Discover it Cash Back vs. Chrome: Cash Back Is More Polished

Two of Discover’s cash-back credit cards, the Discover it® Cash Back and the Discover it® Chrome, are kissing cousins. The cards have the same annual fee, sign-up bonus and intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers. A decision between the two cards, then, will likely be based on their distinct rewards structures. The Discover it® Cash Back is a rotating bonus category card, while the Discover it® Chrome primarily rewards gas and dining expenses.

Certainly, the Discover it® Chrome is a fine choice for people with lengthy car commutes and a preference for eating out rather than cooking at home. But if you work from home or use public transit to get most everywhere, the Discover it® Chrome isn’t a perfect fit. When the majority of your spending falls outside of gas and dining categories, opt for the Discover it® Cash Back.

Here’s how to decide between these two credit cards from Discover.

At a glance

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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.

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. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

  • 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter, up to the quarterly $1,500 maximum when you activate.

  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.

  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 17.24%-28.24% Variable APR.

0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 17.24%-28.24% Variable APR.

Why the Discover it® Cash Back is better for most people

Higher rewards rate

The Discover it® Cash Back has a bonus cash back rate of 5%, but the Discover it® Chrome tops out at 2%. For that simple reason, the Discover it® Cash Back card is the superior pick for most people. Cardholders can get 5% back on purchases in the bonus categories each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500. (After hitting the max, cardholders will earn 1%.) Better still, the bonus categories tend to reward cardholders for everyday spending on groceries and restaurants and at popular retailers such as Target and Amazon.

Here are the current bonus categories:

Discover bonus rewards categories for 2023

  • Select streaming services.

*The grocery stores category does not include grocery purchases at Walmart or Target or at other superstores or wholesale clubs.

🤓Nerdy Tip

In January 2023, for the first time in the past five years, Discover elected not to release its entire 5% bonus calendar. This meant cardholders had to wait for categories to be revealed quarterly. The release of the full year’s bonus calendar had been a distinctive feature, making it easier for cardholders to time their purchases. However, this move puts Discover in line with other 5% rotating bonus category cards such as the Chase Freedom Flex℠.

To get the 5% rate, cardholders must activate or opt-in to the bonus categories for each quarter, preferably before the new quarter begins because the 5% rate doesn’t apply retroactively. Say you opt-in to the bonus categories on July 10, nine days after the beginning of the quarter on July 1. Only purchases in those bonus categories made on or after July 10 will earn the 5% rate.

Cardholders may activate the bonus categories on Discover.com, via the reminder email sent by Discover, the mobile app, or by calling 800-347-2683.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Rewards redemptions are the same for Discover it® Cash Back and Discover it® Chrome. Rewards may be redeemed at any time for as little as 1 cent ($5 minimum for gift cards). Options include a statement credit, deposit to a checking or savings account, gift card, donation to select charities, or Pay with Cashback Bonus at participating merchants. Rewards for both cards do not expire as long as the account is in good standing.

Who might prefer the Discover it® Chrome

Heavy spending on gas and dining

Discover aptly markets the Discover it® Chrome as a “gas and restaurant credit card,” so if you tend to spend a lot in those areas, the Chrome card will reward you more consistently for those purchases than the Discover it® Cash Back.

Chrome cardholders will earn 2% back at gas stations and restaurants up to the combined quarterly cap of $1,000. Purchases beyond the $1,000 limit only earn 1% until the quarter resets. Also note that gas from supermarkets, supercenters and wholesale clubs may not qualify for the 2%.

Check out the earning potential of the Discover it® Cash Back vs. the Discover it® Chrome based on spending in the bonus categories. The numbers are based on the assumption that bonus categories are maxed out each quarter.

Cash back from one quarter

Cash back from all four quarters

Cash back match after one-year account anniversary

As you can see, the Discover it® Cash Back easily beats the Discover it® Chrome. While it’s unlikely that you’ll max out the bonus categories every quarter, the table nevertheless shows that picking the right card for your spending habits and aligning spending with the quarterly bonus categories can reap meaningful rewards.

Low maintenance rewards

Activation is not required to get 2% back on gas and dining out with the Discover it® Chrome, a major selling point for those who don’t want to keep track of quarterly bonus categories that change every year.

Which card should you get?

The Discover it® Cash Back gives big rewards for everyday spending, and that includes gas and restaurants, which are the only two bonus categories for the Discover it® Chrome. Given the rewards structures for the two cards, the Discover it® Chrome simply can’t compete with the earning potential of the Discover it® Cash Back. However, if you can’t be bothered with rotating bonus categories and activation deadlines, the Discover it® Chrome offers a simpler path to earning cash back.

Want to keep it simple but earn even more rewards? The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card earns 2% cash back on all purchases, no matter the category, with no activation required.

» COMPARE: Best 2% cash back credit cards

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