We compare the Capital One Quicksilver to the Discover it Cash Back card to help you decide whether rotating quarterly categories or a flat rate of cash back will be more rewarding.
Discover it Cash Back has rotating bonus categories. Discover’s cash back calendar usually includes categories such as groceries, gas and dining; these categories change every quarter and require activation. (You can earn 5% cash back on purchases in that category on up to $1,500 in purchases that quarter upon enrollment. After that, you’ll earn 1%. Non-bonus category purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back.)
Flat-rate cash back cards are simpler to use but will potentially earn less cash. Rotating-category cash back cards offer a higher return but require some work and may not align with your particular spending habits.
Since neither of these cards has an annual fee, you should come out on top using either one (as long as you pay your balance off every month to avoid interest charges). To determine which offer is right for you, you’ll need to dig deeper into the rewards structure and secondary card features.
See related: What is cash back?
Capital One Quicksilver vs. Discover it Cash Back
|Rewards rate||Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase|
|Sign-up bonus||$200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months||Cashback Match™ (all cash back earned at the end of your first year is matched)|
|Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend)||$288||$399 ($500 of monthly spend is on 5% bonus categories)|
|Who should get this card?|
A closer look
Capital One Quicksilver
Capital One’s Quicksilver card has long been popular in the flat-rate cash back category for many reasons – including the cash back you can earn is unlimited and you can redeem cash back in any amount at any time. Perhaps the greatest reason for Quicksilver’s popularity is its ability to fulfill several purposes:
- Collecting cash back. The Quicksilver offers an unlimited 1.5% on every purchase.
- Scoring a sign-up bonus. The Quicksilver offers new cardholders a $200 bonus after spending $500 in the first three months.
- Saving on purchase interest. If you would like to make a big purchase and gradually pay it off without accruing interest, you can take advantage of Quicksilver’s 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 15 months of card membership (14.99% to 24.99% variable APR thereafter).
Quicksilver can serve one or all of these purposes for you; it’s a smart choice for simple savers and savvy card-stackers alike.
Discover it Cash Back
Discover it Cash Back can lead to lucrative rewards, especially in year one. Discover is unique in that it matches all of the cash back you earn in your first year. So, if you max out the card’s bonus categories each quarter, you’ll have at least $300 by year’s end (which Discover would match for a grand total of $600).
It’s possible that any given quarterly bonus category may not align with your spending (they change every year), in which case it will be difficult to spend roughly $500 per month. Before you commit to this card, take a look at Discover’s 2021 calendar:
Discover 5% cash back calendar 2021
|Grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS|
Earn 5% cash back at grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS from Jan. 1-March 31, 2021, on up to $1,500 in purchases after activation
|Gas stations, Uber, Lyft, wholesale clubs|
Earn 5% cash back on gas station purchases, at wholesale clubs and on Uber and Lyft purchases from April 1-June 30, 2021, on up to $1,500 in purchases after activation.
|Restaurants and PayPal|
Earn 5% cash back at restaurants and PayPal from July 1-Sept. 30, 2021, on up to $1,500 in purchases after activation.
|Amazon.com, Target, and Walmart.com|
Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com through Dec. 31, 2021, on up to $1,500 in purchases after activation.
Since this credit card has no annual fee, there’s not really any pressure to max out its rewards or to spend more than you normally would. Although the potential for a $300 minimum return on bonus categories exists, keep in mind that many people will probably get disappointed by an irrelevant bonus category at some point in the year.
Note that the Discover it Cash Back also comes with an intro APR period for balance transfers and purchases. While Quicksilver gives you a 15-month 0% intro period on purchases (then a 14.99% to 24.99% variable APR), the Discover card offers a smaller 14-month 0% intro period (14 months, and 11.99% to 22.99% variable APR thereafter).
Best for people juggling multiple cards: Capital One Quicksilver
It may seem ironic that the credit card with the simpler rewards structure is better for savvy credit card users juggling multiple cards. The simple truth is this: It only makes sense to use this card (1.5% cash back) to improve upon the 1% cash back you’d earn with another card in non-bonus category spending. In essence: It’s a supplementary card.
People with multiple credit cards have most of their purchase categories (dining, travel, etc.) covered by higher-earning rewards cards. Yet, there are always a few expenses that fall through the cracks and yield only 1%. After all, most rewards cards don’t offer bonuses on things like haircuts, dry-cleaning or car washes. The mark of a savvy cardholder is earning better than 1% on every single purchase – that’s where the flat-rate card comes in.
Use Quicksilver to supplement the rewards you earn with other cards and you can virtually guarantee that at least 1.5% of every dollar you spend in a year will return to your wallet. Since Quicksilver has no annual fee, you can even use it as often or rarely as you like and still come out on top.
Best for people seeking a big first-year bonus: Discover it Cash Back
It’s no secret that Discover’s Cashback Match™ is a huge plus. By itself, it’s enough of a reason to get the card, especially since there’s no annual fee. Hypothetically, you could completely disregard the bonus categories, spend $1,000 per month and still receive a $240 first-year bonus, thanks to 1% earnings and Discover’s match. Obviously, this isn’t the best way to maximize your earnings and it won’t yield great returns after year one, but it demonstrates the value of Cashback Match™.
Maxing out the 5% quarterly bonuses (and spending no more) will result in $6,000 of yearly spend. That equates to $300 back and $600 in the first year (once Discover has matched it). Again, there’s no annual fee, so even if you aren’t fond of tracking bonuses and budgets, you can give it a shot without having to worry about a fee to recoup.
The long-term value of a cash back card with rotating bonus categories is debatable, but thanks to Discover’s unique intro bonus, the first-year value of its cash back card is pretty undeniable.
Which card should you choose?
Of course, there are folks in many subcategories of spending and not everyone will fall into one of the subsets described here. If we boil down the value of these two popular cash back cards, we can make some general conclusions that will help you define your own subcategory and select the card that’s right for you:
Capital One Quicksilver’s rewards are simple, multipurpose and reliable.
Discover it Cash Back’s rewards are lucrative, somewhat unpredictable and most valuable in the first year.
If you are a fan of cashback and want to make sure to maximize your earning potential on every purchase, you can also consider getting both cards. You can take advantage of Discover it Cash Back’s rotating category 5% bonus on specific purchases, while Quicksilver’s 1.5% can ensure that you’re earning more than 1% on the rest of your spend.