The Comprehensive Guide to Discover Credit Cards
Whether you're a student, a traveler, a cash back earner, or a hockey fan, there's a Discover card for your needs. Have all your cash back or travel miles doubled after your first year with these Discover credit cards. Learn how you can earn up to 5% cash back in rotating spending categories.
One asset everyone should have is a credit card.
The thing is, everyone's different, and there's no "one size fits all" credit card solution.
That's why you shouldn't choose your credit card just based on a whim, or sign up for whatever credit card offer lands in your mailbox.
You can find literally hundreds of different cards being offered by dozens of credit card companies, with different sets of features that serve various people's needs.
For people who love to travel, it makes perfect sense to choose a travel rewards credit card.
Those who need to build their credit rating from scratch, or are looking to repair damaged credit, will find a secured card helpful in gaining credit score points.
Others put a priority on earning cash back with their cards, so they look for the most lucrative offers to earn cash rewards for their spending.
With just a few of these examples in mind, you can be sure that most credit card companies won't be contented in offering just one type of card.
Discover is a company that provides multiple financial services, including loans and bank accounts, but they're probably best known for their highly praised credit card products.
Today we're taking a good look at four of the best cards offered by Discover.
We've identified the key advantages and drawbacks of each card, so you can see how each one compares to the rest.
We made our picks based on different criteria, but I'm sure at least one of these cards will pique your interest, or, perhaps, even suit your needs perfectly.
Whether you're looking to earn travel rewards or cash back, Discover has a credit card to match your lifestyle preferences.
Whether you're a student or a serious hockey fan, there's a Discover card just for you.
Read on to learn more about Discover's best credit card products and see if you can decide on which one has the best features to match your needs and priorities.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Discover Card
None of the cards have annual fees but keep an eye on APRs and credit limits
Many credit cards charge an annual fee as the customer's cost for keeping the card.
If a card with an annual fee offers rewards, you need to calculate how much you have to spend to earn enough cash back or travel rewards to offset the annual fee.
No annual fees ever. Fortunately, none of Discover's credit cards involve an annual fee.
So, the cash back or travel miles you earn aren't eaten up by a yearly charge for the user.
Pay attention to the APR. We'd all like to convince ourselves we'll always be able to pay our monthly balance in full and never need to carry it past the due date.
The reality is there are times when we're unable to pay in full at the end of the month, which means we'll get charged interest.
The interest you're charged for an unpaid amount is calculated based on an interest rate known as the annual percentage rate (APR).
The national average for credit card APR is currently 16.62%.
Depending on your credit score (the better your credit, the lower the interest rate you'll be charged), the Discover cards listed here will charge you an APR ranging from 13.49 to 24.49%.
Don't choose an unrealistic credit limit. The best credit card for you will offer enough credit to give you flexibility and purchasing power, but not so much you get in over your head with credit card debt.
The lowest credit limit Discover offers is a meager $300, while the highest is an impressive $20,000.
But the most common credit limit Discover sets for its cardholders is $3,000.
The Best Discover Cards at a Glance
- Discover it Miles
- Discover it for Students
- Discover it Cash Back
- NHL Discover it Card
Discover it Miles
Perfect for world travelers looking for a low-cost option
People who like to travel can choose the Discover it Miles card to earn points they can use toward purchasing hotel stays and airline tickets.
Typical travel rewards cards charge an annual fee (for example, the American Express Platinum card charges its cardholders $699 every year!)
No annual fee gets you traveling sooner. The Discover it Miles travel rewards credit card doesn't come with an annual fee, which means the miles you earn go straight to your travel budget.
The miles you earn in the first year get doubled
People who use the Discover it Miles card earn travel points at a rate of 1.5 miles per dollar spent.
Every mile is doubled. There is no limit to the number of points you can earn, and the best part is all the miles you receive in the first year are matched 100% by Discover.
That means, in year one, you're actually earning three miles per dollar spent.
Easy to rack up a lot of points. Let's say you used the card for $25,000 in expenses in the first 12 months after you opened the account.
At 1.5 miles per dollar, you would earn 37,500 miles.
At the end of the year, the total is matched by Discover, which means you'll have 75,000 miles to spend on travel.
Whether you want to use your miles for hotels, car rentals, railway tickets, taxis, or travel agents, each mile is worth 1 cent.
So, the 75,000 miles you earn for spending $25,000 in year one is good for $750 in travel credit.
Redeeming is straightforward. You simply book your travel, then go to Discover's Account Center to put your points toward the purchases.
You'll receive a direct deposit into your bank account for the amount you chose to redeem.
No intro bonus miles. Many credit cards offer you a sign-up bonus, typically from 30,000–60,000 miles.
Although none of the Discover cards we're looking at here come with a sign-up bonus or introductory offer of bonus points or cash back, there's still an opportunity for these rewards cards to earn big in year one.
What are the restrictions on Discover Miles?
There are virtually no restrictions when it comes to earning and using Discover Miles.
You can earn as many miles as you want by spending on whatever you want.
The miles don't expire, and there are no blackout dates or specific travel providers you need to purchase from.
It's completely flexible. You just earn your miles, purchase your travel from whoever you like using the card, and get paid back with the points in your account.
No foreign transaction fees. Another thing travel-minded people like about the Discover Miles card is that it doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee.
All of the best credit cards for worldwide use don't charge foreign transaction fees for using the card abroad.
Not accepted everywhere overseas. The one major issue you can face when travelling abroad is that the Discover card is not yet accepted everywhere internationally at the same level as Mastercards and Visas.
So, it's a bit limited as a travel credit card.
Mile-for-mile matching ends after 12 months. The sad part about Discover's program for matching miles is that it ends after the first year.
You can still earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent on everything with no limits (which are pretty good terms for a travel card) but they won't be worth double anymore beyond year one.
Make a huge purchase within the first 12 months
One important tip to follow when you sign up for a Discover Miles card is to maximize your spending in year one so you can make the most of the miles-matching program.
For example, if you know you're about to make a big purchase, sign up for the card online or by calling 1-800-DISCOVER and use it because the corresponding miles you'll earn for such a huge purchase will get doubled!
Discover it Card for Students
A perfect starter card for students with little to no credit
Most students probably have a very limited credit history.
But this shouldn't stop them from being able to get a credit card of their own and use it to earn cash back.
First-time cardholders usually get a modest credit limit (as low as $300) but they do get to start building their credit history and credit scores by using the card responsibly.
Good grades are rewarded. If the students are able to maintain a 3.0 GPA, they get an annual $20 statement credit (which they can cash in on for five years in a row).
No annual fee works for a student's budget. Students are notorious for operating on a super-tight budget, so the $0 annual fee also makes it a great fit.
Switch it on and off. For security or practical financial reasons, sometimes a student might feel the need to shut down their credit card spending temporarily.
All Discover cards have a feature called Freeze It where the cardholder can manually prevent any new purchases, cash advances, or balance transfers from happening.
Free FICO scores and social security scans included. A great way for a new cardholder to learn about how credit works is to know and monitor their credit score.
With the Discover it card for students, your FICO score is included for free on your monthly statements, and you can access it online or through mobile.
Discover also monitors thousands of websites and alerts its customers if their social security information is being stored on risky websites.
You can be late … once. Yet another student-friendly feature of the Discover it card for students is leniency on late payments.
The first late payment doesn't get penalized at all.
But be careful, since subsequent late or returned payments will be charged a penalty fee.
Another nice feature students will appreciate is there's also no penalty for going over your credit limit.
Graduate to a grown-up card. When a student becomes a young professional, they can apply to have their card upgraded to the Discover it card and keep the cash back they've earned on their student card.
Discover matches all cash back earned in year one dollar-for-dollar
You may start to notice a pattern across all of the Discover credit cards we're reviewing in this comprehensive guide.
Dollar-for-dollar matching. Whether it's travel miles or cash back, Discover doubles whatever new cardholders earn in the first year.
Which is particularly awesome for the Discover it card for students, since it offers the opportunity to earn up to 5 cents back for every dollar spent in certain categories.
Every quarter (3 months), the cardholder registers to qualify for the bonus earnings in a particular category.
From January to March, the 5X rate applies to gas stations and wholesale clubs.
April to June is for grocery stores, and July to September is for restaurants.
In the lead-up to the holidays, from October to December you can earn 5X the points when you shop at Amazon or at wholesale clubs.
5X earnings on a max of $1,500. For each quarter, 5% cash back can be earned on up to $1,500 in purchases within the bonus category.
If you spent $1,500 buying Christmas presents on Amazon in December, you'd earn $75 cash back.
For all other purchases and for purchases beyond the $1,500 in-category limit, you'll earn 1 cent cash back on every dollar spent.
Is there an introductory offer?
There are no bonus points for signing up for the Discover it card for students, but the cash back match at the end of the first year makes up for it.
No interest for half of the first year. The card features an introductory period where 0% APR is charged on purchases and a reduced APR (10.99%) is applied on balance transfers within the first six months.
If you're using the card to transfer a balance from a higher-interest card, note that there's a 3% balance transfer fee.
Like with all cards, there's also a fee for cash advances to watch out for, which is $10 or 3% (whichever is greater).
Make the most of the six-month interest-free period after signing up
There are a lot of expensive upfront costs students have to pay.
Putting a deposit down on a rental unit, buying books and equipment, and paying tuition are all expenses you need to cover before you even get into the classroom.
If you sign up for a Discover it card for students at the start of the first semester, you can cover all those expenses and pay them off gradually over six months, interest-free.
Discover it Cash Back
Ideal for people who are ready to make a big purchase right away
Like all the Discover cards we're looking at here, the Discover it Cash Back card doubles whatever points you've earned on the card in the first year.
If you're ready to go ahead with a big purchase or another significant expense (like a home renovation, for example), you'd be smart to sign up for the Discover it Cash Back.
Not only will you get all of the cash back you earned doubled at the end of the year, but there's also a great introductory APR offer.
Interest-free for more than a year. You won't pay any interest during the card's 14-month 0% APR introductory period.
Combined with the $0 annual fee, this makes the Discover it card very affordable, and potentially very lucrative!
Rotating bonus categories offer a turbo-charged cash back earning rate.
Identical to the Discover it card for students, the Cash Back card lets you earn 5 cents per dollar spent in categories that rotate every three months.
The categories rotate on the same calendar, with gas and wholesale clubs in Q1, groceries in Q2, restaurants in Q3, and Amazon and wholesale clubs in Q4.
There's a limit on the accelerated earning rate. Since the max you can earn 5X cash back on is $1,500 each quarter, the most you can earn by spending exactly $1,500 per quarter is $300 a year.
Fortunately, there are no limits on the amount you can earn on everything else at a rate of 1 cent per dollar spent.
Then the first-year cash back match offer kicks in. Here's an example of the power of Discover it's cash back matching:
If you maxed out the 5% earnings each quarter and used the card for $10,000 in additional purchases at 1% in year one, you'd get a whopping $800 at the end of the year!
Who wouldn't want the Discover it Cash Back card?
Any Discover it Cash Back cardholder has to contend with the requirement to register every quarter to qualify for the 5X cash back.
On top of remembering to register every three months, you also have to pay attention to the rotating categories in between quarters if you wish to make the most of it.
Make your life less complicated. If you're not willing to sign on to the accelerated earning rate every three months, you might want to find a cash back card with a good earning rate across all categories.
If you never shop via Amazon, don't have a membership at a wholesale club, or don't drive a car, most of the bonus categories will not work in your favor—so look elsewhere.
Find out if you qualify without taking a hit on your credit score
If you're wondering if you'd even qualify for a Discover it Cash Back card, you can go to Discover's website and check to see if you pre-qualify.
Pre-qualification uses a soft credit check, which isn't reported to the credit bureaus and therefore doesn't hurt your credit score.
Go secured if you need to build your credit score. If you don't qualify for a Discover it, you can also look at the option of the Discover it Secured card.
A secured credit card is where you put down a deposit as a kind of insurance if you can't pay your bill.
In case you want to improve that credit score of yours to qualify to get your security deposit back, taking out a small personal loan just might help.
NHL Discover it Card
Ideal for the hockey fanatic who wants to show their team colors
Save 10% on licensed hockey merchandise. The NHL Discover it card lets you save 10% when you're shopping for hockey paraphernalia through Shop.NHL.com.
Get your favorite team's jerseys, hats, and everything else for 10% less when you pay with your NHL Discover it card.
Discounted NHL.TV membership. If you use your card to sign up for an NHL.TV subscription, you'll also save 10%.
Represent your team at the checkout till. You also get to choose your favorite team's colors and logo for the card design.
So every time you pull out your card, everyone around you will know which team you're rooting for!
The cash back features are identical to the Discover it and Discover it for Student cards
Like the other Discover cards we've looked at here, the NHL Discover it card has no annual fee and has all cash back earnings doubled after year one.
It also follows the same schedule for the rotating 5% cash back categories and earns 1% on all other purchases and in-category purchases beyond the $1,500 quarterly limit.
Would the NHL Discover it card be a good choice for a balance transfer?
If you're looking to transfer a balance from another credit card, you would pay 0% interest on the transferred amount for the first 14 months after activating the card.
Compare the APRs first. A balance transfer only makes sense when the APR on the new card is lower than the original interest rate.
With an APR of 13.49–24.49% for the NHL Discover it card, compared to the national average of a little over 16%, a balance transfer could be a good idea.
The only thing is there is a 3% balance transfer fee, so if you transferred $3,000 it would still cost you $90.
Pick your card design when you apply for the NHL Discover it card
When you go to the application page for the NHL Discover it card you get the chance to choose the card design based on your favorite team.
Or if you don't want people to know you have a favorite, there's a card with the NHL logo on it.
Whichever team or logo you pick, within minutes you could be on your way to having every hockey fan's dream credit card.
No matter what your priority is, Discover has a card to fit your needs
Everyone needs a credit card, but there isn't a single card that can fulfill everyone's needs.
What's important is to find a card that best fits your lifestyle needs, and one that's from a dependable card company.
Whether you're a student, a travel buff, an NHL fan, or a person who's willing to jump through hoops to earn some major cash back, Discover has a credit card for you.
If you like their card offerings, remember that Discover also offers a host of other financial tools, including loans, bank accounts, and other financial products and services.
But first, go see if you pre-qualify for one of the cards we've looked at here and start thinking about how you can make the most of the great rewards from Discover.
Have you used Discover credit cards before?
How has it worked out for you?
Any great tips (or stories) to share with the rest of us?
Let us know in the comments below!