Best cash back credit cards

By  |  Published: September 20, 2017

Best cash back card: Fall 2016

 

Best cash back card: Fall 2016

 

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

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

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

Some cash back cards take the hassle out of rewards by offering a flat-rate percentage back on every purchase. Other, more lucrative cash back cards offer bonuses in specific categories (such as gas, groceries or restaurants). Some cards offer 5 percent cash back in categories that change quarterly.

To help you pick the best cash back card for your wallet, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cards in the cash back card category and asked a panel of judges to rate the CreditCards.com staff’s top three picks.

Meet the Judges


Lisa Gerstner
Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Favorite cash back card:  The Citi Double Cash card

"In the past year or so, Citi Double Cash has faced new competition among cash back cards that offer customers a strong, flat rebate on everything they buy. But so far, the rivals don’t quite match Citi Double Cash’s level of simplicity."


Laura Adams
Laura Adams, personal finance expert and host of the Money Girl podcast

Favorite cash back card:  The Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express

"The Blue Cash Preferred Card is my favorite cash back card because you earn the most on purchases that you’re sure to make. Getting 6 percent back on the first $6,000 you spend at supermarkets is excellent. You also receive 3 percent back at gas stations and department stores—plus, 1 percent on all your other purchases."


Michelle Schroeder
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, personal finance expert and author of the blog, Making Sense of Cents

Favorite cash back card:  The Citi Double Cash card

"There aren't many credit cards that allow you to receive 2 percent cash back, but the Citi Double Cash credit card is one of them. Plus, this credit card makes it quite easy to get that 2 percent cash back too."


Matt Schulz
Matt Schulz, Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com

Favorite cash back card:  The Citi Double Cash card

"Points and miles cards with their big signup bonuses grab all the headlines, but most Americans just want a cash back card. They want a simple, set-it-and-forget-it cash back card that gives them a good return with minimal effort. For those folks, the Citi Double Cash card is the best choice."


Daniel Ray
Daniel Ray, Editor-in-Chief at CreditCards.com

Favorite cash back card:  The Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express

"The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express gets my vote as the best card because it is the most family friendly choice. Buying groceries and gas – two of families’ biggest spending categories – are what the Blue Cash Preferred gives back the most on."


Winner: The Citi Double Cash card

Best card
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • 1% cash back when you pay your bill on time
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
Other features: Citi Price Rewind, purchase protection, trip cancellation and interruption protection

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

 

Best card

  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • 1% cash back when you pay your bill on time
  • No sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
Other features: Citi Price Rewind, purchase protection, trip cancellation and interruption protection

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

A perennial favorite of personal finance experts, the Citi Double Cash card won first place in the best cash back card contest for the second year in a row.

A pioneer in the cash back card category, the Citi Double Cash card was one of the first no-annual-fee cards to offer up to 2 percent cash back on every purchase. That’s an unusually high rewards rate for a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

“A card giving 2 percent cash back was unheard of just a couple years ago. Now, cards are competing to be the best among this new, more generous class of cards,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief, Daniel P. Ray. “As a consumer, I love the arms race and hope it continues.”

The simplest of 2 percent cash back cards
“In the past year or so, Citi Double Cash has faced new competition among cash back cards that offer customers a strong, flat rebate on everything they buy,” says personal finance journalist, Lisa Gerstner. “But so far, the rivals don’t quite match Citi Double Cash’s level of simplicity.”

The Citi Double Cash card is easier to obtain than some of its competitors. “You don’t have to join a credit union or open a certain type of banking or investment account to enjoy generous cash back rewards,” says Gerstner.

In addition, Citi cardholders can quickly redeem their cash by logging onto the Citi website and choosing to redeem their cash as a statement credit, check or gift card. “There aren't many credit cards that allow you to receive 2 percent cash back, but the Citi Double Cash credit card is one of them,” says personal finance expert Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. “Plus, this credit card makes it quite easy to get that 2 percent cash back too.”

Note that cardholders don’t earn 2 percent automatically. Cardholders get 1 percent cash back each time they charge their Citi Double Cash card and an additional 1 percent cash bonus when they pay the purchase off. “But assuming you cover the bill in full each month, that’s not much of an issue,” says Gerstner. “And with a card whose minimum APR is in the double digits, you really should pay off the entire balance monthly.”

The ideal option for busy cardholders
Judges say that the Citi Double Cash card is best suited for busy cardholders who don’t want to spend extra time tracking their card spending or monitoring quarterly bonus categories.

However, cardholders who regularly use higher earning cards on traditional bonus categories, such as travel or dining, could also benefit from a Citi Double Cash card, says Gerstner. “Even if you enjoy playing the credit-card game, Citi Double Cash is a good backup if none of your other cards provide a rate of more than 2 percent on a given purchase.”

“The downside of this credit card, though, is that there is no sign-up bonus,” says Schroeder-Gardner. Cardholders who want to earn a large amount up front will get more out of a different card. But if you’re looking for a long-term card you can rely on for daily purchases, the Citi Double Cash card is worth a look, say judges. 

No. 2: Blue Cash Preferred card

Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • $200 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee
Other features: Cash back tracker, purchase protection, return protection, roadside assistance

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

 

Blue Cash Preferred card

  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • $200 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee
Other features: Cash back tracker, purchase protection, return protection, roadside assistance

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

One of the most family-friendly cards on the market, the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express placed second in the best cash back card contest.

The Blue Cash Preferred card is pricier than many of its competitors. It charges a $95 annual fee, putting it on par with travel cards and elite charge cards. But judges say that the extra fee is worth it. Cardholders earn a 6 percent bonus on their first $6,000 worth of grocery store purchases – the best return you can get for groceries -- and 3 percent cash back on gas. 

A family-friendly rewards card 
“The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express gets my vote as the best card because it is the most family-friendly choice,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief, Daniel P. Ray. “Buying groceries and gas – two of families’ biggest spending categories – are what the Blue Cash Preferred gives back the most on.” 

The Blue Cash Preferred card also offers a solid $200 sign-up bonus after cardholders spend $1,000 in the card’s first three months and temporarily waives interest charges on purchases and balance transfers for the card’s first 12 months. 

“The Blue Cash Preferred Card is my favorite cash back card because you earn the most on purchases that you’re sure to make,” says personal finance expert Laura Adams. “With such a generous reward payout, you can easily earn back the $95 annual fee.”

Easy cash back on everyday spend
In addition, American Express makes it relatively easy to redeem your cash back, say judges. “I also like the simplicity of claiming rewards as statement credits, instead of having to jump through hoops to get them,” says Adams.

Judges say that the American Express card is best suited for cardholders who spend a lot on errands and can afford to pay an annual fee. “This is the best card to keep in your wallet for everyday purchases you plan to pay off each month,” says Adams.

No. 3: The PenFed Power Cash Rewards card

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature card
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • 2% cash back for current/former military members or PenFed members with Access America checking account
  • $100 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,500 in first 3 months
  • No annual fee
Other features: No foreign transaction fees

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

 

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature card

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • 2% cash back for current/former military members or PenFed members with Access America checking account
  • $100 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,500 in first 3 months
  • No annual fee
Other features: No foreign transaction fees

Editor's rating:
 alt=
4.2/5
Read our review

The PenFed Power Cash Rewards card from Pentagon Federal Credit won third place in the best cash back card contest.

The PenFed Power Cash Rewards card isn’t as widely available as its competitors. To qualify for the card, you must have a PenFed account. PenFed membership is open to military members and their families, as well as employees of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and their families. Non-military members can qualify for a PenFed account by joining an eligible organization, such as Voice for America’s Troops.

2 percent cash back plus a sign-up bonus
For cardholders who jump through these hoops, the PenFed Power Cash Rewards offers some the best-priced terms and generous rewards you can get on a cash back card. It also offers the simplicity of a flat rate cash back card.

General credit card holders earn 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase while cardholders who have served in the military or opened a PenFed Access America checking account earn unlimited 2 percent cash back. In addition, new cardholders are awarded a $100 sign-up bonus and have 12 months to take advantage of interest-free balance transfers.

Reasonable rates and fees
Unlike most cash back cards, the PenFed Power Cash Rewards card also offers an exceptionally low interest rate for cardholders who plan to carry a balance. The PenFed card also waives foreign transaction fees – a nice perk for military families stationed abroad.

“The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature is the best choice for those who want both simplicity with top-tier rewards,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray. “It has a few hurdles and quirks, but for 2 percent, I’ll jump the hurdles and cope with the quirks.”

 

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

For each review, CreditCards.com ranks the cards using a weighted scoring system that assesses the cards’ most relevant attributes. Each card attribute is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. For cash back cards, CreditCards.com evaluated a number of common cash back features, including:

  1. Estimated rewards value (47 percent): Because card applicants typically place a high value on rewards earnings, we assign the greatest weight to the amount of earnings cardholders take home. We use a formula to calculate the estimated yearly value, assuming cardholders spend $1,325 per month, averaged over three years. The formula includes an average rewards rate, sign-up bonus and annual fee. We assign a score based on how the estimated rewards value compares to other cards.
  2. Ease of use (40 percent):  The user-friendliness of a cash back program is another major factor in our ranking, because: What good is a cash back card if the card issuer makes it impossible to earn and redeem your rewards? Using a scale of 1 to 5, we rate factors such as expiration dates on rewards, how easy it is to earn and redeem rewards, whether there are limits on how much cardholders can earn, minimum redemption thresholds and whether cardholders can transfer rewards to other cards. 
  3. Features (10 percent): We also rate features on a scale of 1 to 5, based on their quantity, uniqueness and value.
  4. Annual percentage rate (APR) (3 percent): Cash back cardholders are typically advised not to carry a balance because cash back rates are notoriously high. Because cardholders generally don’t want to carry a balance, the CreditCards.com staff assigned less weight to the card’s APR. The staff assigns a score depending on how the average APR and the introductory APR compares to other rewards cards.

After three cards were chosen as finalists for the best cash back card contest, a panel of five judges – including credit card and personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff – were asked to independently judge the finalists and rank them in order of preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner. 

See related: Scare up rewards miles, cash back on Halloween expensesKeeping tabs on your rewards cards7 ways to get the most from rewards cardsWhich cards maximize rewards at grocery stores?, Cash back cards survey: Complex is out, simple is in

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



Follow Us


About this Award

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




Meet the judges