Best cash back credit cards

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Cash back cards have gained in popularity over the past decade as banks seek new ways to reward customers for keeping their cards top-of-wallet. A cash back card functions like an automatic rebate—spend on your card and get a certain percentage back. Typical cash back rates are between 1% and 5%. The experts at Bankrate have compiled information, advice and recommendations for cash back credit cards below.

Table of contents:

Bankrate’s best cash-back credit cards of 2018
Editor’s review: Our favorite cash-back credit cards of 2018
Cash back credit card rates
Cash back cards vs. travel rewards cards
How to choose the right cash back card
Pros and cons of cash back cards
Recap: The best cash-back credit cards of 2018

Bankrate’s best cash-back credit cards of 2018:

How we chose our favorite cash back credit cards

We independently analyzed over 300 cards, ranking them using our proprietary Bankrate Score, to determine our top picks for best cash-back credit cards. Each card is evaluated on factors like APR, annual fee, late and other fees, rewards, intro bonus and other perks, and credit threshold. For cash-back cards, we look closely at the value and complexity of rewards programs, as well as sign-up bonuses and annual fees relative to reward value.

Editor’s review: Our favorite cash-back cards of 2018

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

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For anyone who spends heavily at the supermarket, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a must-have for any big grocery shopper. The 6% cash-back reward at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) is the most lucrative available in this category.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Everyday spending
  • Bankrate Score: 92/100
  • Issuer: American Express
  • Card Type: Bonus category cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 6% cash-back at U.S. supermarkets
  • Annual Fee: $95

Editors Take: The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is Bankrate’s best cash back credit card for consumers who spend heavily on gas and groceries. If you have good or excellent credit and are looking to get rewarded for your everyday spending, this card is for you.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

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CreditCards.com says that this card is just as good as the Blue Cash Preferred. It’s ideal for the busy cardholder who doesn’t have time to worry about spending on bonus categories.

Card Details:

  • Best For: 1.5% cash-back on everything
  • Bankrate Score: 92/100
  • Issuer: Chase
  • Card Type: Flat-rate cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editors Take: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic first cash-back credit card. This card’s straightforward, unlimited, cash back reward structure makes it a great choice for anyone looking for a hassle-free cash back card.

Discover it® Cash Back 

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Compared with the other cash-back cards on the market that offer rotating bonus categories, no one even comes close to the Discover it® Cash Back first year offer. At the end of the first year, Discover will match all of your accumulated earnings. Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year. That’s as good as it gets.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Rotating 5% cash back categories
  • Bankrate Score: 93/100
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Card Type: Rotating category cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 5% cash back on rotating categories
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editors Take: The Discover it Cash Back Match is an excellent choice for consumers who are willing to put in the work to keep up with and enroll for Discover’s bonus cash back categories each quarter. The value of this card shines in the first year, as Discover will match all of the cash back that you earned at the end of the year.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards

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For anyone who wants a cash-back card that’s a breeze to understand, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards delivers. There’s no changing categories to pay attention to or remembering to use this card over another for the maximum value. Every purchase made with this card will earn 1.5% cash back. It’s that simple.

Card Details:

  • Best For: No fees
  • Bankrate Score: 93/100
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Card Type: Flat-rate cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 1.5% cashback on everything
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editors Take: The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card is a good choice for anyone looking for a cash back credit card that will reward them without having to think about it. This card is ideal for earning rewards on activities like paying bills. However, heavy spenders in categories such as gas and groceries will find better rewards rates on other cards.

Chase Freedom

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For those who enjoy the thrill of tracking rotating bonus categories to earn maximum rewards, the Chase Freedom will deliver. The card offers categories that change every four months and pay 5% back, up to a quarterly maximum of $1,500. If you max out the bonus possibilities, you’ll earn at least $300 cash-back plus all of your other spending will earn 1% cash back.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Flexible reward redemption
  • Bankrate Score: 90/100
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Card Type: Rotating category cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 5% cash back on rotating categories
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editors Take: The Chase Freedom is the best choice for consumers who are willing to keep up with rotating categories each quarter and who would appreciate the flexibility of being able to redeem their cash back as Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. If you crave a cash back credit card that can adapt to your preferred redemption method, this card is for you.

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card

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If you’re like most American households and are caught up in an endless spending loop of buy groceries, buy gas and repeat, there’s a lot to like about the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card. The card pays 3% cash back on gas purchases and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs up to $2,500 in combined spending per quarter. You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Relationship bonuses
  • Bankrate Score: 87/100
  • Issuer: Bank of America
  • Card Type: Bonus category cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 3% back on gas, 2% back at groceries and wholesale clubs, 1% back on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editor’s Take: The Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit card really shines with Bank of America’s relationship bonus program, called Preferred Rewards. You’ll get a least a 10% rewards bonus when you deposit your rewards into an eligible account. If you have an active account with Bank of America, you should have this card.

Citi Double Cash

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When it comes to rewards value, the Citi Double Cash Card ranks among the very best cash-back credit cards that charge no annual fee. We love this card for its simplicity. Citi Double Cash pays 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% back as you pay for that purchase. There’s no cap on how much you can earn back, making this card a leader in the cash-back category.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Flat-rate cash back
  • Bankrate Score: 94/100
  • Issuer: Citi
  • Card Type: Flat-rate cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 1% cash back when you buy, 1% cash back when you pay
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editor’s Take: The Citi Double Cash Card offers one of the best flat-rate cash back rates on the market today. If you are a consumer who pays their bill on time and in full every month, this cash back card is an excellent choice.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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For anyone who is planning their next meal while still finishing the one they’re on, this card is like a dream come true. It’s tailor-made for foodies and aspiring chefs with cash back rewards of an unlimited 3% cash back on all dining and 2% back at the supermarket.

Card Details:

  • Best For: Dining
  • Bankrate Score: 96/100
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Card Type: Bonus category cash back
  • Cash Back Rate: 3% back at dining establishments, 2% back at grocery stores
  • Annual Fee: $0

Editor’s Take: For consumers who love everything dining, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a must-have. With compelling cash back rates on both dining and grocery shopping, you will be rewarded for almost every food purchase that you make. If you consider yourself a foodie, you should have this card.

Cash back rates

One percent back on all purchases used to be routine, but now several issuers offer a flat 1.5 percent or even 2 percent back on all purchases. Even better offers are available through credit union memberships. For example, Alliant is offering an impressive 3% cash back for one year, followed by 2.5% cash back in years two and beyond.

There are also bonus category cash-back cards which reward you with higher percentages when you spend within certain parameters. For example, one card may offer 3 percent back on grocery store purchases but drops to 1 percent on all other spending. Another type of card may offer as much as 5 percent back, but only within certain categories and within a certain time frame.

Cash back cards vs. travel rewards cards

Think of cash-back cards as a basic type of rewards card. Although the amount of cash-back and ways to earn bonus cash back can vary greatly among each card, they all give one reward back: cash.

But with travel rewards cards, there are usually more than one way to use those rewards. Some travel rewards cards give you the option to redeem the rewards for travel, or take cash-back, Other cards offer you airline miles. Some premium rewards cards will give you a greater redemption value if you use the accrued rewards to book travel through their portal.

Just as there is no one best cash-back credit card for everyone, the same is true of travel rewards cards. Someone who only travels once a year by car will benefit more from a different type of card then a globetrotting wanderer.

How to choose the right cash back card

There’s no one-size-fits-all cash back card. If you’re considering adding a cash-back card, consider the areas your household is likely to spend the most.

A busy suburban family, for example, will likely benefit more from a card that offers greater rewards on gas and groceries than a single urban dweller who frequently dines out and doesn’t own a car.

Frequent warehouse shoppers may find that a co-branded card to their favorite location will give them the most bang for the buck.

If you can’t pinpoint an area where you spend the most, it’s hard to go wrong with a general purpose cash-back card-it’s like getting a discount every time you spend on the card.

Keep in mind that, unless you’re paying the balance in full and on time every month, the value of any rewards associated with the card is likely to be outweighed by what you’ll pay in interest charges. If you typically carry a balance, a low-interest credit card may be an overall better choice.

Pros and cons of cash back cards

Pros

  • These cards typically don’t charge an annual fee.
  • Flat rate cash-back cards are an effortless way to earn money back for spending the way you would normally.
  • If you’re highly organized and up for the challenge, combining a flat-rate cash-back card with one that offers rotating bonus categories, can net you some serious savings.
  • You can redeem the savings as a statement credit on your card.

Cons

  • There may be caps on how much cash back you can earn.
  • Cash-back cards typically have meager or no sign-up bonuses.
  • There are different levels of complexity with different types of cards.
  • If you don’t pick the right type of card for your spending habits, you won’t maximize the value.

Recap: The best cash-back credit cards

Card Name Bankrate Score Best For
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 92/100 Everyday spending
Chase Freedom Unlimited® 92/100 1.5% cash back on everything
Discover it® Cash Back  93/100 Rotating 5% categories
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards 93/100 No fees
Chase Freedom 90/100 Flexible reward redemption
Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card 87/100 Relationship bonuses
Citi® Double Cash Card 94/100 Flat-rate cash back
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card 96/100 Dining

Reward yourself today. Apply for a cash-back credit card now.

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