Best flat-rate cash back credit cards

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If you enjoy earning cash back rewards on your credit card spending, you might be a card juggler who keeps meticulous records of which categories are offering the most cash back and when. You might even stay on top of quarterly promotions or pay close attention to when card issuers update their rewards offerings.

For those who don’t like the hassle of keeping track of different credit cards and their rotating rewards bonus categories, it’s good to know there’s another option. Flat-rate cash back cards can simplify your rewards with one consistent cash back rate for all of your everyday credit card spending—no matter the category.

Here’s what you should know about using flat-rate cash back cards and the best ones for your financial goals.

Best flat-rate cash back cards:

What is a flat-rate cash back credit card?

Just like the name suggests, a flat-rate cash back credit card is a rewards card with a single rate, usually expressed as a percentage of credit card spending, for cash back rewards.

To keep things simple, these cards offer the same amount of rewards regardless of what you purchase. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers 1.5 percent back on every purchase you make.

There is a difference between flat-rate cash back and bonus category rewards cards, which instead offer a higher rate of cash back in particular spend categories. Think 3 percent back on groceries, but only 1 percent on general purchases.

The type of card you apply for will determine the amount of cash back you could earn each year. Depending on your spending habits, you may come out ahead with either type of card.

How does cash back work?

Cash back redemption can work in a variety of ways. Each issuer has specific guidelines on purchases that are eligible for cash back rewards. They also provide different options for redeeming cash back rewards.

Most often, your cash back can be redeemed in three ways. The first is via direct deposit. Some cards require you to use an account from the issuer’s bank, while other cards let you send cash back into the bank account of your choice.

Another option is to receive a statement credit. The cash back will be applied to your card balance, and you can make purchases to offset the credit.

Finally, you can convert your cash into gift cards or use card issuers’ portals for certain types of purchases. These portals may have special shopping deals or offer the opportunity to book through travel partners at a discounted rate.

Is a flat-rate cash back card right for you?

Whether or not a rewards card is worth it really depends on your spending and card payment habits. For example, if you struggle to pay your card off each month, you could risk paying more in interest than what you earn in rewards. In this case, you are not coming out ahead. In fact, you may be losing money by paying interest to your card issuer each month.

However, if you have a habit of paying off your balances to avoid paying interest, then a cash back card would reward this type of behavior. A flat-rate card could be a good option if you don’t want to keep up with multiple categories. With a flat-rate cash back card, there’s one rate and no need to be particular with your spending to get the most out of your rewards.

If you want to check it out by the numbers, here’s an example of the cash back you can expect to earn with a flat-rate cash back card versus a card with a cash back structure for different categories.

Spend category Citi® Double Cash Card Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Cash back terms 1% back on purchases, plus 1% as you pay off those purchases, for up to 2% flat-rate cash back 6% cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%); 6% on select U.S. streaming services; 3% on transit and at U.S. gas stations; 1% on everything else
Grocery spending at U.S. supermarkets ($4,600 annual spend) $92 $276
Dining ($3,500 annual spend) $70 $35
Household utilities, fuels and public services ($4,000 annual spend) $80 $40
Household supplies, furnishings and home improvement ($2,800 annual spend) $56 $28
Apparel and services and department stores ($1,800 annual spend) $36 $18
U.S. gas stations ($2,000 annual spend) $40 $60
Transit and ride-shares ($800 annual spend) $16 $24
Entertainment ($3,000 annual spend) $60 $30
Personal care products and services, household operations & other misc. Spending ($3,300 annual spend) $66 $33
Travel ($2,000 annual spend) $40 $20
Pharmacies and drugstores ($1,300 annual spend) $26 $13
Online shopping ($1,800 annual spend) $36 $18
Annual fee $0 ($95*)
Total cash back $618 $500

*Blue Cash Preferred, Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

What is the highest-earning flat-rate cash back credit card?

If you are looking for the highest-earning card, you should know that flat-rate cash back percentages tend to be lower than cards that offer cash back with various bonus rates.

For example, you might see cash back rates on grocery spending go as high as 6 percent, or even some entertainment reward rates for 8 percent cash back, while flat-rate cards might top out at 1 or 2 percent for all spending.

That said, here are the three highest-earning flat-rate cards currently on the market:

  • The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card is offering 2 percent cash rewards, plus other benefits and perks. No activation or tracking is required to rack up unlimited cash rewards.
  • The Citi Double Cash Card 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 make a payment on your purchases.
  • The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card* offers 2.5 percent cash back on all purchases but is limited to $10,000 in qualifying purchases each billing cycle. Then it’s unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all other qualifying purchases.

What are the best flat-rate cash back credit cards?

If you think you are ready to jump into the world of flat-rate cash back cards, here are some options to consider:

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flexible rewards

  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
  • Welcome offer: $200 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0

The Capital One Quicksilver not only offers a simple, flat-rate cash back structure, but it also comes with benefits like no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. The welcome offer, coupled with an introductory APR on purchases, enhances the card’s value and makes it a strong contender for a top flat-rate rewards card.

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best for Preferred Rewards members

  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
  • Welcome offer: $200 online cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days
  • Annual fee: $0

The new Bank of America Unlimited Cash card lets you earn 1.5 percent cash back on all your purchases, and eligible Preferred Rewards members can earn 25 percent to 75 percent more cash back on every purchase. Essentially, you could earn up to 2.62 percent cash back on every purchase with Preferred Rewards, which requires you to have a minimum balance across your Bank of America and Merrill accounts.

There is no limit on how much cash back you can earn, and the cash rewards don’t expire, so you don’t have to worry about using them before a certain period of time.

You can choose how to redeem your cash back in the form of statement credits or deposits made directly to your Bank of America checking or savings account or for credit to an eligible account with Merrill.

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card: Best for 2 percent cash rewards

  • 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
  • Purchase intro APR: 0 percent intro APR for 15 months from account opening
  • Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent intro APR for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers
  • Regular APR: 14.99 percent to 24.99 percent variable

The new Wells Fargo Active Cash Card offers many useful features for those who want the most cash rewards without having to track or activate cash rewards categories. Plus, it’s one of the highest-earning flat-rate cash rewards cards out there.

With a generous rewards rate, welcome bonus and introductory APR, you’d think there wasn’t more to appreciate about this card. But there are additional features that make it a score: cellphone protection, auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, travel and emergency assistance services, extended warranty protection, Visa Signature Concierge Services and additional perks at Luxury Hotel Collection properties.

American Express Cash Magnet Card*: Best for payment flexibility

  • Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases.
  • Welcome offer: $150 statement credit for spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Terms apply

The American Express Cash Magnet Card is a great card for those who want a predictable, hassle-free way of earning cash back from their credit card spending. You also might have access to more flexible repayment terms.

The American Express Pay It Plan It feature lets cardholders select qualifying purchases to pay off over a fixed time period for a set monthly fee. The great news is that cardholders can still earn the 1.5 percent cash back while minimizing extra charges for larger purchases by paying in installments.

PayPal Cashback Mastercard*: Best for online shopping with PayPal

  • Rewards rate: 2 percent cash back on all 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 card without an annual fee.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for fair credit

  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
  • Welcome offer: N/A
  • Annual fee: $39

The Capital One QuicksilverOne credit card is ideal for those who want to earn cash back while building their credit. Those with fair to good credit ratings are likely to be approved for this card, plus there is a low annual fee.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best for students

  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases—boosted to 1.25 percent for the month when the card is paid on time
  • Welcome offer: Up to $60 in streaming subscription credits when you pay on time (earn $5 per month for 12 months; must be earned within the first 18 months)
  • Annual fee: $0

The Journey Student Rewards is a great starter card for students who want rewards for using their credit card responsibly and building their credit profile. The 1 percent cash back rewards rate increases by 25 percent when the card’s balance is paid on time each month.

This card could come in particularly handy for students who want to earn cash back on typical college purchases like books, school supplies or other school-related expenses—items not typically included in many credit cards bonus rewards categories.

Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards: Best for low interest

  • Rewards rate: Earn 1.5 percent unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment
  • Welcome offer: None
  • Annual fee: $0

The Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards acts like both a credit card and a personal loan or line of credit. For those who qualify for good terms like a lower APR and a longer repayment period, earning cash back is as easy as making installment payments each month.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for Chase cardholders and all-around use

  • Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022); 5 percent cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3 percent cash back on dining; 3 percent cash back on drugstore purchases; 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: $200 cash bonus with this card when you spend $500 on your card within three months of account opening
  • Annual fee: $0

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is technically no longer a pure flat-rate cash back card (like it used to be), but it still offers the same boosted cash back on all purchases. Then, it has additional bonus categories—making it one of the best in the bunch.

With no annual fee, plus potentially increased redemption value for purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, this card has received a major upgrade that makes it a game-changer in the flat-rate cash back card category.

How to maximize your flat-rate cash back

There are plenty of ways to maximize your flat-rate cash back credit card. Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your cash back rewards.

Pay your balance in full each month

The first recommendation, and likely the most important, is to pay your balance in full. This will prevent you from paying so much in interest charges that your cash back rewards are irrelevant. After all, what sense does it make to earn $50 in cash back each month when you end up paying $150 in credit card interest each month?

Understand your spending habits

If most of your purchases fall outside of the bonus categories other cards offer, then you should feel confident that this card is probably the best cash back option for you. Even if you watch friends and family get cash back at 5 percent or 6 percent, be wary of FOMO when it comes to chasing down rewards cards that might not apply to your spending. Stick to flat-rate cash back cards and rest assured that you’re getting the most cash back possible for your budget.

Look out for perks, benefits and offers

If you feel like your cash back rate is lower than you’d like on your card, try to balance it out with other card features. For example, a welcome bonus or introductory APR offer can still add some value to your flat-rate cash back card of choice. If there are other benefits like free credit monitoring or purchase protection, it makes even more sense to have the card.

Flexible redemption

Although we covered the multiple ways cash back can be redeemed (direct deposit, statement credit, shopping portals, etc.), it’s helpful to know if a card issuer offers rewards that can be converted to cash. Here are a few flat-rate cash back travel cards that allow you to redeem miles or points for cash:

The bottom line

If you’re going to spend money, why not take advantage of cash back rewards? In a sense, you’re making money doing something you’d do anyway. Yes, the card jugglers among us might make getting cash back in multiple categories look like a cakewalk, but if that’s not your forte, you don’t have to miss out on earning cash back rewards.

If you are a busy person with limited free time, then a flat-rate rewards card could be exactly what you need. Cards that offer a welcome bonus, intro APR for a balance transfer or boosted rewards for select categories or behaviors can further enhance the value of your flat-rate cash back card.

Take time to research the best card that works for your lifestyle, choose the best cash back card and start earning rewards on your spending today.

*The information about the American Express Cash Magnet Card, the PayPal Cashback Mastercard and the Alliant Visa Signature Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Senior Editor, Credit Card Product News