Citi Custom Cash℠ Card review: Innovation or inconvenience?
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Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Overview
Citi’s no annual fee credit card earns 5 percent rewards on purchases in one of 10 popular everyday categories, but doesn’t require you to keep track of categories or activation periods. Instead, you automatically earn rewards in your top spend category each billing cycle.
That said, like other no annual fee Citi cards, the Custom Cash is light on extra features. You’ll need to pair it with another card, like a Citi travel card, to realize your rewards’ full potential.
What are the pros and cons?
- The 5 percent bonus category has a $500 spending cap per billing cycle
- You need to track your total spending since you only earn 5 percent back in one category at the end of the billing cycle
- 3 percent foreign transaction fee
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back (on up to $500 each billing cycle, then 1 percent) on your top spending category each billing cycle
- Welcome offer: 20,000 ThankYou Points—worth $200 in cash back—after spending $750 on purchases in the first three months
- Annual fee: $0
- Purchase intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
- Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
- Regular APR: 15.49 percent to 25.49 percent (variable)
Current sign-up bonus
New cardholders can earn $200 cash back after spending $750 in purchases within their first three months, which comes in the form of 20,000 ThankYou points.
An offer worth $200 is on par with the sign-up bonuses you’ll find on some of the most popular cash back cards, and the Citi Custom Cash card’s spending requirement is easy to meet. However, the $750 spending requirement is higher than what’s often required for the same value (some cards require a spending threshold of just $500), resulting in a return of 26.7 percent. Here’s how the Citi Custom Cash card’s bonus stacks up to that of similar rewards cards when you break down the bonus as a return on spend:
Although it’s marketed as a cash back card, the Custom Cash actually earns Citi ThankYou Points. All of Citi’s no annual fee cards earn “basic” ThankYou points, which are slightly different from the full-fledged ThankYou points you collect with the Citi Premier Card or Citi Prestige® Card. That’s because “basic” points can’t be transferred to Citi travel partners for a potentially higher value.
However, unlike the points you’d earn with some other Citi cards, ThankYou points earned with the Custom Cash card retain their value when redeemed toward cash back or statement credits.
Here’s our breakdown of the Citi Custom Cash’s rewards program and how to squeeze the most value from each point.
How to earn
The Citi Custom Cash earns 5 percent cash back on up to $500 (then 1 percent back) of purchases in your top eligible spending category each billing cycle, plus unlimited 1 percent on all other purchases. The 10 categories that earn you 5 percent rewards are:
If you spent $500 in one of these categories each billing cycle, you’d earn at least $25 cash back per billing cycle, which comes to $75 per quarter or $300 per year (similar to other 5 percent rotating category cards). Realistically, though, you probably won’t earn more than 1 percent on any purchases outside the card’s four major bonus categories—restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and select travel—if you use the Custom Cash as your primary rewards card.
That’s why the Citi Custom Cash may work best as a second credit card that allows you to maximize your cash back outside these four staple categories. For example, the Citi Premier already earns 3X ThankYou points in these four categories, so you could pair it with the Custom Cash card to earn 5X ThankYou points in other categories like select transit, home improvement stores, live entertainment, drugstores and streaming services.
Another pro tip to maximize your rewards is to pay for all your subscriptions or big expenses in a given category in a single billing cycle. For example, paying for all of your fitness club memberships in full in January, renewing your annual transit passes in February and booking all of your summer travel in March means you could earn 5 percent back on a wider variety of purchases across the year’s billing cycles.
Here’s a look at how Citi defines some of the card’s 5 percent bonus categories:
Eligible travel, transit and streaming service purchases
|Select travel categories||Select transit categories||Select streaming services|
How to redeem
You can redeem your ThankYou points for cash back in the form of a direct deposit, check or statement credit. Alternatively, you can redeem your points for gift cards, for booking travel through Citi or for eligible purchases on Amazon via Shop with Points.
You can redeem any number of points as a statement credit or direct deposit, but your points must equal at least $5 in cash back to redeem for a check. The Citi Double Cash Card, in contrast, requires you to have at least $25 worth of cash back before you can redeem.
How much are rewards worth?
Since you earn ThankYou points instead of automatic cash back, your point value can vary depending on the redemption choice.
The Custom Cash card’s cash back redemption options will get you a value of 1 cent per point. You’ll also get 1 cent per point for gift card redemptions and travel bookings through Citi. If you pool points with the Citi Premier or Prestige, however, The Points Guy’s latest valuation estimates that you may be able to get up to 1.8 cents per point through certain Citi transfer partners.
Aside from standard Citi benefits like fraud protection and access to presale concert and sporting tickets through Citi Entertainment, the Citi Custom Cash card isn’t bursting with cardholder perks. However, its Mastercard benefits can certainly be valuable. Your Custom Cash Card carries the World Elite Mastercard logo, meaning you’ll have Mastercard’s highest tier of benefits. Check with your issuer first to see if your card specifically qualifies for choice features like:
- Cellphone protection
- 24/7 World Elite Concierge assistance
- Three free months of DashPass, the monthly subscription service from DoorDash (a $9.99 per month value), plus $5 off your first 2 orders per month
- $5 Lyft credits after three rides each month
- Complimentary ShopRunner membership for free two-day shipping and free returns with 100+ online retailers
Rates and fees
Like a number of other no annual fee cash back cards, the Citi Custom Cash offers a solid 15-month 0 percent intro APR on new purchases; but this Citi card has a few edges over the competition. The Custom Cash card is a great option if you need to transfer your balance to Citi, as it also carries a matching 15-month 0 percent intro balance transfer APR, a major perk since balance transfer offers can be hard to find among no annual fee cards at the moment.
Besides being an effective balance transfer card, the Citi Custom Cash doubles as a low-interest credit card thanks to its 15.49 percent to 25.49 percent variable ongoing APR, which is reasonable for a rewards card—its low-end APR is on par with the current average interest rate.
Just be wary of the Citi Custom Cash card’s 3 percent foreign transaction fee if you plan to earn travel rewards abroad.
How the Citi Custom Cash compares to other cash back cards
Deciding on a cash back card can feel overwhelming at first. With so many spending categories available, it can be hard to say which fits you best long-term. With the hassles of enrollment and rotating categories, it can be hard to maximize on rewards every billing cycle with the Citi Custom card. Considering this, credit cards with several ongoing bonus categories can be worth looking into.
Citi Custom Cash vs Discover it® Cash Back
A card similar to the Citi Custom Cash Card is the Discover it® Cash Back card. It has no annual fee and offers 0 percent intro APR for new purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (after that, a variable APR of 13.49 percent to 24.49 percent). Both also feature select bonus categories.
Where they differ is the category limit and requirements. Citi Custom Cash automatically gives you cash back based on your largest spending category each billing cycle. The card’s eligible 5 percent bonus categories are also available year-round. While the Discover it® Cash Back’s categories rotate each quarter and activation is required. The Discover it® Cash Back has a limit of $1,500 on purchases for each quarter (then 1 percent).
Citi Custom Cash vs Chase Freedom Flex
For sheer rewards potential and category variety, the Chase Freedom Flex is the best choice overall if you aren’t planning to get other Citi cards. The Chase Freedom Flex’s rewards can also be pooled with Chase’s premium cards and redeemed for a higher value toward travel. Plus, it earns year-round 5 percent cash back on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel and 3 percent on dining and drug store purchases.
However, the Freedom Flex usually lets you earn cash back in more than one 5 percent category at a time. It can also provide more diverse categories throughout the year, like wholesale clubs or online shopping with major retailers. Still, this card requires intentional spending and being aware of which categories are being rewarded during the quarter. While the Citi Custom Cash may not have as strong rewards as the Chase Freedom Flex, it does make a great companion card that can cover everyday purchases.
Ultimately, if the rewards style doesn’t matter as much, you should calculate how much cash back you’d earn with each card based on your monthly budget. For example, if you maximized each card’s 5 percent bonus categories and spent a total $1,325 each billing cycle, we estimate the Citi Custom Cash and Discover it® Cash Back would both earn around $399 per year, while the Freedom Flex would rake in a whopping $493.
Best cards to pair with the Citi Custom Cash Card
Hands down, the best cards to pair with the Citi Custom Cash are the Citi Premier and the Citi Prestige since they let you transfer your pooled Custom Cash rewards to Citi’s travel partners for a potentially higher value.
Your Custom Cash card would be an excellent supporting card with either option, but the Citi Premier lets the Custom Cash card shine a bit more. The Premier card’s restaurant, supermarket, gas station, air travel and hotel categories cover some of the Custom Cash card’s heaviest spending categories, allowing you to earn 5 percent back in rarer bonus categories like transit and live entertainment.
Adding the Citi Double Cash to your wallet would round out the Citi ThankYou trifecta by providing boosted cash back or points (if you convert them) on all purchases. The Citi Double Cash is even a wise pick if you’re just interested in cash back because of its higher rewards rate than most flat-rate cash back cards. That way you’ll be able to earn more than 1 percent cash back on all purchases once you know you’ve maximized your 5 percent category each billing cycle.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it?
The Citi Custom Cash Card is a breath of fresh air in the world of cash back credit cards. Its unique approach to earning 5 percent rewards on each billing cycle’s top category grants cardholders a valuable middle ground between the current four cash back program styles: flat-rate rewards, tiered bonus categories, choice bonus categories and rotating quarterly bonus categories.
It also delivers perhaps the highest available year-round rewards rate for a no annual fee card in key spending areas like groceries, gas and dining.
But for all of its strengths, the Citi Custom Cash card’s reward structure is a double-edged sword. Instead of a quarterly spending cap, you have a $500 spending cap per billing cycle in your 5 percent category, which could make you miss out on cash back if big purchases fall in a single billing cycle. It may also take some planning if you want to earn 5 percent back on purchases other than groceries since only your spending dictates which eligible category earns cash back.
Fortunately, however, this caveat makes it a great partner credit card. If you’re already a Citi cardholder (or plan on getting another), the Custom Cash is one of the most versatile supporting cards for generating extra cash back or ThankYou points thanks to its flexible redemption options. The Citi Custom Cash is a strong card for everyday spending in its own right but pairing it with the Citi Premier and/or other Citi cards can really help it flex its muscles.
The information about the Citi Custom Cash® Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card and Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.