Automatic cash back rewards checks tough to find

You can get them automatically, you can get them by check, but rarely both


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Is there any cash-back credit card that simply writes me a check quarterly for my rewards? -- Mark

Answer Dear Mark,
Surveys consistently show that of all the possible kinds of rewards, receiving cash is the most popular. A survey in January 2015 showed that roughly 60 percent of wealthy Americans surveyed said cash is their preferred credit card reward -- about three times as many as the next favorite reward, frequent flier miles.

That's because the idea of cash back is simple and straightforward, unlike, say, complex airline reward programs. And when it comes to flexibility, you can't beat cash.                   

Usually, when we think of cash-back cards, we think about which one offers the best rewards. That answer often depends on how much you spend and where you spend it, because a lot of cards give you extra rewards for spending in certain categories. If you're looking for simplicity, there are two cards with the same high, flat rate of 2 percent (Citi Double Cash and the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express).

However, it may be worth also considering the way that a card actually delivers you the cash. A lot of people probably don't care -- cash is cash, no matter how you get it -- but it might feel like more of a reward to receive a check in the mail. If you receive a statement credit or elect to have your money transferred into a bank account, it can feel less satisfying because the reward money mixes in with the rest of your finances. 

I scoured the terms and conditions of 10 top cash-back cards and examined the options for receiving rewards. Some allow you to sign up to receive awards automatically. Some allow you to receive rewards in the form of a check. But I saw only one that apparently allows you to receive rewards automatically by check.

The Capital One Quicksilver (no annual fee, flat 1.5 percent back) lets you sign up for automatic reward payments, either when your reward dollars reach a certain amount, or "at a set time each calendar year." In addition to receiving the money by check, you can opt to have your statement credited. 

Several other cards I examined allow you to receive rewards by check, but they appear to have no automatic mechanism for sending you those checks. Instead, you have to call or go online to request them. For instance, Citi Double Cash (no annual fee, 1 percent back on purchases plus 1 percent back when you pay) offers reward checks. So does the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card (no annual fee, 2 percent back on groceries, 3 percent on gas, 1 percent on all else). That card allows cardholders to sign up to receive rewards automatically, but those can be only in the form of transfers to a bank account.

Most of the other major cash-back cards out there give you a choice of statement credits or transfer to bank accounts, although a few limit you to just statement credits. 

One option, Mark, is to sign up for a card that offers reward checks, then set up a quarterly alert on your phone or computer that reminds you to request that check from the card company. Or, if you're old school, how about putting big "Xs" on your calendar -- in green?  

Good luck!

See related: Strategies to maximize cash-back rewards

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Published: September 1, 2015

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