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Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it chrome

Summary

The Discover it Cash Back and Discover it chrome are both good cash back cards that appeal to different types of cardholders. But instead of deciding which card is best for you, why not get both?

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On the surface, the Discover it® Cash Back 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 Cash Back 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 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 Cash Back vs. Discover it chrome

Discover it
Discover it Cash Back
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 bonusDouble all your cash back at the end of the card’s first yearDouble 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 Cash Back overview

The Discover it Cash Back is a good no-annual-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 matches all your cash back in the first year of membership. That means, for new card members, that 5 percent category bonus is essentially 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 matches 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 2019

WinterSpringSummerHoliday
January – MarchApril – JuneJuly – SeptemberOctober – December
  • Grocery stores
  • Gas stations
  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • Restaurants
  • Amazon.com

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 Cash Back, 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 has the same cash match bonus as the Discover it Cash Back, which raises your cash back rate on gas and restaurant purchases to essentially 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 is the better choice. As mentioned – though the Discover it Cash Back 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 Cash Back estimated cash back ($15,900 yearly spend)

Discover itAverage rewards rateEstimated cash back first yearEstimated 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 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 Cash Back. 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 chromeAverage rewards rateEstimated cash back first yearEstimated 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 Cash Back 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 Cash Back for its 5 percent bonus categories and rotate in the Discover it chrome the rest of the time, including when gas and restaurant purchases are out of season for the Discover it Cash Back, 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 $89 more than our estimate for the Discover it Cash Back by itself.

Discover it Cash Back and Discover it chrome combined estimated cash back

Average rewards rateEstimated 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 Cash Back 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 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 Cash Back. 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 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 Chase Sapphire 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 Cash Back, there are a slew of cash back cards that can complement the Discover it Cash Back and offer a much higher rate of cash back than the Discover it chrome.

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, for instance, offers a 3 percent cash back rate on U.S. supermarket purchases with a very high cap of $6,000 per year (1 percent thereafter), 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.

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 – 1 percent when you make the purchase and 1 percent when you pay your statement on time.

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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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: June 12th, 2019
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15.61%
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