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Author: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: September 11, 2018

How we chose our favorite cash back credit cards

Cash back credit cards have become increasingly popular as banks and issuers continue to offer attractive cash back rates and sign-up bonuses. The experts at Bankrate analyzed 680 cash back credit cards against our unique review criteria to identify the best options for multiple scenarios. Each card has been given a Bankrate score out of 100, and our editors have identified what situation each card is best for. These objective scores paired with expert recommendations will help you find the cash back credit card that is right for you.

Review criteria

The scoring criteria created specifically for cash back credit cards evaluates each card on its cash back rate, sign-up bonus, and annual fee. We have done the heavy-lifting to transparently review the best cash back cards on the market and help you find the card that best suits your lifestyle!

  • Cash back rate – Cardholders interested in cash back are looking to get the maximum return on their spending. We review the cash back rewards structure to find the best rates of return, identify the highest-value spending categories, and the easiest redemption system.
  • Sign-up bonus – In order to attract new cardholders, many credit cards offer bonuses upon signing up for the card. As long as you hit a required spending limit within a set period of time you become eligible for extra cash back, points, or miles. Our experts at Bankrate analyze the value of the bonus and clearly outline what you need to do to earn it.
  • Annual fee – Great cash rewards rates don’t mean much if a cards annual fee is too high. Many cards charge a fee to cardholders each year. The Bankrate score takes the annual fee into account. We also signal when there’s a promotional discount on the annual fee, where an annual fee is worth the expense, and explain how much you would need to spend on your card to cover the annual fee with your rewards.

In review: Bankrate’s top cash back credit cards of 2018

Card Name Bankrate Score Best For
Chase Freedom Unlimited® 92/100 1.5% cash back on everything
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card 93/100 Your first credit card
Discover it® Cash Back 93/100 Rotating 5% cash back categories
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card 97/100 Dining and entertainment
Citi®Double Cash Card 94/100 Flat-rate cash back
Chase Freedom® 90/100 Flexible cash back rewards redemption
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card 90/100 Additional cash back rewards on mobile wallet purchases
Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card 91/100 No annual fee
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card 87/100 An annual cash bonus
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card 87/100 Banking relationship bonuses

Capital One Quicksilver Card

For anyone who wants a cash-back card that’s a breeze to understand, the Capital One Quicksilver delivers. There are no changing categories to pay attention to or remembering to use this card over another for the maximum value. Every purchase made with this card will earn 1.5% cash back. It’s that simple.

Read Bankrate’s full Capital One Quicksilver Card review.

Discover it® Cash Back

Compared with the other cash-back cards on the market that offer rotating bonus categories, no one even comes close to the Discover it® Cash Back first-year offer. At the end of the first year, Discover will match all of your accumulated earnings. Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year. That’s as good as it gets.

Read Bankrate’s full Discover it® Cash Back review.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

If you love food, whether it be high-end restaurant gourmet or late-night trips to the drive-thru, this card could be the one for you. The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an unlimited 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else. Depending on your spending habits this could really supercharge your cashback returns. Better still, Capital One is offering a generous sign-up bonus of $500 cash back when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening the card, for average spenders that shouldn’t be a problem. Although this card has a $95 annual fee (waived for the first year), if you are already spending heavily in the dining and entertainment category you will have no trouble making back the expense.

Read Bankrate’s full Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Citi Double Cash Card

When it comes to rewards value, the Citi Double Cash Card ranks among the very best cash-back credit cards that charge no annual fee. We love this card for its simplicity. Citi Double Cash pays 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% back as you pay for that purchase. There’s no cap on how much you can earn back, making this card a leader in the cash-back category.

Read Bankrate’s full Citi Double Cash review.

Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card

If you’re like most American households and are caught up in an endless spending loop of buy groceries, buy gas and repeat, there’s a lot to like about the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card. The card pays 3% cash back on gas purchases and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs up to $2,500 in combined spending per quarter. You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases.

Read Bankrate’s full Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

We believe this card is just as good as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. It’s ideal for the busy cardholder who doesn’t have time to worry about spending on bonus categories.

Read Bankrate’s full Chase Freedom Unlimited review.

Chase Freedom

For those who enjoy the thrill of tracking rotating bonus categories to earn maximum rewards, the Chase Freedom will deliver. The card offers categories that change every three months and pay 5% back, up to a quarterly maximum of $1,500. If you max out the bonus possibilities, you’ll earn at least $300 cash-back annually, plus all of your other spending will earn 1% cash back.

Read Bankrate’s full Chase Freedom review.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express is an easy-to-use card with a simple rewards structure for everyday spending. The card’s 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S gas stations and select U.S department stores and 1% on all other purchases makes it ideal for families on the go. Cash back can be easily redeemed as statement credit, gift cards, and merchandise so this cash back card really can put money back in your pocket with no rotating categories to keep track of and no complicated miles or points structure.

If you travel outside the U.S. for vacations, it’s worth noting that this card charges a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%. However, busy families looking for a good all-rounder that rewards them for groceries and gas, then this is a great option.

Read Bankrate’s full Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express.

Cash Back Credit Card Guide

Table of contents:

What is a cash back credit card?

Cash back credit cards, simply put, give you a rebate on the money you spend every day. For example, if you spend around $4,000 a year on groceries and charge your grocery purchases to a cash back rewards card offering a 2% flat-rate cash back, you would receive $80 in cash back on those purchases. Cash back cards are often simpler than rewards cards which may have a more complicated points structure.

There are many different types of cash back cards. Some offer a flat-rate of cash back, some have bonus categories that will offer high returns and rotate every few months, and some come with tiered rewards offering high cash back percentages on spending in certain categories, for example on gas. For a low-maintenance card, a flat-rate cash back card is probably best for you.

How do cash back credit cards work?

Credit card companies make money through an interchange fee which is incurred for every purchase you make with your card. The seller, or merchant, pays these fees. In order to encourage cardholders to use their cards, issuers offer incentives like cash back to make sure it’s top of your wallet.

For multi-category cash back cards, issuers keep track of where you’re spending your dollars through merchant four-digit category codes which indicate what type of business you’re spending at, whether it be restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, or things like movie tickets for an entertainment bonus category.

I have several cash back cards. I try and use the card that has the best rewards for the type of spending I am doing. Some cards give extra points for dining or travel.

— David Rae, President of DRM Wealth Management

The best cards make redemption very easy. Often you can receive cash back as statement credit, gift cards, merchandise, a donation or as a deposit into a bank account. How you can redeem your cash back is an important factor in deciding which cash back card is right for you.

Pick a card that’s aligned with how you spend money. Some cards give you 2% cash back on all purchases while other may provide 5% cash back in rotating categories (like restaurants or travel) and 1% on everything else. Find the card that will give you the maximum benefit based on which categories you tend to spend the most amount of money in each month.

— Priya Malani, Founding Partner Stash Wealth

Why use a cash back card?

If you have a good credit score you should definitely consider a cash back credit card. Using a debit card for your everyday spending is essentially leaving money on the table. With bank interest rates still less than 1 percent, your rate of return on your spending with a good cash back card will actually beat interest accrued in a typical savings account. Also, cash back earned on your credit card is not taxed, unlike interest earned in a savings account.

I have always chosen cash back credit cards over travels rewards cards for the one reason of simplicity. It is so much easier to know that for every $1,000 I spend I am getting $20 cash back (2%) rather than accumulating miles that have to be used to purchase a flight based on credit card companies’ conversion factors. If I want to travel, I can spend my cash back rewards on flight purchases, it’s so much simpler this way.

— Phillip Christenson, CFA, Portfolio Manager & Financial Advisor at Phillip James Financial

One word of warning: The APR — interest you will incur — on an outstanding balance on a cash back card will far and away outweigh any benefit you receive from the cashback rate. However, if you always clear your balance you can keep earning great cash back rewards and never pay a penny in interest.

Cautionary Note: Don’t spend just to get points. Meaning, If you don’t dine often, don’t start spending excessively on dining to get 1-2% back. You won’t come out ahead with that kind of thinking.

— Christopher Grande, MSIM, CFP®, RMA®, Principal at Walnut Hill Advisors, LLC

Cash back rates

One percent back on all purchases used to be routine, but now several issuers offer a flat 1.5 percent or even 2 percent back on all purchases.  There are also bonus category cash-back cards which reward you with higher percentages when you spend within certain parameters. For example, the Capital One Savor card offers unlimited 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment, 2 percent at the grocery store and 1 percent on everything else. It’s about finding the card that rewards you the highest rate for categories you already spend heavily in. It pays to review your spending and see where you allocate most of your monthly budget.

Other types of cards such as the Discover it Cash Back credit card offer a whopping 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in rotating categories that change every quarter, for example, these categories have included grocery store spending and for the fourth-quarter of 2018 will include purchases made on Amazon.com.

Put all of your recurring bills on your cash back card so you can maximize the cash back you receive each year. It also makes paying and tracking your spending a bit easier when everything is clearly listed on one monthly bill. You may be surprised at how quickly the cash back adds up.

— David Rae, President of DRM Wealth Management

Cash back cards vs. travel rewards cards

Think of cash-back cards as a basic type of rewards card. Although the amount of cash-back and ways to earn bonus cash back can vary greatly from each card, they all give one reward back: cash.

But with travel rewards cards, there are usually multiple ways to use those rewards. Some travel rewards cards give you the option to redeem the rewards for travel or take cash-back. Other cards offer you airline miles. Some premium rewards cards will give you a greater redemption value if you use the accrued rewards to book travel through their portal. For some though, cash back rewards just make a lot more sense than travel rewards points.

I used to use a travel rewards card and ended up with over 250,000 points, which was enough for multiple trips to Australia, or so I thought. When I went to use the points, taking into account the blackout dates and the fees, it was really only good for a couple of trips to Florida. With cash back, you know for sure that you’re getting 2% back on everything you spend. It’s a lot easier to see the value.

— Eric Arnold, Co-founder and CEO of Planswell

Just as there is no one best cash-back credit card for everyone, the same is true of travel rewards cards. Someone who only travels once a year by car will benefit more from a different type of card then a globetrotting wanderer.

Someone who is trying to stick to a budget, save more, spend less or pay down debt should consider a cash back card over a travel rewards card because they’ll be able to put more cash towards these specific goals. A travel rewards card might incentivize more spending even though you may get a free flight.

— Levi Sanchez, CFP®, BFA, Financial Planner Millenial Wealth

How to choose the right cash back card

Finding the right card for you is simple. Review your spending for the past few months and see what categories you spend the most on. Apply for a cash back credit card that offers the best rewards for your highest-spend groups. If you can’t pinpoint an area where you spend the most, it’s hard to go wrong with a general purpose cash-back card — it’s like getting a discount every time you spend on the card.

Each credit card company offers different rewards, and some have larger cash-back perks for spending in specific categories. It’s important to apply for the card that best suits your lifestyle or the card may not be as beneficial. In addition to comparing cards by rewards, compare interest rates, cash-back percentages and bonuses offered.

Match your rewards to your lifestyle needs. If you want to enjoy flexible benefits with extra cash rather than have a plan to travel, cashback may be a better fit compared to other types of rewards like travel, airline or hotel cards.

— Aris Jerahian, AVP Card Services

A busy suburban family, for example, will likely benefit more from a card that offers greater rewards on gas and groceries than a single urban dweller who frequently dines out and doesn’t own a car.

Frequent warehouse shoppers may find that a co-branded card to their favorite location will give them the most bang for the buck.

Cash-back cards are best for disciplined spenders who consistently pay off their credit card balance each month. Doing so can maximize the benefits of this type of card, boosting savings on budgeted expenses. Otherwise, interest charges incurred on a balance can eat into the rewards earned on your spending habits.

Do your research! If you already have a debit card through your bank, check out what cash back cards they offer and what additional benefits you may get for being an existing customer. Then, research other options to be sure you’re picking the best option for you. Choose a card that will give you cash back on the things you regularly purchase.

— Lauren Stansell, CFP®, Financial Planner Yebu.com

Ask the experts

What are some tips for beginners using a cash back card?

Make sure you understand what the terms are for receiving cash back, like which purchases are eligible and if you’re going to be paying an annual fee for the card. Don’t let attractive offers lead you into opening a credit card unnecessarily. It’s not worth damaging your credit simply to chase down rewards. Find what works best for you, be disciplined and stick with it.

— Douglas A. Boneparth, CFP®, President of Bone Fide Wealth, LLC

How do you like to use your cash back rewards?

I use them to cut costs. I leverage the cash back to increase personal cash flow. I encourage my private clients and corporate employees to do the same. Don’t waste the cash back benefit on unwanted spending. Use the cash back to grow net worth.

— Mark Struthers, CFA CFP®, Founder and Financial Advisor at Sona Financial

Pros and cons of cash back cards


  • These cards typically don’t charge an annual fee.
  • Flat rate cash-back cards are an effortless way to earn money back for spending the way you would normally.
  • If you’re highly organized and up for the challenge, combining a flat-rate cash-back card with one that offers rotating bonus categories, can net you some serious savings.
  • You can redeem the savings as a statement credit on your card.
  • Using one of these cards can cut back the bill for your regular monthly spending, helping to make extra room in your budget.


  • There may be caps on how much cash back you can earn.
  • Cash-back cards typically have meager or no sign-up bonuses.
  • There are different levels of complexity with different types of cards.
  • If you don’t pick the right type of card for your spending habits, you won’t maximize the value.

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