2021 Discover It Card Review: Still Feeling “It” After All These Years
Many years ago now, following what I called my financial awakening, I found that I was suddenly in the market for a new rewards credit card. This led me to start researching various cards before ultimately landing on my final choice: the Discover It card. Before we get into my hands-on review, let me explain what I liked about this card on paper and why I ultimately applied for it.
Why I Chose the Discover It Card
As you probably know if you’ve ever set out to find a new credit card there are tons of options, each with its own set of pros and cons. Admittedly my first line of thinking was to look at branded cards that would offer loyalty perks for various airlines or hotels. However, while I’d like to do more travel, at this time it wasn’t clear that I’d use any one of these brand-specific cards enough to get any real rewards. So what did I go for instead?
A flat cashback rate with rotating bonus categories
Before adding the It card to my wallet, my wife and I actually had been using a PNC card she’d been using for years. While it is a strong option overall, the credit card has one glaring downside: any category that wasn’t gas, entertainment, or dining earned only .25% cashback unless we spent more than $10,000. Because of this, finding a card that could fill that hole was a big priority. With that goal in mind, I was attracted to the Discover It card’s 1% back on everything. However, since 1% is pretty standard, what really won me over were the bonus categories.
Each quarter the It card offers a new spending category that nets you 5% on up to $1,500 in spending — amounting to as much as $75 in cashback. For example during one of my favorite quarters of the year cardholders can earn 5% on purchases made at restaurants. Of course Q4 is also a great one as Amazon.com orders are typically the featured bonus, with Target.com and Walmart.com joining the party back in 2019 and recurring since. Currently Discover’s 5% slate for 2021 looks like this:
- January-March 2021: Grocery Stores (excluding Walmart and Target), Walgreens, and CVS
- April-June 2021: Gas Stations, Wholesale Clubs, and Select Streaming Services
- July-September 2021: Restaurants and Paypal
- October-December 2021: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com
In the years that I’ve held my It card, the lineup has never stayed exactly the same — although some of the best categories have made reappearances. 2021 has also been a pretty strong year thanks to the addition of streaming services to the Spring promotion alongside gas stations and warehouse clubs. Plus, that lattermost category is particularly useful to me now that I’m a Sam’s Club member and considering that I have no other card that rewards warehouse club shopping.
If I were to take any issues with the current line-up, the explicit exclusion of Walmart and Target from the Grocery bonus months is a bit of a bummer. That said, it is in line with how other credit cards that reward grocery purchases handle these retailers. Thankfully, though, I can still take advantage of this 5% deal at Aldi and elsewhere.
No annual fee
For a short time during my search, I actually considered a card with an annual fee. In many cases, such as with the Disney Premier Visa (which I was drawn towards given my affinity for that particular company), it seemed that paying these fees might be a good bet in the long run. But who wants to shell out upwards of $100 to perhaps only barely earn it back?
That’s why I was delighted to discover (no pun intended) that the It card carried no annual fee. Additionally, unlike many other rewards cards, there wasn’t even a higher tier card to tempt you. Ultimately this gives me greater flexibility as I don’t feel obligated to use the card or risk wasting my fee.
Foreign transactions + acceptance issues?
Before applying for my Discover card my biggest concern was about how many retailers would accept the card outside of the U.S. This was especially important because, while the card boasted no foreign transaction fees, I questioned whether that selling point would ever even come into play if I couldn’t find anyone to take my card while on vacation. What started as a major concern quickly turned around once I learned that Discover has partnerships with UnionPay in China and JCB in Japan to boost their acceptance in a huge way. As luck would have it, my latest travels haven’t taken me to that part of the globe (although I did spend time in Hong Kong, which is actually not included by the UnionPay partnership) and I learned from my visits to Paris that acceptance in Europe is pretty low. Therefore, unless you’re headed to China or Japan, it’s probably best to have cash or a Visa card on hand as a backup.
First year = double cashback
Admittedly the Discover It card doesn’t offer a huge signing bonus up front. On the other hand that could be a good thing if you play your cards right. Currently the company is offering a bonus to new cardholders where they will match the cashback you earn in the first year.
To be clear, this means that you won’t receive your bonus until after a full year of using the card but this presents you with an opportunity to earn a big payoff. There is no limit to the level of cashback they will match and you can even use your cashback in the meantime without it deducting from your matching bonus. With this offer on top of the 1% all the time and 5% quarterly categories, I was able to score a pretty sizable bonus at the end of my first year and still have a couple of hundred dollars sacked away, ready for me to redeem when the time is right.
Card design is on point
I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a factor. I opted for the plum-colored card but was happy to see that I can order additional cards that look like old cassette tapes or ones with NHL hockey team logos on them (go Devils). Initially you’ll have the choice between four basic card colors: plum, garnet, spruce, and the very rare and exotic… blue.
When receiving the card you may be surprised to find that all of the info including your name and the card number is printed on the back. This leaves the front with a clean look, nice finish, and just overall sexy appearance. Like I said, this probably shouldn’t be a big deal but it is for me. For what it’s worth, I did end up ordering the cassette tape design for my wife and she gets compliments about it from just about every merchant that sees it.
My Experiences with the Discover It
Having been a Discover cardholder for some time now, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to explore the card’s site, app, and more. Here’s what I think is worth knowing about the Discover Card user experience:
Apple Pay and iOS integration
I presume that most credit cards you can obtain these days are compatible with Apple Pay, which is always a good thing in my book. However what initially impressed me was another iOS feature Discover offered.
If you’re like me you frequently swipe down on your iPhone to reach your notification center and overview of the day. While this typically includes a look at the weather and what items are on your calendar it also allows for third-party widgets, including Discover. Now I can quickly view my card balance from this dashboard making it easy to keep on top of things. Plus the Discover app is compatible with Touch and Face ID, which I say is another win.
Something else I should mention is that, since the time I first got my Discover card, they updated their app to allows users to access their credit card and Discover Bank accounts under a single login. As a Discover Bank customer, this was a welcomed improvement. The change also makes it easier to transfers earnings from my Cashback Debit to my It card rewards balance.
Cash out for gift cards and get more
Another aspect of the It card I was surprised to learn about was their selection of gift cards that could be redeemed with cashback earnings. What makes this an even better proposition is that all of these gift cards come with free money. For instance $40 can buy you a $50 Bed Bath and Beyond card while $27 will get you $30 to spend at Chilis. Currently there are nearly 100 gift cards listed so this offers a lot of options to get the most from your earnings. To that point, there’s also a useful filter tool to arrange gift cards by “% Added Value” so that you can easily find the best deals.
Not only does Discover love to boost your Amazon cashback each holiday shopping season with their regular 5% bonus category but they also make it easy to redeem your cashback on the site. When you add your Discover It card to your Amazon account, you’ll be able to select your stored cashback as a payment option at checkout. While you don’t get any bonus cash as you would with any of the gift card deals mentioned above, this is a great option for those who want to score something “free” from Amazon’s massive selection of goods.
Since part of the reason I decided to get another credit card all that time ago was to help bring up my credit scores even more, I was encouraged to find that Discover includes your FICO score from TransUnion on your statements. This information is also accessible through the app and the website. Although this will only give you one credit score it’s a nice added perk nonetheless.
Easy account freeze
If you’ve seen a Discover card commercial in the past several years you’ve probably heard about this nifty feature. Basically, if you misplace your card but aren’t quite sure that it’s gone for good, you can put a hold on your account just in case. If you do end up finding the card afterward — no harm, no foul — you can unfreeze your account and go back to using your card. This is one feature I hope to not have to use but I’m still glad it’s there.
The end of Discover Deals
Sadly not all of the changes that have come to Discover since I’ve been a cardholder have been for the better. Back when I first joined, the company offered what they called Discover Deals in a special section on the site. This included additional cashback offers for retailers like JCPenney.com, Ulta.com, Gap.com, and more when cardholders shopped using Discover Deals links. Unfortunately, this section has since been discontinued — but sites and apps such as Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and Dosh can easily fill the hole left by this departure.
Final Thoughts on the Discover It Card
I was attracted to the Discover It card for its simple flat-rate cashback offer as well as the 5% quarterly categories that would make it easy to supplement my current rewards card. While the more experienced version of me now realizes that the 1% base is not really competitive, the rotating category perk still makes this a solid pick in my opinion.
Add in its lack of foreign transaction fees, a first-year bonus cashback doubling offer, and its downright pretty design and I was sold. However my choice was further validated once I received the card and got to fully explore its tech integrations, security features, and the various other ways it allows me to save money.
Even with my growing credit card collection, there are still purchases where my Discover’s cashback wins out, allowing me to maximize my rewards all around. For all of those reasons, I would recommend the Discover It card to anyone looking for a solid and simple cashback card.