|Cash Back Rating:||4.1 / 5|
|Issuer Customer Experience||3.0|
In a Nutshell:
The Citi Custom Cash Card should offer terrific value to low-maintenance cardholders and rewards experts alike since it automatically rewards your top spending category each billing cycle. Just be sure you aren’t missing out on rewards in your second- and third-highest categories.
Average Yearly Rewards Value (assumes maxed-out 5% category, $1,325 monthly spend)
Citi Customer Service Ratings
Other Notable Features: Cell phone protection, complimentary DashPass subscription for three months, Citi Entertainment, damage and theft protection, free FICO score access, $5 Lyft credits after three rides each month, complimentary ShopRunner membership
One of the hardest parts of choosing a rewards credit card is deciding what style of rewards program fits you best. Do you want to maximize rewards in a few key spending categories, enjoy variety with rotating bonus categories, choose your own category or keep things simple with a flat-rate card that earns more rewards on every purchase?
If a sampling of all four styles sounds appealing, then the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card may be the game-changing hybrid you’ve been looking for.
This all-new cash back card from Citi carries an impressive rewards rate in popular categories like groceries, dining and gas, but streamlines earning rewards by automatically giving you cash back in whichever category you’ve spent the most in each billing cycle. Since the card adapts to your spending habits, there’s no need to enroll in rotating categories or commit to a bonus spending category year-round.
But since you’ll only earn outsized rewards in a single category each billing cycle, you could be leaving a lot of cash back on the table in your second- and third-highest spending categories. As such, the Citi Custom Cash Card may work best as a supplementary card for those looking to maximize their credit card rewards.
See related: How do cash back credit cards work?
Earning cash back
At first glance, the Citi Custom Cash card’s rewards program is deceptively simple: You’ll automatically earn 5% back on purchases in your top spending category each billing cycle (on up to $500 in spending per billing cycle, then 1%).
You’ll also earn unlimited 1% back on all other purchases. Categories eligible for 5% back include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
A year-round, 5% cash back rate in any category is very generous for a no annual fee card. Indeed, the Citi Custom Cash Card carries one of the highest rewards rates you can get on popular categories like groceries, dining and gas at this price tag.
There are a few caveats to keep in mind, however. Per the card’s terms, the restaurant category excludes “third party dining delivery services” like Uber Eats. Also, as is the case with most grocery rewards cards, the Citi Custom Cash card’s grocery category excludes “discount superstores [and] wholesale/warehouse clubs,” so this isn’t the best choice for fans of Walmart or Costco.
Since the card’s cash back program automatically adjusts to your top spending category, you also have the flexibility to plan which category you want to maximize each billing cycle. For example, groceries may be your top spending category most billing cycles, but you could plan to pay for a yearlong gym membership or larger home improvement store purchases in a single cycle to reap maximum rewards.
Luckily, Citi’s user interface makes it easy to keep track of which category you’re earning the most in during a billing cycle. Your account lists all the eligible 5% categories and the total you’ve spent so far in each, as well as how much you’re spending outside these categories. This could be a big help not only when you’re trying to make the most of your bonus category, but also to give you a sense of any secondary categories in which you’re missing out on boosted rewards.
If you’re able to max out your 5% cash back category each billing cycle, your Citi Custom Cash Card earnings could even exceed those offered by some of the best flat-rate cash back cards on the market, including the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers up to 2% back on all purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay off those purchases).
Check out this breakdown, which assumes you’ve maxed out your 5% cash back category each billing cycle with the Citi Custom Cash and spent a total of $15,900 with the card in a year.
|Citi Custom Cash Card||$6,000 ($500 per billing cycle) x 5% back + $9,900 x 1% back =||$399|
|Citi Double Cash Card||$15,900 x 2% back =||$318|
Keep in mind, however, that the $500 spending cap applies to each billing cycle, which is a bit more restrictive than the $1,500 quarterly cap you’ll find on most rotating bonus category cards like the Discover it® Cash Back.
This could make it more difficult to maximize your rewards on large purchases. For example, because of the Citi Custom Cash card’s $500 cap each billing cycle, a single $1,500 purchase in an eligible bonus category would earn just $35 in cash back (5% back on the first $500 and 1% back on the next $1,000), versus $75 in cash back with the Discover it Cash Back.
You’ll also only earn 5% back in your top spending category, which leaves you earning just 1% back in other categories. Since a few of these categories make up a good portion of the average person’s budget, you could be missing out on a chunk of bonus cash back. While some other rewards cards may carry a lower maximum rewards rate, they would also allow you to earn more than 1% back in multiple categories at once.
Tip: The Venmo Credit Card* also rewards you based on your monthly spending habits, but it doesn’t limit rewards to your top spending category. You’ll also earn boosted rewards in your second-highest eligible spending category. The card is also offering double rewards rates through Dec. 31, 2021 if you apply by July 31, 2021.
Redeeming cash back
Though it’s marketed primarily as a cash back card, the Citi Custom Cash Card technically earns Citi ThankYou points. While the value of Citi ThankYou points varies based on which Citi cards you have and which redemption method you choose, redemption values are straightforward with the Citi Custom Cash Card.
Each point is worth 1 cent toward cash back, gift cards and Citi travel bookings. You can redeem your cash back in any amount as a statement credit or direct deposit, or opt for a check when you’ve earned at least $5 worth of cash back (a marked improvement over the Double Cash card’s $25 minimum cash back redemption).
You may be able to stretch the value of your points further, however, if you pair the Citi Custom Cash Card with a higher-tier Citi rewards card, like the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card*. As with the Chase trifecta, combining cards for everyday spending and travel reward allows you to pool and transfer your points to one of Citi’s travel partners at a potentially higher value.
For example, you could transfer Citi ThankYou points – worth 1 cent apiece toward travel – at a 1:1 ratio to Avianca LifeMiles – worth around 1.7 cents each – and nearly double their value, according to The Point’s Guy’s latest point valuations.
This makes the Citi Custom Cash Card a terrific choice for frequent travelers looking for a rewards card to supplement their earnings on a dedicated Citi travel card.
Competitive sign-up bonus
The Citi Custom Cash Card has debuted with a competitive – albeit fairly standard – sign-up bonus: You’ll earn $200 cash back (as 20,000 ThankYou points that can be redeemed as cash back) after spending $750 in your first three months as a cardholder.
When you factor in the spending requirement, this bonus falls somewhere in the upper-middle tier among popular no annual fee cash back cards. The Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards, for example, also offer a $200 bonus but require only a $500 spend in the first three months.
One plus is that Citi offers a useful bonus tracker tool, which shows you the progress you’ve made toward reaching the spending requirement, as well as the date by which you need to have spent $750 to secured the bonus, based on when you were approved for the card.
Card rates and fees
One of the Custom Cash card’s biggest selling points is its $0 annual fee. The Citi Custom Cash costs nothing to hold, even if you never manage to max out your earnings. Compare this with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which carries an extremely generous 6% cash back rate on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%), but also has a $95 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year). While you could certainly offset that fee via cash back earnings, it inevitably introduces some level of risk.
The Citi Custom Cash card also comes with a 0% introductory APR on both balance transfers and new purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% applies, depending on your creditworthiness, which is about on par with the average interest rate for a rewards or cash back card.
The Citi Custom Cash Card is one of only a handful of rewards cards that offers both types of intro APR offer. The Double Cash, for example, offers an intro APR only on balance transfers.
The Citi Custom Cash card’s intro APR offers could be a big help if you need to chip away at existing card debt or pay off a larger purchase over time. Just keep in mind that a relatively high balance transfer fee of 5% (or $5, whichever is greater) applies, which could prove costly if you need to transfer a large balance. This is disappointing, as plenty of dedicated balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee of just 3%. The card also carries a 3% foreign transaction fee, making it a poor standalone card choice for travel abroad.
See related: How does a 0% intro APR work?
Like most no annual fee cash back cards, the Citi Custom Cash doesn’t offer a particularly robust set of cardholder perks. However, the card does carry some useful Mastercard World Elite benefits, including:
- Cellphone protection – You’ll get up to $800 per claim and up to $1,000 per year in cellphone insurance coverage against theft or damage if you pay your cell phone bill with the card (subject to a $50 deductible).
- Complimentary three-month DashPass subscription – You’ll receive a free DoorDash DashPass membership for three months and a 50% discount for the next nine months (subscriptions typically cost $9.99 per month).
- Lyft credits – Each month you take at least three Lyft rides, you’ll earn a $5 Lyft credit toward your next ride.
- HelloFresh discounts – You’ll earn 5% back on every HelloFresh order, which can be used for future HelloFresh orders.
- Complimentary ShopRunner membership – ShopRunner gets you two-day shipping and free returns at more than 100 online retailers.
You’ll also enjoy select Citi card staples like $0 fraud liability, virtual account numbers, free access to your FICO credit score and Citi Entertainment, which gives you special access to ticket sales and exclusive experiences.
The Citi Custom Cash Card is designed for cardholders with good to excellent credit (a FICO score of 670 or higher). Unfortunately, Citi does not currently offer preapproval for the Citi Custom Cash Card on its website, so be sure to check your credit score and see where you stand before you apply. You do have a chance at getting instant approval, however, and you could even get access to a portion of your approved credit limit via an instant use card number.
If you want to get a better sense of your approval odds before you apply, you can check the CreditCards.com CardMatch tool to see if you’re matched with the Citi Custom Cash Card based on your credit profile. This only requires a soft pull of your credit report, and has no impact on your credit score until you submit a formal application.
How does the Citi Custom Cash Card compare to other cash back cards?
The Citi Custom Cash Card offers impressive rewards in your top spending category each billing cycle, but because all other categories earn just 1%, you’ll inevitably miss out on some rewards earning opportunities without another rewards card to pick up the slack.
Consider these alternatives, which carry more flexible cash back limits, impressive rates in several of the Citi Custom Cash Card’s eligible bonus categories or a higher flat rewards rate:
|Rewards rate||Rewards rate||Rewards rate|
|Introductory bonus||Introductory bonus|
$200 online cash rewards if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 (see rates and fees)
|Other things to know||Other things to know||Other things to know|
Offering one of the best flat cash back rates available, the Citi Double Cash Card is a great no-frills, all-purpose rewards card. You earn 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy and an additional 1% as you pay off those purchases) with no spending caps or select categories. If you’re wary of the idea of actively working to maximize your rewards earnings, the Citi Double Cash is a solid low-maintenance option.
The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express comes with one of the best rewards rates on groceries and gas available, offering a whopping 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%), 6% back on select streaming services and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations. Though the card carries an ongoing $95 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the first year), this can be offset fairly easily if groceries and gas make up a big chunk of your budget.
A popular choose-your-bonus-category rewards card, the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card offers 3% cash back in a category of your choice and 2% cash back on grocery store and wholesale club purchases (on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter on 2% and 3% categories). While this rate is lower than the maximum rate available on the Citi Custom Cash Card, you can cover more categories thanks its additional year-round 2% bonus category.
Who should get the Citi Custom Cash Card?
- Cardholders looking for a relatively low-maintenance way to maximize rewards in their top spending categories each billing cycle
- Cardholders looking for a new card to fill gaps in their rewards strategy and earn cash back in a category not covered by their current cards
- Cardholders who have or plan to get a higher-tier Citi travel card and may transfer points to one of Citi’s travel partners
- Cardholders who need to transfer a balance or finance a large purchase and want a rewards card worth keeping after the intro APR period ends
How to use the Citi Custom Cash Card:
- Be strategic with your purchases to maximize your 5% rewards each billing cycle (for example, consider paying a year’s worth of streaming services or gym membership dues during a single billing cycle)
- Pair the Citi Custom Cash Card with a tiered-bonus category card that rewards your second- and third-highest spending categories.
- Pair the Citi Custom Cash Card with a flat-rate card to maximize purchases outside your top spending category
Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it?
Used strategically, the Citi Custom Cash Card is absolutely worth having. This card could easily become one of the most valuable rewards cards in your wallet if you take full advantage of its impressive cash back rate for your top spending category.
Not only is the Citi Custom Cash Card a good fit for low-maintenance cardholders who want to maximize rewards in their highest spending categories, but it’s also ideal for card experts looking to round out their rewards strategy – especially travel lovers who have or would consider a premium Citi rewards card.
That said, if you already have cards that earn rewards at a solid rate in some of the Citi Custom Cash card’s more popular categories, novelty categories like fitness clubs and live entertainment likely won’t make up enough of your spending to warrant a new card application.
If, instead, you use the Citi Custom Cash Card as your primary rewards card, the $500 cap each billing cycle and flat 1% cash back rate on all purchases outside your top spending category will surely leave you missing out on rewards on some of your purchases.
*All information about the Citi Prestige Card, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, the Apple Card the Venmo Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuers did not provide the content, nor are they responsible for its accuracy.
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