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Citi Custom Cash vs. Blue Cash Preferred from American Express

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Both the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offer generous cash back rewards programs and worthwhile welcome bonuses. So, what sets these cards apart, and which option is right for you?

As usual, it comes down to your monthly spending. Do you spend a lot in one particular category, such as groceries, gym memberships or streaming services? Or do you spend a lot in several categories? Further, how willing are you to pay an annual fee?

Your answers to these questions can help you decide which of these two cash back credit cards deserves a space in your wallet. To start, let’s take a look at each cards main features:

Main details

Cards Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express Citi Custom Cash Card
Welcome bonus $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first six months 20,000 ThankYou Points (worth $200 in cash back) after spending $750 on purchases in the first three months
Rewards rate 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%); 6% back on select U.S. streaming services; 3% back on U.S. gas station and transit purchases; 1% back on all other purchases  5% cash back (on up to $500 each billing cycle, then 1%) on your top spending category each billing cycle
Intro APR 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months (14.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable
APR thereafter)
0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (14.74 percent to 24.74 percent variable APR thereafter)
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 No annual fee

Amex Blue Cash Preferred vs. Citi Custom Cash highlights

Welcome bonus winner: Blue Cash Preferred

While both the Citi Custom Cash and Blue Cash Preferred offer decent welcome bonuses, the Blue Cash Preferred’s bonus takes the cake.

With the Blue Cash Preferred, you can earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first six months. The Citi Custom Cash, on the other hand, offers 20,000 ThankYou points—worth $200 in cash back—after spending $750 on purchases in the first three months.

You’ll need to spend $500 for six months to earn the Blue Cash Preferred’s bonus and $250 for three months to reach the Citi Custom Cash’s bonus.

Rewards rate winner: Blue Cash Preferred

You can earn plenty of cash back with either of these cards, but the Blue Cash Preferred’s rewards structure offers more flexibility.

With the Citi Custom Cash, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back on your top spending category from the following list: restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.

That 5 percent cash back rate applies to the first $500 you spend in your top category during each monthly billing period. If you go over that limit, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on those purchases until your billing cycle starts again. You’ll also earn 1 percent cash back on non-category purchases.

The Blue Cash Preferred offers 6 percent cash back on all purchases you charge at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in spending per year). If you surpass that limit, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on those purchases throughout the rest of the year. You’ll also earn an unlimited 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (such as rideshares, parking, tolls, trains and buses) and 1 percent back on everything else.

Both cards’ rewards programs are valuable, but the Blue Cash Preferred’s 6 percent offering in two categories and various 3 percent categories gives it the edge.

Annual fee winner: Citi Custom Cash

The Citi Custom Cash Card charges no annual fee, while the American Express Blue Cash Preferred charges a $95 annual fee. The Blue Cash Preferred does offer a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, but the Citi Custom Cash’s lack of an annual fee in general is hard to beat.

Foreign transaction fee winner: Blue Cash Preferred

The Blue Cash Preferred charges a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent of each transaction after conversion to U.S. dollars. The Citi Custom Cash’s foreign transaction fee is higher at 3 percent of each purchase transaction in U.S. dollars.

Which card earns the most?

Citi Custom Cash vs. Blue Cash Preferred spending example

The amount you can earn from either of these cards depends on your monthly spending habits. If you tend to spend regularly on one particular category, you might do well with the Citi Custom Cash.

Say your top spending category during a particular billing cycle is grocery stores, and you spend $500 on those purchases—fully maxing out the Citi Custom Cash’s 5 percent category. In doing so, you’ll earn $25 in cash back. If you spend another $1,000 during that billing cycle on non-category purchases (for example, $500 on gas and another $500 on online shopping), you’ll earn an additional $10 in cash back.

That brings you to $35 in cash back earnings for that billing cycle. The drawback here is that you can only spend up to $500 a billing cycle in your top category before that cash back bonus drops down from 5 percent to 1 percent.

Say you spend the same $500 on U.S. supermarket purchases over the course of a month with the Blue Cash Preferred. Doing so would net you $30 in cash back. To fully match the example above, say you spend an additional $1,000 that month ($500 on gas and $500 on online shopping). Since U.S. gas station purchases earn 3 percent cash back with this card, that’s an additional $15 in cash back earned. Online shopping would classify as non-category spending, earning you an additional $5 in cash back.

In total, that’s $50 in cash back earnings for the month with the Blue Cash Preferred versus $35 worth of cash back earned with the Citi Custom Cash.

Why should you get the Citi Custom Cash?

Additional benefits

The Citi Custom Cash is a fairly basic card, meaning it doesn’t offer a wealth of perks. You can set up automatic alerts if you’re getting too close to your spending limit, and the card does offer access to the Citi Mobile App. It also lets you choose your own payment date. Other perks include identity theft protection, fraud warnings and free access to your FICO credit score.

Redemption options

The Citi Custom Cash card technically awards you in ThankYou points that you can then redeem in different ways. You can turn your points into cash back by redeeming for a statement credit, direct deposit or check, or you can redeem them for gift cards, purchases on Amazon.com and travel reservations.

Recommended credit score

Citi doesn’t list a minimum credit score for the Citi Custom Cash. Your odds of qualifying for this card, though, are better if you have a solid FICO credit score of 700 or higher.

Why should you get the Amex Blue Cash Preferred?

Additional benefits

The Blue Cash Preferred offers a wider range of benefits than you’ll get with the Citi Custom Cash. You’ll get access to American Express’ Global Assist Hotline, which can help you if you lose your passport while traveling, need a lawyer when you’re overseas or come down with a serious illness while traveling. You can use the hotline as long as you are at least 100 miles from your home.

The card also comes with car rental loss and damage insurance, purchase protection, which provides coverage if you accidentally damage or lose covered purchases, and return protection, which provides a refund if you try to return a newly purchased product and the merchant won’t take it back.

American Express also offers dispute resolution services. If you discover a fraudulent or incorrect charge on your billing statement, American Express will work with you to resolve the issue.

Redemption offers

Purchases with your Blue Cash Preferred card will earn you reward dollars, called “Blue Cash Reward Dollars.” You can receive these rewards in the form of a statement credit.

Recommended credit score

American Express doesn’t list a specific FICO credit score that you’ll need to qualify for the Blue Cash Preferred, though it does say that this card is reserved for consumers with good to excellent credit. As with the Citi Custom Cash, you should shoot for a FICO score of 700 or higher if you want to apply for the Blue Cash Preferred.

The bottom line

Which card is better? Again, it depends on how you spend. If you spend a lot on grocery store purchases, streaming services, gas and transit, the Blue Cash Preferred card might be worth it—especially as this card lets you earn an unlimited amount of rewards on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, transit and at U.S. gas stations, in particular.

If you tend to spend a good amount in niche categories like live entertainment, fitness clubs and home improvement stores, the Citi Custom Cash card might be the better fit.

Your own spending habits will determine which of these cards is best for you, but both have the potential to earn you significant cash back each month.

Written by
Dan Rafter
Personal Finance Expert Contributor
Dan Rafter has been writing about personal finance for more than two decades, covering everything from credit scores, mortgage loans and debt to credit cards, insurance, real estate and student loans. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Fox Business, The Motley Fool, The Christian Science Monitor, LendingTree, Business Insider and Mental Floss Magazine. He's also the editor of Midwest Real Estate News, a trade magazine serving real estate professionals throughout the Midwest.
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