How four different issuers grant cash back

A look at the cash back policies of Wells Fargo, AmEx, Chase and Capital One

Wealth and Wants with Ted Rossman

Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.

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Cash is cash, right? Actually, different credit card issuers apply cash back rewards in very different ways. 

Let’s look at the policies of the four cash back cards I have in my wallet, sorted by most to least restrictive:

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: This card makes you redeem points in 2,500-point increments (each one is worth $25 in cash back). Unless you get really lucky and hit a multiple of 2,500 right on the nose, you’re going to have a remainder. That’s a little annoying, although not a huge deal. What could be really annoying is losing a lot of points if you close the account or make a late payment.

You can get slightly more value if you exchange your points for gift cards from certain retailers, like a $25 Nike gift card for 2,250 points (1.1 cents per point).

Or, you can redeem for merchandise. However, this isn’t the best use of your rewards. A silver iPhone XS with 256 GB of storage is going for 161,181 Wells Fargo points and costs $1,149 on Apple.com (0.7 cents per point). A much cheaper price point, but an even worse value, is a Sertapedic medium-density pillow I found for 1,909 Wells Fargo points and $7.61 at Walmart.com (0.4 cents per point). If you want something like this, redeem for cash back first and then buy it yourself – that will save you a lot of money.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express: You can’t use your cash back until you’ve accumulated at least $25, but once you’ve hit that threshold, you can select any amount. That’s an improvement since this card used to only allow multiples of $25, similar to the Propel card.

Another similarity to the Propel card is that you can get an effective 1.1 cents per point if you exchange your reward dollars for gift cards from certain retailers (such as AMC Theatres, Applebee’s, Nike and Williams-Sonoma).

And as with the Propel card, you should avoid using your reward dollars for merchandise. Multiple searches came back in the 0.4 cents per point range, including 63 reward dollars for a piece of Samsonite luggage that eBags is selling for $27.99.

See related: 6 ways to get the most from cash back card sign-up bonuses

Chase Freedom: Allows anytime, any denomination redemptions. Not too long ago, you needed to wait until you had racked up at least 2,000 points. You can get 1.1 cents per point on gift cards from certain retailers including The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Google Play (better than the standard 1.0 on cash back). This card also offers an “Amazon.com Shop with Points” option, but it’s not a good deal since each point is worth just 0.8 cents.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Allows anytime, any denomination redemptions. While I usually let my rewards accumulate until they’re worth around $25, I could cash in for as little as $0.01. 

Small value rewards come into play on my wife’s Quicksilver card because she doesn’t use it very much, but it’s important to keep it active since it’s her oldest account, which helps her credit score. It would take a long time to accumulate $25 in rewards the way she uses this card. Every few months, she’ll buy something small and we’ll claim, say, $0.30 in cash back from a $20 purchase.

An important note: not all Capital One cards work this way. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for example, only gives 1 cent per point if you use your rewards for gift cards or travel purchases. Options include offsetting some or all of a previous travel expense (if you’re redeeming for partial credit, you need to apply at least 2,500 points) or booking new travel. Redeeming for straight cash back yields a mere 0.5 cents per point and should be avoided.

It’s also worth noting when the rewards show up. Capital One makes them available mid-month, as soon as the transaction posts to your account. Chase and Wells Fargo points appear on their respective monthly statement dates. AmEx reward dollars aren’t granted until the next statement after that.


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Updated: 01-17-2019