|Cash Back Rating:||4.5 / 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.
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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. The Citi Custom Cash Card is a cash back card that lets cardholders maximize rewards in key spending categories, pick their own category and enjoy variety with rotating bonus categories, and offers flat-rate rewards on every purchase. It’s a sampling of different rewards styles that lets cardholders customize how they earn cash back, making it a great hybrid card for flexible spending or for supplementing other rewards cards.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance way to maximize rewards and fill gaps in your rewards strategy, the Citi Custom Cash is a great option. It’s especially good for cardholders who have or plan to get a higher-tier Citi travel card and want to transfer points to Citi’s travel partners. Plus, it features a decent balance transfer offer.
Why you might want the Citi Custom Cash Card
This 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. However, you may want to plan ahead to do a majority of your spending in a single category each billing cycle.
See related: How do cash back credit cards work?
Generous rewards rate and great variety
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, but the Citi Custom Cash card’s rewards rate really shines in the grocery, dining and gas categories. It’s one of the highest rewards rates you can get in these popular and practical categories on a card with no annual fee.
There are a few caveats to keep in mind, however. The 5% back is limited to a $500 billing cycle spend limit and, 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 people who want to use the card at Walmart or Costco.
Customize your cash back
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. This flexibility makes the card a great fit whether you enjoy strategizing to maximize rewards in less popular categories or prefer sticking to earning consistent rewards in one of your largest spending categories, like groceries.
Citi’s user interface also 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.
A good fit for modest spenders
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. This includes 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).
The following breakdown 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|
Although you’ll have less flexibility with your purchases each quarter, if you plan your purchases well you can maximize rewards for moderate spending. While this limits the amount you may earn back in rewards on large purchases, it’s an ideal program for those who only spend $500 or less each billing cycle.
Great options for travel points
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* to make a Citi card trifecta. As with the Chase trifecta, combining cards for everyday spending and travel rewards 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 at a 1:1 ratio to any of Citi’s travel transfer partners. Though ThankYou points are normally worth just 1 cent each when redeemed for travel, you may be able to increase their value by transferring to an airline or hotel partner. Based on Bankrate’s latest point valuations, ThankYou points could be worth an average of 1.9 cents each with the right transfer partner.
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.
Decent sign-up bonus
Along with its generous ongoing cash back rewards, the Citi Custom Cash Card features a decent sign-up bonus: You can earn $200 cash back (20,000 ThankYou points that can be redeemed as cash back) after spending $1,500 in your first six months as a cardholder. Previously, this card’s bonus only required a $750 spend in your first three months to earn $200, so the recent spending requirement change is a bit of a disappointment. Although higher, you’ll just need to spend at the same rate ($250 per month) for twice as long to secure the offer.
If you already plan to maximize your 5% cash back by spending $500 in one of the card’s bonus categories each billing cycle, this should still be an easy threshold to reach. But if $250 per month in a single category sounds high, you may need to use the card for most of your everyday spending for the first six months to secure the bonus.
When you factor in the spending requirement, this bonus falls somewhere in the lower-middle among popular no-annual-fee cash back cards. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards also offer a $200 bonus but only requires a $500 spend in the first three months.
Citi also 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 $1,500 to secure the bonus, based on when you were approved for the card.
$0 annual fee and 0% intro APR
The Citi Custom Cash costs nothing to hold, so you won’t have to worry about maximizing your earnings to make up for an annual fee. Compare this with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which carries a slightly more competitive 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 these fees with cash back earnings, an annual fee inevitably introduces some level of risk, making the Custom Cash a lower-maintenance grocery rewards option.
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 18.24% to 28.24% 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 offer both types of intro APR. The Citi Double Cash, for example, offers an intro APR only on balance transfers.
Competitive perks and bonuses
Compared to other no-annual-fee cash back cards, the Citi Custom Cash offers a decent number of benefits, including useful Mastercard World Elite benefits like:
- 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.
Why you might want a different card
The Citi Custom Cash card is a great choice for moderate spenders and those who spend consistently in one of the card’s bonus categories. However, it has its limitations to keep in mind if you’re looking for a card that will net you high rewards for high spending each month. Plus, while the card’s 0% intro APR on new purchases and balance transfers is solid for a no-annual-fee cash back card, it comes at the cost of a high balance transfer fee and is much shorter than the offers you’ll find on dedicated balance transfer cards.
Short intro APR offer and high balance transfer fee
While the Custom Cash card’s 15-month 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and new purchases (18.24% to 28.24% variable APR after that) could be a big help if you need to chip away at existing card debt or pay off a larger purchase over time, the card carries a high balance transfer fee compared to many balance transfer cards.
You’ll pay a transfer fee of 5% (or $5, whichever is greater) with the Citi Custom Cash, 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’s 15-month intro APR also can’t compete with the 18 to 21 months of 0% intro APR offered on most dedicated balance transfer cards.
If you’re looking to transfer a balance, there are certainly better options. For example, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card boasts a 0% intro APR period of 21 months on balance transfers (17.24% to 27.99% variable APR after that), giving you more time to pay down your debt before interest kicks in. While it carries the same 5% fee as the Citi Custom Cash, you’ll have more time to pay that balance down. Meanwhile, the Discover it® Balance Transfer Card could be an even more affordable option, offering an 18-month 0% APR period on balance transfers (14.99% to 25.99% variable APR after that) with only a 3% initial fee (5% on future transfers).
Limited to a single bonus category each billing cycle
Though the Citi Custom Cash features a wide variety of bonus categories, you’ll only earn 5% back in your top spending category each billing cycle (on up to $500 in spending per month, then 1%), with other categories earning just 1% back.
Since a few of the card’s bonus categories make up a good portion of the average person’s budget, you’ll leave a lot of cash back on the table in your next two highest spending categories if you use the Citi Custom Cash as a standalone rewards card. While other rewards cards may carry a lower maximum rewards rate, they could also allow you to earn more than 1% back in multiple categories at once.
Given these limitations, the Citi Custom Cash Card may work best when supplemented by a flat-rate rewards card. Fitting your monthly spending habits into a low limit of $500 may be difficult – even for moderate spenders. By positioning this card into a portfolio of other rewards cards, you can meet that $500 threshold in your top category and use a card like the Citi Double Cash on any further purchases to earn 2% back instead of 1% on all purchases after $500.
The card’s $500 spending cap applied each billing cycle is also 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. By imposing a $500 cap on each billing cycle instead of a $1,500 cap each quarter, the Custom Cash has less flexibility to earn 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.
Gated approval odds
The Citi Custom Cash Card is designed for cardholders with good to excellent credit (a FICO score of 670 or higher), which means it likely won’t be an option if you have a damaged or limited credit history. Unfortunately, Citi also 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.
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|
No current offer
|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|
Citi Double Cash Card
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, unlike the Citi Custom Cash Card, which limits you with a $500 spending cap in a single category each billing cycle.
If you’re wary of the idea of actively working to maximize your rewards earnings and would rather not worry about tracking spending or going over a limit in a single billing cycle, the Citi Double Cash is a solid low-maintenance option. It will also enable you to earn more cash back for purchases outside your biggest spending category each month. This can potentially result in more cash back overall for the year.
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
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. Since the card earns bonus rewards in multiple categories at once, it could make for a better all-purpose option than the Custom Cash.
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card
A popular choose-your-bonus-category rewards card, the Bank of America Customized 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 to its additional year-round 2% bonus category. This card’s cash back variety could make it a great addition to your wallet if you spend heavily in its bonus categories and want to cover more purchases with higher cash back rates than you’d get with the Custom Cash Card.
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 right for you?
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. This is especially true if you have another card you can use to earn rewards in other categories.
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. To use the Custom Cash strategically and not fall victim to its biggest shortcoming, be sure to round out any spending each billing cycle that exceeds $500 with a rewards card that earns more than 1% in the categories not covered by the Custom Cash.
*Information about the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.
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