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Best cash-back credit cards: Top picks

By Mitch Strohm · Bankrate.com
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Posted: 4 pm ET

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Best cash back credit cards

Photo Credit: Dan Dalton/Getty Images

The best cash-back credit cards offer generous rewards and sign-up bonuses. But the card that's best for you depends on your spending habits and financial situation. Choosing the right card can mean hundreds or thousands of dollars back on your purchases annually.

Some cash-back cards offer a flat-rate percentage on purchases, while other cards come with bonuses on specific categories and a flat-rate percentage on general purchases.

CreditCards.com recently rounded up the best cash-back credit cards for its annual cash-back card competition, and the finalists were then rated by a panel of judges to narrow down the top three.

CARD SEARCH: Compare cash back credit cards.

Notably, the judges declared a tie for second place in this category.

Here are the three best cash-back credit cards, according to CreditCards.com:

1. Citi® Double Cash Credit Card

The Citi® Double Cash Credit Card earns first place in the competition for its generous 1 percent cash back on everyday purchases and 1 percent when you pay your credit card bill on time. It has a simple rewards structure with no categories to track, no cap on cash back and no annual fee.

Highlights:

  • The Citi® Double Cash credit card offers a chance to earn cash back twice: 1 percent cash back on general purchases and an additional 1 percent when you pay your bill on time. With that 1-percent-plus-1-percent cash-back structure, this is an industry-leading card for cash back on general purchases.
  • In addition to generous cash back, the Citi® Double Cash credit card has perks including purchase protection, and trip cancellation and interruption protection.
  • This card comes with a 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 18 months. That makes it a good option for those interested in consolidating and paying down debt.
  • Citi® Double Cash cardholders may also benefit from the Citi Price Rewind program. If you register your purchases online, the company will search for lower prices on those items and refund you the difference on better deals.

Fees and APR:

  • There's no annual fee with the Citi® Double Cash credit card.
  • This card comes with a variable APR between 13.49 percent and 23.49 percent.

Notes:

  • The Citi® Double Cash credit card is best for those who would like an affordable everyday cash-back card with generous rewards on all purchases and an easy-to-use rewards structure.

Perhaps the best feature of the Citi® Double Cash card, aside from the chance to earn cash back twice, is its simplicity. There's no chasing bonus categories, no rotating categories and no annual fee.

Disadvantages: Carrying a balance can eat up rewards with the Citi® Double Cash card. And this card requires you to pay on time monthly in order to earn an additional 1 percent cash back. If you typically carry a balance, or often fail to pay on time, this may not be the card for you. There's also no sign-up bonus, something you'll find on other competing cards.

2. Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® card tied for second place with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Very generous rewards – 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets and 3 percent cash back at gas stations and select department stores – make the Blue Cash Preferred® a top competitor in the cash-back category.

Highlights:

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® offers 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year. It also comes with 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores.
  • On general purchases, this card pays 1 percent back, filling in gaps between its bonus categories.
  • This card offers a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 on the card within the 1st 3 months of opening an account.
  • Other perks with the Blue Cash Preferred® include a cash back tracker, purchase protection, return protection and roadside assistance.

Fees:

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® credit card has an APR between 13.49 percent and 23.49 percent, comparable to the other two cards on this list.
  • This card has a $95 annual fee, which is on the high side. But the generous rewards program, when used properly, can offset that fee.

Notes:

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® credit card is best for those who spend big on groceries, gas and department stores. If you're looking for a card that has rewards for more general spending, another cash-back card may be more beneficial.

In addition to its sign-up bonus and rewards, this card offers 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. That makes it a good option for anyone interested in financing a big purchase or consolidating and paying down debt.

Disadvantages: The $6,000 annual spending cap on groceries means the most you could earn is $360 at 6 percent before the relatively low 1 percent rate kicks in. In addition, American Express isn't as widely accepted as Visa, MasterCard and Discover. That might make it necessary to keep a backup card or use this card strategically with others.

3. Chase Freedom Unlimited Card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card tied for second place with the Blue Cash Preferred® credit card for its low-maintenance rewards and 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase. It's ideal for the busy cardholder who doesn't have time to worry about spending on bonus categories.

Highlights:

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited card pays 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. While that isn't as generous as competing cards, its simplicity and reliable rewards system makes up for the lower rate.
  • This card offers a $150 statement credit for spending $500 within the first three months of opening an account.
  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited card allows you to redeem for cash anytime at any amount. Cash-back rewards don't expire as long as the card stays open.
  • This card offers a 15-month 0 percent APR period on purchases and balance transfers, making it a good card for those looking to finance a large purchase or pay off debt.
  • Car rental insurance, roadside assistance, price protection and extended warranties are included with this card.

Fees:

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited card comes with a variable APR between 15.49 percent and 24.24 percent.
  • There's no annual fee with this card, making it a more affordable option than the Blue Cash Preferred® credit card from American Express, but on the same fee level as the Citi® Double Cash credit card.

Notes:

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is best for those who want an easy-to-use everyday cash back card with rewards for all purchases.

Those who sign up for the Chase Freedom Unlimited will enjoy its flat 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, easy redemption, large sign-up bonus and 15-month 0 percent APR period.

Disadvantages: While this card can boost your rewards across the board, it isn't ideal if you do a lot of spending in one particular area. For example, if you spend a lot on groceries, the Blue Cash Preferred® card might be a better option. This card also comes with a lower flat rate (1.5 percent) than other cards in its class. The Citi® Double Cash card offers a higher 1 percent cash back on all purchases plus 1 percent cash back for paying your bill on time.

The bottom line

The best cash back credit cards offer generous rewards and easy redemption options, but the card that's ideal for you depends on your spending habits. If you're looking to maximize your rewards across the board, a flat-rate cash back card is your best bet. Likewise, if you spend a lot in certain areas, look for a card with a high cash back rate on particular bonus categories.

The Best Cash Back Credit Cards
Cash back credit card Rate Cash back reward
Citi® Double Cash card 13.49% to 23.49% variable Up to 2% cash back on all purchases
Blue Cash Preferred® card 13.49% to 23.49% 6% cash back on groceries, 3% on gas and select department stores
Chase Freedom Unlimited 15.49% to 24.24% 1.5% cash back on all purchases
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