Comparing Cash Back Credit Card Offers
Updated: May 24, 2019
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 on which is best for your spending habits. Choosing a credit card is an important financial decision, so we lay out the pros and cons for you all in one place. We evaluated over 600 credit card offers using the criteria below to come up with our list of the top cards for cash back. Here are our findings.
Whether you want to know what to look for in a cash back card or how to use it, we can help.
Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2019
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is arguably the best cash back credit card. Not only does it offer one of the best cash back rates, but it also comes with flexible redemption options through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
|Credit Card||Best For:||Cash Back %||CreditCards.com Rating||Annual Fee|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Sign-up bonus||3% on a chosen category||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Blue Cash Preferred®Card from American Express||U.S. supermarket purchases||6% at U.S. supermarkets**||4.3 / 5||$95|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Everyday spending||5% on rotating categories each quarter*||4.3 / 5||$0|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||No annual fee||3% first year (up to $20,000), then 1.5%||3.8 / 5||$0|
|U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card||Choice of cash back categories||5% on two categories, 2% on one category||2.0 / 5||$0|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||U.S. supermarket purchases||3% at U.S. supermarkets**||3.5 / 5||$0|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||Mobile purchases||1.5%||3.5 / 5||$0|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating rewards||5% on rotating categories||3.1 / 5||$0|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Your first cash back card||1.5%||3.4 / 5||$0|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Cash back on travel||3X on travel and dining||3.5 / 5||$0|
*On up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter after enrollment, then 1%
**For the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1 point per dollar
Research methodology: how we arrived at the best cards
Cash back credit cards analyzed: 682
Criteria used: Cash back rate, other rewards, redemption options, redemption flexibility, cash back categories, credit needed, miscellaneous benefits and features, security, ease of application, sign-up bonus, customer service, rates and fees
After analyzing 600+ card offers, we've hand-selected the 10 best cash back credit cards. The Discover it Cash Back card offers generous cash back and is our top picks due to its high rewards value and flexibility in redeeming cash back.
The best credit card for you will depend on your personal needs and preferences. Here's our take on 2019's best cash back cards with pros and cons to consider for each offer. Feel free to email us at email@example.com if you have any questions!
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card recently switched its 3% back offer at gas stations to a monthly option of one of 6 categories, which frees things up considerably. (That's with a $2,500 maximum quarterly spend when combined with the 2% categories.) This card has a nice little sign-up bonus, and there's also a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 billing cycles (it's 16.24%-26.24% variable after that).
The tiered rewards can be beaten by other cards, if you know in advance how you tend to spend. Also, because of the varied tiers, this card takes a little organization, including changing your 3% category each month if you want to maximize your earnings.
Blue Cash Preferred®Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Preferred®Card has recently introduced some unique new cash back categories like 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions (including Netflix, Hulu and Spotify, among others), and 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, buses and more. Not to mention, this card offering an unprecedented 6% cash back in U.S. grocery stores (up to $6,000 annual, then 1%).
This is the only card on our list of top cash back cards that has an annual fee.
Discover it® Cash Back
If you like the idea of working towards maximum rewards, this card is a good choice for you, because you could potentially earn up to $600 at year end by earning 5% back on select rotating categories for up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter (activation required) and the cash back match at the end of the first year. 5% categories can include Amazon.com and grocery stores. You can also receive free Social Security number alerts, a special feature of Discover cards.
While competitive, Discover as a network is not as robust as Mastercard and Visa and is accepted at fewer locations abroad. Also, you'll need to decide if rotating categories are for you as they require a bit more legwork than a flat-rate cash back card. Finally, there's no sign-up bonus.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Other cards chase the Freedom Unlimited's first-year and ongoing cash back rewards, but this card is a tough one to beat. The Freedom Unlimited can be partnered with a Chase Sapphire card to take advantage of the travel boost those cards offer through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Finally, the introductory APR offer is more than competitive.
The Freedom Unlimited may not be the best choice for world travel, with its 3% foreign transaction fee. Also, the balance transfer fee is high, at 3% or $5, whichever is higher. The go-to rate also starts out high.
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
There is a high degree of customizability, to an extent that is unseen in other cards. From a decent list of options, you can choose the 2 categories in which your purchases earn 5% back. Additionally, you can select a category in which you earn 2% back, from yet another set of options which include everyday purchases like gas stations and grocery stores. There is no annual fee and you get a standard but respectable sign-up bonus of $150 for spending $500 in the first 90 days.
A high amount of legwork is required, as you need to select and activate your categories each quarter. Furthermore, the 5% categories are subject to a quarterly limit of $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases. These categories, while solid, are a bit niche – a few examples include movie theaters, fast food, and electronics stores. This card is not for everyone and we do not recommend it for beginners.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
The 3% at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases annually, then 1%) is far higher than the cash back rates offered by most credit cards for those types of purchases. Cash back in the additional categories are also solid, and the card charges no annual fee. It also helps that Amex is consistently ranked among the top 2 credit card companies in terms of customer service.
The intro bonus requires a higher spend compared to many competing cards, which typically only require a $500 spend in 3 months.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa®
This card's sign-up bonus is hard to beat, and it comes with the standard 1.5% back on all purchases of many cash back cards. There's also a higher cash back rate on qualified mobile wallet purchases during the first 12 months on account opening. With the Cash Wise, you can get protection for your cellphone, and excellent credit may not be necessary, which means you might be accepted with a score as low as 670. Finally, there's no hassle of quarterly sign-ups or changing categories.
The 0% intro APR offer isn't the greatest, with only 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then variable APR of 16.24% - 28.24% applies), the latter of which must be made within 120 days to enjoy the intro rates. You can do better on this front with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. There's also a foreign transaction fee of 3%, which may not be the best choice for overseas travel. And there are cards that offer a better cashback rate on everyday purchases, such as the Blue Cash products from American Express.
The Chase Freedom's partnership with the cards that have Chase Ultimate Rewards boosts makes it one of a kind. This card also offers the sign-up bonus of the SavorOne and the boosted rewards of the Discover it Cash Back.
If your priority is getting a long 0% offer, other cards have a longer option – and it's pretty easy to find a cash back card with a 15-month 0% intro offer on balance transfers and purchases (it's 17.24%-25.99% variable after that). Also, the Chase Freedom has a foreign transaction fee of 3%.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
If you're looking for a card with all the boxes checked, you'll want to eye the Capital One Quicksilver Card. It has competitive ongoing rewards as well as a decent sign-up bonus. With the 1.5% back on all purchases, you don't have to deal with the hassle of rotating categories or quarterly sign-ups. Also, you won't have to choose between an introductory APR and rewards, because this card has both. Finally, there is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.
The sign-up bonus isn't the highest, with the BofA Cash Rewards card now offering $200 back with a $1,000 spend within the first 90 days, while some luxury cards offer even larger sums. And the required credit of good to excellent is a high bar for someone whose credit isn't the best.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
The recently revamped Propel card is something of a jack of all trades, offering cash back on multiple popular categories. Holistically, it is a strong and well-rounded credit card.
The ability to earn 3% back on travel, gas stations, and dining makes this card a useful instrument for the adventurous. Its sign-up bonus – which is redeemable for $300 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months – is quite a decent size. All told, the Propel offers a lot of attractive features for a credit card that charges no annual fee.
With required credit ranging from good to excellent, it may be difficult for someone with less-than-stellar credit to obtain this card.
What are cash back cards and how do they work?
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.
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. Here's how it works: 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.
Cash back cards will usually also have a sign-up bonus of up to $200 back, so be sure to shop around. However, as with all rewards cards, you need to be sure to pay in full each month, because otherwise, you'll pay interest charges on the balance each month, and that would defeat the purpose of having a rewards card.
Among different types of rewards cards, cash back is by far the most popular among consumers, according to our recent survey, which was conducted by YouGov with a sample of 698 American adults.
Consumers report having these types of rewards credit cards:
- Cash back
- Gas station, retail co-branded card
- Airline, hotel co-branded card
- General travel rewards card
- Business rewards card
Source: CreditCards.com Sept. 2018 rewards card survey
According to industry analyst Ted Rossman, this is not too surprising; cash back is popular "in large part because it's easy. Most credit cardholders like straightforward ways to earn and redeem their rewards, and cash back credit cards offer both." While there are more specific types of rewards cards out there, "cash back credit cards have universal appeal."
Moving parts of a cash back card
- Ongoing rewards. Rewards can vary widely, sometimes with maximum spends and sometimes unlimited.
- Sign-up bonus. Most have a bonus, typically of $150 after a set amount of spend.
- Special features. Some cards have features like damage and loss insurance on cellphones.
- Benefits. Many of these cards offer 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.
Which are the best cash back card companies?
Several card issuers offer products with some stand-out qualities, such as:
- Discover – The Discover it cards match your cash back at the end of your first year instead of a sign-up bonus.
- American Express – American Express' Blue Cash Preferred and Everyday cards offer higher rates for U.S. supermarkets that are year-round.
- Chase – The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited can be partnered with Sapphire cards, giving you a boost when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Capital One – Capital One cards don’t have foreign transaction fees, and with Capital One Quicksilver, you can earn a competitive flat cash back rate every time you make a purchase. Also a Savor or SavorOne earns you boosted cash back for dining and entertainment.
- Bank of America – BofA offers several competitive cash back cards which can be especially lucrative if you are a Preferred Rewards client.
- Wells Fargo – This bank's cash back cards, such as the Cash Wise, offer cellphone protection, up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible), when you pay your cell phone bill with the card.
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 cards typically offer 1.5% 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.
- Multiple tiers. Some cards, such as the Blue Cash cards, offer boosted cash back on specific categories. The rate is year-round in this case, but there may be a maximum spend required. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred earns you 6% at U.S. supermarkets, although there is a maximum of $6,000 a year (then it's 1% after that).
- 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 3 months. You have to sign up for the categories each quarter and you have to pay attention to when and where you make purchases.
- Hybrid. The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature offers a unique rewards program that combines the tiered program with the rotating categories program. You earn 5% back on 2 categories of your choice each quarter, and there's the added advantage that you get a slightly higher maximum spend of $2,000 a quarter compared to its competitors. Then, you earn 2% back on your choice of one type of everyday purchase, such as gas stations or grocery stores, and 1% back on all other eligible net purchases.
Examples of flat rate cash back cards include:
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa
Examples of tiered cash back credit cards include:
- Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
- Bank of America Cash Rewards
Finally, examples of cash back cards with rotating categories include:
- Chase Freedom
- Discover it Cash Back
- Discover it Student Cash Back
What are common cash back categories?
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.
Consumers have figured out that they can really earn with groceries: Spend $500 a month for a year with 3% cash back and earn $180 back – enough to pay for a week's groceries!
Interestingly, each region dominates a different category: While the Midwest is at the top with groceries, consumers in the West like travel, gas stations are most popular in the South, and the Northeast goes for dining.
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."
Most popular rewards categories...
All cash back cards are not created equal. While certain kinds are more popular, the choices can include:
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Travel, including airlines, hotels and rental cars
- Wholesale clubs
- Home improvement stores
- Department stores
- Ridesharing and transit
There are also business cash back cards, which reward you for spending on advertising, utilities, software and hardware, travel, and more.
What is the average cash back rate?
According to our annual cash back survey, the average cash back card offers a cash back rate of around 1.25 percent per dollar. Here is the spread of cards that we found:
- 1 percent base cash back: 31 cards
- 1.5 percent cash back: 18 cards
- 2 percent cash back: 3 cards
Why should I use cash back card?: Benefits and drawbacks
Cash back cards appeal to customers for a number of reasons, but mainly due to their ease and flexibility: Because they offer cash back rewards, there’s no need to convert points and miles to dollar values. In fact, polls show that people prefer cash back cards by a ratio of 3-to-1.
While many people prefer cash back cards because of their simplicity, the cards also have their drawbacks, so we've compiled a shortlist of the advantages and disadvantages of using a cash back rewards card. If you’ve ever contemplated whether a cash back card can help you, here are some key considerations to keep in mind as you make a decision.
Whether you are treating your new cash back card as a starter card or if you want redemption options, a cash back product has a number of benefits:
Easy to work with – Cash back cards may be the simplest way to earn rewards since cardholders know exactly how much they will earn back from each purchase without having to convert a point or mile into an equivalent cash value.
Lots of redemption choices – Cash back rewards can be redeemed in a variety of ways, including statement credits, checks, bank deposits, gift cards and charitable donations.
Sign-up bonuses – More than 60 percent of the cards surveyed offered sign-up bonuses – of up to $200 cash back – after spending a certain amount within a specific timeframe. Some of the best sign-up bonuses on the market are offered by cash back cards.
Good cards for everyday spending – These are good cards for earning rewards on restaurants, groceries, gas and other everyday expenditures.
Can keep building credit – If you pay in full and on time each month, you can continue to build your credit, allowing you to eventually graduate to a premium rewards card.
Makes for good practice – These cards are a great way to practice using a simpler rewards card until you feel ready to move on to a more ambitious rewards product.
No annual fee – Most cash back cards have no annual fee, yet they often have sign-up bonuses of $150 and more. Out of the 52 cards polled in our yearly cash back survey, only four had annual fees.
Choice in benefits – Increasingly, cash back cards offer such benefits as purchase protection and extended warranty.
Limited expiration dates – Although some cards place restrictions on the amount of time you have to redeem your cash back rewards, the vast majority do not. Only eight out of 52 cards had expiration dates.
Added bonus – If you load your cash back rewards back onto your credit card, it will earn its own cash back when you spend it.
Cash back cards aren't for everyone. For example, the world traveler may want to look elsewhere, and some cash back cards can have onerous rules.
Lack of travel benefits – When you choose a cash back card over a travel rewards card, you typically lose out on such features as airport lounge access and annual travel credits. Also, cash back cards often have foreign transaction fees, making them not ideal for foreign travel or shopping online with companies that use foreign banks.
Not ideal for travel – Unlike many travel rewards cards, cash back cards often have foreign transaction fees, making them not ideal for foreign travel or shopping online with companies that use foreign banks.
Cash back may expire – Some issuers may require you to redeem within a specific amount of time.
Maximum spend requirements – Most cards with rotating categories cap you with a maximum spend.
Sign-ups required – Some cards require you to sign up each quarter to qualify for the increased rewards.
Minimum spend requirement – To earn cards' sign-up bonuses, you are typically required to spend a minimum of up to $1,000 within a set amount of time.
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. For instance, a late payment on a $500 balance can add up to more than $40 in penalties and interest.
4. Never carry a balance
Even if you make your minimum payment on time, the interest that you have on a rotating balance can easily outmatch the cash back that you earn. Over time, you may find yourself owing more than you earn.
5. Pick a sign-up bonus you can meet
Cards that offer sign-up bonuses usually have a minimum spend requirement that needs to be met within a certain amount of time. So, with the Chase Freedom cards, you have to spend $500 within the first 3 months of card membership to get the $150 bonus. Make sure you pick a card that has a requirement you can meet.
6. Earn more cash back
Some cards reward for signing on an authorized user or referring new cardholders, so check for that.
7. Choose cards that match your spending
Look at your spending before choosing your card. If you find that you spend a disproportionate amount on, say, groceries or restaurants, let that inform your decision. If you love to shop at Amazon, then a card that rewards for shopping there may be best.
8. Maximize your cards’ spending categories
If you have a card with 5 percent rotating quarterly categories – such as the Discover it Cash Back card or the Chase Freedom 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 shopping early
9. 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.
Ways to redeem cash back
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.
The amount of cash back needed to redeem your rewards varies depending on the specific card and the redemption option. Read on to see what options are available for Discover, Citi, Chase and American Express cardholders.
Redeeming Discover cash back
Discover allows the following redemption options:
- Redeem for gift cards from more than 100 popular brands, starting at $20. At least $5 free will be added to each gift card.
- Pay with rewards at Amazon checkout with no minimum.
- Make a charitable donation, starting at a penny.
- Deposit any amount into your bank account or apply to your Discover bill as a statement credit, starting at a penny.
Discover rewards never expire; however, if your account is closed or not used within 18 months, Discover will credit your account with your rewards balance.
Redeeming Citi cash back
Once your Citi rewards balance equals $25 or more, you can redeem your cash rewards as follows:
- Request a check for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Redeem for a statement credit to your card account for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Get a gift card in preset denominations from the available inventory.
- Redeem for a credit to your linked Citi savings or checking account or to a checking account from which you have paid a Citi credit card bill at least two times.
Your cash rewards balance will expire if you have not earned cash back from purchases or payments for 12 months. If you close or convert your card account, you must redeem any eligible cash rewards prior to account closure to avoid forfeiting your rewards. If your card account is closed by Citi, you cannot redeem cash rewards and you will forfeit any accumulated cash rewards.
Redeeming Chase cash back
Chase cardholders can redeem cash back rewards at a 1:1 value for gift cards, travel and more through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Redeem for cash at any time, for any amount.
- Redeem cash back for a wide variety of gift cards.
Your cash back will not expire as long as your account remains open. However, if Chase closes your account due to fraudulent activities, failure to pay or other reasons, you will immediately lose all rewards.
Redeeming American Express cash back
American Express offers cash back in the form of Blue Cash Reward Dollars, which can be redeemed in the following ways:
- Redeem as statement credits in increments of $25 whenever your available balance is $25 or more.
- At times, AmEx may offer alternative redemption options, such as gift cards or merchandise.
We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your credit card’s rewards program. To avoid losing any rewards, be sure to use rewards before they expire or prior to closing your credit card account and pay your bill on time each month.
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.
† All information about The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available through CreditCards.com.
Robin Ratcliff is the managing editor for reviews on CreditCards.com. Before CreditCards.com, she worked as a analyst and editor, and still brings that same analytical rigor to her card recommendations today. You can reach Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy Brackman is a credit card news editor at CreditCards.com, writing breaking news stories on card updates and new card launches. You can reach Tracy at email@example.com.
Laura Mohammad is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She regularly covers the best credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. You can reach Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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