Last week in my debut column I shared that I’ve recently had a financial awakening and was suddenly in the market for a new rewards credit card. Now I’m ready to tell you all about the card I choose: 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 their 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 cash back rate with rotating bonus categories
I briefly mentioned last week that my wife’s credit card had one glaring downside: any category that wasn’t gas, entertainment, or dining accrued only .25% cash back unless we spent more than $10,000. So 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 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. For example during this quarter cardholders can earn 5% on purchases made at home improvement stores (I live in an apartment so no luck there) or Amazon.com (that’s more like it). That’s pretty good but, starting in October, the bonuses shift to department stores, Sam’s Club, and — once again — Amazon, making it perfect for the holiday shopping season.
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 up 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 of 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. Considering that my last two vacations were to China and Japan, that was really all I needed to hear. As for Europe and other destinations it’s unclear what acceptance is like but, with a Visa for backup, I don’t anticipate any problems.
First year = double cash back
Admittedly the Discover It card doesn’t offer a huge signing bonus upfront. 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 cash back 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 cash back they will match and you can even use your cash back 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’m truly excited about my earning potential and look forward to that cash out next year.
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.
My Experiences So Far
It’s now been a couple of weeks since I was approved for my Discover It card and received it in the mail. Since then I’ve not only put a handful of transactions on it but have also had a chance to explore the card’s site, app, and more. Here’s what I’ve found out so far:
Apple Pay and iOS integration
I presume that most credit cards you can obtain these days are compatible with Apple Pay but that’s always a good thing in my book. However what really 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 ID, which I say is another win.
Bonus offers and coupons
On top of the regular cash back offers there is also a section of the app and the site devoted to Discover Deals. This page houses a mix of retailer-specific cash back bonuses as well as various coupons made available to Discover customers. For example cardholders can enjoy $5 off a purchase of $50 or more at Target.com or earn 10% cash back when booking a Carnival Cruise. There are also in-store offers such as 15% off at Ghirardelli shops with a coupon that can be scanned from the app.
Cash out for gift cards and get more
Another aspect of the It card I was surprised to learn about what their selection of gift cards that could be redeemed with cash back earnings. What makes this an ever better proposition is that all of these gift cards come with free money. For instance $45 can buy you a $50 AMC movie card while $20 can get you $25 to Bed Bath & Beyond. With apologies to my beloved Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando offers perhaps the best deal where $20 in cash back nets you $40 to spend in the parks. Currently there are 138 gift card deals listed so this offers a lot of options to get the most from your earnings.
Since part of the reason I decided to get another credit card was to help bring up my credit scores even more, I was encouraged to find that Discover includes your FICO score from Equifax on your statements. This information is also accessible through the app. 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 months 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.
I was attracted to the Discover It card for its solid flat-rate cash back offer as well as the 5% quarterly categories that would make it easy to supplement my current rewards card. Add in its lack of foreign transaction fees, a first-year bonus cash back doubling offer, 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 ways it allows me to save money. For all of those reasons I would recommend the Discover It card to anyone looking for a cash back card and I look forward to sharing more about my card experiences in the future.