Citi® Double Cash Card vs. Discover it®: Which One is Better?

Jun 03, 2016 | Be First to Comment!

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Yes, the new Citi® Double Cash Card is getting a lot of attention for its attractive cash back program. But, how does it compare to one of the most popular cash back credit cards currently on the market (Discover it®)?

I’ll dissect these cards to see which one is better for you.

Cash Back Program: Tied

  • Citi Double Cash: Unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases and then earn 1% cash back on balances that you pay off
  • Discover it®: 5% cash back in categories that change every three months on up to a limit in combined purchases in these categories (usually $1,500 in combined purchases) when you sign up; 1% cash back on everything else

Here we are: the cash back program. The star of the show. You obviously want to maximize the cash back that you can earn on your spending, but to do that, you must first understand the nitty gritty details that make up each card’s cash back program.

The Citi® Double Cash Card gives 1% back on everything you buy and 1% back on the payments that go toward your card balance. In your head, you must be thinking that it is, effectively, a 2% cash back card. Initially, I thought that too. But, there’s a reason that Citi didn’t just advertise it as a “2% cash back” card.

The way that Citi catches you off-guard is the cash back redemption program. You can collect your cash back in the form of a check, gift cards and… statement credits. Statement credits usually entail the least hassle to redeem. However, statement credits will reduce your balance, which means you are making smaller payments to Citi. Remember that you earn 1% cash back on your payments to Citi? Smaller payments to Citi mean less cash back for you.

To ensure that you get the maximum of 2% cash back, you must redeem the cash back as checks or gift cards -- not statement credits.

On the other hand, with Discover it®, you’ll look to maximize the cash back by taking advantage of the 5% cash back categories during the appropriate quarters.

The catch with the 5% cash back program is that there’s no guarantee that the same categories will show up from year to year. And, the card has limits on how much eligible spending will earn the 5% cash back. In the past year, I’ve seen the limit at $1,500 in combined spending in the 5% cash back categories -- so you can get a max of $75 cash back on those categories during the quarter. (Don’t forget that you’ll still earn the base 1% cash back if you exceed the limits.)

Now, comparing the cash back programs would be difficult because it depends entirely on your spending patterns.

If you max out Discover it® 5% cash back program, you’ll earn $300 in cash back-- from $6,000 in spending -- through those 5% cash back categories. This doesn’t count all the other purchases that earn a base 1% cash back.

To earn that same $300, you’d have to spend $15,000 on those same purchases through the Citi® Double Cash Card (assuming that you get an effective 2% cash back by not redeeming as statement credits).

But, if you don’t take advantage of Discover it®’s 5% cash back categories, you’d be earning just 1% cash back. Then, Citi Double Cash would end up offering more cash back.

Since each card has its merits depending on your spending, I’ll call it an even match between the two cards.

Online Shopping Portal: Discover it®

  • Citi Double Cash: Does not participate in  the Citi Bonus Cash Center, which offers an average of 5% bonus cash back at select online retailers
  • Discover it®: ShopDiscover offers 5-20% extra cash back at partnered online retailers

Many credit cards offer a lucrative way for cardmembers to accumulate even more cash back: an online shopping portal. Through these shopping portals, you complete an online purchase as you normally would, but you just have to enter the retailer’s website through a special link. You’re going to make that purchase anyway -- just spend an extra minute to go through the online shopping portal for some bonus cash back.

The Citi Bonus Cash Center and ShopDiscover are working with much of the same retailers, though there are slight differences here and there. To show you which online shopping portal is better, I’ve compared the bonus cash back amounts for some of the biggest online retailers:

Citi Bonus Cash Center vs. ShopDiscover

Online retailer Citi Bonus Cash Center ShopDiscover
Apple 1% bonus cash back 5% bonus cash back
Best Buy 1% bonus cash back 5% bonus cash back
Macy's 2% bonus cash back 5% bonus cash back
Walmart.com 2% bonus cash back 5% bonus cash back

However, the bonus cash back opportunities don't even matter because the Citi Double Cash card doesn't participate in Citi's Bonus Cash Center! Meanwhile, Discover it® cardmembers can use ShopDiscover to earn even more cash back on their online purchases. Discover it® wins this one for merely offering an online shopping portal (though ShopDiscover is still the better online shopping portal).

Annual Fee: Tied

  • Citi Double Cash: No annual fee
  • Discover it®: No annual fee

It’s rare for a cash back credit card to hit cardmembers with annual fees, probably because it is counterintuitive to the concept of earning cash back. If you’re spending to get cash back to negate an annual fee, there’s no point in getting cash back card -- just get any no-annual-fee card and be done with it.

With that in mind, it was expected of Citi Double Cash and Discover it® to have no annual fee, so both cards tie for the category.

Interest Rates: Discover it®

  • Citi Double Cash: 12.99% - 22.99% variable APR (0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers)
  • Discover it®: 10.99% - 22.99% variable APR (0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers)

Don’t pay interest. Don’t pay interest. Don’t pay interest.

Otherwise, all that cash back that you earned? You’re using it to pay off the interest, as opposed to using it for the things you want.

However, in the odd chance that you do have to carry a balance, you’ll find relief in knowing that you have a low APR.

So, Citi Double Cash has a slightly longer 0% APR introductory period -- just one more month. To me, that is not a big deal. I believe that a lower APR will be more impactful in the long-term than the extra 30 days of no interest.

Therefore, I’m giving this category to Discover it®.

Card Coverages: Citi Double Cash

Although the cash back programs are the shining points of the Citi Double Cash and Discover it® cards, they do carry extensive card protections that could be useful under certain circumstances. They also provide some peace-of-mind when using your cards to pay for purchase.

It’s a long list, so I’ve organized them in a table for your easy digestion:

Citi Double Cash vs. Discover it® benefits

Card Citi® Double Cash Card Discover it®
$0 liability fraud protection Yes Yes
Purchase protection 120 days after the purchase (90 days in NY), $1,000 limit per claim ($50,000 max. per year) 90 days after the purchase, $500 limit per claim
Price protection 60 days after the purchase, $300 limit per item ($1,200 per year) 90 days after the purchase, $500 limit per item
Return protection 60 days after the purchase, $250 limit per item ($1,000 per year) 90 days after the purchase, $500 limit per item

Not surprisingly, the protections provided by both cards are rather similar. The Citi® Double Cash Card, however, is just slightly better -- simply because it has better travel protections.

Perks: Discover it®

  • Citi Double Cash: First late-payment fee waived and EMV chip technology
  • Discover it®: No penalty APR, no late payment fee for the first late payment, no foreign transaction fees, EMV chip technology and free FICO credit score online and on monthly statements

The Citi® Double Cash Card only has two standout perks: a one-time “late pass” and EMV chip technology for card-payment acceptance overseas.

Discover it® offers those same exact perks and more. Additionally, it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, and you get free FICO credit scores every month (normally $19.95 per score). Bonus, you don't even have to be a Discover customer to get your credit score anymore. As of May 20, 2016, anyone can get their FICO score through Discover here.

On top of offering the same great benefits as the Citi Double Cash, I believe that Discover it®’s other perks are extremely practical for the average person. After all, everyone should be keeping an eye on their credit, and the free FICO credit scores are the real deal, not some other credit score that is not recognized by lenders.

Customer Service: Citi Double Cash

  • Citi Double Cash: Say “representative” to get personal help 24 hours a day; free 24/7 concierge service
  • Discover it®: 100% U.S.-based customer service available any time

Citi’s case for its customer service quality is that you can easily reach a customer service rep on demand. Based on firsthand experience, I know that Citi does outsource at least some of its customer service. Discover it®, on the other hand, boasts U.S.-based customer service -- it’s something that people appreciate when it comes to inquiries about their accounts.

However, Citi Double Cash shines because it offers complimentary concierge service, which acts as a personal assistant to help you with travel booking, dining reservations, shopping and a plethora of other tasks.

That’s why Citi Double Cash wins the customer service category.

VERDICT: Discover it®

With the most winning categories, Discover it® beats the Citi® Double Cash Card (3-2) by a slight margin.

Discover it® has the better online shopping portal, lower interest rates, and more perks than the Citi® Double Cash Card. Yes, Citi Double Cash has its place in the wallets of people who don’t have an identifiable spending pattern -- ideal for its potential 2% cash back program on all purchases.

However, most people will find the Discover it® to be the better overall cash back credit card -- you are bound to find a way to take advantage of the 5% cash back categories, in addition to the higher bonus cash back through ShopDiscover.

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