Best for 2% cash rewards

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Intro bonus
$200 cash rewards 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99%-24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for sign-up bonus

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • 1.5% Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for rotating cash back categories

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% 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.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for automatic bonus category

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% 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.
  • 1% Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for choice of cash back category

Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3% Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases).
  • 2% Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases).
  • 1% Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 6% 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% 1% Cash Back on other purchases
Intro bonus
$300 
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for up to 2% cash back

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 8% Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
  • 3% Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
  • 1% Earn 1% on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every time.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

The information about the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


Compare Bankrate’s top cash back credit cards

Card name Best for Cash back highlights Bankrate review score
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card 2% cash rewards Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases 3.7 / 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)
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)
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)
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
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)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card 1.5% cash back 1.5% unlimited on all purchases 3.2 / 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 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)
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card Bank of America loyalists Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every time 3.3 / 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)
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% on eligible purchases after 12 on-time monthly payments 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our top cash back cards

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card

Best for 2% cash rewards

  • This card is a good fit for: Simplicity seekers who want to earn a terrific rate of unlimited cash rewards on purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: International travelers who want to use the card abroad — The card charges a 3 percent foreign currency conversion fee.
  • What makes this card unique? Aside from the stellar rewards rate, there’s another standout feature — cell phone protection. You’ll receive up to $600 of protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your card.
  • Is the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card worth it? With a generous rewards rate on purchases and no annual fee, this card is a valuable addition to nearly any wallet.

Read our Wells Fargo Active Cash Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Best for sign-up bonus

  • This card is a good fit for: People 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 Chase 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.
Jump back to offer details.

Discover it Cash Back

Best for rotating cash back categories

  • This card is a good fit for: People who want cash back 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 automatically matches 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.
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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 10 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.
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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 credit card 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 to 75 percent boost in cash back.

Read our Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card review.
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Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Best for groceries

  • This card is a good fit for: People 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 0.06 = 95.04). If your weekly grocery budget is more 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.
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Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for 1.5% cash back

  • 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: People 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.
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Citi Double Cash Card

Best for up to 2% 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: Consumers 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.
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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: People who mostly cook and eat at home. While the SavorOne does offer 3 percent cash back at grocery stores from qualifying stores, there are cards with higher rewards rates in that category like 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 cardholders 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.
Jump back to offer details.

Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card

Best for Bank of America loyalists

  • This card is best for: Someone seeking uncomplicated, unlimited cash back that never expires. The deal is even sweeter for Bank of America Preferred Rewards members, who get a 25 percent to 75 percent boost in rewards value (based on your enrolled tier).
  • This card is not a great choice for: Consumers who want to take advantage of spending within particular categories, like groceries or restaurants.
  • What makes this card unique? The cash back boost for Preferred Rewards members is both unusual and valuable. Aside from that, the card also gives you access to your FICO® Score (updated monthly) for free within the mobile app or online banking.
  • Is the Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card worth it? If you’re a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn between up to 1.87 percent and up to 2.62 percent cash back on every purchase, which is great (based on your enrolled tier). If not, the 1.5 percent cash back rate is just OK. The real value of this card lies in its simplicity and loyalty incentives.

Read our full Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card review.
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Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

Best for gas

  • This card is a good fit for: People seeking a low-maintenance cash back card for everyday purchases
  • This card is not a great choice for: People 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 a groundbreaking offer, 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 kick start their earnings: a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months of card membership.

Read our Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express 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 a frequent Amazon shopper. 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% 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 attractive. 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 or someone with good enough credit to qualify for a non-secured rewards credit card.
  • 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 7 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 eligible purchases is OK 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.

According to an April 2021 Bankrate survey, more than half (59 percent) of U.S. adults carry at least one rewards credit card. 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 cash back card type for you depends on your spending habits and lifestyle. Before you apply, you should know all of the options available to you.

Are you having a hard time deciding which type of cash back card appeals most to you? Read our in-depth analysis of flat-rate vs. bonus category credit cards.

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 a 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.
  • 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 you spend with 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: With cash back cards, you usually can’t score a particularly lucrative deal with your redemption, as you might when trading in travel rewards points for a flight.
  • 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.

Bankrate insight
Everyone should have a 2 percent cash back card, according to industry analyst and credit card expert Ted Rossman. They’re universally appealing and often come with no annual fee. Learn more on why you should have a 2 percent cash back card.

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.

When you shouldn’t get a cash back card

Whether or not you should get a cash back credit card is going to depend on your personal situation and needs. Here’s when a cash back card isn’t the best idea:

  • You’re a frequent flyer: If you travel often, a type of rewards credit card structured specifically to earn points and miles on travel purchases is a better addition to your wallet.
  • You’re in debt: If you’re trying to pay down credit card debt, then a cash back card will likely entice you into more spending. Work on paying off your consumer debt before getting a cash back rewards credit card.
  • You have bad credit: Instead of trying to earn rewards on your spending, focus on building your credit with timely payments with a secured credit card.
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 the best 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. As you’re searching for cash back cards, it can be easy to get confused. Are all cash back credit cards the same? What’s the best card for you? To make the best choice in a cash back card, you’ll need to compare certain factors. Consider these points when choosing your cash back card:

  1. Where do you spend your money? You can maximize your cash back potential by reviewing your spending categories for the past few months and matching them with the best cash back cards that offer rewards in those categories.
  2. How much effort will you put in? If you don’t want to activate rotating bonus categories for higher cash back rates every quarter, then a flat-rate cash back card will be easier to handle. However, if you want to put in the legwork for increased cash back rates, then get a card with bonus categories to use to your advantage.
  3. What’s your credit score? Most cash back cards require a good-to-excellent credit score. Some cards meant for consumers with 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.
  4. Do you want to pay an annual fee? While most cash back cards don’t have an annual fee, cards that offer increased rewards rates might. It’s up to you to determine when an annual fee is worth it, even on the best cash back credit cards.
  5. What bonus features do you want? 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.
  6. Do you pay your balance off each month? Carrying a balance means you’ll have to pay interest (unless you acquire a 0 percent intro APR card), which will usually outweigh the benefits of earning cash back. In that case, you’re likely better off with a low-interest credit card.

There are other features you might consider when looking for a cash back credit card. If you’re looking to finance a large purchase, you may want to consider a card with a zero percent introductory APR. If you’re working on building your credit, a card that monitors your credit score might be your priority or any number of other benefits that might be useful to you. When deciding on a cash back card, however, the points above will determine which card will provide you with the most value.

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 2020 BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey.

In this example, our cardholder annually spends $4,942 on food at home (about $95 per week), $1,568 on gas (about $30 per week), $2,375 on food away from home, $2,912 on entertainment, $907 on miscellaneous and $646 on personal care products and services. That’s an annual total of $13,350. Here’s how much cash back they would earn using each card for these purchases.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Cash back rates

  • 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.

Potential earnings

  • $4,942 at U.S. supermarkets

    : 4,942 x .06 = $296.52

  • $1,568 at U.S. gas stations: 1,568 x .03 = $47.04
  • $6,840 in remaining expenses: 6,840 x .01 = $68.40

Annual cash back earnings: $411.96

Annual cash back earnings minus the $95 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the first year): $316.96

Citi Double Cash Card

Cash back rates

  • Unlimited 2 percent cash back on all purchases: 1 percent as you buy, 1 percent as you make a payment

Potential earnings

  • $13,350 in total purchases: 13,350 x .02 = $267

Annual cash back earnings: $267

6 ways to maximize cash back

  1. Pay your balances in full each month. Otherwise, you’ll simply lose the cash back you’ve earned (and then some) to interest. Note: Paying monthly balances on time and in full is a best practice, no matter what type of card you’re carrying, though cash back credit cards tend to carry higher APRs than, say, low-interest credit cards.
  2. Snag a sign-up bonus. Choose a cash back credit card that offers bonus rewards if you spend a certain amount of money within a specified time period. Just make sure the spending requirement is in-line with your current spending habits. Otherwise, you risk carrying a balance and losing rewards to interest.
  3. Enroll/activate your bonus categories each quarter. Rotating category cards typically require you to enroll or activate (the language varies) the bonus cash back categories for the upcoming quarter to earn the higher bonus rate. If you don’t, you’ll earn the standard rate.
  4. 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 October through December 2021 are Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com. 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.
  5. Consider combining cards. A combination of cards will probably serve you best. 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.
  6. Explore the card’s online shopping portal. Some card issuers feature online shopping portals that offer cash back incentives, discounts or both. Examples include Chase Ultimate Rewards and Barclaycard RewardsBoost.
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.

How we chose our best cash back cards

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.

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
Former 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.

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