Best Cash Back Credit Cards for 2020

With the right cash back card, you can earn rewards that put money in your pocket. Take a look at some of the best cash back cards available from Bankrate's partners and start maximizing the money you spend, from everyday purchases like gas and groceries to dining and travel.

Best Cash Back Cards - Cash in with April 2020's Top Offers:

Need more information?

Skip down to read our card profiles and expert advice.

Best for flat-rate cash back

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Double Cash Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% - 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for digital wallet users

Wells Fargo Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Wells Fargo's secure website

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified digital wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12
Welcome Offer:
Earn a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 15 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers
Regular APR:
13.99%-25.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified digital wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don’t expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Select “Apply Now” to learn more about the product features, terms and conditions

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.


Author: Barry Bridges | bbridges@bankrate.com


The information about the Capital One Cards has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Bankrate helps you cash in on cash back credit cards

Looking to earn cash back on credit card purchases? We can help you pick the right card for it. Before you make your decision, take a look at what you need to know about cash back credit cards.


Bankrate’s top picks for best cash back credit cards

Card Name Bankrate Score Best For
Citi® Double Cash Card 4.7/5 Flat-rate cash back
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card 4.5/5 Digital wallet users
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available) 4.7/5 Your first rewards card
Chase Freedom Unlimited® (not currently available) 4.6/5 1.5% cash back on everything
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available) 4.6/5 Dining and entertainment with no annual fee
Discover it® Cash Back (not currently available) 4.7/5 First-year cash back bonus
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available) 4.9/5 Dining and entertainment
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (not currently available) 4.4/5 Banking relationship bonuses
American Express Cash Magnet® Card 4.4/5 Payment flexibility with cash back
Discover it® Student Cash Back (not currently available) 4.7/5 Bonus category card for students

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why it’s the best flat-rate cash back offering:

  • Earn cash back twice: 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • 18-month 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers (13.99% – 23.99% variable APR thereafter)
  • The Lost Wallet® Service will replace your lost card within 24 hours
  • No annual fee

This card isn’t for you if: You have the ability to spend more, especially in specific categories.

Bottom line: The Double Cash card is a great tool for keeping practicing healthy card habits due to its 1% cash back incentive after paying off a purchase.

Read the full review and apply on Citi’s secure website.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Why it’s the best cash back card for digital wallet users:

  • The normal 1.5 percent cash rewards rate rises to 1.8 percent on qualified digital wallet purchases (including Google Pay™ and Apple Pay®) during the first 12 months you own the card.
  • Pay your monthly cellular phone bill with the card and get up to $600 protection on your cellphone against covered damage or theft (a $25 deductible applies).
  • Spend $500 in your first three months and earn a $150 cash rewards bonus.
  • No annual fee

This card isn’t for you if: You’re not a frequent digital wallet user, or you want a cash back card with a higher rewards rate.

Bottom line: The first-year digital wallet bonus of 1.8% on qualified purchases and the cellphone protection offer make the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card an interesting option for phone-first consumers looking to earn cash back rewards.

Read the full review and apply on Wells Fargo’s secure website.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available)

Why it’s best for your first rewards card:

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limit on how much cash back you can earn
  • $150 sign-up bonus when you spend $500 in your first three months
  • 15-month 0% introductory offer on purchases and balance transfers (15.49%-25.49% variable APR thereafter)
  • No annual fee

This card isn’t for you if: You’re looking for a high-earning cash back card.

Bottom line: The Quicksilver from Capital One is a great starter cash back card for earning rewards on everyday purchases.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Chase Freedom Unlimited® (not currently available)

Why it’s the best 1.5% cash back offering:

  • $150 cash back after you spend $500 in the first 3 months and 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Redeem for cash back, travel, gift cards or shop with points on Amazon.com
  • 15-month 0% introductory APR offer on purchases and balance transfers (14.99% – 23.74% variable APR thereafter)
  • No annual fee

This card isn’t for you if: If you are looking for a higher rewards rate.

Bottom line: The Freedom Unlimited is a solid no annual fee cash back card with flexible redemption options.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

The information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited® Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available)

Why it’s best for dining and entertainment with no annual fee:

  • Unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% on grocery stores and 1% on everything else
  • Earn $150 when you spend $500 in your first three months
  • 15-month 0% introductory APR offer on purchases and balance transfers (15.49%-25.49% variable APR thereafter)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

This card isn’t for you if: You don’t regularly spend on entertainment and dining out.

Bottom line: The SavorOne by Capital One is a great no annual fee cash back card for earning unlimited rewards.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Discover it® Cash Back

Why it’s the best card for first-year cash back bonus:

  • Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
  • When you activate the bonus categories each quarter, you earn 5 percent cash back on rotating category purchases (up to $1,500 a quarter and 1 percent thereafter).
  • Outside the bonus category purchases, you earn unlimited 1 percent cash back.
  • You can plan your spending patterns for the entire year by checking Discover’s 5% Cash Back Calendar (bonus categories for the first quarter of 2020 are grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS).

This card isn’t for you if: You don’t commit to activating the bonus categories each quarter. For cash back that flies on autopilot, consider a flat-rate card.

Bottom line: The Discover it Cash Back has considerable earning potential, especially for your first year as a cardholder. Just remember to track the rotating categories and activate each quarter.

Read the full review and apply on Discover’s secure website.

The information about the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available)

Why it’s best for dining and entertainment purchases:

  • Get an unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else
  • $300 cash bonus when you spend $3,000 in your first three months
  • $95 annual fee waived your first year
  • No foreign transaction fees

This card isn’t for you if: You don’t get out often, for dining, movies, concerts, etc.

Bottom line: As the sibling to the SavorOne, the Savor card is a stellar way to earn a high level of cash back rewards on your dining and entertainment purchases.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

The information about the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (not currently available)

Why it’s best for achieving banking bonuses:

  • Bank of America Preferred Rewards members can earn 25% – 75% more cash back on every purchase, adding value to an already robust rewards program.
  • Having the choice of six categories for 3% cash back (travel, gas, online shopping, dining, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings on the first $2,500 in combined 2% and 3% category purchases each quarter) provides a ton of flexibility for earning rewards. You also get unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • 0% intro APR offers for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after offers expire). A 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers.
  • The sign-up bonus — $200 in online cash rewards after you make $1,000 in purchases during the first 90 days — is easily obtainable.

This card isn’t for you if: Your spending habits don’t align with the quarterly earning limits. The $2,500 cap on combined spending for your 3% choice category and the 2% grocery store and wholesale club category could limit the earning potential of big-time grocery shoppers.

Bottom line: The banking bonuses help make this card an attractive companion for BofA account holders who make a fair amount of household-oriented purchases.

Read the full review and apply on Bank of America’s secure website.

The information about the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Why it’s best for payment flexibility with cash back:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases
  • The Plan It® feature lets you split up large purchases over time with a fixed monthly fee, while Pay It® lets you quickly pay off small purchase amounts while still earning rewards
  • No annual fee
  • Welcome offer is $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

This card isn’t for you if: You want higher cash back rates in specialized categories, such as gas or groceries.

Bottom line: This card gives you the opportunity to earn cash back at a steady rate and enjoy greater flexibility in managing your balance.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Why it’s the best bonus category card for students:

  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 per quarter and 1% afterward (activation required)
  • Most student cash back cards offer lower, flat-rate rewards on general purchases only
  • No annual fee
  • No credit history required

This card isn’t for you if: You’re not ready to track rotating categories, activate every quarter and target your spending

Bottom line: As long as you keep an eye on the Cashback Calendar and manage your spending patterns, the Discover it Student Cash Back offers a learning experience in how to maximize cash back rewards.

Read the full review and apply on Discover’s secure website.

The information about the Discover it Student Cash Back has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


What is a cash back credit card?

Just as the name says, this kind of card lets you earn cash back rewards on eligible purchases. For every $1 spent on those purchases, you earn a percentage back. Cash back is essentially a discount on eligible purchases. You may not see it immediately at the register, but the payoff comes when you redeem your rewards.

For example, a 3% cash back rate means 3 cents for every dollar in eligible spending. For a cardholder with a $4,000 annual grocery bill, earning 3% at the supermarket could mean up to $120 in cash back rewards.

Cash back cards are different from other types of rewards cards, like those that offer points or miles for travel purchases. Instead of complicated redemption programs, a cash back card typically offers a few simple ways to redeem your rewards, including:

  • Statement credits
  • Checks payable to you
  • Direct deposits into one of your bank accounts
  • Gift cards

Cash back is king of rewards

Research by credit card service company TSYS (Total System Services) has found that cash back is the most popular type of credit card reward. Of the consumers surveyed by TSYS who had a credit card with a rewards program, 80% had redeemed for cash back.

Cash back 80%
Gift cards 47%
Merchandise 38%
Travel 33%
Experiences 21%

Source: 2018 TSYS U.S. Consumer Payment Study

How the different types of rewards structures work

Cash back cards come in a variety of forms. Flat-rate cash back cards, for example, give you the same rewards rate on every purchase. Cards with rotating categories or tiered cash back cards have categories that offer more cash back within certain spending groups (such as restaurants and gas stations).

Cards like the Discover it® Cash Back have rotating bonus categories that take a bit of effort to navigate in part because of the required quarterly sign-up. But with these cards, you’ll have the chance to earn a high level of rewards in a variety of categories throughout the year. With tiered rewards, you earn a set amount year-round for specific categories, such as 6% at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.

When deciding which type of cash back card is best for you, it’s important to know all of the options available to you.

Flat-rate

Flat-rate cash back cards offer the same rewards rate for each eligible purchase. These cards are great for those who aren’t keen on activating and tracking bonus categories each quarter. The Citi® Double Cash Card is a prime example of a flat-rate cash back card, as it offers 2% on every purchase — unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

Tiered

Tiered cash back cards earn you more cash back the more you spend — or in some cases, the more money you have available in your associated account. For example, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa®credit card (not currently available) offers higher rewards rates based on your Bank of America checking, savings or investment account value. If your account is worth $20,000-$49,999, you’ll get 2.5X points back on travel and dining and 1.875X on everything else, compared to the normal 2X on travel and dining and 1.5X on everything else. And it only goes up from there — you’ll earn 3.5X on travel and dining and 2.625X on everything else with an account value of $100,000 or more.

The information about the Bank of America® Premium Rewards Visa® credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Rotating bonus categories

With rotating categories, you’ll often get higher rewards rates, but a majority of these cards require enrollment in order to receive cash back in the category. This can be a problem for forgetful cardholders. Normally, if you forget to enroll, the issuer defaults your earnings in that category to 1% cash back.

Also, take category caps into consideration. Cards with rotating bonus categories tend to set caps on how much you can earn in high rewards categories. For example, the Discover it® Cash Back offers 5% cash back on rotating categories when you activate and enroll, but it caps the bonus rate earnings at $1,500 in purchases per quarter. After that, you’ll earn an unlimited 1%.

What is the highest-paying cash back card?

Consumers can choose from hundreds of cash back credit cards that reward purchases ranging from the general (1% back on all eligible purchases) to the specific (6% back on select U.S. streaming services). Each one puts money back in your wallet, but which credit card pays you the most cash back?

The answer depends on a lot of factors, but two cards that definitely belong in the conversation are the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express and the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available).

A closer look at the Blue Cash Preferred

Here’s a breakdown of the card’s cash back potential.

Rewards rates and categories

  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, then 1%)
  • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services
  • 3% cash back on transit (including rideshares, tolls, taxis and buses)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% on everything else
  • Terms apply

Spending limit

  • $6,000 at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1%

Definitions and exceptions

American Express defines “supermarkets” quite narrowly. Merchants not included in the category include superstores (such as Target), warehouse clubs (such as Sam’s Club) specialty stores (such as wine shops) and convenience stores. Eligible purchases at non-supermarket establishments earn 1% cash back, not 6%.

Offsetting costs

How much can you earn with Blue Cash Preferred?

If you max out the U.S. supermarkets category, you’ll earn $360 per year (6% of $6,000). However, bear in mind that you’ll continue to earn for U.S. supermarket purchases, at 1% unlimited, after you hit the $6,000 limit.

You’ll also earn unlimited cash back in four other categories: 6% on select U.S. streaming services, 3% on transit, 3% at U.S. gas stations and 1% on other eligible purchases.

The $360 per year from maxing out the U.S. supermarkets category could be just the beginning, given the earning potential in the remaining categories. Families that spend a lot at supermarkets and gas stations could easily see several hundred dollars in cash back every year.

Runner-up for highest-paying cash back card

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card (not currently available)

Although the Capital One Savor makes the list of highest-earning cash back cards, the specificity of its most lucrative rewards category (unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment) limits the card’s overall potential. The typical consumer probably doesn’t spend enough on dining and entertainment to see exceptional returns.

Rewards rates and categories
  • 4% cash back on dining and entertainment
  • 2% at grocery stores
  • 1% on all other purchases
  • 8% cash back on tickets at ticket marketplace Vivid Seats (through May 2020)
Spending limit
  • N/A (unlimited)
Definitions and exceptions

Capital One doesn’t put many restrictions on what qualifies as a dining/entertainment purchase. The list of eligible purchases includes restaurants, bars, bakeries, movie tickets, theme parks, sporting events, bowling alleys and many more.

Offsetting costs
  • $95 annual fee (waived the first year)

Honorable mention: Discover’s first-year phenoms

No discussion of high-earning cash back cards would be complete without mentioning Discover. The discussion just needs to include an asterisk with the notation “year one.”

Discover offers several cash back cards with the Cashback Match™ feature. You can see your initial earnings effectively double when Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Take the Discover it Cash Back as an example. If you activate and max out your spending in the rotating bonus categories (5 percent up to $1,500 each quarter, then 1 percent), your yearly earnings in those categories alone would reach $300. Add the Cashback Match and you’d have $600 cash back in bonus categories at the end of your first year.

Bear in mind, that $600 figure doesn’t include the 1 percent you would continue to earn after hitting the $1,500 quarterly limit or the unlimited 1 percent for non-category purchases. One catch: the Cashback Match applies only to your first year as a cardholder.

The other catch is that to continue earning at least $300 per year in the bonus categories afterward, you’d need to keep adjusting your spending patterns to align with the rotating categories and keep remembering to activate each quarter. In other words, the discipline required to maximize your rewards with any rotating category card gives “earning cash back” a double meaning.

Still, the overall quality of Discover’s cash back cards makes each one an attractive option even after the Cashback Match is a distant memory.

Figuring out which card is right for you

Review your spending for the past few months to see which categories you purchased the most in, and make sure to have your credit score handy to know which cards you have a chance at being approved for.

A busy family of four would most likely benefit more from a card that offers greater rewards on gas and groceries, such as the 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) and 3% at U.S. gas stations offered by the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, than a cash back card focused on travel.

If you can’t pinpoint an area where you spend the most in, go with a general-purpose cash back card that will get you earn rewards on most any kind of eligible purchase.

Pros of owning a cash back card:

  • Most cash back cards offer an unlimited 1% cash back on purchases outside of bonus categories.
  • Many offer cash back bonuses for hitting certain spending requirements within a time period.
  • You can normally redeem your cash back for things like merchandise, airfare, hotel stays, statement credits and more.

Cons of owning a cash back card:

  • Some cards require enrollment to receive a high level of cash back each quarter.
  • It’s not unusual for issuers to put a cap on how much you can earn within higher rewards categories.
  • You may have trouble maxing out your bonus categories if they aren’t relevant to your lifestyle.

Pick a card that’s aligned with how you spend money. Some cards give you 2% cash back on all purchases while others 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


Things to watch out for with cash back cards

With a cash back card, the amount you accrue is simple and easy to follow — it’s essentially a rebate on everything you spend. However, owning any kind of credit card means being aware of some potential pitfalls.

Cash Back Rewards Terminology

Like any type of credit card, cash back cards play by a certain set of rules. To know how much they pay, you’ll first need to figure out how they pay.

  • Rewards rate. The percentage of cash back returned to you for every $1 spent on qualifying purchases
  • Categories: The types of purchases that qualify for cash back rewards
  • Spending limit. The point where the cardholder maxes out his or her cash back earnings
  • Definitions and exceptions. Terms that spell out which purchases qualify for cash back, which applies in part to bonus categories
  • Offsetting costs. Usually an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee

APR that cancels out rewards

When you run a large balance on your credit card, APR (annual percentage rate) could cancel out the rewards you’ve earned.

As long as you consistently pay off your balance each month, you can avoid paying these interest charges. But if you tend to carry a balance, your top priority when researching cash back cards should be looking for cards that offer lower APR or a pass on your first late payment.

Overspending for a bonus

Many cards offer sign-up bonuses that require you to spend a specific amount of money within a specific time-frame. You might feel tempted to sign up for a card just for the welcome offer, but be careful. By acting impulsively, you could overspend to qualify for the offer and end up carrying a balance.

Make sure the spending requirement is in line with how much you normally spend with a credit card. Running up a balance you can’t pay off in time could subject you to high APR, potentially making the sign-up bonus a net loss.

Letting your points expire

Above all, remember to redeem your cash back. If you don’t, there’s no use in getting a cash back card in the first place.

A number of cards offer rewards that don’t expire, but don’t assume every card does. Check the fine print and keep an eye on the rewards you’ve earned. If you have a big purchase planned, consider stockpiling your rewards for a while.


I have always chosen cash back credit cards over travel 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


Survey: Many cash back cardholders leave money on the table

Every time you pay by cash or debit instead of reaching for your cash back credit card, you could be missing out on an opportunity to literally put money in your pocket.

Bankrate.com recently conducted a survey about the preferred payment methods of rewards credit cardholders, including cash back cards, who pay their bills in full each month. The results found that 55 percent of this group are missing out on rewards due to paying with cash or a debit card when they could be using their rewards credit card instead.

Taking advantage of your cash back rewards is not as complicated as you may think, and the benefit of extra cash means that using your cash back card every time you swipe, tap or buy online might be well worth it.

Cash back rewards you could be earning

The survey looked at consumers’ preferred payment methods for purchases  in four major categories: groceries, dining, gas and travel. Using the Citi® Double Cash Card as an example, the researchers estimated how much cash back you could earn in a year if you made these purchases with that card exclusively rather than cash or a debit card.

The Citi Double Cash earns 2 percent cash back on every purchase — 1 percent when you buy and 1 percent as you make payments for those purchases. Based on that earning rate, a cardholder who pays their balance on time and in full every month could expect these earnings if they spent the national average* in those four categories:

Groceries Dining Gas Travel TOTAL
Citi Double Cash Card $89 $69 $42 $33 $233

*As determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

The study also finds that many rewards cardholders who don’t carry a monthly balance fail to use their cards to pay for purchases that could be earning rewards.

According to the data compiled by Bankrate, 44 percent of rewards cardholders who don’t carry a balance from month to month pay for their groceries with cash or a debit card. A consumer in that group who owns a Citi Double Cash Card could be missing out on $89 — possibly more or possibly less, depending on their spending habits — in cash back on groceries alone each year.

Rewards category Paid with debit card/cash
Groceries 44%
Restaurants 43%
Gas stations 37%
Airfare 15%
Hotel 16%

 

How to maximize bonus categories

Let’s break down how you can get the most out of rotating bonus categories using the Discover it® Cash Back as an example. You can try a similar strategy with any card as long as it matches up with the respective rewards structure.

Enroll/activate each quarter

Rotating category cards typically require you to enroll or activate (the language varies) the bonus categories for the upcoming quarter to earn the higher bonus rate. If you don’t, you’ll earn the standard rate.

With the Discover it Cash Back, upon enrollment you’ll earn 5% cash back in quarterly, rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 in purchases and an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.

Target your spending

In order to get the most out of a bonus category, try to max out the spending limit for the quarter. Depending on the card, it could be in the neighborhood of $3,000. After you reach the limit, the rewards rate typically returns to the standard percentage.

Be aware that it may be difficult to maximize your rewards if the bonus category covers the kind of purchases you don’t normally spend a lot of money on.

Discover’s bonus categories for January-March 2020 are grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS. By maxing out all four of the Discover it Cash Back bonus categories throughout the year (capped at $1,500 in spending each quarter), you’ll earn $300 in cash back — not including spending you’d do in the 1% cash back category; activation required. Say you spend an additional $500 each quarter on non-category spending; that’s an extra $20 in cash back for the year.

Consider combining cards

A combination of cards might serve you best. Some rewards credit cards offered by the same issuer let you use different cards to suit your needs and combine points.

Consider the Chase Freedom® (not currently available), Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card (not currently available)*. Consumers who spend across a wide variety of categories can pick up this combination of cards and combine Chase Ultimate Rewards® points when they’re ready to redeem. By having all three cards, consumers can utilize bonus categories efficiently to maximize rewards for the year.

You can try the same kind of strategy with cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points. The key is, once again, choosing cards that make sense with your regular spending patterns so you can maximize the rewards you earn.

The information about the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Explore the card’s ‘online mall’

Some card issuers feature online shopping portals that offer cash back incentives, discounts or both. Examples include Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Barclaycard RewardsBoost.


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


Additional reviews and research

Find out more about cash back credit cards with these resources from Bankrate:


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.