How to maximize Discover it Cash Back’s benefits

The Discover it Cash Back card can offer a lot of value – especially if you know how to get the most out of what it offers


If you have this popular cash back card from Discover, you need to do these four things.

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The Discover it® Cash Back is a no-annual-fee rewards credit card that can earn you high amounts of cash back. But as with any card, it yields the best results when you use it strategically. Considering the card offers 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories (up to $1,500 in spending per quarter after activation, then 1%), the strategy may require some extra thought.

Read on to learn how to maximize the benefits of the Discover It Cash Back and ensure you use this card to its full potential.

Plan out your spending

The Discover it Cash Back isn’t the only cash back credit card on the market offering 5% back in rotating categories. The Chase Freedom Flex℠, for instance, is another popular 5% cash back card with a similar rewards structure.

One of the main differences is that Chase only announces its bonus categories one quarter at a time, offering an element of surprise. With the Discover it Cash Back, you know the categories before the year even begins, which allows you to plan out your spending in advance and maximize cash back.

Discover it Cash Back calendar 2021

Winter (January – March)Grocery stores
Spring (April – June)Gas stations
Select streaming services
Wholesale clubs
Summer (July – September)Restaurants
Holiday (October – December)

For example, based on the 2021 calendar, you would want to do all your grocery shopping with the Discover it Cash Back in the first quarter, put all your streaming subscriptions on the card in the second, make it your go-to dining card in the third and use it for holiday shopping online in the fourth. You’d plan out the rest of the categories the same way.

Use the card for general purchases in the first year

While it’s ideal to reach the maximum spend, normally you shouldn’t go past it if you have a different card that would earn you more than 1% in the category.

Let’s say it’s the third quarter and you’ve met the maximum spend. Your dining spending on the Discover it Cash back now only earns 1% back. But you also have the American Express® Gold Card, which earns 4 points per dollar on dining, so it’s time to use this card in restaurants. Or maybe you have a flat-rate cash back card such as the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which earns 1.5% back on all purchases. It’s a better return than just 1%, and it makes sense to use it after you’ve maximized the Discover bonus categories.

The only exclusion would be your first year with the Discover it Cash Back. Through Cashback Match, Discover matches all the cash you earned with the card at the end of your first year. So, unless you have a card that earns more than 2% or 2 points in any category, the Discover it Cash Back can be your go-to card for all general purchases for the first year.

For example, in the same scenario we’ve looked at above, you’d still switch to the Amex Gold for dining purchases since 4 points per dollar is a higher rate than 2% cash back. The Capital One Quicksilver, however, would have to wait until you’d have had your Discover it Cash Back for a year since 2%, in the long run, is arguably better than 1.5% right now.

Remember to activate the bonus categories

Spending in quarterly bonus categories won’t bring you any extra cash back if you forget to activate them. It’s a small but important detail.

Discover will send you email reminders and provide plenty of time to activate. Activation starts two months before the category opens. For example, the third quarter starts July 1, but you can activate its bonus categories starting May 1.

Look out for special offers

To make sure you’re not missing any opportunities to save, keep an eye on special offers from Discover. The issuer typically sends you an email if you’re targeted.

For example, Discover often offers discounts on Amazon. We’ve seen offers including $50 off a $150 purchase if you use at least $1 of your earned cash back, 40% off on up to $50 in purchases, 20% off on eligible tech products and more.

Note that you can seamlessly use your cash back to pay for your purchases on Amazon – just make sure you add the Discover it Cash Back to your account.

Bottom line

The Discover it Cash Back offers abundant opportunities to earn rewards, but getting the most out of this card requires putting some thought into your spending. If you don’t mind a bit of work planning your credit card strategy, you can easily earn hundreds of dollars in cash back and savings with this card every year.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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