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Best cash back credit cards: Top picks for 2016

By Mitch Strohm · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Posted: 9 am ET


This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by any of the referenced financial institutions or companies. Opinions, analysis, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any financial institutions or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such entity. All products or services are presented without warranty.

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 2016 cash back card competition, which were then rated by a panel of judges to narrow down the top 3.

CARD SEARCH: Compare cash back credit cards.

Notably, the judges declared a tie for the 2nd place card in this category.

Here are the 3 best cash back credit cards, according to CreditCards.com:

1. Citi® Double Cash Credit Card

The Citi® Double Cash Credit Card earns 1st place in the competition for its generous 1% cash-back on everyday purchases and 1% 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% cash back on general purchases and an additional 1% when you pay your bill on time. With that 1% plus 1% cash-back structure, this is an industry-leading card for cash back on general purchases.
  • There's no annual fee on the Citi® Double Cash card, making it cheaper than competing cards, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
  • 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% 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 13.24% and 23.24%.

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% 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 2nd place with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Very generous rewards – 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and 3% cash back on 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% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year. It also comes with 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores.
  • On general purchase, this card pays 1%, filling in gaps between its bonus categories.
  • For the 1st 6 months, the Blue Cash Preferred® card pays 5% cash-back on eligible travel purchases up to $200.
  • 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 13.24% and 23.24%, comparable to the other 2 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 rewards for more general spending habits, another cash back card may be more beneficial.

In addition to its sign-up bonus and rewards, this card offers 0% 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% before the relatively low 1% rate kicks in. In addition, American Express isn't as widely used as Visa, MasterCard and Discover. That might make it necessary to keep a backup card or to use this card strategically with others.

3. Chase Freedom Unlimited Card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card tied for 2nd place with the Blue Cash Preferred® credit card for its low-maintenance rewards and 1.5% 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% 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 1st 3 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% 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 14.24% and 23.24%, on par with competing cards.
  • 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% cash back on all purchases, easy redemption, large sign-up bonus and 15-month 0% 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%) than other cards in its class. The Citi® Double Cash card offers a higher 1% cash-back on all purchases and an additional 1% 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 13.24% to 23.24% variable Up to 2% cash back on all purchases
Blue Cash Preferred® card 13.24% to 23.24% 6% cash back on groceries, 3% on gas and select department stores
Chase Freedom Unlimited 14.24% to 23.24% 1.5% cash back on all purchases


This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by any of the referenced financial institutions or companies. Opinions, analysis, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any financial institutions or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such entity. All products or services are presented without warranty.

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