The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Sunday, November 28, 2021
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2021's Best Discover® Credit Cards

Below are our ratings of 2021's top Discover® credit cards. This issuer has a well-earned reputation for offering easy-to-use rewards cards backed by excellent customer service.

Average APR
17.24%
Average Annual Fee
$0.00
Rate Trend
No Change
since last month
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The credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which CardRates.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers.

18 FAQs About Discover Credit Cards

Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Finance Expert
Updated:
18 FAQs About Discover Credit Cards
CardRates.com Guide: Discover® Cards

The best Discover credit cards are also among the best credit cards, period. In addition to being a provider of eight different Discover it® credit cards, Discover is also a payment network, a dual role that’s also true of American Express.

Discover offers its cardholders a host of generous benefits and rewards that are worth checking out. And, Discover cards are available to consumers of all credit types.

1. What is Discover Bank?

Discover Bank, a division of Discover Financial Services, is a credit card company, online bank, and international payment network. It is the issuer of Discover credit and debit cards. The streamlined Discover Bank offers checking, savings, and money market accounts, as well as certificates of deposit and IRAs.

Discover Bank has roots going back to the 1911 founding of Greenwood Trust Company. It became part of Discover Financial Services in 1985 and received its current name in 2000.

The Discover Bank payment network processes transactions from approximately 9 million U.S. merchants, matching the reach of Visa and Mastercard while exceeding that of American Express by 3 million.

Because Discover Bank is both a card network and card issuer, its cards do not partner with outside banks.

2. How Does a Discover Credit Card Work?

There really isn’t anything surprising in how Discover credit cards work — if you’ve ever owned a credit card, you’ll understand how to use your Discover card.

Discover offers cards to consumers of all credit types, from no credit to excellent credit. If your application is accepted, you’ll receive your plastic card in about a week, and you can start using it after you activate it online or over the phone.

An unsecured Discover card will have a credit limit based on your creditworthiness. Discover also offers a secured card in which the credit limit is equal to your cash deposit. You can charge purchases on your Discover card up to the credit limit without incurring any interest charges if you pay your entire balance by the next monthly payment date.

If you wish, you can stretch out your payments over multiple billing cycles as long as you make the minimum payment each month. You’ll be charged interest on your unpaid balances at the annual percentage rate (APR, which is based on the prime rate) you were given when the card was issued.

All Discover cards report your payment activity to the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Your credit score depends on whether you pay your bills on time and control your use of credit.

Most credit scores are eligible for a Discover card, but the variable APR and credit limit will depend on your score.

3. Is Discover Card a Good Credit Card?

We’ve always liked the credit cards issued by Discover due to their competitive APRs, low fees, solid benefits, and a variety of reward schemes. Discover cards are structurally sound, with wide acceptance, no annual fees, 25-day grace periods, no penalty APRs, and no penalty fee on the first time you miss a payment date.

Benefits found on all Discover Cards

Popular benefits found on all Discover credit cards.

Core features found on Discover cards include Cashback Match® (see FAQ #6), cash advances, balance transfers, and free overnight card replacement. The Freeze it® feature allows you to lock your card against new purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances while allowing recurring bills and other selected activities to continue.

You’ll also have free access to your FICO Score from TransUnion, and free identity alerts informing you about new inquiries, new accounts, and Dark Web activity.

On the minus side, Discover cards do not offer signup bonus cash rewards. However, they do offer new cardmembers a 0% intro purchase APR (and possibly balance transfers, where fees apply) after opening the account.

All cards provide a preapproval check that won’t impact your credit score.

4. What Kind of Rewards Do Discover Cards Offer?

A Discover credit card offer for cash back is structured as a flat, tiered, or rotating reward scheme. Unless stipulated otherwise, Discover cards offer Cashback Match that doubles the cash back you earn for the first year.

The following are the rewards offered by each card:

  • Discover it® Cash Back: This rewards card provides bonus cash back when you activate quarterly rotating categories of merchants, up to the quarterly maximum. You earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other everyday purchases. An introductory 0% APR offer may apply to purchases and/or balance transfers, after which the standard APR will apply.
  • Discover it® Miles: Provides a flat reward of miles on all purchases. You get an unlimited Miles-for-Miles match that automatically matches all the miles you earned at the end of the first year. You can redeem your miles for travel or cash, and miles never expire. An introductory 0% APR offer may apply to purchases and/or balance transfers, after which the standard APR will apply.
  • Discover it® chrome: Another rewards card with tiered cash back offering bonus cash back on up to $1,000 in combined quarterly purchases at restaurants and gas stations. Everyday purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. An introductory 0% APR offer may apply to purchases and/or balance transfers, after which the standard APR will apply.
  • Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Your credit limit is equal to the refundable security deposit you make. The card provides bonus cash back on up to $1,000 in combined quarterly purchases at restaurants and gas stations. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. Its standard purchase APR is competitive in the secured space.
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: You get bonus cash back after activation in merchant categories that rotate quarterly, up to the quarterly maximum. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. With the Good Grades Reward, students can earn a statement credit each year (for up to five years) to reward a GPA of 3.0 or higher for the year. The introductory 0% APR promotion on purchases runs for a minimum period of six months then after the promotional period, the 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR applies.
  • Discover it® Student chrome: You earn bonus cash back on up to $1,000 in combined quarterly purchases at gas stations and restaurants. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. The card provides the annual Good Grades Reward. A new cardholder also gets a minimum six-month introductory 0% APR promotion on purchases. Once the promotional period ends, the 12.99% - 21.99% Variable APR applies.
  • NHL Discover it® Credit Card: Co-branded card offering bonus cash back up to the quarterly maximum after activation at different merchant categories that rotate each quarter. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. An introductory 0% APR offer may apply to purchases and/or balance transfers, after which the standard APR will apply.
  • Discover it® Business Credit Card: Earns flat-rate cash back on all purchases. An introductory 0% APR offer may apply to purchases and/or balance transfers, after which the standard APR will apply. You can add employee cards for free and earn rewards for all their purchases.

Always read any card’s fine print to verify rewards and restrictions. You may also find special promotions, including fee discounts or waivers, available until a specified expiration date.

5. What Can I Redeem My Rewards For?

Your Discover miles or cash rewards never expire and are redeemable in any amount. Cash back rewards can be redeemed in several ways:

  • An electronic deposit to your bank account
  • A statement credit to your card account
  • A donation to select charities
  • Gift card or instant eCerifiicate from partnering merchants, starting at $5
  • Applied as a payment method for purchases at Amazon.com
  • Applied as a payment method for PayPal purchases

The Discover it® Miles card pays rewards in miles. You can convert the miles to cash at the rate of 100 miles = $1.00 and redeem the cash as described above for cash back cards.

You can also apply your miles for a travel purchase credit on your statement made within the last 180 days. Travel purchases include:

  • Car rentals
  • Charter/tour bus lines
  • Commercial airline tickets
  • Cruises
  • Hotel rooms
  • Local and suburban commuter transportation, including ferries and passenger railways
  • Taxicabs and limousines
  • Tour operators
  • Vacation packages purchased through airlines, travel agents, and online travel sites

You earn rewards on purchases only, excluding a balance transfer, a cash advance, and illegal transactions. You also don’t earn rewards when you get a cash advance at the checkout line at selected merchants. You’ll automatically receive your rewards balance if you close your account or don’t use it for 18 months.

6. How Does the Discover Cashback Match® Work?

Discover cards are famous for their Cashback Match® feature. It pays you $1 for each $1 you earned in cash back rewards during the first 365 days (or 12 consecutive billing cycles, whichever is less) after opening the account. In effect, you get double rewards for the first year.

The matching cash will be rewarded within two billing periods after the end of the first year. The 365-day limit on matches applies to when cash back is processed, not the transaction date.

There are no minimum or maximum spending limits to earn the Cashback Match, but you will forfeit your Match if you close your account before your card’s one-year anniversary.

You can redeem cash back at any time without affecting your Cashback Match. Visit Discover’s Cashback Summary page to track how much cash back you’ve earned. You must be a new cardholder to qualify for Cashback Match.

Strategically, a great time to get a new Discover card is when you buy your first home. You are likely to spend oodles of money on appliances, storage, decorating, landscaping, and other home-related purchases during the first year. By paying with your Discover card, you can earn a hefty Cashback Match that will reduce the overall expense of your first year of homeownership.

7. Which Discover Credit Card is the Best?

The best Discover credit card is the one that best matches your lifestyle. They all offer Cashback Match (or Mile-for-Mile Match), and no annual fee, among other perks.

Discover it® Cash Back CardThe Discover it® Cash Back is a good choice for many consumers. You can get bonus cash back in rotating quarterly merchant categories — up to the quarterly purchase limit — when you activate the bonus category each quarter.

Doing a little math, during the first year you can earn 5% x $1,500 per quarter x 4 quarters per year x 2 (for Cashback Match). That’s $600 cash back, plus whatever else you earn on 1% non-bonus purchases.

If you spend $20,000 on the Discover it® Cash Back card during the first year of which $6,000 earns 5% cash back and $14,000 earns 1%, you can earn ($600 + (1% x $14,000 x 2 for Cashback Match)), or $880 in first-year cash back.

Before selecting this card, consider whether you want to deal with the quarterly rotating merchant category scheme. To extract maximum value, you need to activate the new category each quarter and plan your spending to maximize your benefit from the current category. If you forget to activate the quarterly category or fail to spend the limit, you’ll earn less than the maximum possible.

A simpler choice is the Discover it® chrome since it offers a lesser reward rate on gas stations and restaurant spending. Naturally, if you don’t drive much or regularly dine out, this card may not be a good choice.

You may prefer the Discover it® Miles if you regularly travel and want to accumulate travel rewards. You can use the miles you earn on purchases with this card to pay for travel-related expenses, including plane tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and dining out.

You can also convert the miles to cash if you prefer. If you spend $20,000 to earn 30,000 miles and convert them to cash, your first-year reward would be 30,000 miles x ($1 per 100 miles) x 2 for Cashback Match = $600 cash back earned in Year One.

While that’s $280 less than the Discover it® Cash Back example, you don’t have to track or activate quarterly categories or worry about purchase limits. You can relax knowing that the Discover it® Miles card rewards you equally for all your purchases.

If you are a student, Discover beats most of its competitors by offering not one student credit card, but two. Folks who have no credit are best served by the Discover it® Secured Credit Card that is available to just about anyone who can afford a security deposit.

8. Is it Hard to Get a Discover Credit Card?

Discover’s credit cards approve consumers with no credit all the way to excellent credit. In other words, most folks can qualify for an unsecured Discover card and those who don’t can apply for the Discover it® Secured Credit Card.

FICO Score® Ranges

You can apply for a Discover credit card by calling 1-800-DISCOVER (347-2683) or online through the Apply Now links above that will direct you to Discover’s website.

9. Which Discover Card is the Easiest to Get?

Generally, secured credit cards are the easiest to obtain, and the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is no exception. With this secured card, you can build or rebuild your credit with responsible use. The key to its availability is the security deposit you make to collateralize the card’s credit limit.

The amount you deposit must equal your credit limit. The approved limit can be as high as $2,500 and hinges on your income and ability to pay. The deposit, less any unpaid balance, is refundable within two billing cycles plus 10 days when you close your account or upgrade to an unsecured Discover card.

The card reports your credit history to each major U.S. credit bureau so that you can add credit data to your credit report, thus helping you build credit. This gives you the opportunity to exhibit creditworthy behavior — that is, paying your bills on time and controlling the amount of credit you use.

A credit bureau may take up to six months to respond to your reported payment activity, but eventually, good behavior will be rewarded with higher scores.

Discover automatically evaluates your secured account every month. After eight months, Discover will see whether you qualify to upgrade to an unsecured card by responsibly using your credit over time. This makes it important for you to avoid late payments, delinquencies, collections, and other derogatory activities for your credit cards and loans.

A student card is also easy to obtain and Discover offers a solid pair of student cards (see FAQ #12).

10. Which FICO Score Does Discover Use?

FICO from the Fair Isaac Company dominates the credit score market, and it is used by 90% of top lenders. FICO publishes several different scoring models, but the one used by almost every credit card issuer or bank advertiser is FICO Score 8 with a score range of 300 to 850.

The three credit bureaus implement FICO Score 8, but the results need not be identical because of variations in the data available to each bureau. Discover provides cardmembers free access to their FICO Score 8 from TransUnion. The score Discover provides represents a monthly snapshot, so always note the as-of date when you access your score.

The FICO Score 8 system calculates your score using five credit-related factors. Each factor comprises a percentage of your total score, as follows:

FICO Credit Score FactorsOther scoring systems use different schemes to calculate your credit score.

11. Which Discover Card is Best for Business Owners?

Business owners may do best with the Discover it® Business Credit Card. It is a rewards credit card that offers cash back on every purchase plus special benefits that help managers run their businesses.

You can get up to 50 free employee cards and customize each employee’s spending limits while reaping the rewards on their purchases.

In addition, this business card lets you download your transactions to QuickBooks, Quicken, and Excel to help manage your back office. Moreover, the Discover mobile app helps you do business anywhere.

12. Which Discover Card is Best for Students?

Discover has a pair of student credit cards that are offered to students who typically have little or no credit history. The Discover student cards offer cash back rewards, charge no annual fee, offer Good Grade Rewards for high GPAs, and help you build your credit history.

Your choice of student credit card rests on which rewards scheme you prefer:

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back: This card has a more complex and more generous reward scheme. It uses a quarterly rotating set of merchants at which you receive bonus cash back on purchases up to the quarterly spending limit. You must activate the card each quarter to receive the bonus cash back, and all other purchases earn 1%.
  • Discover it® Student chrome: This card offers bonus cash back on purchases at restaurants and gas stations, and 1% on all other purchases. The bonus cash back is capped each quarter at a slightly lower spending limit. Unlike its sibling card, this one offers introductory 0% APR promotional financing on purchases made by new cardmembers during the first six months after opening the account.

A math example reveals the difference in each card’s potential rewards.

Assume you are a student who spends $10,000 during the first year of card ownership and maxes out the higher reward levels. In other words, $4,000 in purchases receive the bonus cash reward rate and $6,000 earn the standard 1% cash back with the Discover it® Student chrome card, and $6,000 in purchases receive the bonus cash reward rate and $4,000 earn the standard 1% cash back with the Discover it® Student Cash Back card. At the end of the first year, you receive a Cashback Match equal to your cash back earnings that have been processed for the year.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card would pay cash back equal to 2 x ((5% x $6,000) + (1% x $4,000)) = $680 cash back.

The Discover it® Student chrome card would earn you 2 x ((2% x $4,000) + (1% x 6,000)) = $280, which is $400 less than the reward from its sibling card.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card offers a larger reward, but you’ve got to work to get it. Specifically, you have to activate the card each quarter and make at least $1,500 in purchases from merchants in the current cashback bonus category to receive the maximum amount of cash back.

The Discover it® Student chrome requires no quarterly activations but requires you to spend $1,000 each quarter at restaurants and gas stations to max out your rewards.

Only the chrome card offers 0% APR on purchases during the first six months. That may interest you if you plan some big-ticket purchases when you receive your card, but the interest you would save would probably be insufficient to overcome the chrome card’s lesser rewards.

13. Does Discover Allow Balance Transfers?

Balance transfers allow you to consolidate the balances from two or more credit cards onto a single card. All Discover cards do indeed permit balance transfers and several cards offer introductory 0% APR promotional financing to new cardmembers, after which the promotional APR will revert to the standard purchase APR.

However, the 0% APR promotion isn’t available on the Discover it® Miles, Discover it® Secured Credit Card, Discover it® Student Cash Back, Discover it® Student chrome, or Discover it® Business Credit Card. Some of these cards may offer a lower promotional APR for a minimum of six months.

With a Discover card balance transfer, you instruct a Discover representative to transfer the balances from your other credit cards. Alternatively, you can submit a balance transfer application online.

Either way, each transfer will usually take one to two weeks and will incur a one-time fee. You can transfer only up to your card’s credit limit minus any outstanding balance. The reasons to transfer credit card balances include:

  • Save money: You save money on interest when you transfer balances to a credit card with a lower APR. The benefit is maximized when you transfer to a credit card with a 0% APR promotion on balance transfers.
  • Faster debt payoff: You can speed up debt repayment by saving on a lower APR and by avoiding multiple minimum payments when you have balances on multiple cards. You can instead concentrate on paying off the one card holding the transferred balances.
  • Easier scheduling: After you consolidate your credit card balances, you have only one card payment to make each month assuming you leave the other cards dormant. This makes it much easier to avoid missing a payment and triggering penalties.

If you do go through with a balance transfer, consider how you can stay out of debt during the process. You can start by curbing spending so you don’t accumulate more debt as you pay down your transferred balances. It’s helpful to choose a card with a 0% APR promotion period of at least 12 months so that you have enough time to pay off your balance.

It’s not a good idea to string together multiple cards offering 0% APR promotions. Doing so will cost you extra fees and reduce your motivation to pay off your balance quickly. While you should avoid using your old cards when paying down your balance, don’t cancel the old cards, since that will increase your credit utilization and can hurt your credit score.

14. How Can I Increase My Discover Credit Limit?

If you find yourself in a good financial position, a higher credit limit may be a worthwhile idea. A higher limit lets you make bigger purchases on a single card. It also has the potential to provide bigger cash advances if you face a financial emergency.

Discover offers several ways to get a higher credit limit:

  • Phone: By calling 1-800-347-2683 and speaking to a customer representative.
  • Online: Log onto your account at the Discover website and complete the request form.
  • Get a new card: If you are using an old Discover card with a low credit limit, your credit history may allow you to obtain another Discover card with higher limits. This is especially true if you have a student or secured Discover card.
  • Be patient: Discover may reward you for exemplary credit habits by offering you a credit limit increase without a request from you.

If you need to negotiate a higher limit with a customer rep, discuss why you earned it rather than why you need it. Point out things like a higher salary, lower fixed costs, a second job, and your history of on-time payments.

15. Is Discover Better than Visa?

“Better” is a loaded term. We can certainly state that the Discover payments network is different from Visa’s in that Discover issues credit cards and Visa doesn’t. When you get a Discover card, the issuer is Discover Bank, and the payment network is Discover Financial Services.

Visa is simply a payments network. It works with outside banks and credit unions that issue their own credit card products that operate on the Visa network.

Comparing Discover to Visa reveals that they both are accepted by about 9 million merchants in the United States. They also charge similar processing fees to merchants. Discover stands out because of its first-year Cashback Match and its low costs.

Of course, many different cards bear the Visa logo and thereby offer much greater variety than the eight available Discover cards. But not all Visa cards have the standard perks of a Discover card, such as no annual or foreign transaction fee.

16. What’s Better, Discover it® Cash Back or Chase Freedom?

The Discover it® Cash Back is Discover’s top cash back card. Like all Discover cards, it charges no annual fee.

The Chase Freedom cards — Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ — are Chase’s top cash back cards that also charge no annual fee. Thus, all these cards are competitive with each other and deserve consideration.

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is closer to the Discover it® Cash Back because both offer quarterly rotating cashback bonus categories. However, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ also offers a higher rate of cash back in a number of fixed categories in addition to the usual rotating bonus categories, a feature lacking from the Discover card.

Only the Chase card offers a signup bonus when you spend a set amount in the first three months after opening the account. Both offer a 0% intro purchase APR when new cardmembers open their accounts, after which the standard purchase APR kicks in.

The Discover card is alone in offering a Cashback Match that doubles the cash back you earn during the first year after account opening. The Discover card also has a few unique advantages, including:

  • No penalty APR for late payments
  • No late fees on your first late payment
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Free alerts if your Social Security number is detected on the dark web
  • Free FICO scores from TransUnion

These cards are all winners, and you won’t be making a mistake whichever one you select. Of course, nothing prevents you from having both Discover and Chase cards at the same time.

17. How Many Discover Cards Can You Have?

We discussed earlier the relative ease in qualifying for a Discover card. However, you may not be approved for reasons other than your creditworthiness.

Discover limits you to owning no more than two of its cards at any one time. You must own your first Discover card for a year before applying for the second card.

This is a simple, albeit strict, cap on the number of Discover cards you can own at any one time. Chase has its 5/24 Rule, which prevents you from getting a new Chase card when you’ve opened five or more new credit accounts within the past two years.

Other credit card companies also place limits on card ownership. Citi, the issuer of the Citi Double Cash Card, makes you wait eight days to apply for a second personal credit card, 65 days for a third personal credit card, and 95 days for a Citi business card.

The American Express 4/4 Rule prevents you from having more than four charge cards and four credit cards. Capital One allows you to own no more than two of its credit cards at the same time. Doubtlessly, other credit card companies impose their own arbitrary ownership rules.

18. Does Discover Give Instant Approval?

Discover has a preapproval process that will get you an answer in just a few minutes. Preapproval doesn’t require a hard inquiry on your credit report and therefore won’t hurt your credit score, so there’s no harm in checking. If you’re not preapproved, you save yourself from a hard inquiry that lowers your credit score.

To start the preapproval process, fill out the online form and select a customized preapproved credit card offer. If preapproved, add any other information required to receive final approval. Bear in mind: Discovery states that preapproval does not guarantee final approval.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The information on this page was reviewed for accuracy on .

About the Author

Eric Bank Eric Bank Finance Expert

Eric Bank has been covering business and financial topics since 1985, specializing in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences. In addition to his work on CardRates.com, Eric has appeared regularly on Credible.com, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Get.com, Zacks, Chron and dozens of other outlets. A former software engineer, Eric holds an M.B.A. from New York University and an M.S. in finance from DePaul University.

Advertiser Disclosure: The credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which CardRates.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers. See the credit card issuer's website for specific terms and conditions of each card.