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Cash back rewards incentivize credit card users to put purchases on plastic more than they might have without them. Many cardholders figure if they’ll be spending money anyway, why not get cash back, discounts and perks in the process?
For a while, flat-rate cash back cards mainly offered between 1 and 1.5 percent back, on the high end. But now, more cards are offering 2 percent cash back, and it could be worth it to check out your options for a new everyday spending credit card. If you are in the market for a better cash back credit card, the good news is you’ve got plenty to choose from.
Why do cards give you cash back?
Before we jump into reasons why you should rethink your cash back credit card strategy, it might be useful to understand why you get cash back from your credit cards in the first place.
Whenever you use a credit card for a purchase, the merchant pays an interchange fee, typically between 1 and 3 percent of the transaction total. This interchange fee goes, in part, to the payment processor, such as Visa or Mastercard, and the credit card issuing bank. Part of that fee could also be returned to the cardholder as a “rebate” in the form of cash back.
As you can see, there’s money to be made when you swipe your card, and cash back on purchases can be an incentive for cardholders to pay with a credit card.
Rethinking your credit card cash back strategy
In recent years, card issuers have upped the ante regarding credit card rewards and benefits. Perks are greater and rewards rates are higher.
With bonus category cards, it’s not uncommon to see rewards rates near 5 percent. For example, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming and grocery store purchases (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target), plus 1 percent on all other purchases. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers 5 percent back on activated bonus category purchases each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent).
If you’re looking to stick with a flat-rate cash back card, on the other hand, you’ll earn a lower rate but have consistency in cash back across all your spending, not just designated categories. And although 1.5 percent used to be the industry standard for this type of card, there are now many 2 percent cash back cards to choose from.
Flat-rate credit cards that offer 2 percent back
If you are considering a new cash back card, it’s helpful to go over some of your options. Here’s what you can expect in terms of credit cards offering at least 2 percent cash back on your purchases.
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for responsible card use
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 1 percent as you buy, plus another 1 percent when you pay for your purchases
- Welcome offer: None
- Annual fee: $0
If you are looking for a card that helps you cultivate healthy credit card use, the Citi Double Cash Card has a unique way for cardholders to do just that. For one, there’s an 18-month 0 percent introductory APR on balance transfers that could help you pay down any higher-interest debt you are carrying (18.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable APR thereafter).
The card also offers up to 2 percent unlimited cash back. You earn 1 percent cash back rewards on all purchases; then, you earn another 1 percent in cash back when you pay off your purchases. In this way, you can earn more back as you pay down your balance, not just when you spend on the card.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card: Best for extra perks
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 2 percent cash rewards on purchases
- Welcome offer: $200 bonus cash rewards after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months
- Annual fee: $0
Not only can you get a consistent 2 percent cash rewards with this card, but there’s a generous welcome bonus, intro APR for purchases and qualifying balance transfers and extra card perks. The Active Cash Card carries cellphone protection up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible), auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, zero liability for unauthorized purchases and roadside dispatch.
This card also offers Visa Signature benefits. These benefits include travel perks like Visa Signature Concierge Services and additional perks at Luxury Hotel Collection properties along with travel and emergency assistance services, extended warranty protection and online product registration for easier claim filing.
PayPal Cashback Mastercard®: Best for online shopping with PayPal
- Rewards rate: 2 percent cash back on all purchases; 3 percent cash back on PayPal purchases
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
The PayPal Cashback Mastercard is another card with a higher rate for cash back. For this card, you’ll need a PayPal account to earn and redeem cash back rewards. If you don’t mind this requirement, then you can enjoy using this no-annual-fee card.
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best for Bank of America loyalists
- Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
- Welcome offer: $200 online bonus cash rewards after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days
- Annual fee: $0
Technically, this card offers only 1.5 percent back by default. However, if you are part of the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, you’ll get a boosted amount of cash back—up to 2.62 percent back depending on your checking, savings and investment account balances. The card also offers an introductory 0 percent APR for 18 billing cycles on purchases and any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (A 3 percent fee (min. $10) applies). 18.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable APR on purchases and balance transfers.
Information about the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card was last updated on January 6, 2023.
Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card: Best card for Alliant Credit Union members
- Rewards rate: 2.5 percent cash back on all purchases (on up to $10,000 in qualifying purchases each billing cycle, with a maximum cash back earning per billing cycle of $250)
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
The Alliant Cashback offers a whopping 2.5 percent cash back on all purchases, but it is limited to $10,000 in qualifying purchases each billing cycle. The maximum cash back you can earn per billing cycle is $250. You must be a member of the Alliant Credit Union to be eligible for this card.
Making the most of your flat-rate cash back card
While earning 1 or 2 percent back from your credit card may not seem like a lot, there are ways that you can still maximize your cash back. One strategy is to pair your card with another that offers bonus cash back on categories where you spend more.
For example, supermarkets and gas stations tend to be high spending categories for many people. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1 percent), 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and 1 percent cash back on all other spending. You could use this card to rack up rewards in those high-spend categories, then use a flat-rate card for everything else. That way you make the most of your largest expenses and never earn less than 2 percent back on any purchase.
Another option is to pair your flat-rate card with a card where you can “pool” points for boosted redemption values on your points, especially when redeeming points for travel-related spending. For instance, Chase, American Express and Citi have card combinations that work together for this approach. It’s a tad more advanced in terms of credit card strategy, but it’s worth considering when the time is right.
The bottom line
If you’re using a flat-rate cash back credit card that offers less than 2 percent back, then you might be missing out. As more cards increase their cash back offerings, keep an eye out for the best credit cards offering more cash back than the industry average of 1 or 1.5 percent.
If you are ready to learn more about higher-earning cash back cards, check out our picks for the best cash back credit cards. Or even better, use Bankrate’s CardMatch tool, which can match you with credit card offers that are best for your credit profile. If you’re eligible for credit cards with higher cash back rates, this tool can help you find them.
All information about the PayPal Cashback Mastercard®, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuers.