Citi Custom Cash℠ Card review: Innovation or inconvenience?
Pairing this card with a more premier Citi rewards card could be a match made in earning heaven.
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This card offers a unique middle ground between different cash back card styles and features one of the strongest rewards rates available in key spending categories for no annual fee.
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Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Overview
Choosing a cash back card can be a tough call if you want the big rewards of a 5 percent rotating category card, the flexibility of a custom category card and the simplicity of a flat-rate card. Thankfully, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card provides a fourth “all of the above” choice.
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?
Its cash back on your top eligible spending category per billing cycle offers one of the highest rewards rates available on key categories for no annual fee.
Its World Elite Mastercard status may provide valuable perks for a no-annual-fee card, such as partner offers with Lyft and DoorDash.
The 5 percent bonus category has a $500 spending cap per billing cycle, which could limit your rewards if you spend heavily in one category or have authorized users sharing the account.
If you want to earn rewards from a certain bonus category, you’ll need to track and categorize your spending since you only earn 5 percent back in one category.
If it’s your primary rewards card, you’ll potentially miss out on cash back for the majority of your spending because of the card’s one-category focus.
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 $1,500 on purchases in the first six months
- Annual fee: $0
- Purchase intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
- Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
- Regular APR: 18.24 percent to 28.24 percent (variable)
Current welcome offer
New cardholders can earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 in purchases within their first six 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, though the Citi Custom Cash card’s spending requirement may be a bit hard to meet for some spenders. The current $1,500 spending requirement is double the card’s previous bonus spending requirement and higher than what’s often required to earn the same cash bonus with competing no-annual-fee cash back cards (some cards require a spending threshold of just $500).
Here’s how the Citi Custom Cash card’s bonus stacks up to those of competing rewards cards when you break down the bonus as a return on spend:
- Chase Freedom Flex℠: 40 percent return on spend ($200 bonus after $500 spend in the first three months)
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: 40 percent return on spend ($200 bonus after $500 spend in the first three months)
- Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards: 20 percent return on spend ($200 online cash rewards bonus after $1,000 spend in the first 90 days)
- U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card: 20 percent return on spend ($200 bonus after $1,000 spend in the first 120 days)
- Citi Custom Cash Card: 13.3 percent return on spend ($200 bonus after $1,500 spend in the first six months)
- Citi® Double Cash Card: 13.3 percent return on spend (earn $200 bonus after $1,500 spend in the first six months)
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 (if you obtained a Prestige card before it was discontinued). That’s because “basic” points can’t be transferred to Citi travel partners for a potentially higher value unless you have a Citi Premier or Prestige card to redeem your Custom Cash’s points through.
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.
To squeeze the most value from each point, it’s important to study the Custom Cash card’s unique rewards program and potentially consider how it could be great for travel and card combinations.
How you 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:
- Restaurants (doesn’t include third-party dining services)
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Select travel
- Select transit
- Select streaming services
- Home improvement stores
- Fitness clubs
- Live entertainment
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, 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:
|Select travel categories||Select transit categories||Select streaming services|
How to redeem
The Citi Custom Cash offers one of the more well-rounded suites of redemption options among no-annual-fee rewards cards. 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.
How much are the 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, Bankrate’s latest point valuation estimates that your points may be worth around 1.9 cents each on average through certain Citi transfer partners. This valuation estimate means transferring your 20,000-point sign-up bonus to the right transfer partner could nearly double its value from $200 to $380.
Other cardholder perks
Aside from standard Citi benefits like fraud protection and access to presale concert and sporting tickets through Citi Entertainment, the Citi Custom Cash card’s benefits aren’t remarkable enough to give the card an edge like Chase no-annual-fee cards’ travel perks provide. However, its Mastercard benefits can slightly set the Custom Cash apart from other no-annual-fee cards with even fewer additional features.
World Elite Mastercard benefits
Your Custom Cash Card carries the World Elite Mastercard logo, meaning you’ll have Mastercard’s highest tier of benefits. Although they may not offer extensive purchase protections and travel perks, these features could at least make a difference if you’re deciding between the Custom Cash and a typical no-annual-fee cash back card with minimal benefits.
Check with your issuer first to see if your card specifically qualifies for choice features like:
- 24/7 World Elite Concierge assistance
- Three free months of DoorDash DashPass, plus $5 off your first two orders per month
- $5 Lyft credits after three rides each month
- Complimentary ShopRunner membership
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 and balance transfers — making it a great option if you need to transfer your balance to Citi.
Besides being an effective balance transfer card, the Citi Custom Cash doubles as a somewhat low-interest credit card thanks to its 18.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable ongoing APR. This interest rate is reasonable for a rewards card, with its low-end APR being slightly below 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 these factors, credit cards with several ongoing bonus categories can be worth looking into.
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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 (then variable APR of 16.24 percent to 27.24 percent). Both also feature a high cash back rate in bonus categories that can change throughout the year, allowing you to strategize about when and where you buy to earn the most rewards.
The Discover card’s rotating categories cycle each quarter and aren’t guaranteed to reward your top spending category, but the program’s structure can give you little more room for earning rewards since you typically receive two to three 5 percent categories that share a $1,500 quarterly spending limit (after which your rewards rate drops to 1 percent).
This info means that the Discover it Cash Back could offer a bit more cash back with fewer fees, while the Custom Cash may be a more rewarding choice if you don’t want to juggle categories and plan to utilize a Citi travel card’s transfer partners.
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 could also be pooled with Chase’s premium cards and redeemed for 25 or 50 percent more value toward Chase Ultimate Rewards travel — even without using transfer partners. Plus, it earns year-round 5 percent cash back on Chase travel and 3 percent on dining and drug store purchases.
However, like the Discover it Cash Back, the Freedom Flex lets you earn cash back in more than one rotating 5 percent category at a time. If you’re on the fence about Chase’s rotating categories but you prefer their stronger rewards potential over the Custom Cash’s single category, keep in mind that the Freedom Flex provides reliable rewards year-round with its unlimited 3 percent categories and Chase travel cash back.
Still, the Freedom Flex doesn’t automatically reward your biggest category each month, so the Custom Cash is more convenient if you want automatic 5 percent cash back without worrying about category activation and tracking.
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. In this case, 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 or other Citi cards can really help it flex its muscles.
The information about the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
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