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Between a smaller portfolio and less premium credit card offerings, Discover doesn’t get the same attention as the big three card issuers (Amex, Chase and Citi). But if you’ve blown through your 5/24 slots with Chase, are a big spender looking for cash back or are working to build or repair your credit score, Discover might be a great choice. Today we’ll take a look at everything you need to know before applying for a Discover card, as well as the top cards from the issuer.
Before You Apply
Whether it’s 5/24 or Amex’s once-per-lifetime bonus policy, each card issuer has its own rules surrounding new applications, and Discover is no different. As of Doctor of Credit reports, you can have a maximum of two Discover cards, and your first account has to be open for at least a year before you can apply for a second. You can also only have one student card.
Referral bonuses are a great way to earn extra rewards when you help your friends and family pick out a new credit card. Discover offers a $50 statement credit each for you and your approved referral (after they make any purchase in the first 3 months), up to $500 per calendar year. Discover will also let you product-change to a different card, with the exception of the Discover it® Miles card. Unlike with other issuers, there doesn’t appear to be a minimum time your account must be open before you can product-change.
Discover Credit Cards
Before we talk about the differences between the various Discover it cards, let’s talk about their similarities. None of the Discover it cards have an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, which isn’t something you can always take for granted. More often than not, cards without annual fees charge foreign transaction fees, while those with an annual fee don’t. This makes Discover a great option for earning rewards at home and abroad without any type of financial commitment on your part.
All the Discover it cards also offer a similar introductory offer. Instead of a fixed amount of points or money after spending a certain amount, Discover will match all your cash back or miles earned during your first 12 months of card membership. This doubles your returns on everyday spending and makes any bonus categories twice as valuable for that first year.
Discover it® Cash Back
This card functions similarly to the popular Chase Freedom, in that it earns 5% back on your first $1,500 in purchases at rotating quarterly categories (upon enrollment). The categories for 2019 are switching to grocery stores in Q1, gas stations, Uber and Lyft in Q2, restaurants and Paypal in Q3 and Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com in Q4.
If you max out the $1,500 bonus category each quarter, you’ll earn $300 on the year, though that doubles to $600 in your first year with the cash-back match. After that, the card earns 1% on all other purchases.
With no redemption minimums to worry about, you can cash out your rewards at any time and get that money working for you again.
Discover also offers two other versions of the Discover it card with identical earning structures. One is the Discover it® Student Cash Back, which has one additional perk worth mentioning. For every school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher (up to 5 years), you can receive a $20 statement credit as a good grade reward. While that’s not a ton of money, if you’re a student it might be reason enough to pick the student version over the standard Discover it Cash Back card.
The other is the NHL® Discover it®. You’ll get access to the same 5% quarterly rotating categories and first year cash-back match, and for no additional cost you can get the logo of your favorite NHL team on the card. You’ll also get a 10% discount at the Shop.NHL.com when you use the code ITPAYS, and can save. 10% on your NHL.TV subscription when you use your Discover card.
This card earns an unlimited 1.5x “miles” on all purchases made, though don’t let the name fool you. These aren’t transferable miles like you’d earn with certain Chase or Amex cards; instead, they can be redeemed as a fixed-value travel eraser. Miles are worth 1 cent apiece.
You can redeem your miles for any travel purchase made on the card in the last 180 days. The terms and conditions list the following as eligible travel purchases:
- Airline tickets
- Hotel rooms
- Car rentals
- Travel agents
- Online travel sites
- Commuter transportation
Discover it® chrome
The Discover it chrome card is not especially competitive for those with established credit, as it only offers 2% at gas stations and restaurants on your first combined $1,000 spent each quarter. That doesn’t compare favorably to a card like the American Express® Gold Card, which offers 4x on dining, worth 8% back based on TPG’s valuations, but that card has a $250 annual fee compared to no fee on the Discover card.
Again, Discover offers two different cards that use this same earning structure which might be more useful to certain target audiences. The first is the Discover it® Student chrome, which offers the same $20-statement credit-a-year GPA incentive (3.0 or higher; up to 5 years) as the Discover it Student Cash Back and might be well suited to students with less established credit histories.
The other version is the Discover it® Secured, which is another great strategy to build credit, whether you’re young and just starting out or looking to move on from some dings to your credit report. After you’re approved and given a maximum possible credit line, you’ll pay a refundable security deposit as collateral. Your card’s credit limit will then equal the amount you chose to pay for the deposit. This allows Discover to issue a full credit card (not a debit or prepaid card) to people with less-than-perfect credit while minimizing risk.
Discover it® Business Card
This no-fee, no-frills business card offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. That’s not all that exciting by itself, but high-spending businesses can use the first-year cash-back match to earn 3% back on all their purchases without spending any extra time or effort on their card strategies. Discover also offers a number of management tools that businesses will appreciate, such as free employee cards and the ability to easily download your transactions into Quicken, QuickBooks and Excel.
With no cash or points sign-up bonuses, Discover cards probably shouldn’t be the first cards you add to your wallet. That being said, for people with poor or limited credit histories, the various student and secured cards Discover offers can be a great stepping stone to more rewarding transferable points cards. And on the flip side, experienced players can get great value here as well. Since there’s no cap on the first year cash-back match, high-spending individuals and businesses can score an incredible return on bonus categories and everyday spending, without jumping through as many hoops as some other cards require.
Know before you go.
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Set your own sign-up bonus with the Discover it Miles card. Any rewards you earn in the first year will automatically be matched at the end of the year and you'll earn an unlimited 1.5 miles on all purchases with no annual fee.
- Intro Offer: Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That's $700 towards travel!
- Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
- No Blackout Dates – fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
- Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
- Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
- Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
- See Rates & Fees