Cash back credit cards are popular because they provide tangible, easy-to-understand benefits. Who doesn’t like getting a credit on their monthly credit card statement – or, better yet, actual cash deposited into the account of their choice? Cash back credit cards can be even more popular than our top-rated gas credit cards and travel rewards cards.
But not all cash back credit cards are created equally.
Some offer the same cash back rate on all purchases. Others offer higher cash back rates on certain spending categories, such as groceries or gas, and lower rates on everything else. Others offer bonus cash back on spending categories that rotate every quarter. A few accrue cash back on purchases and monthly payments. And some cash back cards even hew to hybrid models, with cash back on certain spending categories and different types of rewards (such as airline miles) on others.
You’ll find each type of card on this list of the best cash back cards available to U.S. consumers today. Keep in mind that most cash back credit cards require applicants to have good to excellent credit – usually indicated by a credit score above 700, and sometimes even higher. If you don’t meet that threshold, work on building your credit before applying.
1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases; Sign-up Bonus Worth $150 + $25
Chase Freedom Unlimited is similar to the flagship Chase Freedom Card, but with an important distinction: Instead of flat 1% cash back and rotating 5% cash back categories with quarterly spending caps, it simply earns an unlimited 1.5% on all purchases. You can redeem for virtually anything, in any amount, at the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal – including cash equivalents, merchandise, and travel.
Chase Freedom Unlimited has a great (and sometimes overlooked) perk for loyal Chase credit card customers. If you also have the Chase Ink Business Preferred ($95 annual fee) business card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee) travel rewards card, you can transfer points earned through Freedom Unlimited to those accounts. You can then transfer those points at a 1-to-1 ratio to a number of different frequent traveler programs, or redeem them for travel purchases through the Ultimate Rewards portal and receive a 25% bonus (for instance, boosting the value of a 50,000-point redemption to $625). However, keep in mind that you need to obtain either Ink Preferred or Sapphire Preferred/Reserve – and remember, having Chase Freedom Unlimited doesn’t necessarily qualify you for those cards.
1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases; $150 Early Spend Bonus
If your spending spans a wide range of categories, this is one of the better general-purpose cash back cards. However, it’s not as strong a choice if you’re looking to maximize your spending in specific categories, such as grocery purchases or travel.
Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases; Welcome Offer Worth Up to $300
Other perks include a 15-month 0% APR promotion for purchases and balance transfers and a nice lineup of value-added perks, including discount opportunities through Amex Offers. One big drawback is the $25 minimum redemption threshold, which could be an issue for lighter spenders.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa is one of a growing cohort of “1.5% cards” – cash back credit cards that earn a flat, unlimited 1.5% return on spending. However, it comes with a nice twist: in addition to an attractive $200 sign-up bonus that requires $1,000 in spending within the first 3 months, Wells Fargo offers unlimited 1.8% cash back on all Apple Pay and Android Pay purchases made during the first 12 months. If you’re a fan of mobile wallet technology, you’ll love this benefit – and likely profit handsomely from it.
Once you clear the $20 cash back threshold, you can reap your rewards at Wells Fargo ATMs nationwide. When you hit $25, additional doors open – you can then redeem for paper checks, statement credits, or deposits into your Wells Fargo bank account. If you’re already a Wells Fargo deposit account holder, this card comes with low-cost overdraft protection transfer capabilities too. Just remember to opt in after signing up.
5% Cash Back in Rotating Categories Every Quarter; 1% on Everything Else
All purchases made with the Chase Freedom card earn 1% cash back, with no caps or restrictions, and purchases up to $1,500 in quarterly rotating categories earn 5% cash back. The categories are usually pretty broad and have wide appeal. For example, from April to June of 2018, purchases made at grocery stores (not including Target or Walmart) earned 5% cash back. Purchases made through Paypal or Chase Pay also receive 5% cash back. This is especially useful if you frequently shop on Ebay and make payment through Paypal.
Limited-time promotions occasionally push Freedom’s earning power even higher – for example, in the fourth quarter of 2015, purchases at amazon, Zappos, Audible, and diapers.com earned 10% cash back up to the $1,500 limit.
Chase Freedom accumulates Chase Ultimate Rewards points, a versatile spending currency that is worth $0.01 per point or more depending on redemption. Spending in the 1% cash back category earns 1 point per dollar, while spending in the 5% category earns 5 points per dollar. You can redeem for cash back (with each point being worth $0.01), deliverable as a statement credit, bank account deposit, or gift card at select retailers (including amazon). There’s no minimum to redeem. You can also redeem for a wide variety of purchases, including travel and general merchandise, through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.
One small drawback of Chase Freedom: You have to manually activate your 5% cash back each quarter. If you don’t do so by the middle of the last month of that quarter, you forfeit the 5% cash back opportunity.
5% Cash Back in Rotating Categories Every Quarter; 1% on Everything Else; Double Cash Back Your First Year
At the end of your first year as a cardholder, Discover automatically doubles all the cash back you earned over the previous 12 months. You can redeem your cash in any amount as a statement credit, bank account deposit, check, or amazon purchase credit.
See our Discover it Cash Back Card Review for more information.
6% Cash Back at U.S. Supermarkets; 3% at U.S. Gas Stations and Select U.S. Department Stores; 1% Elsewhere; $200 Welcome Offer
There’s no spending limit on the U.S. gas station and select U.S. department store categories – you get 3% cash back on every $1 spent in those places, period. And you get 1% cash back on all other purchases, with no limits.
Cash back comes as a statement credit. However, there’s a significant drawback: a $95 annual fee.
Another smaller drawback of the Blue Cash Preferred card is American Express’s restrictive definition of “supermarket.” Superstores like Walmart, wholesale clubs like Costco, and alcohol retailers aren’t considered as supermarkets for this card’s purposes. The annual fee does cut into your earning potential somewhat – but since the 6% supermarket cash back doubles what most competing cards offer, you’re still likely to come out ahead if you take full advantage of this category.
If you’re struggling to meet your $6,000 annual supermarket spending limit with food and dry goods purchases alone, make up the difference by purchasing other merchants’ gift cards at the supermarket checkout counter. It’s like getting an immediate 6% discount at your favorite restaurants, retailers, and e-commerce websites.
3% Cash Back at U.S. Supermarkets; 2% at U.S. Gas Stations and Select U.S. Department Stores; 1% Elsewhere; $150 Welcome Offer
2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores is unlimited, as is 1% cash back everywhere else. Your cash back comes as a statement credit.
Note that big box superstores such as Target, wholesale clubs like Sam’s Club, and alcohol retailers don’t count as “supermarkets,” according to American Express.
Unlimited 3% Cash Back at Restaurants; 2% Cash Back at Grocery Stores; 1% Cash Back Everywhere Else; $150 Early Spend Bonus
Other features include a better-than-average early spend bonus and a 9-month, 0% APR introductory promotion for purchases and balance transfers. If you’re looking for a card that Helps you save money at restaurants and rewards you during the first few months of membership, Savor should be high on your list.
3x Points at Supermarkets; 2x Points at Gas Stations; 1x Points on Everything Else; 50% Point Bonus for 30+ Purchases; 15,000 Points Welcome Offer
The frequent-purchase points bonus is juicier than the non-preferred version of the card, too, if you can manage it: You get a 50% point bonus when you make at least 30 purchases per billing cycle, an average of about one purchase per day. Redemption procedures and values are identical to the regular Amex EveryDay.
Keep in mind that, due to this card’s $95 annual fee, it’s only a good deal if you use it frequently – ideally, enough to qualify for the 50% monthly point bonus. If you don’t plan on using the card frequently, look elsewhere, especially given the complexity and variable values of the Membership Rewards points system.
See our Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card Review for more information.
2x Points at Supermarkets; 1x Points on Everything Else; 20% Point Bonus for 20+ Purchases; 10,000 Points Welcome Offer
The Amex EveryDay Cr
You can redeem your points for gift cards (including American Express gift cards), travel purchases, online shopping (including at amazon), Uber rides, Plenti points, statement credits, and more. Point values vary depending on how you redeem. For instance, 10,000 points gets you a $50 American Express gift card, $100 in Uber credits, or $60 in statement credits. In general, points are worth between $0.005 and $0.01, so every $1 spent at the supermarket (where you get 2x points) earns you between $0.01 and $0.02.
You’ll like this card if you spend a lot on groceries, don’t like to deal with rotating spending categories, and can figure out the somewhat complicated Membership Rewards point system. Otherwise, a more traditional cash back card may be in order.
1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases; Lower Credit Requirements
The main benefit of QuicksilverOne is its relatively lax credit history requirements. Whereas Quicksilver (like most cash back credit cards) requires good to excellent credit, QuicksilverOne requires merely average, fair, or limited credit, though Capital One doesn’t specify exactly what this means.
The flip side of this is that most new cardholders don’t qualify for high credit limits. If you’re able to make your monthly payments on time for five consecutive months, Capital One approves you for a higher credit line.
2% Cash Back on Dining and Gas; 1% Cash Back on Everything Else; Double Cash Back Your First Year
As with the flagship Discover it Cash Back, Discover it Chrome automatically doubles all the cash back you earn during your first year. You can redeem your cash in any amount as a statement credit, bank account deposit, check, or amazon purchase credit.
See our Discover it Chrome Review for more information.
Even the most generous cash back credit cards rarely offer more than 5% cash back on any purchases. Cards that offer more than 2% or 3% cash back typically require holders to keep track of specific spending categories or respect purchase limits.
By contrast, cash back credit card APRs usually range from somewhere north of 10% to more than 20% in some cases. At those rates, carrying a balance for even a single month can seriously eat into your cash back earnings. Habitually carrying a balance from month to month more than negates your cash back earnings, adding to the actual cost of your purchases.
In other words, don’t let the promise of cash back lull you into letting your card balances grow over time. It’s almost never worth it. If you need to carry a credit card balance from month to month, opt for a low APR credit card instead. And if you worry about your ability to keep your credit card spending to a level that allows for in-full payments each month, choose a credit card with a low spending limit, or a secured credit card that requires you to make an upfront cash deposit.
What’s your favorite cash back credit card?
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.
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