How to earn at least 5% cash back on as many purchases as possible
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A surprising number of credit cards reward at least 5 percent cash back on certain purchases. If you’re willing to use a combination of cards for your daily spending, you could potentially earn a high return in many different categories. Here are some of my favorite credit cards that offer (at least) 5 percent cash back:
The best 5% cash back cards
Chase Freedom Flex
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ currently allows cardholders to earn 5 percent cash back on five distinct types of purchases (six for new cardholders). It’s best known for offering 5 percent cash back on categories that change every quarter (activation is required, and the 5 percent rate applies on up to $1,500 in quarterly spending, then it drops to 1 percent cash back after that). Grocery stores (excluding Walmart), Target and fitness clubs and gym memberships are the Chase Freedom Flex’s bonus categories from Jan. 1 through March 31, 2023.
But the Freedom Flex is just getting started. It also offers 5 percent cash back on Lyft rides (through March 2025) and travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Neither of those categories has a spending cap.
There’s still more: New cardholders get $200 after spending $500 in their first three months of account opening, plus they get 5 percent cash back on up to $12,000 in grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) in their first year. If you max out that grocery spending, the sign-up bonus is worth up to $800.
If you want to get at least 5 percent cash back on as many purchases as possible, the Freedom Flex is an ideal starting point, and it doesn’t even charge an annual fee.
Citi Custom Cash Card
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is another excellent no-annual-fee selection. It only gives 5 percent cash back on one category, but its main benefit is that the category automatically changes along with your spending habits.
Cardholders get 5 percent cash back on their top eligible spending category (up to $500 in purchases every billing cycle, then 1 percent cash back after that). The possible categories are restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
Discover it Cash Back
The Discover it® Cash Back card is a no-annual-fee rotating category card that gives 5 percent cash back after activation on up to $1,500 in quarterly spending (then 1 percent after that). The issuer chooses the categories, so they’re not as flexible as the Custom Cash, but they still offer broad appeal. The Q1 2023 assortment includes grocery stores, drug stores and select streaming services. The 2023 Discover cash back calendar hasn’t been revealed beyond the first quarter, but based upon past experience, there’s a good chance it will feature traditional favorites such as restaurants, PayPal, Amazon.com and more.
I see the appeal of holding all three of these cards. The Freedom Flex, the Custom Cash and the Discover it Cash Back card can each zig when another zags, diversifying your earning strategy.
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
Another contender for our Swiss Army Knife of 5 percent on eligible purchases no-annual-fee cash back cards is the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card. Its eligible categories are more niche, but that’s actually useful if you already have a lot of the major bases covered with your other cards.
The Cash+ card allows users to select two of the following categories each quarter to earn 5 percent cash back on eligble purchases (on up to $2,000 in combined spending, then 1 percent cash back after that): TV, Internet and streaming services; home utilities; ground transportation; select clothing stores; cellphone providers; electronics stores; gyms and fitness centers; fast food outlets; sporting goods retailers; department stores; furniture stores and movie theaters. It may be hard to max these out regularly, but even the occasional large electronics or furniture purchase could make this card well worth it.
Store credit cards
Plenty of retailers offer 5 percent cash back when customers use the store’s branded credit cards at their locations. The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card is one of my favorites because it gives 5 percent cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market (technically without an annual fee, although cardholders do need an Amazon Prime subscription, which costs $139 per year). I’m mentioning this one first because Amazon sells just about everything, and it also owns a popular chain of grocery stores.
There are lots of other examples: Best Buy, Lowe’s, Staples, Target and Walmart are among the additional retailers that give 5 percent cash back when you use their branded credit cards. If you shop there a lot, the cards are well worth it.
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Unlike these other cards, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express charges an annual fee (of $95), but it’s actually my favorite credit card. I’ve had it for almost a decade, and I love that it gives 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in annual purchases, then 1 percent cash back after that). Groceries are my family’s biggest credit card spending category.
For argument’s sake, if you max out the grocery category but don’t spend any other money on the card, you’re looking at a 4.4 percent return after accounting for the annual fee. In that sense, you might be better off buying groceries with the Citi Custom Cash, but it’s not a particularly realistic scenario.
The Blue Cash Preferred also gives 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations. It has other valuable perks, too, such as an Equinox+ credit that’s good for up to $120 per year and a Disney Bundle credit worth up to $84 annually. Plus, it boasts strong extended warranty and purchase protection coverage and Amex’s industry-leading customer service. I get a lot of value from Amex Offers, too.
How to choose a 5% cash back credit card
The biggest consideration in any credit card rewards strategy should be whether or not you carry a balance. With the average credit card rate approaching 20 percent, it doesn’t make sense to pay that much in interest just to earn 5 percent cash back. More than half of active credit card accounts revolve debt from month to month, according to the American Bankers Association. If you have credit card debt, focus on paying that down (perhaps with a 0 percent balance transfer card) before pursuing rewards.
If you’re able to pay your credit card bills in full and avoid interest, then rewards are great. Consider whether you’d prefer travel rewards or cash back, as well as how you spend money. Different cards prioritize different spending categories, so lean into the areas in which you spend the most. Layer these on top of a solid foundation, such as a credit card that gives 2 percent cash back on everything you buy. The right credit card rewards strategy can help you bust inflation and put a lot of money back in your pocket.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at email@example.com, and I’d be happy to help.