Table of Contents In this article

Why You Can Trust CNET Money

CNET Money’s mission is to help you maximize your financial potential. Our recommendations are based on our editors’ independent research and analysis, and we continuously update our content to reflect current partner offers. How we rate credit cards
Advertiser Disclosure

CNET editors independently choose every product and service we cover. Though we can’t review every available financial company or offer, we strive to make comprehensive, rigorous comparisons in order to highlight the best of them. For many of these products and services, we earn a commission. The compensation we receive may impact how products and links appear on our site.

Discover it Cash Back: Rotating Rewards and a Great Welcome Bonus

The Discover it Cash Back has a rotating rewards program and a strong welcome bonus.

Discover it® Cash Back

7.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards

At a glance

The no-annual-fee Discover it® Cash Back* is a great card for general spenders. You’ll earn strong rewards (especially for your first year with the card) for purchase types that change quarterly. There aren’t many additional card perks, so its main draw is its cash-back capabilities.

CNET’S PICK
Discover it® Cash Back
Learn More

Discover it® Cash Back

7.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
Cashback Match™ Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
Annual fee
$0
APR
17.24% – 28.24% Variable APR
Rewards rate
1% – 5% Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.; Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Rewards Rate
5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our take

The Discover it® Cash Back will reward you for a variety of different purchases. It offers a higher cash-back rate than most no-annual-fee credit cards, but it does have a quarterly spending cap of $1,500 before rewards fall from 5% upon activation to 1%. That makes it a good pairing for a flat-rate cash-back credit card with no spending limit or annual fee.

It has one of the best welcome bonuses on the market too, since Discover will match all of the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. This can be particularly valuable if its rotating categories align with your everyday spending habits. Through the end of March, you can earn 5% back at restaurants and drug stores upon activation (on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%).

This card doesn’t have many additional perks, but that’s typical for a card without an annual fee. Here’s what else you should know about the Discover it Cash Back.

Pros

  • No annual fee

  • High rewards

  • Great welcome bonus

  • Introductory APR offer

  • Wide breadth of rewards categories

Cons

  • Low quarterly spending cap

  • You have to activate the rewards categories each quarter

  • Few extra benefits

  • You’ll need to track your spending to get the most out of this card

Rewards and rotating category

While you earn a modest 1% cash back on all purchases with the Discover it® Cash Back, the real attraction is the 5% rotating category up to the quarterly maximum. The category changes on a quarterly basis -- each rotation lasts three months -- but you have to manually activate that quarter’s category to earn rewards. You won’t earn rewards retroactively if you wait until after the quarter has begun, so it’s best to activate the categories in advance. 

Here are the categories for 2024. For each bonus category, you can only earn 5% cash back on the first applicable $1,500 spent each quarter. After that you’ll earn the standard 1%.

  • January through March: Restaurants and drug stores
  • April through June: Announcing on March 1
  • July through September: Announcing on June 1
  • October through December: Announcing on September 1

Given the high cost of everyday items and inflation affecting grocery costs, this card can help lower your expenses thanks to its strong rewards rate.

Welcome bonus

The Unlimited Cashback Match welcome bonus is certainly one of the most compelling features of this cash-back card -- it’s also a feature on all other Discover cards. At the end of your first year as an account holder, Discover will match all the cash back you earned, dollar for dollar.

As an example, if you earned $500 dollars in cash back in your first year between the rotating categories and the flat 1% rate for other purchases, Discover will post an additional $500 to your rewards account automatically at the end of your first year.

This can be really fruitful, because though your 5% earnings are limited by spending thresholds -- you can earn a maximum of $300 base cash back from the rotating bonus category per year -- the welcome bonus has no maximum threshold. So the 1% you earn on all other purchases will continue to accrue a dollar-for-dollar match throughout the first year. You’ll just need a little patience to collect your earnings.

Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers

This card may be a good option for you if you’re looking to finance a large purchase or make a balance transfer. You’ll get 15 months of 0% introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers, then 17.24% to 28.24% variable depending on your creditworthiness. 

Most balance transfer cards give you a 30 to 120 day window for the balance transfer to post, but Discover designates specific dates by which your transfer must post. Be sure to check the fine print when you are approved as the date changes throughout the year. Typically, you want to allow at least two weeks of wiggle room for a balance transfer to post to your account once initiated.

The balance transfer fee also increases from 3% to 5% after the deadline for the promotional APR. The standard balance transfer fee across most credit cards is 3%, so if you’re not planning to take advantage of the promotional offer, you’d probably be better off with a different card. 

Choose your own design

As if the Discover it® Cash Back wasn’t novel enough, this is one of the few cards on the market that gives you some options when it comes to your card’s presentation. You can pick from more than 20 available designs. The designs range from cards of various solid colors, to real life images, to your initials.

Alternative cards

Citi Custom Cash® Card

The Citi Custom Cash® Card is comparable with a fluid 5% cash-back category -- you’ll earn 5% on your highest eligible spend category on up to $500 in purchases per billing cycle (then 1%). The spending threshold for this category is analogous to that of Discover’s ($1,500) over the quarter. The Custom Cash makes earning rewards a bit simpler -- the 5% is automatically applied after each billing cycle, with no manual activation required.

Eligible categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment. And you earn a comparable 1% on all other purchases. You’ll get a similar introductory APR as well -- but the welcome bonus takes a different form at $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases within the first six months of opening your account (fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back).

See our full review of the Citi Custom Cash Card for more details.

U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card has an even more flexible setup, though the eligible categories themselves are less broad than the typical “groceries” and “gas” categories. You’ll earn 5% cash back on your first eligible $2,000 spent in combined purchases over a quarter within your two categories of your choice. The 5% categories range from fast food to home utilities to movie theaters, so this card is a little more niche and may work better as a supplement to the Discover it® Cash Back card, rather than a substitute. 

But this drawback isn’t completely lost on U.S. Bank: You’ll also earn 2% cash back on your choice of an “everyday” category, which includes grocery stores, gas stations and EV charging stations, and restaurants. You’ll earn 1% on all other eligible purchases. This card also offers an introductory APR and welcome bonus. You can earn $200 rewards after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening.

How the Discover it® Cash Back compares to other cards

CNET’S PICK
Discover it® Cash Back
Learn More

Discover it® Cash Back

7.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
Cashback Match™ Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
Annual fee
$0
APR
17.24% – 28.24% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 15 months
Rewards rate
1% – 5% Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.; Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Apply Now

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

9.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$200 cash rewards Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months. Select “Apply Now” to take advantage of this specific offer and learn more about product features, terms and conditions.
Annual fee
$0
APR
20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening
Rewards rate
2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Apply Now
On Wells Fargo’s secure website
Citi Custom Cash® Card
Apply Now

Citi Custom Cash® Card

7.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$200 Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $1500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
Annual fee
$0
APR
19.24% – 29.24% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 15 months on purchases
Rewards rate
1% – 5% Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter.; Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Apply Now
On Citi’s secure website

FAQs

Cash-back credit cards offer cardholders rewards on their spending in the form of statement credits or cash. A statement credit is a reduction in the amount due to the credit card company on your monthly bill. Note that rewards are not always available the month you earn them -- they are usually applied to your balance by credit card issuers after one or two billing cycles.

The redemption process for cash-back credit cards is either automatic or very simple. Some cards automatically apply cash rewards to your statement balance each month. Others require you to log in and redeem available rewards points for statement credits. Most points don’t expire, but you will lose them if you close the account before redeeming them.

Cash-back credit cards generally fall into four primary categories: flat-rate, tiered, rotating or choose your own.

Flat-rate cards offer the same rate for every purchase. Tiered cards offer a different rewards rate for different categories of spending. Rotating category cards offer different rewards each quarter, determined by the card issuer. Choose-your-own category cards allow you to choose your rewards category.

To choose the best cash-back credit card for you, the most important thing is to have a clear idea of how you’re already spending money each month. Once you identify the categories where you have the highest, most consistent spending, use the charts in our list to determine which card will net you the highest return. Consider other features of the cards, too, such as APR, sign-on bonuses and foreign transaction fees -- make sure you get something that fits with your lifestyle and spending habits.

Your credit card choice may also be affected by your credit score. Most of the cards we recommend require a good or excellent credit score, which is typically around 670 or higher. If you don’t meet the credit criteria required, there are credit cards available that are specifically for those trying to rebuild credit, like secured credit cards.

Methodology

We review the cards that are in the highest demand and offer the best benefits. We scour the fine print so there aren’t any surprises when you open an account. We find the key factors that make a card stand out and compare them with other top cards. That way, readers can opt for a different card with similar features if our pick isn’t right for them. Our reviews are regularly checked and updated to incorporate new recommendations, as well as to reflect changes in offers and the market.

*All information about the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Jaclyn is a CNET Money editor who relishes the sweet spot between numbers and words. With responsibility for overseeing CNET's credit card coverage, she writes and edits news, reviews and advice. She has experience covering business, personal finance and economics, and previously managed contracts and investments as a real estate agent. Her tech interests include Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and Neuralink.