Best for automatic bonus category

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Apply Now On Citi's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
  • Regular APR: 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for groceries

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now On American Express's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more. 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations 1% Cash Back on other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
  • Regular APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best for up to 2% cash back

Citi® Double Cash Card

Apply Now On Citi's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 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
  • Regular APR: 13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for no annual fee

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Welcome Offer: One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for sign-up bonus

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Apply Now On Chase's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase. Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Regular APR: 14.99 - 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for gas

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Apply Now On American Express's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card in the first 6 months of Card membership, up to $150 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months of card membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
  • Regular APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best for choice of cash back category

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases). Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases). Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Regular APR: 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for restaurants

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023. Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®). Earn 1% on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for cash back in multiple categories

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Apply Now On Chase's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter! Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase. Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores. Earn 1% on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Regular APR: 14.99 - 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for rotating cash back categories

Discover it® Cash Back

Apply Now On Discover's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Welcome Offer: Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Regular APR: 11.99% - 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about the American Express Cash Magnet® Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


How to cash in with the best cash back credit cards

According to an April 2021 Bankrate survey, more than half (59 percent) of U.S. adults carry at least one rewards credit card. Whether you’re looking for your first rewards card or adding another to your arsenal, a cash back credit card is a great way to earn rewards on your everyday purchases.

A cash back card is a type of rewards credit card that earns you a certain percentage back on eligible purchases. For example, a $100 purchase at 1 percent earns $1 cash back. If you use a cash back credit card every day, your earnings can really add up over time.

So which type of card is best for you — flat-rate, tiered category, rotating bonus category? How do you get the most out of the card you choose? Before you make your decision, use our guide to get informed about cash back credit cards.

In this guide:


Bankrate’s top picks for best cash back credit cards

Card Name Best For Cash Back Highlights Bankrate Review Score
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Automatic bonus category 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Groceries 6% at U.S supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, 1% after) 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi® Double Cash Card Up to 2% cash back 1% when you make purchases + 1% when you pay for them 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card No annual fee 1.5% unlimited on all purchases 3.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Sign-up bonus 5% on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel purchases, 3% at restaurants and drugstores 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express Gas 2% unlimited at U.S. gas stations and 3% at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year, 1% after) 3.9 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card Choice of cash back category 3% in choice category (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Restaurants Unlimited 3% on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding Walmart® and Target®) 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Flex℠ Cash back in multiple categories 5% on rotating categories (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate, then 1%) 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Cash Back Rotating cash back categories 5% on rotating category purchases on up to $1,500 a quarter, then 1% (activation required) 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Online shopping 5% at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market (2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; 1% back on all other purchases) 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card 2.5% cash back 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $10,000 in qualifying purchases each billing cycle, maximum cash back earning per billing cycle of $250) 4.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Fair credit Unlimited 1.5% on all purchases 3.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Secured Credit Card Bad credit 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter and 1% on everything else) 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card No credit history Up to 1.5% after 12 on-time monthly payments 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our top cash back cards

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Best for automatic bonus category

  • This card is a good fit for: Someone looking for a high rate of cash back who doesn’t want to remember to activate bonus categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to always have the same bonus category.
  • What makes this card unique? There are a whopping ten eligible bonus categories, and each billing cycle you’ll earn 5 percent cash back in whichever category you’ve spent the most within (on up to $500 per billing cycle, then 1 percent).
  • Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it? With so many useful bonus categories, the potential for value is certainly there. If you were to spend $500 within one of the ten eligible bonus categories, you would earn $25 in cash back before the rate drops to 1 percent during that billing cycle. Over the course of a year, that can really add up.

Read our full Citi Custom Cash Card review.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Best for groceries

  • This card is a good fit for: Those with a moderate to large grocery budget.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who rarely eats at home or someone who does their grocery shopping at superstores like Walmart, Target or Costco, which are ineligible for the U.S. grocery stores cash back category.
  • What makes this card unique? Some cash back cards offer rates as high as 6 percent, but it’s uncommon to find that rate attached to a rewards category as valuable as U.S. supermarkets (6 percent on up to $6,000 on purchases at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1 percent). The Blue Cash Preferred is a family favorite for good reason.
  • Is the Blue Cash Preferred worth it? The tradeoff for the superb cash back rate is the $95 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year). But is it a fair tradeoff? To earn $95 in cash back, you would have to spend about $1,584 at U.S. supermarkets (1,584 x .06 = 95.04). Over the course of a year, that’s about $33 per week. In other words, if your weekly grocery budget is higher than $33, you would earn enough to make up the cost of the annual fee and more. That’s excluding any additional rewards you might earn by spending in the card’s other cash back categories.

Read our Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for up to 2 percent cash back

  • This card is a good fit for: Simplicity lovers looking for a no annual fee cash back card.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those seeking a sign-up bonus.
  • What makes this card unique? The rewards structure — 1 percent cash back as you buy, 1 percent as you pay — acts as an incentive to stay on top of your payments. You’ll only earn 2 percent cash back on your purchases once you’ve paid them off.
  • Is the Citi Double Cash worth it? With no annual fee and up to 2 percent cash back on every purchase (1 percent as you buy, one percent as you pay off your purchases), this card is probably worth it for most people. If you spent and paid off $500 per month on your Citi Double Cash, you’d earn $120 in cash back annually.

Read our Citi® Double Cash Card review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for no annual fee

  • This card is a good fit for: Cash back beginners seeking a flat-rate, no annual fee card.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who tend to spend a lot in particular categories and are looking to maximize their cash back earnings.
  • What makes this card unique? For a no annual fee card, the Quicksilver offers quite a few protections, including travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services and extended warranty protection.
  • Is the Capital One Quicksilver worth it? The opportunity to earn unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all of your purchases without paying an annual fee makes it easy for you to come out ahead. Factor in the additional value of the sign-up bonus and ongoing benefits, and the Quicksilver is a worthwhile addition to nearly anyone’s wallet — especially rewards card beginners.

Read our Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Best for sign-up bonus

  • This card is a good fit for: Those who can’t decide between a cash back and a travel credit card.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who plan to use the card abroad. Despite the generous rewards you’ll earn booking travel, this card isn’t the best companion for international travel — foreign transactions come with a 3 percent fee.
  • What makes this card unique? This card allows you to redeem your rewards for both cash back and travel (purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards) at a value of 1 cent apiece. If you’re interested in travel rewards but not yet sold, this is a great way to ensure you can always redeem your rewards in a way that’s valuable to you.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited worth it? For a no annual fee card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a ton of value. For starters, you’ll always earn at least 1.5 percent cash back when using the card. Plenty of decent cash back cards leave it at that, but the Freedom Unlimited gives you several useful categories in which you’ll earn an even higher rate. Add to that the flexible redemption options, and you’ve got a card that’s valuable for a diverse array of people.

Read our Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Best for gas

  • This card is a good fit for: Those seeking a low-maintenance cash back card for everyday purchases
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who eat most of their meals at restaurants or shop for groceries at stores like Target, Walmart or Sam’s Club. Superstores and wholesale clubs are ineligible for the U.S. supermarkets cash back category.
  • What makes this card unique? While cash back at U.S. supermarkets and U.S.gas stations isn’t groundbreaking, 2 percent cash back at select U.S. department stores is both rare and useful.
  • Is the Blue Cash Everyday worth it? If gas and groceries are somewhere within your budget breakdown, this card is worth carrying — especially since it has no annual fee. Plus, the welcome offer gives new cardholders a chance to really kickstart their earnings: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card in the first 6 months of Card membership, up to $150 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months of card membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.

Read our Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express review.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

Best for choice of cash back category

  • This card is a good fit for: People who like the freedom to choose and change their bonus rewards category.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Big spenders — the 3 percent and 2 percent cash back rates only apply to the first $2,500 in combined purchases within those categories each quarter. After that, the rate for those categories drops to just 1 percent until the next quarter.
  • What makes this card unique? The ability to pick from six bonus categories is pretty great. Even better is the fact that you can change your pick once per calendar month. Let’s say you typically spend the most on dining. It would make sense to usually keep that as your 3 percent category selection. But maybe you have a large home improvement project planned. You could change your bonus category ahead of time to triple the cash back on your purchases, then switch it back to dining the next month.
  • Is the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards worth it? Sometimes, an unusual rewards structure can detract from a card’s value if it’s a hassle to keep up with. In this card’s case, the ability to “set and forget” your choice category allows you to be as hands-on (or hands-off) as you’d like. This card is especially worth it for Bank of America Preferred Rewards members, who can earn a 25 percent – 75 percent boost in cash back.

Read our Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for restaurants

  • This card is a good fit for: Frequent restaurant-goers and entertainment seekers.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who do most of their eating at home. While the SavorOne does offer 3 percent cash back at grocery stores from qualifying stores, you can find a higher rate in that category with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
  • What makes this card unique? The SavorOne doesn’t have much competition in the realm of cash back for “entertainment” purchases. Many of the purchases included in Capital One’s entertainment category are experiences you buy tickets for, like concerts, movies, sporting events, theme parks and tourist attractions — purchases that would be rewarded at a measly rate of 1 percent with most other cash back cards.
  • Is the Capital One SavorOne worth it? The SavorOne charges no annual fee, so those who pay their bill in full each month are always going to come out ahead. But if you can meet the $500 spending threshold within three months of opening your account, you’ll do even better by scoring a $200 cash bonus.

Read our Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Best for cash back in multiple categories

  • This card is a good fit for: People who want to earn cash back in a diverse set of categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to be rewarded for grocery purchases. The rotating categories have featured grocery stores and wholesale clubs in the past, but if you’re consistently spending the most at the grocery store, you’re probably better off with a card that will consistently reward you for it.
  • What makes this card unique? The quarterly rotating bonus categories are a unique feature shared only with the Discover it® Cash Back. While Discover has kept each quarter’s categories pretty similar year over year, the Chase Freedom Flex’s cash back categories for 2021 have varied more from the previous year.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Flex worth it? In terms of the number of opportunities to earn cash back, very few cards can compare to the Freedom Flex. If your spending lines up with the bonus categories — and with so many useful categories, this card certainly casts a wide net — the card is worth your time. Plus, new cardholders will earn a $200 bonus after spending just $500 on purchases within the first 3 months.

Read our Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.

Discover it® Cash Back

Best for rotating cash back categories

  • This card is a good fit for: Those looking to cash in on seasonal expenses.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who value a simple, low-maintenance rewards structure.
  • What makes this card unique? This card offers 5 percent cash back (activation required) on up to $1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter, then 1 percent.
  • Is the Discover it Cash Back worth it? If you max out the $1,500 spending cap for the 5 percent rate each quarter (activation required, 1 percent after meeting the spending cap), you’ll earn $300 annually. Plus, Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you earn at the end of your first year, putting your first-year earnings at an impressive $600. On the flip side, if you forget to activate the rotating bonus categories or find it bothersome to keep track of them, the Discover it Cash Back probably isn’t worth it.

Read our Discover it® Cash Back review.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Best for online shopping

  • This card is a good fit for: Whole Foods shoppers and Amazon Prime members who use the delivery service often.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who isn’t sold on Amazon for years to come. You need to have an Amazon Prime membership to apply, which will run you $119 per year.
  • What makes this card unique? Retail cards aren’t usually known for their sign-up bonuses or perks, but the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature is different. New cardholders will receive a $70 Amazon gift card upon approval — no minimum spending requirement! Your purchases will also be covered by an extended warranty and purchase protection.
  • Is the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature worth it? If you already have an Amazon Prime membership that you feel is worth it, it’s a no-brainer — This card is a great addition to your wallet. Plus, it can be an easy way to recoup the cost of your membership. After you use your card to pay for $2,380 in Amazon purchases, you will have earned $119 in rewards value, which covers the annual fee.

Read our Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card review.

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card

Best for 2.5 percent cash back

  • This card is a good fit for: Big spenders looking for a flat-rate card with high earning potential.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who isn’t an Alliant Credit Union member or willing to make a $5 donation. To be eligible for this card, you must be a member of Alliant Credit Union, which has some niche entry requirements, or their partner charity. The partner charity, Foster Care to Success, costs just $5 to join.
  • What makes this card unique? This card offers a cash back rate that’s almost unheard of: 2.5 percent back on all purchases (on up to $10,000 in qualifying purchases per billing cycle).
  • Is the Alliant Cashback Rewards Visa Signature worth it? If you’re a big spender, the cost of the $99 annual fee (waived the first year) won’t be too hard to recoup — $3,960 spent will earn you enough cash back to do so. The cash back limits are also very high, so they’re unlikely to cut into most people’s potential earnings.

Read our Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card review.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for fair credit

  • This card is a good fit for: Aspiring credit-builders who want to earn cash back.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone with excellent credit. The cash back rate is a great deal for someone with fair credit who has limited choices, but those with excellent or even good credit can do better.
  • What makes this card unique? You’ll automatically be considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with on-time payments, which can boost your score.
  • Is the Capital One QuicksilverOne worth it? The fact that you don’t have to choose between credit-building features and earning rewards makes this card a steal. But is it worth the $39 annual fee? If you spend $2,600 ($216 per month) over the course of a year, you’ll make up that cost in cash back.

Read our Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Best for bad credit

  • This card is a good fit for: People with bad or no credit who want to earn rewards on the everyday essentials.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who doesn’t want to provide a $200 security deposit.
  • What makes this card unique? Welcome bonuses are rare among credit cards for bad credit, which is why the Discover it Secured stands out. At the end of your first year, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned.
  • Is the Discover it Secured worth it? If your options are limited by poor credit and you have the cash to provide for the security deposit, it’s definitely worth it. Unlike an annual fee, the deposit is refundable. Discover will automatically review your account after 8 months to determine if you qualify to upgrade to an unsecured card. At this point, those who qualify will get their deposit back, having earned rewards and built credit.

Read our Discover it® Secured Credit Card review.

Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

Best for no credit history

  • This card is a good fit for: People with no credit history who want to earn cash back and avoid fees.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone seeking additional perks or a sign-up bonus.
  • What makes this card unique? With some credit builder cards, you run the risk of being surprised with fees and receiving few benefits. Not so with the Petal 2. You’ll earn cash back and build your credit without the fear of lurking annual fees, foreign transaction fees, late fees or returned payment fees.
  • Is the Petal 2 card worth it? A cash back rate of 1 percent on general purchases is okay for a credit-builder card, especially considering the fact that there’s no annual fee. Other credit-builder cards might offer a higher rate in some categories, but that may come at the expense of an annual fee or security deposit. In other words, the Petal 2 is likely worth it for the fee-averse.

Read our Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card review.


What is a cash back credit card?

Just as the name says, cash back credit cards reward you for eligible purchases by giving you a percentage of your purchase price back. For example, a 3 percent cash back rate means you earn 3 cents back for every dollar in eligible spending. For a cardholder with a $4,000 annual grocery bill, earning 3 percent at the supermarket could mean up to $120 in cash back rewards.

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.

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
  • Charitable donations

Types of cash back credit card rewards

Cash back cards come in a variety of forms. The best type of cash back card for you depends on your spending habits and lifestyle. Before you apply, you should 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. Examples include:

2.5% cash back

  • Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card (on up to $10,000 in spending per billing cycle)

Up to 2% cash back

  • Citi® Double Cash Card (1 percent when you make purchases, another 1 percent when you pay your bill)

1.5% cash back

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • American Express Cash Magnet® Card
  • Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card (after you make 12 consecutive on-time monthly payments)

Tiered

Tiered cash back cards offer different rates of cash back for different types of purchases. For example, a tiered card may offer a boosted cash back rate of 3 percent on restaurant purchases, while all other purchases are rewarded with 1 percent cash back. The best way to maximize your cash back earnings is to have multiple tiered cards that reward your most common purchases at a high rate. That way, you can spend strategically and make sure you’re earning cash back at a boosted rate as often as possible. Examples include:

3% cash back categories

  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent)
  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (3 percent cash back rate on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®)

6% cash back categories

  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (6 percent cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent, and 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming services)

Rotating bonus categories

With rotating categories, you’ll often get higher rewards rates, but these cards typically require enrollment each quarter to qualify for. This can be a problem for forgetful cardholders. Normally, if you forget to enroll, the issuer defaults your earnings in that category to 1 percent cash back. You should also take category caps into consideration. Cards with rotating bonus categories tend to set spending limits on how much you can earn in high rewards categories per quarter. Examples include:

Cards with rotating 5% cash back categories

  • Discover it® Cash Back (5 percent cash back after activation on rotating categories per quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent)
  • Chase Freedom Flex℠ (5 percent cash back on activated bonus category purchases each quarter on up to $1,500, then 1 percent)

Choose your own category

If your spending habits frequently change but you still want to maximize cash back earning potential, a card that allows you to choose your cash back category comes in handy. With the option to change the monthly category, you can optimize your spending based on the category and plan out your year based on the cash back potential. For example, for the holiday months, you can opt into a category that will reward online purchases or department store purchases.

If you have a hard time keeping track of your credit cards, you may want to steer clear of this option. You need to be on top of your spending habits, as well as activating your categories each month to get the true value out of your card. Examples include:

What cards allow you to choose your own cash back category?

Bankrate insight
Existing Bank of America or Merrill customers have even more incentive to apply for the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card. Preferred Rewards members get a 25 percent to 75 percent boost on their cash back earnings.

Pros and cons of using cash back credit cards

If you’re used to using debit or a credit card that doesn’t earn rewards, the idea of cash back might sound too good to be true — “free” cash just for using the card?

Fortunately, cash back isn’t a gimmick. Plenty of people use cash back cards to bank hundreds of dollars per year without changing their spending habits. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of carrying a cash back card.

Pros

  • Earn rewards — If you pick a card that fits your spending habits, you can earn some extra cash every month just by using your credit card.
  • Simple redemption — You can usually redeem cash back for a statement credit, bank account deposit, gift card or check. Unlike travel points or miles, the value of your rewards is pretty straightforward.
  • Build credit — Used responsibly, a cash back credit card can help you improve your credit score by adding to your credit history.
  • Many have no annual fee — Plenty of the best cash back credit cards feature no annual fee. So as long as you pay your bill in full, you won’t have to worry about whether you’re coming out ahead, no matter how often you use (or don’t use) the card.
  • Sign-up bonuses — A sign-up bonus or welcome offer is an incentive offered to new cardholders who spend a certain amount within the first few months of opening the account. Cash back credit cards often offer bonuses worth several hundred dollars.

Cons

  • Sometimes less valuable than travel rewards — One strength of cash back cards is their fixed rewards value. On the other side of the coin, you won’t have the opportunity to score a crazy deal with your redemption, as you might when trading in travel rewards points for a flight. If you don’t mind doing some hunting, a travel rewards card may offer more value.
  • Higher APRs — Rewards cards typically come with higher interest rates, so it almost always makes sense to choose a low interest credit card instead of a cash back card if you carry a balance from month to month.
  • Value-limiting restrictions — As with any credit card, make sure to read the fine print. Some cards require you to periodically activate or enroll in your cash back category to earn cash back. Spending caps are another common limitation that may cut into your earning potential.

Who should get a cash back credit card?

No matter your spending habits, it’s not hard to see the appeal of cash back. Just about anyone can benefit from getting a small portion of their purchases back. And unlike travel points or miles, you’re free to use cash back however you please.

The homemaker

If you’re funding a family of five, a sizable grocery bill is probably a given. Groceries are one of the most commonly rewarded purchases among cash back cards. The cash back you earn over the course of a year using your card at the supermarket could amount to a free week or two of groceries.

Our pick for you: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The minimalist

Even those who prefer the utmost simplicity — we’re talking longtime debit users — can find lots to love in a cash back card. A flat-rate, no annual fee cash back card is a great choice for someone who wants to earn rewards without much thought. Some cards even let you set up automatic bill payments and rewards redemptions for the ultimate “set and forget” rewards strategy.

Our pick for you: Citi® Double Cash Card

The student

The best time to build credit is before you really need it. That’s why it makes sense to use a credit card throughout your college years. Then, by the time you graduate and need a home or auto loan, you’ve spent years building an excellent credit score and earning cash rewards.

Our pick for you: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

The frugal spender

If you’re a money-saving pro, a cash back card can help your cause. Think of cash back as a tiny discount on every eligible purchase. Even if you only spent a modest $300 per month on a 2 percent cash back credit card, you’d earn $72 per year in cash back. It isn’t a staggering sum, but it could cover a fill-up or two at the gas station.

Our pick for you: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The small-business owner

Whether you’ve got a side hustle or a booming business, having a credit card solely for your business expenses makes sense for several reasons. First, it simplifies the process of filing your taxes by keeping your business expenses separate from your personal charges.

Then there’s the benefit of earning cash back. The best business credit cards reward purchases like internet services, travel and office supplies. If you’re not earning rewards on your business expenses, you’re potentially missing out on hundreds of dollars per year in cash back.

Our pick for you: Capital One Spark Cash for Business

The strategic spender

If you’re really in it to maximize your cash back earnings, holding a combination of flat-rate and tiered cards is the way to go. Ideally, you would have a credit card that rewards you at a high rate for your largest and most frequent purchases, as well as a good flat-rate card for everything else.

Our pick for you: Whichever card matches your spending habits, whether that’s a card that rewards dining at restaurants, shopping for groceries, or something else.

Bankrate insight
Before you apply for a cash back card, be sure you can pay your bill in full each month. Interest charges will nearly always cost you more than the value of your cash back earnings.

How to choose a cash back credit card

Selecting the best cash back credit card for you is kind of like shopping for clothes. Whether you’re going for flashy or fun, the main concern should be whether it fits.

Here are some questions to consider when choosing a cash back credit card:

Where do you spend the most money?

Select a card that matches up with where you spend and how much you spend. Review your spending for the past few months. If your spending isn’t concentrated in any particular purchase category, consider a flat-rate card for all eligible purchases. If you spend heavily in certain areas — gas and groceries, big-brand retailers, restaurants, etc. — a tiered card or rotating categories card with higher rates can help you maximize your cash back potential.

How much thought are you willing to give to your credit card?

Rotating bonus categories earn higher cash back rates, but you’ll probably be required to activate them every quarter. Also, you’ll need to target your spending in certain areas to maximize the earning potential of bonus categories and tiered categories, and spending limits often come into play. If you don’t want to manage all these factors, a simple flat-rate card would be a better choice.

What is your credit score?

Most cash back cards require a good to excellent credit score. Some cards for no credit history or bad credit have cash back programs, but a higher credit score typically makes it easier to qualify for a higher-earning card.

Are you willing to pay an annual fee for premium perks and rewards?

Some cash back cards come with an annual fee, which raises the cost of holding the card. Assess your cash back potential before applying and compare it to the annual fee to see if the rewards outweigh the cost.

Do you pay your balance in full each month?

Before you apply for a cash back card, take a look at your personal finances. Do you carry a balance on your current card or pay it off in full and on time every month? Carrying a balance usually means paying interest, which will usually outweigh the benefits of earning cash back. In that case, you’re likely better off with a low interest credit card.

What kind of bonus features are valuable to you?

Aside from the rewards rate, look for the card’s additional benefits and perks. Many cash back cards offer sign-up bonuses or welcome offers as a reward for spending a specific amount of money within a specific time frame. You shouldn’t choose a card purely based on a sign-up bonus, but it can be a great tiebreaker if you’re stuck between two cards.

Additionally, look for other perks that add to the card’s overall value — referral bonuses, free services, account management tools.

Bankrate insight
Shopping protections like extended warranty and purchase protection are common cash back credit card perks that could save you a lot of money. For example, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ covers damage or theft of items purchased with the card for up to 120 days with a maximum of $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

What credit card earns the most cash back?

You can choose from hundreds of cash back credit cards that reward purchases ranging from the general (2 percent back on all eligible purchases) to the specific (6 percent 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?

Ultimately, your spending habits determine which card is going to work hardest for you. That said, there are two cards that definitely belong in the conversation. Known for their lucrative rewards programs, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and the Citi® Double Cash Card are both frontrunners in the cash back game.

Here, we’ll use consumer spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to demonstrate how much cash back an average consumer might earn annually with each card. We used averages from several common spending categories detailed in the BLS 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

In this example, our cardholder annually spends $4,643 on food at home (about $90 per week), $2,094 on gas (about $40 per week), $3,526 on food away from home, $3,090 on entertainment, $899 on miscellaneous and $786 on personal care products and services. That’s an annual total of $15,038. Here’s how much cash back they would earn using each card for these purchases.

Card Cash back rates Drawbacks Potential earnings
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
  • 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases annually, then 1 percent)
  • 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming services
  • 3 percent cash back on transit (including rideshares, tolls, taxis and buses)
  • 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1 percent on everything else
  • Terms apply.
  • $95 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for one year)
  • 2.7 percent foreign transaction fee
  • 6 percent cash back applies to only the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1 percent
  • 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets does not include superstores (like Target), warehouse clubs (like Costco), specialty stores or convenience stores.
$4,643 at U.S. supermarkets*

  • 4,643 x .06 = $278.58

$2,094 at U.S. gas stations

  • 2,094 x .03 = $62.82

$8,301 in remaining expenses

  • 8,301 x .01 = $83.01

Annual cash back earnings: $424.41

Annual cash back earnings minus the $95 annual fee: $329.41

Citi® Double Cash Card
  • Unlimited 2 percent cash back on all purchases: 1 percent as you buy, 1 percent as you make a payment
  • 3 percent foreign transaction fee
  • 3 percent or $5 balance transfer fee, whichever is greater
  • No sign-up bonus
$15,038 in total purchases

  • 15,038 x .02 = $300.76

Annual cash back earnings: $300.76

* In order for the $4,643 spent on “food at home” to earn the 6 percent cash back rate, the purchases must be made at U.S. supermarkets. For specifics and exclusions, see American Express’s rewards category definitions.

How to maximize cash back

Let’s break down how you can get the most out of your cash back credit cards.

Enroll/activate your bonus categories 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.

Target your spending

In order to get the most out of a bonus category, try to max out the spending limit for the quarter. For example, Discover’s 2021 bonus categories for April-June are gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services. By maxing out all of the bonus 5% categories (capped at $1,500 in spending each quarter, then 1%, activation required), you’ll earn $75 in cash back for that quarter. If you max out the bonus categories every quarter, the yearly cash back returns in those categories add up to $300.

Be aware that it may be difficult to maximize your rewards if you don’t normally spend a lot of money in the card’s bonus category. Also, the rewards rate typically returns to the standard percentage after you reach the quarterly limit.

Consider combining cards

A combination of cards will probably serve you best. Some rewards credit cards offered by the same issuer let you use different cards to suit your needs and combine points. Then, you can redeem your points through the card that offers the highest value.

The key is to make sure your major spending categories are covered so that you’re always earning the maximum amount of rewards on purchases. In addition to credit cards that offer boosted rewards in a few categories, it’s a good idea to have a flat-rate card in your arsenal as a catchall.

Bankrate insight
Consider the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. 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.

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.

Research methodology

All credit cards from our partners are rated with a 5-star scoring system. To select the best cash back cards, we narrow our focus to concentrate on key features that make a big difference in this specific category, such as:

Cash back rates

While a rate of 1 percent cash back on all eligible purchases is useful, the cards that truly stand out tend to earn higher percentages. To estimate how much an average consumer might earn with particular cards, we used spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Special categories

Many of our top-rated cards feature higher rates for certain purchase categories, which makes it easier to find the most lucrative card for your spending habits and lifestyle.

Low fees and cost of ownership

The whole point of cash back cards is to earn rather than owe, so cards that go easy on annual fees and similar charges get high marks.

Variable APR

We recommend against carrying a credit card balance if at all possible — but if you have to, a reasonable and affordable interest rate can make it less financially taxing.


Additional reviews and research

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

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

Frequently asked questions about cash back credit cards

about the author
Mariah Ackary is a personal finance writer who specializes in credit card rewards and small business credit. Mariah is a lifelong writer, but she began writing about finance in 2018. She joined the Bankrate team in 2019, excited by the opportunity to directly help people make good financial decisions. Send your questions to mackary@bankrate.com ...
about the editor
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. ...

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