When it comes to rewards credit cards, Americans love cash back. According to TNS Global's Financial Services research, 57.4 percent of rewards cardholders have cash-back cards.
They're also the type of rewards card Bankrate readers ask about most often.
With a cash-back preference in mind, we decided to compare the cash-back cards offered by the 10 largest credit card issuers, according to the Electronic Card Industry Directory. One of those 10 banks, Washington Mutual, does not offer rewards cards to non-customers, so we excluded it from our survey. We were left with nine issuers' cards to compare.
What we did
To get an apples-to-apples comparison, we narrowed the focus to only general-purpose cash-back cards that can be used anywhere. We ruled out points-based cards, except those whose points could convert to a cash or cash equivalent payout.
Brooks Kelly of Bankrate's research department conducted the survey in early May. Thirty cards were compared on 12 data points, compiled from the cards' terms and conditions and information received from bank personnel.
After reading the analysis, see " Cash-back survey results" to understand the details of each card.
The best card for you
Bottom line, there's no one card that's best for everyone because different cards benefit different spending habits. Look for cards that match your spending style. Consider tiered cards if you charge more than $1,000 a month and cards that have flat percentage cash back if you spend less than that. Watch out for caps lower than $500. Never overspend to get a rebate. Always remember that no matter what the advertisements say, you're still spending to save.
Other than a zero percent introductory APR, 12 cards offered some type of bonus rewards just for becoming a new customer. These varied from a cash payout, statement credit or extra points after the first qualifying transaction, to double points for one year or a higher cash-back tier for a set amount of time. Some allow cash advances or balance transfers to trigger the initial payout or points accrual.
Tip: Don't be enticed by bonuses for balance transfers unless the rate, fee and introductory period for the balance transfer prove to be the best deal you can find. Otherwise, the costs from the balance transfer could more than offset the initial rebate.
Avoid taking cash advances -- introductory bonus or not -- unless you're facing an emergency. "Definitely you don't want to think of a cash advance as a way that you can rack up extra reward points because they're going to ding you with an astronomical fee, typically a minimum of 3 percent out of the gate, typically with no cap," says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com. "You're going to forfeit your grace period so they're going to start hitting you with interest charges from day one, typically, when you do that advance."