How I Earned $1,595 on One Cash Back Credit Card Last Year

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KEY POINTS

  • The Discover it® Cash Back card matches all cash back for your first year. 
  • The credit card earns 5% back on rotating categories, 5% on special offers, and 1% everywhere else.  
  • Discover will give you $100 for referrals. 

These days, it's not uncommon to find a no fee cash back card that earns 5% back on rotating rewards categories.

But what's more unusual is a card that matches your cash back for the first year, which could turn $300 into $600 in total earnings. 

That's what initially drew me to the Discover it® Cash Back card. Its bonus categories aligned with my usual spending, and the unlimited cash back match for the card's first year was the highest credit card sign-up bonus I had seen. 

After applying last February, I estimated I would earn $800 -- maybe $1,000 -- in total cash back. But the card had more ways to earn than I thought. I ended up with $1,644.90 by February 2023; subsequent changes to Discover's rules have knocked that down to a still-impressive $1,594.90.

Here's what I did to earn that (and how you can, too). 

1. Maxed out the bonus categories ($711.50)

The best way to earn more from the Discover it® Cash Back is to take advantage of your card's bonus rate. 

Your card will earn 5% back every quarter on rotating bonus categories, such as grocery stores, restaurants, or gas stations. These categories must be activated before the quarter begins, or else your card won't earn 5%. You can earn up to $75 ($1,500 spent) before the bonus rate drops back to 1%. That $75 becomes $150 with Discover's first-year match. 

If you max out the bonus categories for four consecutive quarters, you'll earn $300 and get $300 from Discover -- $600 total for your first year. 

Here's a tip: Don't apply for the card at the beginning or end of a quarter. Time your application for the middle (like April 15), and you'll give yourself time to max out five bonus categories. That allows you to earn $750 with Discover's first-year match. 

For example, I applied on Feb. 19. That gave me roughly six weeks in the first quarter of 2022, then seven weeks in the first quarter of this year. So instead of an earning cap of $600, I earned $711.50. 

2. Charged most purchases to the card ($547.62)

Second tip: Put every purchase -- that makes sense -- on your Discover it® Cash Back card. 

I say "makes sense" because, let's be honest: Outside bonus categories, this card only earns 1% -- or 2% if we count Discover's first-year match. If you have a card in your quiver that earns more than 2% for a specific purchase, don't whip out the Discover it® Cash Back. 

However, at some stores, the card's 2% cash back will be the most you can earn.

In my experience, 2% was best for furniture outlets, local boutique and retail shops, bookstores, and online retailers that weren't called Amazon. I also earned cash back on my spouse's medical bills (roughly $2,500), a new battery for my Prius ($3,200), and a U-Pack for a cross-country move ($3,400). 

Ultimately, we got $547.62 in cash back, with $273.81 coming from our spending and the rest from Discover's match. 

3. Activated the "special offers" ($135.78)

This was a massive surprise for me -- throughout the year, Discover will send you "special offers" in varying quarterly categories that you can activate to earn additional cash rewards on up to $1,000 spent on your Discover it® Cash Back.

Last year, Discover sent me two special offers, one for Amazon and the other for purchases made through Paypal. Both allowed $50 on $1,000 charged, for $200 back with Discover's match. I didn't get the total amount, but I did get $135.78. 

4. Took advantage of referrals ($200)

Discover has a generous referral program. The company will give you $100 as a statement credit for up to five annual referrals who apply successfully -- so, up to $500 a year in credits. Even better, Discover will also give the referred cardholder $100 after they make their first purchase within 90 days. 

I referred my spouse, and we got $100 each. 

Can you earn more than $1,595?

The Discover it® Cash Back first-year matching program has no cap on how much you can earn. I earned $1,594.90 on everyday spending, referrals, and authorized users. But, believe it or not, it's totally possible for you to earn more than that, especially if you max out the bonus categories each quarter. 

Our Research Expert

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