot to like about the Discover it Cash Back card, but a few factors rose to the top for me.

It’s easy to earn and redeem rewards

As I already mentioned, the 5% bonus categories change every quarter, or every 3 months. During my first year, the categories spanned across a number of different areas, from ground transportation to to restaurants to home improvement stores. Discover helpfully provides access to a cashback calendar that lets you see what the upcoming categories will be, so you can plan for them. I knew I was moving in May, so I was able to hold off on making any purchases on supplies at a home improvement store until I’d activated for Q3 when that was a 5% category. You do have to activate the categories each quarter, but Discover reminds you to do so when you sign into your account online, and you can also request email reminders which arrive well ahead of time to ensure you get activated before the time to earn arrives.

Discover offers a myriad of ways to redeem the cash back that you earn, which I appreciated as someone who likes the freedom to do things my own way. Cash back becomes available at the end of each billing period, and once you have a balance available, no matter what amount, you can redeem it. Redemption options include cash (either deposited into your bank account or applied directly to your Discover statement); gift cards (you’ll get an added bonus of $5 or more added to each gift card you buy with your rewards); charitable donations to one from a selection of charities Discover has partnered with; and the ability to pay with your rewards when you check out at You can redeem for any amount, any time, and the only true limitations are with the gift cards, as those must be purchased in set amounts like $20.

The Cashback Match bonus is worth the wait

Most credit cards which offer intro bonuses stipulate a short time-frame for them, such as spending $1,000 in 3 months to earn $200. Discover, on the other hand, leaves your bonus earning potential up to you — something that intrigued me while also worried me. What if I didn’t earn enough cash back during the first year to make it worthwhile? However, as I noted above, it wasn’t much of a challenge to earn throughout the year. As my anniversary rolled around, Discover let me know on the front page of my account that I had earned a whopping $210 in cash back over the past 12 months, and told me the exact date it would be depositing another $210 into my cashback rewards account. In total, my first year as a Discover it Cash Back cardholder netted me $420 cash back. Even though I did not earn very much during certain quarters, I was still able to earn a solid bonus, and it’s coming right in time for the holidays — which is what I had hoped for last year when I decided to apply for this card. And while I am sad to be saying goodbye to this bonus, I’ll still be earning 5% cash back going forward whenever bonus categories align with my spending, making this a card I am totally pleased to use frequently.

Keeping track of my finances is a breeze

Both its website and app are user-friendly, especially when it comes to keeping track of your account activity. I can easily view the details of my recent transactions, as well as search across my entire transaction history, on the website to ensure that everything looks correct and I don’t have any suspicious or incorrect charges. The Account Alerts section of the site is incredibly robust, allowing me to set email or text message alerts for everything from when my payment is due to when my cashback bonus amount reaches a certain threshold. Most helpful for me is the ability to receive text alerts when a transaction over a specific amount is processed — not only is this a great way to spot potential fraud, but it also helps me reach my own personal financial goals to receive a reminder when I make a large purchase. Discover’s website also features a Spend Analyzer tool, which tracks my purchases in categories to show me how much I am spending on what within a certain time-frame. If you’re someone like me who sometimes wonders where your money is disappearing to, this is a handy feature.

Discover cares about its customers

I am not surprised that Discover has continuously ranked high in the J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Study year after year. Each time I have had to deal with customer service — such as the time I lost my wallet in an airport and had to request a replacement card — I’ve found them to be helpful and courteous. Even the people I have chatted with online have been great. In addition, the added security features like Freeze it, which lets me put a temporary hold on my card if it goes missing, and continuous monitoring of my social security number on malicious websites and Experian credit report for new accounts opened in my name help me feel like Discover has my back.

Are there downsides to owning this card?

No credit card is perfect, and there are some things that anyone considering this card should keep in mind that could turn out to be deal-breakers.

Rotating categories can be a gamble

While Discover does seem to choose its rotating cash back categories to align with the kinds of purchases people are likely to make throughout the year, the fact of the matter is that some categories just aren’t going to appeal to everyone. For example, I was unable to earn very much during the 2nd quarter of 2016 because the 5% categories were wholesale clubs and home improvement stores, two places I rarely shop. The few occasions I did visit a wholesale club during that time period, it was Costco, which doesn’t accept Discover. So, you have to weigh the pros and cons of owning a cash back credit card that doesn’t offer guaranteed cash back in set categories.

Your Cashback Match bonus is up to you

Another potential downside to the rotating categories is that you might find yourself unable to earn enough cash back in your first year to earn a significant Cashback Match bonus. There’s definitely some strategy required when it comes to using a credit card with rotating categories to maximize your cashback potential. My advice if you’re considering Discover it Cash Back is to look at the categories for the year, which are detailed in our Discover it Cash Back review and see if this year’s categories suit your spending habits and would make it worth your while.

Not everyone accepts Discover

Although it’s a major brand, it should be noted that not all merchants accept Discover cards. While I was able to use it 9 times or of 10, I always keep a backup payment card like my debit card just in case. Discover’s website cites the February 2017 issue of the Nilson Report as saying that 97% of merchants accept Discover cards, which I found to be pretty accurate. In fact, the only places where I wasn’t able to use my card were smaller mom and pop shops. That said, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with a lot of different stores and options, both big and small. If you live in a not-so-large area, you may be limited to using your card for online purchases.

It’s important to know what average credit means before you apply

Not everyone realizes what a credit card issuer means by average credit, and some people might apply for this card and get turned down despite thinking their credit scores are high enough. Discover it Cash Back is available to people with average to excellent credit, which is typically considered to be credit scores around or above 670. If your credit scores aren’t quite that high, you still have some excellent cash back credit card options, such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and lets you redeem your rewards in any amount at any time in the form of a statement credit, check or gift card. Note, though, that there is no 0% intro APR with this card, and it does charge a $39 annual fee. If you’re uncertain whether you qualify for Discover it Cash Back, your best bet is to contact the issuer directly and talk to someone about your potential for approval.

Would I recommend Discover it Cash Back to other people?

Bottom line, I am quite happy with my Discover it Cash Back credit card and would recommend it to anyone with average credit or better who is looking to earn significant cash back while enjoying a host of helpful financial and security cardholder perks. It’s a great card to own during the holidays, and if you apply now, you can work throughout the year to earn a handsome bonus just in time for the next holiday season. Learn more about this and other cash back credit cards by reading our credit card reviews.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.