Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Written by: Tracy Stewart | Edited by: Jeanine Skowronski | Reviewed by: Ted Rossman
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July 19, 2021

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For individuals looking to maximize their daily spending and get paid back for everyday purchases, the right cash back credit card can be a very useful tool. Cash back essentially offers a rebate in the form of a particular dollar amount of each eligible purchase back to the cardholder, making it easy to understand and redeem. Cash back credit cards also provide the most flexible form of rewards, allowing cardholders to spend their earnings however they’d like without many of the redemption restrictions that come with other types of rewards cards.

For the simplicity lover, some cards offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases – usually between 1% and 2%. Other cash back cards offer a higher rewards rate on specific purchase categories like dining or groceries. For those that prefer to receive a flat cash back rate, we’d recommend the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card which perfectly embodies the easy-rewards approach with its unlimited 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases along with no annual fee, foreign transaction fees or spending caps to eat into your potential rewards. If you focus a majority of your spending on one area, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card provides 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent with 1% cash back thereafter – no tracking or activating time-sensitive categories needed.

Why trust us? Our team of credit card experts analyzed over 300 card offers across all categories and narrowed them down to our top recommendations for a variety of lifestyles and financial goals. We assign each card a one-to-five star rating along with thorough reviews to help you find a cash back card that fits your spending habits and maximizes the amount of money going back into your pocket. For cash back credit cards, we inspect the cash back rate, spending categories, redemption options, sign-up bonus, and additional perks as well as promotional and regular APRs and fees. All of our card selections are independently assessed by our editors based on their individual research, opinions, and other factors. Browse our picks for the best cash back offers from our partners and find a card that fits your spending habits.

For individuals looking to maximize their daily spending and get paid back for everyday purchases, the right cash back credit card can be a very useful tool. Cash back essentially offers a rebate in the form of a particular dollar amount of each eligible purchase back to the cardholder, making it easy to understand and redeem. Cash back credit cards also provide the most flexible form of rewards, allowing cardholders to spend their earnings however they’d like without many of the redemption restrictions that come with other types of rewards cards.

For the simplicity lover, some cards offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases – usually between 1% and 2%. Other cash back cards offer a higher rewards rate on specific purchase categories like dining or groceries. For those that prefer to receive a flat cash back rate, we’d recommend the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card which perfectly embodies the easy-rewards approach with its unlimited 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases along with no annual fee, foreign transaction fees or spending caps to eat into your potential rewards. If you focus a majority of your spending on one area, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card provides 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent with 1% cash back thereafter – no tracking or activating time-sensitive categories needed.

Why trust us? Our team of credit card experts analyzed over 300 card offers across all categories and narrowed them down to our top recommendations for a variety of lifestyles and financial goals. We assign each card a one-to-five star rating along with thorough reviews to help you find a cash back card that fits your spending habits and maximizes the amount of money going back into your pocket. For cash back credit cards, we inspect the cash back rate, spending categories, redemption options, sign-up bonus, and additional perks as well as promotional and regular APRs and fees. All of our card selections are independently assessed by our editors based on their individual research, opinions, and other factors. Browse our picks for the best cash back offers from our partners and find a card that fits your spending habits.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards of July 2021

BEST FOR STUDENTS
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

No Credit History

Rewards rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 21.99% variable
BEST UNSECURED CARD
Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa®
Our rating:3.0 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3%
Unlimited cash back on payments - 3% on Home, Auto and Health categories
1%
1% on everything else

At A Glance

Intro bonus
No current offer
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
8.99% - 29.99% variable
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Editorial disclosure: All reviews 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 review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

All information about the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, U.S. Bank Cash+™️ Visa Signature®️ Card and Alliant Visa®️ Signature Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.


A guide to cash back credit cards

It’s clear that Americans love cash back, according to a recent survey by Bankrate. Of those rewards cardholders surveyed, 56% said they redeemed for cash back versus only 15% who redeemed for travel.

With so many credit card offers on the market, it can be tough to decide which cash back card is going to give you the most value. To make it easier for you, our experts at CreditCards.com have pulled together the best cash back credit cards for every lifestyle. Choosing a credit card is an important financial decision, so we lay out the pros and cons for you all in one place.


Comparing the best cash back credit cards

Credit cardBest forCash back %Annual feeCreditCards.com rating
Citi Custom Cash℠ CardAutomatically maximizing cash back5% on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, then 1% $04.1 / 5
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card2% cash rewards2% cash rewards$03.6 / 5
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit cardUnlimited cash back for Preferred Rewards Members1.5% cash back on every purchase$03.3 / 5
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit cardFlexible cash back categories3% on category of your choice Also 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases $04.2 / 5
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit CardDining and entertainment3% on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores$03.5 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardUnlimited rewards1.5% cash back on every purchase$03.0 / 5
Citi® Double Cash CardFlat rate cash back2% 1% on purchases; 1% as you pay off the purchases $03.6 / 5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressGroceries/ U.S supermarkets6% at U.S supermarkets For the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% cash back $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $954.0 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Introductory APR on purchases3% cash back on dining 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 in first year (excluding Target and Walmart), 5% cash back on travel through Chase; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases; 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022); 1.5% cash back on all other purchases $04.5 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackCash back5% in rotating categories On up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1% cash back, activation required $04.5 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressTiered cash back3% at U.S supermarkets For the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% cash back $03.9 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠Cash back on eligible travel5% in rotating categories On up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1% cash back, activation required $04.2 / 5
Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®Referral bonusUp to 6% cash back Up to 6% cash back by referring friends! Start with 1% and get an extra 1% for a full year for every friend you refer. $0N/A
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudents5% in rotating categories On up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1% cash back, activation required $04.1 / 5

best cash-back credit cards of 2021

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Best for automatically maximizing cash back

Why we picked it: This brand new no annual fee credit card from Citi lets you earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent (after that, 1% cash back). You also earn unlimited 1% cash back on general purchases. You don’t have to enroll in rotating bonus categories or guess which category you might spend the most in to maximize your rewards. Instead, as your spending changes each billing cycle, your earnings adjust automatically. Eligible categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.

Pros: The card touts a generous sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in cash back (paid out in ThankYou points) after you spend $750 in your first three months of account opening. Plus, there’s a 15-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases (variable 13.99% to 23.99%, after that).

Cons: The $500-per-billing cycle cap on your 5% cash back (then 1%) limits the card’s value. (It’s comparable to the $1,500 quarterly cap associated with popular rotating cash back credit cards that don’t charge an annual fee like the Discover it Cash Back or Chase Freedom Flex.) You’ll pay a steep 5% balance transfer fee (or $5, whichever is greater) if you take advantage of that offer.

Who should apply? If your spending habits tend to change from month to month and you don’t want to worry about strategically using different credit cards to earn extra cash back, this Citi card is an option.

Read our Citi Custom Cash Card review.

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card: Best for 2% cash rewards

Why we picked it: The Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card lets you maximize earnings on everyday spending with its unlimited 2% cash rewards. That’s pretty high for a card with no annual fee. And unlike similar cards in this space, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠  Card offers an introductory bonus of $200 cash rewards when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of membership. Another reason to consider this card: qualifying balance transfers and purchase APR are set at a 0% introductory rate for 15 months from account opening, then 14.99% to 24.99% variable APR.

Pros: There are no rotating categories to keep track of and no enrollments required. Cash rewards never expire so long as your account remains in good standing. The card includes perks like cellphone protection and Visa Signature Concierge benefits at select hotel properties worldwide.

Cons: Those who fall at the higher end of the variable APR could be stuck with hefty interest charges if carrying a balance at the end of the introductory APR period. Ancillary benefits and card perks are limited compared to other cards.

Who should apply? Anyone looking for an uncomplicated way to earn rewards on routine spending will appreciate this unlimited cash rewards card from Wells Fargo.

Read our Wells Fargo Active Cash℠  Card review.

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best for unlimited cash back for Preferred Rewards Members

Why we picked it: If you’re an existing Bank of America customer with assets in savings, checking or investment accounts, you could come out ahead with this new cash back credit card, which offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, plus a potential 25% to 75% rewards boost for Preferred Rewards members (actual value of the boost varies, depending on how much is in your Bank of America accounts).

Pros: On top of the base rewards, you can earn $200 online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. You can also take advantage of an introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers made in the first 60 days for 15 billing cycles, then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR.

Cons: You’ll need at least $20,000 across Bank of America and/or Merrill accounts to be eligible for any Preferred Rewards boost.

Who should apply? Bank of America customers with at least $20,000 across accounts may want to take advantage of the rewards boost the bank offers through its membership rewards program.

Read our Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Best for flexible cash back categories

Why we picked it: The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, you have the freedom to change your bonus category once per calendar month, allowing you to tailor your rewards to your spending habits. That’s especially handy when your summer budget may skew more heavily toward gas or travel, but you spend more on online shopping during the holidays. Bonus categories include gas, online shopping, travel, drug stores, dining and home improvement/furnishings. If you plan ahead, this card can be exceptionally valuable, especially since there’s no annual fee.

Pros: Cardholders earn 3% cash back on the category of their choice, plus 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%). There’s a competitive sign-up bonus: Earn $200 if you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days. That amount matches the highest current cash back bonus, though some cards, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, have a lower required spend ($200 if you spend $500 in your first three months.) Bank of America customers with at least $20,000 across checking or savings accounts can qualify for a 25% to 75% rewards boost through the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program.

Cons: Rewards are limited to cash back. There’s also a $2,500 combined spend cap on 2% and 3% reward categories for each quarter. Frequent travelers may be put off by the 3% foreign transaction fee and lack of travel benefits.

Who should apply? This straightforward cash back card offers plenty of flexibility for moderate spenders who prefer to change up their bonus categories every so often. Bank of America account holders should also consider this card, given the potential for a rewards boost.

Read our Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment

Why we picked it: Capital One recently sweetened the rewards associated with both of its popular Savor cards. The SavorOne now offers a hefty 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery store purchases (excluding superstores like Target® and Walmart®), 1% cash back on all other purchases plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023 and a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account.

Pros: The card doesn’t charge an annual fee. Rewards don’t expire for the life of the account and there are no limits on cash back.

Cons: Depending on how much you spend, you might be better served by the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers higher rewards to the tune of 4% cash back on dining, entertainment and popular streaming services, 3% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on other purchases, but charges a $95 annual fee. (Learn how to decide what Capital One Savor card is right for you.)

Who should apply? Foodies will like the SavorOne for its generous cash back on dining, grocery store purchases and entertainment purchases. Big spenders will appreciate the lack of spending caps for these categories.

Read our Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for unlimited rewards

Why we picked it: For those who prefer to keep it simple, this great gimmick-free card has no annual fee and offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Pros: Rewards remain valid for the life of the account and there are no caps on how much you can earn. There’s also no minimum you have to meet to start redeeming cash back. You can earn $200 if you spend $500 in your first three months of card membership. There’s also a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then variable 15.49% to 25.49%).

Cons: While unlimited rewards are an attractive offer, note that the Citi Double Cash earns a higher flat-rate cash back at 2% (1% when you buy and 1% as you pay off the purchase) without charging an annual fee (though that card doesn’t include a welcome offer).

Who should apply? While there are plenty of other cards out there offering much higher cash back rates, the unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase has the potential to offer major value for anyone in the market for a pared-down cash back card. (Learn more about the different 1.5% cash back credit cards on the market.)

Read our Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back

Why we picked it: Offering 1% on general purchases (excluding gift cards) and then an additional 1% cash back as you pay off those purchases, the Citi Double Cash boasts one of the most competitive rewards rates of all cash back cards and is a clear standout among flat-rate cash back cards that don’t charge an annual fee.

Pros: Cash back rewards can be converted to ThankYou points, which can be redeemed for travel purchases, gift cards and more for a rate of $1 cash back to 100 ThankYou points. Plus, there’s a lengthy 18-month 0% introductory APR on balance transfers (then variable 13.99% to 23.99%).

Cons: There’s no sign-up bonus. Also, the rewards expire if the card isn’t used in more than 12 months. You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of 3% or $5, whichever is greater.

Who should apply? This uncomplicated flat-rate cash back card would be a good match for someone who values flexibility, particularly for existing Citi customers already earning ThankYou points. The 18-month intro APR is also a solid option for anyone mulling over the idea of a balance transfer.

Read our Citi® Double Cash Card review.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for U.S. supermarkets

Why we picked it: Offering supreme cash back rates (6% for up to $6,000 each year, then 1%) for purchases at U.S. supermarkets as well as 6% back on select U.S. streaming services, this card is a fantastic option for those who prefer their dinner-and-a-movie at home. The introductory offer of a $150 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in the first six months of card membership along with up to 20% back on Amazon.com purchases within the first six months (up to $200 back) is a great way to help pay for some of those groceries.

Pros: The 6% cash back rate at U.S. supermarkets (for up to $6,000 each year, then 1%) is incredibly high. Plus, there are no rotating categories or enrollment to worry about, and rewards can be redeemed on past purchases. There’s also a 12-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then variable 13.99% to 23.99%).

Cons: Some may find the annual fee of $95 (waived for the first year) a tad steep, but it’s worth remembering the high rewards rates. We estimate a Blue Cash Preferred cardholder needs to spend $3,200 per year on groceries (or $267 per month) to beat the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, which offers lower rewards in exchange for no annual fee. (Learn how to decide which Blue Cash card is right for you.)

Who should apply? Families, foodies, and anyone with a daily commute can benefit from this card’s excellent cash back rates on groceries and gas.

Read our Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for introductory APR on purchases

Why we picked it: It’s safe to say you have plenty of opportunities to earn cash back with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. You’ll earn a standard 1.5% on all purchases, plus boosted rewards in practical everyday categories, including 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year (excluding Target and Walmart), 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on drugstores and 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022). As a welcome bonus, you can earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account.

Pros: A newly spruced-up rewards model and a favorable cash back rate on general purchases make it easy to rack up rewards. Plus, there are no caps on cash back and rewards don’t expire. There’s also a lengthy 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then variable 14.99% to 23.74%).

Cons: There’s no annual bonus, though that may not deter many considering the lack of rewards limits and the competitive return rate.

Who should apply? This is a solid rewards card for anyone hoping to earn cash back on everyday purchases, with generous bonus opportunities on Ultimate Rewards travel, dining and drugstore spending.

Read our Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.

Discover it® Cash Back: Best for rotating categories

Why we picked it: With the Discover it Cash Back, you’ll have the opportunity to earn a generous 5% cash back bonus on everyday, useful categories (up to $1,500 upon enrollment each quarter, then 1%) that rotate each quarter.

Pros: Discover will automatically match all of your cash back earnings at the end of the first year. There’s a 14-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers (then variable 11.99% to 22.99%). Discover has a few consumer-friendly policies attached to its popular credit cards, including no foreign transaction fees, a free FICO credit score and no fee for a first missed payment (up to $40 for any payment missed after that).

Cons: The 5% cash back rate is limited to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter (then 1%). (If you anticipate spending more than that, consider a flat-rate cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card.) You don’t get to choose bonus categories; Discover sets them each year. (See the Discover it Cash Back 2021 calendar.) You must remember to enroll each quarter in order to earn that bonus cash back.

Who should apply? If you’re strategic enough in your spending to take advantage of its rotating bonus categories, the Discover it® Cash Back offers a lot of potential to maximize rewards.

Read our Discover it® Cash Back card review.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for tiered cash back

Why we picked it: This card offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases annually, then 1%), 2% at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores and then 1% on general purchases.

Pros: As a welcome offer, you’ll earn $100 in statement credits if you spend $2,000 with your card during your first six months of card membership. You’ll also earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases in your first six months for up to $150 back, also in statement credits. There’s also a 15-month 0% introductory APR on new purchases (then variable 13.99% to 23.99%).

Cons: The yearly $6,000 limit on the 3% purchase category could cut into your potential earnings. Depending on your spending habits, you could earn more with the Blue Cash Preferred, which offers higher rewards, but charges a $95 annual fee (waived the first year).

Who should apply? The Blue Cash Everyday is all about rewarding essential purchases, which is why it’s a great addition to nearly anyone’s wallet.

Read our Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express review.

Chase Freedom Flex℠: Best for cash back on eligible travel

Why we picked it: The 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® can really add up. You can also earn 5% cash back on eligible purchases in rotating categories (up to $1,500 per quarter with quarterly activation required, then 1%), 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year (excluding Target and Walmart) and 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants.

Pros: Reward rates are relatively high for a card with no annual fee. There’s a lucrative sign-up bonus: earn $200 when you spend $500 in your first three months, a nice return for meeting a low spending threshold. You can also take advantage of a lengthy 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (then variable 14.99% and 23.74%).

Cons: If the idea of keeping track of all of the cash back categories and the rules that come with each makes your head spin, you might want to look for a different cash back card. That, along with remembering to enroll in the 5% bonus category each quarter, requires some attention and may not be ideal for everyone. If you’re looking for something more low-maintenance, consider a flat-rate cash back card, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited. (Learn how to decide between the Chase Freedom cards.)

Who should apply? Frequent travelers can really benefit from the high cash back rate on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Read our Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.

Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®: Best for referral bonus

Why we picked it: Jasper Cash Back Mastercard cardholders start by earning 1% cash back on purchases, but can earn up to a whopping 6% cash back by successfully referring friends. The card carries no annual fee.

Pros: You can earn extra cash back more quickly; starting at 1%, you can get an extra 1% for a full year for every friend you refer.

Cons: If you can’t successfully refer friends, your earnings will be limited and the cash back program can be confusing, particularly for credit card newbies.

Who should apply? If you consider yourself persuasive enough to take advantage of the friend referral incentives, the 6% cash bonus is very attractive. Otherwise you might have better luck with a flat-rate cash back card instead.

Read our Jasper Cash Back Mastercard® review.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for students

Why we picked it: This product is a top-notch student credit card: Earn a $20 statement credit each year for up to the next five years that you have a 3.0 GPA or better. In addition, earn 5% cash back on rotating categories (then 1%; activation required each quarter and $1,500 limit each quarter), up to $300 a year on the 5% offer.

Pros: At the end of your first year, match your earnings to get up to $600. Plus, there’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Cons: For students who are new to credit cards, the rotating categories may be too confusing to use to their full potential.

Who should apply? This card is an ideal match for students hoping to establish credit while also earning cash back rewards.

Read our Discover it® Student Cash Back review.

What are cash back credit cards and how do they work?

Cash back credit cards are a type of rewards credit card. Unlike other rewards credit cards, which offer redeemable points or miles on purchases, cash back credit cards give a particular dollar amount of each eligible purchase back to the cardholder. Cash back essentially works like a rebate. Because reward points often come with a lot of restrictions in terms of how they can be redeemed, some people may prefer the simplicity of a cash back rewards card.

Exactly how much cash you earn back per purchase will vary depending on the terms of your card and the type of purchase you make. Let’s say you spend $500 each month in a category with a cash back rate of 5%. That means you earn $25 a month, just for card loyalty ($500 X .05 = $25). Sometimes there are spending limits, which is why it’s important to read through a card’s terms before applying.

When you redeem your cash back, you’ll probably have several options. Most cards allow you to redeem your cash back as a statement credit, which will lower your credit card balance. Direct deposits to your bank account, gift cards and checks are also common redemption options.

You’ll usually need at least fair credit to get a cash back card, so make sure you meet the credit requirements before applying. Cash back cards are best for people who can spend responsibly and pay their bill in full each month. If there’s a chance you might carry a balance from time to time, you’re probably better off with a low interest credit card.

Read our full guide to how cash back credit cards work to learn more.

Types of cash back credit cards

Nearly every cash back card on the market falls into one of three categories, each with its own benefits.

Flat-rate

  • How they work: Flat-rate cash back cards are probably the simplest type of rewards card you can get. With a flat-rate card, you’ll earn a set amount of cash back, usually between 1% and 2%, on every purchase. Simply set and forget earnings until you want to redeem your rewards.
  • Benefits: Depending on your spending habits, there’s the potential to earn quite a lot in rewards.
  • Drawbacks: On the flip side, you could also lose out on rewards by not using a card with bonus categories that you would frequently spend more than on everyday purchases.
  • Who they’re best for: Since there’s no need to strategize spending, this type of cash back card is great for first-time cardholders and those who want to use just one credit card for the majority of their expenses.
  • A great option: The Citi® Double Cash Card. Earn 1% cash back on general purchases (excluding gift cards) and an additional 1% as you pay off those purchases, effectively 2%.

Read more: The top 1.5% cash back credit cards

Tiered categories

  • How they work: One of the best ways to maximize your cash back earnings is to use a tiered card for your most common purchases while using a flat-rate card for miscellaneous expenses. That way, you get the best of both worlds and you never have to settle for a low rate of cash back.
  • Benefits: Cash back rates for tiered categories can be quite high. If your card offers 3% to 5% cash back in supermarkets and you spend a lot on weekly grocery runs, you stand to earn a decent amount.
  • Drawbacks: If your card’s featured tiered categories are mismatched with your personal spending habits, you’ll miss out on cash back.
  • Who they’re best for: A cash back card with tiered categories is a great choice if you have regular expenses within particular categories, like gas or groceries.
  • A great option: the Chase Freedom Flex℠. Earn 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories that you must activate each quarter (on up to $1,500 per quarter, 1% thereafter), 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining and 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.

Rotating or customizable bonus category

  • How they work: This type of cash back card is very similar to a tiered category card, the main difference being that the categories change, usually each quarter. There are even cards that allow you to choose and change your own bonus category once per calendar month, like the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card.
  • Benefits: Rotating categories often correspond with the time of year, which can help you make the most of seasonal expenses, like holiday purchases or a summer road trip.
  • Drawbacks: Keeping track of changing categories can be too much work for some users who then risk losing out on rewards.
  • Who they’re best for: If you’re fairly organized, able to follow along with quarterly category updates and can be strategic in your spending, a rotating or customizable bonus category rewards program is a great fit.
  • A great option: the Discover it® Cash Back. Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back in a new category (on up to $1,500 per quarter, then 1%).

Common cash back categories

Each credit card offers unique perks, and the rewards landscape is always expanding. In fact, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, some credit cards have added new rewards categories like streaming service subscriptions and food delivery services.

That said, there are a few fan-favorite bonus categories you can find with many rewards credit cards. Here are some of the most popular rewards categories.

  • Groceries – This is one of the most common and useful categories, especially for large families. Just be sure that your grocery store of choice actually qualifies for the rewards category; some grocery rewards programs exclude wholesalers like Costco and superstores like Target and Walmart.
  • Gas – Unless you use public transportation, gas is one of those unavoidable expenses. Why not earn cash back on those purchases?
  • Travel – If your idea of fun involves boarding a plane, there’s good news: Plenty of credit cards will reward your travel purchases with points or miles you can redeem for more travel.
  • Dining – Whether you prefer a drive-through, sit-down, or takeout experience, there are lots of credit cards that reward restaurant purchases.

How to choose a cash back credit card

With so many cash back cards to choose from, it helps to know how to compare them. Here are a few of the most important factors to consider:

  • Rewards rates and categories: It may seem obvious, but you should choose a card with a rewards structure that fits your lifestyle and spending habits. For some, that might mean a flat-rate card that rewards all purchases at 1.5%. For others, that might mean a tiered rewards card that gives a higher cash back rate at grocery stores and then just 1% on everything else. To decide which cash back categories are going to be the most useful to you, take a look at your expenses over the last three months. You might be surprised to learn that you’re spending more on takeout than groceries or that your gas station fill-ups cost more each month than your online shopping habit. Whatever you find, looking at an entire month of expenses can help you confidently pick the best cash back card for you.
  • Annual fee: Luckily, there are plenty of lucrative cash back cards that come without an annual fee. These are great for credit card beginners and those who don’t plan to spend a lot on their card. However, big spenders might find the higher rewards rates offered by annual fee cards to be worth it. If you’re trying to decide, some quick math can give you an idea of whether it makes sense to choose a card with an annual fee. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has an annual fee of $95 and a cash back rate is 6% at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%). You would have to spend around $1,670 before making up the cost of the annual fee. Since most cash back cards have more than just one bonus category, you might need to do the math for each to get the full picture.
  • Welcome bonus: Most cash back cards have a welcome bonus, usually around $150 or more after a set amount of spend within a specific timeframe. Cash back cards with an annual fee may have higher offers.
  • Flexibility: Redemption options will vary by card and most people will prefer a cash back card that offers plenty of flexibility. Often you can apply the cash back you’ve earned to your balance, or, if your checking account is linked, the cash back can be paid into your bank account. In some cases you may be able to convert your cash back into points or miles for use with airlines, hotels and other participating transfer partners. Rewards may be redeemed for merchandise, services, and even gift cards. It’s important to note that values can differ by redemption method. For example, your rewards may stretch a little further when redeemed with an airline as opposed to credited to your card balance. Another point of consideration: many cards require a rewards minimum before allowing you to redeem.
  • Other perks and benefits: Some cards come with extra perks that add long-term value. For example, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card is famous for offering up to $600 worth of cellphone protection against covered damage and theft (subject to a $25 deductible) to cardholders who use the card to pay their monthly phone bills. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ also offers cell phone protection of up to $800 per claim, and $1,000 per year against theft and damage. Other common perks to look out for include auto rental insurance, price protection, travel insurance, and food delivery service memberships.

How to maximize cash back

Match yourself with a card that best suits your spending habits

Before you choose a card, take a hard look at your budget and identify the areas where you’re spending the most. If a good portion of your budget goes towards groceries, it makes sense to seek out a card that offers a high cash back rate for supermarkets. If in the course of a month you spend a lot of money on a broad range of purchases, a flat-rate card with no cap might offer you the best value.

Strategize spending on bonus categories

With some cards offering cash back rates from 4% to 6% in the higher ranges, bonus categories can be an enormous boon to your rewards earnings. But rotating bonus categories aren’t always easy to keep track of, especially when spending across multiple credit cards. Luckily, many credit cards release bonus categories annually or sometimes quarterly, which gives you a time to strategize. Match these categories with your personal calendar, identifying occasions where you’re most likely to spend such as birthdays, holidays, vacations and weekend getaways.

Pair cards to fill in reward gaps

Even the most robust rewards program will have its limitations. You can fill in those gaps by adding another card in your rotation. Let’s say you have a great flat-rate cash back card like the Citi Double Cash Card and earn 2% on general purchases (1% when you buy combined with an additional 1% cash back as you pay off those purchases) but feel like you’re missing out on potential travel rewards. With its 5% cash back on travel (purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® ), the Chase Freedom Flex would provide much more value when booking travel.

In the news: Cash back welcome offers get a boost

If you’re thinking about adding a cash back card to your wallet, now sure seems like an excellent time to apply. Card issuers have recently begun to sweeten their welcome offers by rolling out increased cash back rates and higher bonuses.

  • The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express now offers a whopping 20% cash back on Amazon purchases and $150 cash back after spending $3,000, both within the first six months of card membership.
  • The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express has beefed up its welcome offer to include 20% cash back on Amazon purchases and $100 cash back after spending $2,000, both within the first six months of card membership.

Learn more about the biggest welcome offer increases currently available.

How we picked the best cash back credit cards

Research Methodology

  • Cash back rate and categories: Of course, the best cash back credit cards make it easy to earn cash back. That’s why we chose credit cards that offer high rewards rates on common purchases. We understand that “everyday spending” looks different for various lifestyles, so we chose a variety of bonus categories, from travel to groceries to entertainment.
  • Redemption options: What’s the use of cash back if you can’t redeem it in a way that’s valuable to you? Most cash back cards allow the option to redeem as a statement credit, but some also allow you to redeem as a bank direct deposit, gift card, charitable donation or even a credit toward a loan balance. Since these alternative redemption methods can sometimes add value to your cash back earnings, we weighed all methods of redemption. We also considered ease of redemption since some cards require a minimum cash back balance in order to redeem.
  • Sign-up bonus: When analyzing a credit card’s overall value, we always think long-term: ongoing rewards rate, fees, etc. But a sign-up bonus is a nice way to kickstart your cash back earnings. The ideal sign-up bonus rewards you generously for a low spending threshold.
  • Rates and fees: Here, we dug into a few costs that may cut into the card’s potential value. When assessing cards with annual fees, we did the math to ensure that cardholders’ cash back and other benefits could likely surpass that cost. We also avoided cards with sky-high interest rates.
  • Miscellaneous benefits and features: Additional perks and benefits are rarely the main attraction, but they can be tie-breakers when comparing two similar offers. Features like auto rental insurance and price protection are often overlooked but can save you hundreds if you remember to use them.

Additional information on cash back credit cards

For more information on all things cash back cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts:


Frequently Asked Questions