Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Cash back credit cards are a useful tool to get paid back for the things you buy every day. For the simplicity lover, some cards offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases – usually between 1 and 2 percent. Other cash back cards offer a higher rewards rate on specific purchase categories like dining or groceries. Most cash back cards allow you to redeem your rewards as a statement credit that lowers your account balance, but some cards allow you to redeem in other ways, like gift cards or a direct deposit to your bank account.

We analyzed 682 cash back card offers and narrowed them down to our top recommendations for a variety of lifestyles. Browse our picks for the best cash back offers from our partners and find a card that fits your spending habits.

Cash back credit cards are a useful tool to get paid back for the things you buy every day. For the simplicity lover, some cards offer a flat cash back rate on all purchases – usually between 1 and 2 percent. Other cash back cards offer a higher rewards rate on specific purchase categories like dining or groceries. Most cash back cards allow you to redeem your rewards as a statement credit that lowers your account balance, but some cards allow you to redeem in other ways, like gift cards or a direct deposit to your bank account.

We analyzed 682 cash back card offers and narrowed them down to our top recommendations for a variety of lifestyles. Browse our picks for the  best cash back offers from our partners and find a card that fits your spending habits.

Editor: Laura Mohammad | Writer: Mariah Ackary

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September 24, 2020

Best Cash Back Credit Cards of September 2020

See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

6%
6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%)
6%
6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
3%
3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more
3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
1%
1% Cash Back on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$250

$250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

$150 after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
2%
2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
1%
1% back on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
1.5
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3%
Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
2%
Earn 2% at grocery stores
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores.
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2%
Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2%
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
1%
Earn 1% unlimited 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! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable

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 Bank of America® Cards, Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card and Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Comparing the best cash back credit cards

It’s clear that Americans love their cash back cards, according to our July 2019 poll, which notably shows a jump in cash back from 43% in 2018 to 49% in 2019. Cash back beat out gas/retail (29%), airline/hotel (20%), general travel (19%) and business (18%).

Want to know more? Our experts at CreditCards.com have pulled together the best cash back credit cards for you in various spending categories. Each card has different rewards and fees, but we make it easy for you to decide which is best for your spending habits. With the current uncertainty surrounding the economy, the comfort of earning cash back can add tremendous value to your finances and peace of mind in knowing you’re earning cash back for your daily purchases. Choosing a credit card is an important financial decision, so we lay out the pros and cons for you all in one place.

The best credit card for you will depend on your personal needs and preferences. Here’s our take on 2020’s best cash back cards with pros and cons to consider for each offer. Feel free to email us at editors@creditcards.com if you have any questions!


best cash-back credit cards of 2020

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for flat-rate cash back

The Citi® Double Cash Card boasts one of the highest earning options available for flat-rate cash back cards. Offering 1% on general purchases (excluding gift cards) and then a 1% additional cash back as you pay off those purchases, the rewards can really add up. If you regularly pay off your balance each month, this card could be an ideal option for the cash back enthusiast.

Pros

If you’re not planning on receiving your rewards as exclusively cash back, you can transfer them to Citi ThankYou points. ThankYou points are flexible and can be redeemed for future travel purchases, gift cards and more for a rate of $1 cash back to 100 ThankYou points.

Cons

Other than the rewards structure, this card doesn’t offer too much in the way of extra benefits. Also, the awards will expire if the card isn’t used in more than 12 months, so it’s imperative that you use the card consistently to maximize earnings.

Discover it® Cash Back

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for rotating categories

Discover’s rotating cash back categories give you the option to earn a generous 5% cash back bonus on everyday, useful categories (up to $1,500 upon enrollment each quarter, then 1%). If you stay on top of it and remember to enroll each quarter, your rewards could really accrue from the purchases you’re already making.

Pros

Along with the versatile and high rewards structure, the ultra-generous year-end bonus just adds to the cash back value of this card: Discover will match all of your cash back earnings at the end of the first year– automatically.

Cons

Other than the cash back rewards, this card doesn’t yield too many benefits. Plus, if you’re a hefty spender in certain categories, there is a $1,500 quarterly limit on the 5% cash back category, so that could cut into your earnings. If this is the case, then a flat-rate cash back card like the Citi Double Cash Card may be a better option for your spending habits.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for U.S. supermarkets

Through everyday spending, you can really rack up the rewards with the Blue Cash Preferred Card. Offering one of the highest cash back rates (6% for up to $6,000 each year, then 1%) for U.S supermarkets and 6% for select U.S streaming subscriptions, this could be an ideal option for the family that frequently cooks at home and streams.

Pros

The introductory offer of $250 after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months is a great way to easily get some extra cash back in the bank. Plus, this card comes with a slew of other benefits that are great for frequent supermarket shoppers, like a free ShopRunner membership, purchase protection and extended warranty.

Cons

The annual fee of $95 could be a setback for some people, but it’s to be expected for a card with such a high rewards structure. Also, this card is designed for users with good to excellent credit, so if your credit falls below that, you might consider the Capital One QuicksilverOne.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for unlimited rewards

With the Quicksilver, there’s no limit to how much cash back you can earn. Cardholders get unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases – and the rewards don’t expire for the life of the account.

Pros

The sign-up bonus is worth a decent chunk of change and is easy enough to attain: Earn a $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. With no annual fee, this is a great, gimmick-free option designed for simplicity lovers.

Cons

While the Quicksilver is a great card, there are cards with higher flat-rates. For example, the Citi® Double Cash Card, which earns 2% cash back – 1% as you buy, and 1% when you pay off your purchase. There are trade-offs, though, like the fact that you won’t earn a sign-up bonus with the Citi Double Cash.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for tiered cash back

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 select department stores and then 1% on general purchases. The Blue Cash Everyday Card makes it easy to earn lucrative cash back for the purchases you make every day. As added benefits, the cash you earn won’t expire for the length of your account, there’s no limit on the 2% or 1% cash back categories and there are no rotating categories to keep track of.

Pros

Along with the great rewards rate, this card comes with a lengthy introductory APR period for new purchases: 0% for 15 months (13.99%- 23.99% Variable). This could be a useful tool in paying for purchases over time while also letting cash back rewards accrue. Just make sure you have a plan for paying off your charges.

Cons

There is a yearly $6,000 limit on the 3% purchase category, so if you spend more than $6,000 at U.S supermarkets, this could cut into your potential earnings.

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for no annual fee

This card’s perks are especially impressive, considering it charges no annual fee. Among other benefits, you’ll enjoy free shipping at dozens of online stores with a complimentary ShopRunner membership and a chance at no-interest financing through Amex’s “Pay It Plan It” program.

Pros

Offering unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, the Amex Cash Magnet is a great fit if you’re looking for a hassle-free, “set-it-and-forget-it” cash back card. It also comes with a respectable introductory bonus of $150 when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months and a competitive 0% intro APR offer on new purchases (0% for 15 months, then 13.99%-23.99% Variable).

Cons

This card only earns cash back, not points, so you’re out of luck if you’re hoping to earn Amex Membership Rewards. Even worse, you can’t redeem until you’ve earned a minimum of $25 in cash back.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for 0 percent introductory APR

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases, which is quite competitive for a cash back card. It’s 14.99% – 23.74% variable after that.

Pros

This card’s sign-up bonus is robust at $200 after a $500 spend within the first 3 months. And, you can earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases other than Walmart® and Target® on up to $12,000 spent in your first year.

Cons

Unfortunately, this card doesn’t offer a 0% intro APR on balance transfers, although it has in the past. Also, the 1.5% cash back on purchases other than grocery stores in the first year may not be as impressive to you as a card with tiered rewards (if you are willing to do some work), so do your homework.

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best cash back credit card for dining and entertainment

Foodies and thrill-seekers will love the SavorOne for the generous 3% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases. And even when you feel like staying in, you’ll earn 2% cash back at grocery stores.

Pros

There’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, so those who spend a lot on dining and entertainment will reap big rewards. Plus, rewards never expire and you can redeem at any time for a statement credit, check or gift card.

Cons

If you’re looking for a go-to credit card to use for everything, you’re probably better off with a flat-rate cash back card. If you don’t spend enough on dining and entertainment, it’s probably not your best primary spending card. But it’s a great addition to your wallet to use for those specific purchases.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Why it’s the best credit card for cash back on eligible travel

Cardholders get 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Pros

The sign-up bonus is competitive, especially for a no annual fee card. Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of having an account. As an added first-year bonus, you’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart®) on up to $12,000 spent.

Cons

Not everyone wants to keep track of so many rewards categories and learn the rules that come with each. That, along with remembering to enroll in the 5% bonus category each quarter, requires some attention and may not be what you are looking for in a cash back card.

Summary of the Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Credit card Best for: Cash back % Annual fee CreditCards.com rating
Citi® Double Cash Card Flat rate cash back 2% 1% on purchases; 1% as you pay off the purchases $0 3.8 / 5
Discover it® Cash Back Cash back 5% in rotating categories On up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1% cash back, activation required $0 4.3 / 5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Groceries/ U.S supermarkets 6% at U.S supermarkets For the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% cash back $95 4.3 / 5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited rewards 1.5% cash back on every purchase $0 3.4 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express Tiered cash back 3% at U.S supermarkets For the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% cash back $0 4.3 / 5
American Express Cash Magnet® Card No annual fee 1.5% on every purchase Terms apply $0 2.9 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Introductory APR on purchases 3% cash back on dining 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 $0 4.7 / 5
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining and entertainment 3% on dining and entertainment $0 3.7 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠ Cash back on eligible travel 5% in rotating categories On up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1% cash back, activation required $0 3.9 / 5

Research methodology: How we picked the best cash back credit cards

We know just how important it is that you have the perfect cash back card for your specific spending habits to maximize your potential rewards. That’s why we analyzed 682 cards to bring you the top 13 cash back cards. For a list of detailed criteria and more detail on our review scores, see our ratings process for cash back credit cards.

Cash back credit cards analyzed: 682

Criteria used:

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

We made sure to consider ease and usefulness of redemption options. After all, 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, effectively lowering your balance. With some cards, though, you can redeem your cash back as a bank direct deposit, gift cards, charitable donations or even credits toward loan balances. 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. For example, you may need to accumulate $25 in cash back before you can actually redeem your earnings, which some may find too restrictive.

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, and many of the best cash back cards have competitive welcome offers. 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. Since it’s not advisable to carry a balance on a cash back card, we 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. Plus, they often help you save money, adding to the card’s long-term value. Features like auto rental insurance and price protection are often overlooked but can save you hundreds if you remember to use them.

What are cash back cards?

Cash back cards are pretty straightforward – they allow you to earn cash for spending on your favorite card. Once you build your credit and know how to manage your credit cards, it’s time to think about rewards. And cash back rewards can be among the most straightforward of the rewards cards out there, making them a great starter product. According to our 2019 cash back survey, the average cash back card offers a cash back rate of around 1.25% per dollar, though you can easily exceed that amount with careful card selection and usage.

How do cash back credit cards work? Whether you choose a card with a flat rate or a product with rotating categories, this is a great way to earn cash while making purchases. For example, let’s say you spend $500 a month and the cash back rate is 5% on specific categories. That means you are earning $25 a month just for card loyalty. There are sometimes spending requirements and sign-up rules, though.

Who should apply for a cash back credit card?

If you’re considering getting a cash back credit card, the number one rule is that you should be able to pay your bill in full each month. Interest charges can easily outweigh cash back earnings, so you’re usually better off looking for a low interest credit card if you’ll be carrying a balance.

Another consideration you should make involves your credit score. While you can get a cash back card with fair or limited credit, the best cash back cards will require at least good credit (670+). If your credit is in bad shape, your first priority should be looking for a card with credit-building features, like the ability to increase your credit line with on-time payments.

What are the different types of cash back cards?

Cash back cards can be a little confusing when you are shopping around because each one has a slightly different rewards plan. The best plan for you is the one that matches your past spending habits. Here are some different types:

Flat rate

Flat-rate cash back cards typically offer 1.5% back on all purchases, allowing you to not worry about maximum spends or quarterly sign-ups. However, the rewards are lower, which is the tradeoff for not having to think about what and where you are making purchases. Examples of flat rate cards include:

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card – This card gets you 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make, charges no annual fee and comes with a sign-up bonus of $150 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months. Redeem cash back for a check, statement credit, gift cards and more in any amount, any time.
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card – Another 1.5% flat rate cash back card that comes with a $150 bonus if you spend $500 in the first 3 months. What really sets it apart is its included cellphone insurance: Pay your monthly cellphone bill with the card and you’ll get $600 worth of protection against covered cellphone damage and theft (subject to a $25 deductible).

Multiple tiers

Some cards offer boosted cash back on specific categories. The rate is year-round in this case, but there may be a maximum spend limit. Examples of a tiered cash back card include:

  • Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express – Even with an annual fee of $95, this card is a great choice for families and lovers of home cooking, offering 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%) and 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. You’ll also earn 3% back at U.S. gas stations, 3% back on transit and 1% back on everything else.
  • Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express – Another practical choice for earning cash back on everyday spending, this card gets you 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% back on everything else, all without paying an annual fee.

Rotating categories

This type of cash back card requires the most thinking because select categories reward you with, for example, 5% back for a specific amount of time (typically 1% cash back after a $1,500 maximum spend each quarter). You have to sign up for bonus categories each quarter and you have to pay attention to when and where you make purchases. Examples of cash back cards with rotating categories include:

  • Chase Freedom Flex– Enroll in rotating bonus categories and score 5% cash back on the first $1,500 you spend in a quarter (1% back after that). From October through December 2020, the Chase Freedom Flex’s bonus categories include Walmart and Paypal.
  • Discover it Cash Back – Like the Chase Freedom Flex card, the Discover it Cash Back lets you enroll in rotating bonus categories and earn 5% cash back on the first $1,500 you spend in a quarter (1% back after that). Discover’s full 2020 cash back calendar is now live and features categories like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, Amazon.com and Walmart.com. You’ll also enjoy the famous Discover cashback match at the end of your first year.
  • Discover it Student Cash Back – This card is almost identical to the Discover it Cash Back, but designed for students. It offers the same rotating bonus cash back categories and first year cashback match, plus a $20 statement credit every year you earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher (for up to the next 5 years).

Customizable choice of category

A new type of cash back card opportunity has appeared in the last year that allows you to choose your own bonus category. There can be a requirement to sign up for a boosted category with some cards, and you need to keep track of which category you are currently signed up for to maximize your rewards. These kinds of cards include:

  • Bank of America Cash Rewards – You get 3% cash back in a category of your choice and 2% cash back on grocery store and wholesale club purchases (on up to a combined $2,500 in spending per quarter, then 1%). Choose from 3% bonus categories including gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores and home improvements/furnishings. Plus, you can change your bonus category choice once per calendar month.
  • U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature Card – It also lets you customize your rewards, offering 5% cash back in 2 bonus categories of your choice (on up to $2,000 in spending per quarter) and 2% back in an everyday spending category of your choice. Listed among the card’s 5% bonus categories are department stores, fast food restaurants, furniture stores, movie theatres and more. You can change your bonus category once per quarter.

Which is better – cash back, points or miles?

If you’re still getting your feet wet in the world of credit card rewards, it can be hard to tell what sort of card fits you best. In general, cash back is best for simplicity-lovers who want to put money back in their pocket. Points and miles are best for those who want to get more value from their rewards and use them on travel purchases.

Fewer cash back cards charge annual fees, but travel cards that use points or miles usually offer large sign-up bonuses and more valuable travel perks like lounge access and credits for expedited security screening. Additionally, cash back cards generally make it simple to redeem rewards as a statement credit, check or direct deposit, while redemption can be more complicated with travel cards, as well as less rewarding if you aren’t redeeming for travel.

Cash back may be best if … Points or miles may be best if …
You don’t want to put much thought into earning rewards You don’t mind doing some research to get the most value from your rewards
You want rewards to put money back in your pocket You want rewards that pay for special treats, like travel purchases
Earning a very large sign-up bonus is not important to you You want to earn a hefty sign-up bonus
You want to know the value of the rewards you’re earning with every purchase You’d rather have a variety of redemption options than a clear rewards value

What credit card earns the most cash back?

The best cash back card for you depends on how you’ll use the card, but here are some of the favorite categories and the top credit cards in those groups.

Popular cash back categories

Cash back categories have become quite diverse in recent years. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find rewards categories like streaming services and rideshare apps. While niche categories like these are great additions to a rewards structure, you should base your decision on a category in which you spend a substantial amount. Here are a few of the most popular categories:

Everyday purchases

  • Gas stations
  • Supermarkets
  • Bills (cellphone plan, home utilities)
  • Drugstores
  • Retailers, like Amazon or Walmart

The extras

  • Restaurants
  • Entertainment (concerts, sporting events)
  • Travel

When we asked consumers in November 2018 what their favorite rewards categories are, we were a little surprised to find that time and again, they turn to groceries overall, with travel following close behind.

Favorite cash back categories…

  • Groceries
  • 35%
  • Travel
  • 27%
  • Gas
  • 23%
  • Dining
  • 14%

Our own CreditCards.com analyst, Ted Rossman, reminds us that you want to make sure the card you choose matches your lifestyle. “Whether you’re planning a family vacation, stocking up at the grocery store, enjoying a dinner out with friends, or refueling your car on the way home, credit cards can reward you for things you’re planning to purchase anyway.”

Comparing two cash back credit cards

With so many options to choose from in the way of cash back cards, it helps to know how to compare them. Here, we look at the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express and the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card, each with their own advantages.

Ongoing rewards

Rewards can vary widely, sometimes with maximums on spending and sometimes unlimited. For example, the Cash Wise Visa offers 1.5% back on all spending, while the Blue Cash Preferred has boosted rewards at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and more (for the U.S. supermarkets, it’s up to $6,000 a year, then 1%). The Cash Wise Visa also offers 1.8% cash rewards on qualified digital wallet purchases, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, during the first 12 months from account opening.

Welcome bonus

Most have a welcome bonus, typically of $150 after a set amount of spend, however, cash back cards with an annual fee may have a higher offer. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred offers $250 after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months, while the Cash Wise Visa offers $150 after a $500 spend within the first 3 months.

Annual fees

Annual fees can stop you in your tracks, but they don’t have to. Sometimes, they are worth the cost, whether there are certain benefits or particularly rich rewards. While the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual fee of $95 is not waived the first year, the rewards at U.S. supermarkets can be unbeatable for the large family. Meanwhile, many of the cash back cards on the market have no annual fee, such as the Cash Wise Visa.

Special features and benefits

Some cards have features like auto rental insurance, price protection and more. Look at your lifestyle and see if there is a benefit that makes the card worth your while. For example, the Cash Wise’s famous cellphone protection is a great find, while the Blue Cash Preferred’s travel benefits such as auto rental insurance may be worth your attention.

Here we put it all together.

Comparison of Blue Cash Preferred and Cash Wise Visa, first year…

Card: Blue Cash Preferred
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Cash Wise Visa
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card
Welcome bonus $250
after $1,000 spend/3 mths
$150
after $500 spend/3 mths
U.S. supermarkets $500*12 mths*6%=
$360
$500*12 mths*1.5%=
$90
U.S. gas stations $200*12 mths*3%=
$72
$200*12 mths*1.5%=
$36
Select U.S. streaming $100*12 mths*6%=
$72
$100*12 mths*1.5%=
$18
Digital wallet purchases $100*12 mths*1%=
$12
$100*12 mths*1.8%=
$21.60
Other spending $200*12 mths*1%=
$24
$200*12 mths*1.5%=
$36
Annual fee $95 $0
Total first year $695 $351.60

As you can see, if you are a big spender on groceries, the Blue Cash Preferred is best, but if you favor all types of spending, the Cash Wise Visa might be the right choice.

How to maximize cash rewards

1. Use credit cards for most of your spending

To quickly bulk up rewards earnings or meet the minimum spend requirement for a sign-up bonus, you should use your cash back cards for as many of your everyday purchases as possible. A large purchase – such as furniture or another major purchase – can help you meet a spending threshold and score a large amount of cash back in one swoop.

However, using cards for your everyday spending – including groceries, gas and utility bills – is the best way to go if you want to earn a large amount of cash back over time. Note that you need to watch out for merchants that tack on a convenience fee, since this can negate the value of your cash back.

2. Use multiple cash back cards

If you sign up for multiple cash back cards that offer bonuses in different spending categories and rotate them to earn bonuses in each of the spending categories, you can increase the rate of cash back that you earn.

3. Keep a close eye on deadlines and fees

You need to take care to pay your card by the due date, since the late fees and penalties from a missed payment can quickly negate any cash back that you earn.

4. Find other ways to earn cash back

Some cards reward for signing on an authorized user or referring new cardholders, so check for that.

5. Maximize your cards’ spending categories

If you have a card with 5% rotating quarterly categories – such as the Discover it Cash Back card – there are a few tricks you can use to reach the $1,500 spending cap each quarter:

  • Stock up on larger quantities of items that won’t spoil
  • Pay your annual bills in advance
  • Do your Christmas and birthday shopping early

6. Call your card issuer

After your first year of card membership, if there is an annual fee, consider calling your card issuer and asking if they’ll waive the annual fee a second year. Our study shows that when cardholders ask for better terms on their cards, chances are they’ll get it.
These rules of thumb will make sure your card is operating at peak performance while avoiding these common cash back credit card mistakes.

Redeeming cash back with each popular issuer

The most common redemption options for cash back cards are statement credits, checks mailed to you, bank deposits, prepaid gift cards and charitable donations. To redeem your cash back, you can go online or call the issuer directly to specify in what form you want to receive the cash back.

Some issuers will allow you to opt to have the rewards automatically applied each month, while others require you to request the rewards each time you want to use them. Here are the redemption options for a few of the most popular issuers.

American Express

  • Statement credit
  • At times, AmEx may offer alternative redemption options, such as gift cards or merchandise.
  • Charitable donations

Bank of America

  • Statement credit
  • Bank of America checking or savings account deposit
  • Check (starting at $25)
  • Credit to an eligible Merrill account
  • Charitable donations

Capital One

  • Statement credit
  • Gift cards
  • Check

Chase

  • Statement credit
  • Bank account deposit
  • Gift cards
  • Check
  • Pay with rewards at Amazon checkout
  • Redeem for travel and other options on Chase Ultimate Rewards portal

Citi

  • Statement credit
  • Redeem to a linked Citi checking or savings account or to a checking account from which you have paid a Citi credit card bill at least 2 times
  • Gift cards
  • Check
  • Convert cash back to Citi ThankYou Rewards points
  • Charitable donations

Discover

  • Statement credit
  • Bank account deposit
  • Gift cards
  • Pay with rewards at Amazon checkout
  • Make a charitable donation

Wells Fargo

  • Statement credit
  • Wells Fargo checking or savings account deposit
  • Cash back redemptions at a Wells Fargo ATM (only in $20 increments)
  • Credit toward qualifying Wells Fargo mortgage principal balances
  • Credit toward qualifying Wells Fargo personal loans
  • Merchandise, travel, or gift card rewards through the Wells Fargo GoFar Rewards portal
  • Charitable donations

Frequently asked questions

Which type of cash back credit card is best?

Whether your best choice is flat-rate, tiered category or rotating category cash back, it comes down to what categories you’ll earn the most rewards back on.

  • If your biggest expenses are seasonal, like gas stations for summer road trips, then rotating categories may earn you the most cash back.
  • If the biggest slice of your budget is on a fixed category year-round, like groceries and gas, then a tiered category card could be the best option.
  • A flat-rate cash back card might be your best bet if your expenses don’t fall within other credit cards’ traditional categories or quarterly spending limits.

What are merchant category codes?

Merchant category codes (MCCs) are four-digit numbers each credit card network (not issuer) uses to identify businesses that accept credit cards. Each of the main networks – Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express – have their own number directory to track your spending for reward and security purposes. Discover and American Express don’t openly advertise their MCC directories, but the IRS has a complete list for general reference. The numbers work like a “genre” for credit card purchases, and the numbers alter slightly as “sub-genres.”
These different “sub-genres” can differ from store to store within the same chain – or even from department to department in the same store.
The good news is that you can maximize your spending and earn rewards on unusual purchases if you know the MCCs in your area. For instance, most Sears Optical locations fall under Visa’s “5311: department stores” code, so a department store bonus category could earn cash back on your glasses.


Check out our reviews

Interested in learning more about each card? We’ve reviewed several cash back credit cards – check them out in our reviews section.