Best cash back credit cards: Fall 2016

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Best cash back card: Fall 2016

 

Best cash back card: Fall 2016

 

Our reviews and best card recommendations are based on an objective rating process and are not driven by advertising dollars. However, we do receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy

With a cash back credit card, every purchase kicks a little back into your account. With the right cash back card, you could earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in extra cash.

How do you choose the cash back card that’s best for you? Decide how much effort you want to put in to earn your cash back. Do you want ease of use, or do you want to maybe plan your spending to get a higher cash back return with certain purchases?

Some cash back cards offer a flat-rate percentage back on every purchase. Other cards offer bonus cash back in specific categories (such as gas, groceries or restaurants). Other cards offer 5 percent cash back in categories that change quarterly.

To help you pick the right cash back card for your spending habits, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cash back cards and asked a panel of judges to rate the CreditCards.com staff’s best three picks. This is the first category competition in which the judges declared a tie for the No. 2 card.

Judges for Best Cash Back Cards of Fall 2016 were personal finance blogger Jonathan Ping, personal finance author and speaker Laura Adams, independent journalist Lisa Gerstner, CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz.

FIRST PLACE:  The popular Citi Double Cash card won the top honor for its simple rewards structure and industry-leading 2 percent cash back rate for general purchases.

How it works: Citi Double Cash cardholders get 1 percent cash back with every purchase and 1 percent cash back as they pay for their purchases. There are no categories to track, no caps on cash back, and there is no annual fee.  

 

No. 1: CITI DOUBLE CASH CREDIT CARD
Best cash back card - Citi Double Cash
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • 1% additional cash back when you pay your bill on time
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee

Other features: Citi Price Rewind, purchase protection, trip cancellation and interruption protection

Editor's rating:
star-rating4.7/5
Read our review

 

No. 1: CITI DOUBLE CASH CREDIT CARD

Best card

  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • 1% additional cash back when you pay your bill on time
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee

Other features: Citi Price Rewind, purchase protection, trip cancellation and interruption protection

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.7/5
Read our review

Judges praised the Citi Double Cash card’s low maintenance rewards structure.

The Citi Double Cash card doesn’t make you chase bonus categories. It just gives you 2 percent cash back on everything.

— Matt Schulz
Industry Analyst, CreditCards.com 

“When it comes to credit cards, the simpler, the better,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. Unlike many cash back cards, “the Citi Double Cash card doesn’t make you chase bonus categories. It just gives you 2 percent cash back on everything.”

As long as students avoid paying interest by paying off their purchases in full each month, “students can pocket some free cash when they use the card to pay for pizza, to fuel up for a weekend drive home and for other common purchases,” says personal finance journalist Lisa Gerstner.

“If you prefer cash back over points and miles, that means you value ease-of-use,” says Jonathan Ping, publisher of “My Money Blog.” With Citi’s Double Cash card “there are no special categories, no limited-time promotional periods and no annual fee.” 

“Study after study, including our own research, say that consumers value cash back more than any other reward, and a no-hassle, every-single-time 2 percent return is a solid offer from Citi,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray.

The Citi Double Cash card also works well either as a primary card or as a supplemental card,  says personal finance journalist Lisa Gerstner.

With Citi Double Cash, “those who would rather not juggle several cards get healthy rewards on everything they buy with a single card,” she says. Meanwhile, “those who prefer to squeeze out greater earnings in certain categories can use Citi Double Cash to fill the gaps, pulling it out for purchases that would earn less than 2 percent with their other cards.”

SECOND PLACE (TIE): The Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express and new Chase Freedom Unlimited card tied for runner-up in the cash back category.

Judges said the Blue Cash Preferred’s errands-centric rewards program is so generous that it easily offsets the card’s $95 annual fee, and the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited won high praise for its hassle-free rewards program.  

 

No. 2 (TIE): BLUE CASH PREFERRED CARD
Blue Cash Preferred Card
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • $150 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee

Other features: Cash back tracker, purchase protection, return protection, roadside assistance

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.1/5
Read our review

 

No. 2 (TIE): BLUE CASH PREFERRED CARD

Blue Cash Preferred Card

  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • $150 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee

Other features: Cash back tracker, purchase protection, return protection, roadside assistance

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.1/5
Read our review

“The Blue Cash Preferred Card is my top choice when you want a simple cash back card that pays the highest rewards for what we buy the most: groceries,” says personal finance author Laura Adams. “Getting 6 percent cash back on the first $6,000 you spend at supermarkets each year is about as good as it gets.”

The Blue Cash Preferred card also offers 3 percent cash back at gas station and select department stores. “If I have a big, hungry family, and a big commute, I’m looking at you, Blue Cash Preferred,” says Ray.

Judges lamented that the card comes with a hefty annual fee, making it a riskier choice for cardholders who aren’t sure how much they’ll use it. However, some judges said that the card’s ample bonus on everyday purchases made up for the large fee. “High cash rewards make paying the $95 annual fee well worth it because you can easily earn it back,” says Laura Adams.

 

No. 2 (TIE): THE CHASE FREEDOM UNLIMITED CARD
Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • $150 sign-up bonus if you spend $500 in first 3 months
  • No annual fee

Other features: Car rental insurance, roadside assistance, price protection, extended warranty

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.2/5
Read our review

 

No. 2 (TIE): THE CHASE FREEDOM UNLIMITED CARD

Best card

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • $150 sign-up bonus if you spend $500 in first 3 months
  • No annual fee

Other features: Car rental insurance, roadside assistance, price protection, extended warranty

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.2/5
Read our review

The Chase Freedom Unlimited, introduced in 2016, is a flat 1.5 percent cash back, easy-to-use version of the Chase Freedom card, which offers 5 percent on rotating quarterly categories.

Freedom Unlimited, like the Citi Double Cash card, caters to busy cardholders who want low-maintenance cash back on every purchase.

The Freedom Unlimited card isn’t as generous as some of its competitors, such as the Citi Double Cash card. However, our judges liked the Freedom Unlimited’s simplicity, reliable rewards and its $150 sign-up bonus.  

“Chase Freedom is a good choice for those who want to give their cash back rewards a quick boost through their $150 bonus with a relatively easy-to-achieve $500 spending requirement over three months,” says Ray.

The Citi Double Cash card, by contrast, doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus.

“If you’re only chasing sign-up bonuses and don’t plan to keep the card for very long, Chase Freedom Unlimited might be a better choice,” says Schulz. “That $150 bonus can be pretty tempting. If you’re looking for a cash back card to start a long-term relationship with, however, Citi Double Cash is the right choice.”

This is the first year that CreditCards.com has held a contest for best cards in their class. To help choose the best cards for each category, the CreditCards.com staff consulted credit card and personal finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. CreditCards.com staff also rated cards through its credit card reviews program.

A panel of five judges -- including personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff -- were asked to independently judge the three finalists and rank them in order of preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner. 

See related: 6 cash back cards to use for holiday spending7 ways to get the most from rewards cards, Which cards maximize rewards at grocery stores?, Automatic cash back rewards checks tough to find

All best credit card stories are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the story is accurate as of the date of the story. Check the credit card terms and conditions link on the issuing bank’s website for the most current information.

Published: September 29, 2016

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About this Award

CreditCards.com’s Best Credit Cards awards program brings together prominent industry experts and journalists to choose the best credit card within a monthly category. Our editorial staff nominates cards based on a set of objective criteria. CreditCards.com is not compensated for any of the nominations or awards. Advertiser disclosure.



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