Discover it versus Discover it chrome

Which card is best for you?

Discover it versus Discover it chrome

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On the surface, the Discover it and Discover it chrome cards look the same – they have the same simple exterior with the words “Discover it” emblazoned across the front.

However, the cards have a very different structure to their cash back programs. The Discover it card is a rotating categories card that offers a 5 percent bonus on a different category each quarter that you must enroll in. The Discover it chrome card is a gas and restaurant card – it offers the same 2 percent bonus on restaurant and gas purchases throughout the year, with no rotating categories to enroll in.

They’re both good cash back cards that offer their own unique advantages and appeal to different types of cardholders. However, our response to the question “which card is best” is to offer an additional question: Why not get both?

Using the cards together can yield even more cash back. Read on to see why:

DISCOVER IT VERSUS DISCOVER IT CHROME
  Discover it
Discover it
Discover it chrome
Discover it chrome
Rewards rate
  • 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories (up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter when you activate)
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • 2% cash back on restaurant and gas station purchases (up to $1,000 in spending per quarter)
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
Sign-up bonus
Double all your cash back at the end of the card’s first year Double all your cash back at the end of the card’s first year
Annual fee
$0 $0
Average yearly value over three years ($15,900 spend. Includes sign-up bonus) $229 $273
Pros
  • No annual fee
  • High 5% rate on rotating categories
  • Large sign-up bonus that increases as you spend more
  • No annual fee
  • Bonus on two very rewarding categories: gas and restaurant purchases
  • Large sign-up bonus that increases as you spend more
Cons
  • Requires enrolling in and keeping track of rotating categories
  • $1,500 spending limit on 5% cash back per quarter
  • Not great as a standalone card – for a typical cardholder’s spending patterns, the overall rewards rate on the card is low
  • $1,000 spending limit on gas and restaurant bonus each quarter
Who should get this card?
  • Rewards maximizers who like to juggle multiple cards and don’t mind a bit of maintenance
  • Cardholders who want to earn a bonus on restaurant and gas purchases
  • Cardholders who want a simple card that doesn’t require maintenance

Discover it overview

The Discover it Cash Rewards card is a good no-fee cash back card with a generous 5 percent bonus rate for quarterly rotating categories. The card requires a bit of maintenance, since you must remember to activate the categories at the beginning of each quarter to earn the 5 percent bonus. Cardholders who are willing to go that extra mile will be paid off with substantial earnings on very lucrative categories such as gas station and restaurant purchases. The best part: The card doubles all your cash back in the first year of membership. That means, for new card members, that 5 percent category bonus is actually a 10 percent bonus.

Upsides: 5 percent rotating bonus on popular categories such as gas stations and restaurants and a generous sign-up bonus that doubles all your cash back in the first year.

Downsides: You have to remember to activate the categories each quarter, so this is not a card for people who prefer simplicity.  Also – when we look at how much an average consumer spends in each of the bonus categories and average that out with spending under the 1 percent rate – the overall cash back rate on the card is low. In other words, for most consumers, the card is not ideal as a standalone card.

DISCOVER 5 PERCENT CASH BACK CALENDAR 2017*
January - March
Gas stations, ground transportation and wholesale clubs
April - June
Home improvement stores and wholesale clubs
July - September
Restaurants
October - December
Amazon.com and Target

*Up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter

Discover it chrome overview

The chrome card offers a 2 percent cash back bonus on restaurant and gas station purchases, making it an ideal card for nights out and weekend road trips. Unlike the Discover it card, the restaurant and gas categories on the chrome card remain the same throughout the year, so you don’t have to worry about activating them. The Discover it chrome card has the same cash match bonus as the Discover it card, which raises your cash back rate on gas and restaurant purchases to 4 percent in the first year.

Upsides: Simplicity. Since the card offers bonuses in categories where people tend to spend a lot of money – restaurants and gas – you can stick to using this as a general card for all your purchases without having to worry about juggling cards or managing rotating categories. And, the cash match bonus makes it an especially strong card for gas and restaurant purchases for the first year.

Downsides: The card caps its bonus categories at $1,000 in purchases per quarter – that’s a fairly low cap, which we estimate most cardholders could easily hit with their gas and restaurant purchases. And, while the card’s 2 percent cash back on restaurants and gas is nice, we warrant that you can find cards with even bigger bonuses on these categories with higher spending limits, as well as cards that offer unlimited 2 percent cash back on all your spending.  

Best for someone who wants to put all their spending on one card: Discover it chrome

For cardholders who prefer one easy card that they can use for all their spending, the Discover it chrome card is the better choice. As mentioned – though the Discover it card offers a large 5 percent bonus on certain categories of spending, when we look at the percentage that the average consumer spends in those categories averaged out over four quarters, the overall rewards rate on the card is low.

We estimate that the average cardholder can earn 1.1 percent back with this card, for an average of $175 cash back per year (note, your rewards rate may be higher if you tend to spend more than average in the rotating categories):

DISCOVER IT ESTIMATED CASH BACK ($15,900 yearly spend)
Discover it Average rewards rate Estimated cash back first year Estimated cash back second year ($15,900 spend)
  • 5% rotating categories: gas stations, transportation, restaurants, wholesale clubs, department stores, drug stores (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 1% other purchases
1.1% $349.80 $174.90

For the average consumer, the Discover it chrome card works much better as a standalone card. Since gas and restaurant purchases are two of the largest spending categories, the card’s overall rewards rate is high.

We estimate that the average cardholder can earn cash back at a rate of 1.29 percent per year, for an average of $205 per year -- $30 more than our estimate for the Discover it card. Plus, you don’t have to worry about dealing with rotating categories with the chrome card, which makes it a better choice for busy cardholders:

DISCOVER IT CHROME ESTIMATED CASH BACK ($15,900 yearly spend)
Discover it chrome Average rewards rate Estimated cash back first year Estimated cash back second year ($15,900 spend)
  • 2% gas and restaurant purchases (up to $1,000 per quarter)
  • 1% other purchases
1.29% $410.22 $205.11

Best for someone who wants to maximize rewards: Both cards

Actually, it’s not a matter of “either/or” with the Discover it and Discover it chrome cards. Since the bonus categories on the cards are, for the most part, complimentary, you can use both cards together to earn even more cash back. (Note: You must wait 12 months from when you were first approved to apply for a second Discover card.)

If you use the Discover it card for its 5 percent bonus categories and rotate in the Discover it chrome card the rest of the time, including when gas and restaurant purchases are out of season for the Discover it card, you can earn a much higher rewards rate. We estimate that the average cardholder can net a 1.66% rewards rate by juggling the cards, for an average of $264 cash back per year – that’s $80 more than our estimate for the Discover it card by itself.

DISCOVER IT AND DISCOVER IT CHROME COMBINED ESTIMATED CASH BACK
Average rewards rate Estimated cash back per year ($15,900 spend)
  • 5% rotating categories: gas stations, transportation, restaurants, wholesale clubs, department stores, drug stores (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 2% gas and restaurant purchases (up to $1,000 per quarter)
  • 1% other purchases
1.66% $263.94

How do other cash back cards compare?

The Discover it and Discover it chrome are good cash back cards from a company that values customer service and consistently scores near the top of J.D. Power rankings for customer satisfaction – that on its own may be sufficient reason to sign up for the cards. However, if you are trying to earn the most cash back possible, you should be aware that the Discover it cards have a lot of competition.

At the top of the totem are the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. The Chase Freedom card is a 5 percent rotating category card, nearly identical to the Discover it card. When paired with the Freedom Unlimited card – which offers a flat 1.5 percent cash back rate on every purchase – you can earn a much higher cash back rate than with the Discover it cards paired together, plus you can transfer the rewards that you earn on the cards to other Ultimate Rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards, to redeem for travel rewards. Basically, Chase cards are the ultimate cards for rewards maximizers.

Also, if you prefer the 5 percent rotating categories on the Discover it card, there are a slew of cash back cards that can complement the Discover it card and offer a much higher rate of cash back than the Discover it chrome card.

The Blue Cash Everyday card, for instance, offers a 3 percent cash back rate on U.S. grocery store with a very high cap of $6,000 per year, plus unlimited 2 percent cash back rate on U.S. gas station purchases, for an overall average rewards rate of 1.64 percent per year – much higher than the Discover it chrome’s 1.29 percent average rewards rate.

The Chase AARP card offers unlimited 3 percent cash back on restaurant and gas purchases. Or, if you prefer a card that’s sheerly dedicated to food purchases, you might try the Capital One Savor card, which offers unlimited 3 percent cash back on restaurants and 2 percent cash back on groceries.

Finally, if you are looking for the ultimate cash back card to use for all your spending, you should check out the Citi Double Cash card, which offers up to 2 percent cash back on every purchase – once when you make the purchase and once when you pay your statement on time.

COMPARING CASH BACK CARDS
  Credit card Bonus value Average rewards rate Average annual value ($15,900 yearly spend)
Discover it $159 1.09% $229
Discover it chrome $205 1.29% $273
Chase Freedom $175 1.13% $238
Chase Freedom Unlimited $175 1.5% $296
Blue Cash Everyday $150 1.64% $311
Blue Cash Preferred $200 2.51% $370
Chase AARP $200 1.58% $317
Capital One Savor $150 1.51% $290
Citi Double Cash N/A 2% $318
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa $206 1.5% $307

See related: Capital One Venture versus VentureOne: Which card is better?, Blue Cash Everyday versus Blue Cash Preferred: Which is best for you?

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we do receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy


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Updated: 11-22-2017