You never forget your first credit card. I got the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card while I was in college after my financial guru (a.k.a. Mom) taught me about the importance of building credit.
At that time, I didn’t know much about credit cards, so I went with Bank of America’s card simply because I had a checking account with them. A decade later, I make a living advising others on credit cards and still have the Customized Cash Rewards card in my wallet. And you know what? It’s still one of the cards I reach for most often. Here’s why.
Flexible cash back categories
This card’s main draw is its flexible cash back categories. You can receive 3 percent cash back on a category of your choice, including gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement. You also get 2 percent back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 of combined 3 percent and 2 percent category purchases each quarter, then 1 percent). For my lifestyle, I’ve only ever selected online shopping or travel. But, for the past year and a half, I’ve kept it at online shopping because that category has come in handy during the pandemic.
Unlike some cards, which only offer high cash back percentages for specified, rotating categories every quarter, the Customized Cash Rewards card doesn’t come with gimmicks. I’m always rewarded for purchases that I make, rather than for very specific spending categories that are useless to me.
I love that this card gives me the freedom to change my cash back categories once per calendar month. When I booked a trip to Mexico City at the end of June several years ago, I switched my rewards category from online shopping to travel minutes before booking my flight, and was able to switch it back on July 1.
I also like that the Customized Cash Rewards card has no annual fee. However, it does come with foreign transaction fees. This means I’d be charged a 3 percent fee if I were to use it to make purchases abroad. That’s why I use my Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card on purchases while traveling or when buying from overseas merchants.
Another downside to this card is the $2,500 quarterly spending cap for 3 percent and 2 percent rewards categories, which means there’s a $300 maximum you can earn each year for the higher rewards categories. However, on the very rare occasions that I reach that limit, I still earn 1 percent for my purchases and can always refer to that cheat sheet in my wallet to find the next best credit card for my purchase.
My cash back hack
I’m a sucker for a discount and never make a purchase without looking for coupons. I like to think of my 3 percent cash back as a further discount on top of whatever I’m already saving. Sometimes I’ll even buy things online instead of buying them in-store so that the transaction counts as online shopping.
For example, when I had to buy a new MacBook last year, I went to my local Apple Store to compare my options. After I had chosen a laptop, I purchased it online with my Customized Cash Rewards card set to the online shopping rewards category and received 3 percent back, which I wouldn’t have been able to get had I made the purchase in-store. With the cash back, I essentially got a $30 discount on my new laptop.
Fuss-free travel card
I usually have a travel-specific credit card in my wallet, but I canceled it because I’ve been staying put due to the pandemic. I didn’t want to pay my travel card’s annual fee if I wasn’t getting my money’s worth in perks.
When I resume traveling, I probably won’t open another travel-specific credit card and will just use my Customize Cash Rewards card—set to earn 3 percent cash back in the travel category—instead. Why? Most travel cards have annual fees. This one does not. That’ll save me about $100 that I can put towards a vacation.
Most travel cards give you points, which can be confusing to understand and complicated to redeem. Cash back is simple and doesn’t lock me into using my rewards on a specific airline or hotel chain.
For travel abroad, my strategy is to use my Customize Cash Rewards card to book flights and accommodations, and then use my SavorOne card for on-the-ground purchases to avoid Bank of America’s 3 percent foreign transaction fee.
The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card has been my go-to for a decade, and will remain a favorite for years to come.