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Cash back credit cards are some of the best credit cards you can get, returning anywhere from 1% to 10% cash back on all kinds of purchases — and often without an annual fee. For folks who are just getting into credit card rewards, or who want to keep things simple, cash back credit cards can be a good choice.
See Insider’s picks for the top cash back credit cards for families, dining, intro APRs, and building credit below.
The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of April 2023
- Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card – Product Name Only: Best for flat-rate cash rewards
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for everyday spending
- Chase Freedom Flex℠ – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for rotating categories and flexible redemptions
- Discover it® Cash Back – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit cards for rotating cash back categories
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for families
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for dining, groceries, and entertainment with no annual fee
- Citi Custom Cash℠ Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for automatically customizing rewards
- U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for choosing your own bonus categories
- Citi® Double Cash Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for balance transfers
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for fair or average credit
- Discover it® Secured Credit Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for lower credit scores
- Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for students
- Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card – Product Name Only: Best cash back credit card for Bank of America customers
In terms of flexibility, cash back is the king of credit card rewards. Many cash back credit cards give you the option to redeem your accrual as either cash, a statement credit, or a transfer to your bank account.
The Best Cash Back Credit Cards
We narrowed down the dozens of cash back credit cards currently available to new applicants by looking at a few factors:
- Ease of use — Are there any hoops to jump through, like needing to be a member of a specific bank?
- Cash-back earning potential — How much cash back can you earn with this card, and how broad are the bonus categories?
- Annual fee — Many cash back cards waive an annual fee, but for the few that do charge a fee, is it justified based on the card’s rewards?
- Options for various types of consumers — We wanted our top cash back card picks to reflect different types of users, from families looking to maximize grocery spending to those looking to rebuild their credit score.
See a full breakdown of how we rate credit cards at Insider.
Cash Back Credit Cards FAQ
How does earning cash back work?
Cash-back credit cards earn you a percentage of cash back — usually at least 1%— on every dollar you spend (or more with cards that have bonus cash back categories). You can transfer the cash back you earn from these cards to a bank account, use them to wipe charges from your credit card statement, or redeem them for gifts and merchandise.
Do cash back cards actually give you cash?
Cash-back credit cards do give cash, but that’s not to say you’ll necessarily see the physical cash. You’re typically awarded cash back as a credit that you can use to cancel out purchases from your credit card statement, or to redeem for gift cards or merchandise online.
What credit card offers the most cash back?
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% back on the first $6,000 you spend each calendar year at US supermarkets (then 1% back), and 6% back on select US streaming services, for example, and the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is the most rewarding pick for dining out with 4% back. Different cards earn the most cash back in different categories, so you’ll want to factor in your spending habits and preferences when deciding which cash-back card makes the most sense for you.
Is a cash back card better than a travel or rewards card?
A cash back card could be better than a travel or rewards card, depending on what you want to do with your rewards. If you primarily want to put money back in your bank account rather than earn rewards you can redeem for travel, a cash back credit card is ideal — and you usually won’t have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all.
How can you make the most of a cash back credit card?
To make the most of a cash back credit card, always pay the balance in full each month. Also, read up on rewards rates for different spending areas (some cards offer elevated rates in areas like restaurants, gas stations, or supermarkets). Make sure to actually redeem your cash back instead of letting it pile up, and consider opening a “sister” card from the same issuer. Some cash back cards let you transfer rewards to travel cards from the same bank, then transfer points to airline and hotel partners they’re worth the most.
Best Cash Back Card for Flat-rate Rewards
Not only does the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card rank highly in this guide, but it also tops our list of the best 2% cash back credit cards. It earns a flat rewards rate on everything — 2% cash rewards on purchases, with no bonus categories to keep track of.
It offers a substantial welcome bonus for a no-annual-fee card: Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card. In addition, new cardholders get a Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card (followed by a Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card APR), which is super useful if you have large expenses you want to pay off over time.
Credit cards with 0% APR offers can be tempting to use for big purchases. Just be sure you have the ability to pay off the entire balance before the introductory period ends. Otherwise, you could find yourself saddled with high-interest debt.
The Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card comes with a good array of benefits, which include cell phone protection, roadside dispatch, travel emergency assistance, and access to the Visa Signature Concierge. However, it does charge foreign transaction fees, so if you’re traveling outside the US, you’ll want to pack a different card.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Everyday Spending
If you’re looking for a card that combines strong bonus categories with decent flat-rate rewards on non-bonus spending, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® could fit the bill. It offers 5% cash back (5x points) on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back (3x points) on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on everything else.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® has no annual fee and offers a Chase Freedom Unlimited®. After that, there’s a 14.99%–23.74% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
Although it’s marketed as a cash-back card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash, travel, and gift cards at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent.
If you also have an annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you can pool your points from the two cards. Then, you’ll be able to transfer the whole body of points to Chase’s airline and hotel partners or use them to book travel through Chase with a bonus.
Plus, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® has a substantial welcome offer: Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Rotating Categories and Flexible Redemptions
Chase Freedom Flex
Unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in combined purchases (then 1%) within certain bonus categories each quarter of the year (activation is required). From April 1 to June 30, 2023, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus categories are Amazon and Lowe’s.
Sometimes there’s just one major category per quarter, while other times there can be a few different ones. Past categories have included gas stations, local commuter transportation, department stores, drug stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. These useful categories make the card one of the best 5% cash back credit cards.
Chase cards follow the 5/24 rule, which means that if you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any bank, except some small-business cards) in the last 24 months, you won’t be eligible to apply.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ also earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else. These other bonus categories are exactly what you’ll find on the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
Right now, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers a welcome bonus of Chase Freedom Flex℠. There’s no annual fee.
It also has a generous list of benefits for a no-annual-fee card, such as cell phone protection, purchase protection, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, as well as travel and emergency assistance services.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Rotating Cash Back Categories
If you prefer a card that earns straight cash back, not points, and like the idea of rotating bonus categories, the Discover it® Cash Back could be a great fit. You can earn 5% cash back in popular rotating quarterly bonus categories when you activate, on up to $1,500 in combined spending (then 1%). You’ll also earn 1% back everywhere else Discover It Cashback rotation.
The Discover cash back calendar for Q2 2023 was recently revealed. From April 1 to June 30, 2023, the bonus categories are restaurants and wholesale clubs.
Discover cards, including the Discover it® Cash Back, don’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees. So you can safely use this card on trips abroad without worrying about getting dinged with extra charges.
Instead of a regular welcome bonus, Discover rewards new cardholders in a different way. After the first 12 months, it will match all of the rewards you earn from the card through the Discover Cashback Match program. That means you can effectively earn up to 10% back in your first year — and if you’re a big spender, this can pay off handsomely.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Families
If you’re looking for an American Express cash back card, especially if you have a large family that spends a lot on groceries, streaming, and commuting, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is an excellent option. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, before switching to a 12.99% to 23.99% variable APR APR.
Currently, the card offers a welcome bonus of Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. It also comes with a handful of travel and shopping protections, including car rental insurance, return protection, purchase protection, and extended warranty.
Keep in mind there’s an annual fee of Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, so you’ll want to be sure you spend enough to justify paying it. If you prefer a no-annual-fee Amex cash-back card, check out the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express instead.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers the highest rewards rate available for grocery spending, although there is a $6,000 annual spending cap on that 6% rate. After that, you earn 1% (cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as statement credits). Otherwise, the card earns 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% back on all other purchases.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Dining, Groceries, and Entertainment With No Annual Fee
The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card seems almost custom-made for folks who like to get out and experience life to the fullest. If you’re a foodie, love attending concerts and sporting events, or even enjoy entertaining at home, this no-annual-fee card can help you earn a lot of rewards for your spending.
Cardholders earn 3% cash back on dining, at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target), entertainment, and popular streaming services, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card also offers 5% cash back on hotels and car rentals booked through the Capital One Travel portal.
Through November 14, 2024, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an unlimited 10% cash back on Uber and Uber Eats purchases. In addition, through the same date, cardholders can activate a complimentary Uber One membership, which offers $0 delivery fees on eligible Uber Eats orders, up to 5% back on Uber rides, up to 10% back with Uber eats, and more.
The welcome bonus is generous, too: Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. And if you’ve got big purchases coming up, a Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (followed by a Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card APR) can make it easier to spread out your payments.
This card offers a handful of good benefits, including extended warranty, travel accident insurance***, and travel emergency assistance services. As with all other Capital One credit cards, you won’t pay foreign transaction fees on international purchases, so it’s great to use when you’re out globetrotting.
Also, if you don’t think your credit score is good enough to qualify for the regular version of the card, and you’re currently enrolled in college, you could apply for the student version of the card to convert to the regular version after graduation.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Automatically Customizing Rewards
For a more hands-off approach to maximizing your rewards, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers 5% cash back on up to $500 in purchases in the eligible category you spend the most in each billing cycle (then 1%):
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Select travel
- Select transit
- Select streaming
- Home improvement stores
- Fitness clubs
- Live entertainment
Plus, you’ll earn 1% on all other purchases. It also comes with a decent welcome offer for a no-annual-fee card: Citi Custom Cash℠ Card.
If your spending habits tend to change from time to time, this card is worth a look — especially because the list of eligible categories includes lots of common expenses.
While the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is advertised as a cash-back credit card, it actually earns Citi ThankYou points. You can redeem your points for cash back, travel booked through the Citi Travel Portal, gift cards, merchandise, and more at a rate of 1 cent per point.
However, you could potentially get more value from your rewards if you also have the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card (no longer available to new applicants). That’s because you can pool your points in either of these card accounts and then transfer them to airline and hotel partners, including JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Wyndham Rewards.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Choosing Your Own Bonus Categories
One of the newer types of cards offers the ability to choose your own bonus categories, and they’re a great way to maximize your cash back by earning the highest rewards on the purchases you make the most. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card leads the way in this regard, because it offers 5% cash back on two eligible categories of your choice (from the list below), on up to $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1% back):
- Prepaid air travel
- Hotel stays
- Car reservations booked through the Rewards Center
- Fast food
- Home utilities
- TV, internet, and streaming services
- Department and electronic stores
- Cell phone providers
- Sporting goods stores
- Furniture Stores
- Movie theaters
- Gyms and fitness centers
- Ground transportation
- Select clothing stores
Cardholders also get to choose a 2% cash back “everyday” category from gas and EV charging stations, restaurants, or grocery stores, and earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
New cardholders can earn a U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, which is a solid offer for a no-annual-fee card. After opening your account, you’ll also qualify for a U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card (then a U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card APR).
As a Visa Signature card, it comes with additional perks including Visa Signature concierge and Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection access, travel and emergency assistance, and roadside dispatch.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Balance Transfers
The Citi® Double Cash Card was once our overall favorite flat-rate cash back card, but it’s since been overshadowed by the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card, which offers more benefits, and the same effective cash rewards rate on purchases.
That said, the Citi® Double Cash Card still earns decent flat-rate rewards on all purchases for no annual fee. It earns 1 point per dollar as you spend, and 1 point per dollar when you pay your bill (worth a total of 2% cash back). So if you’re looking for straightforward rewards when you spend, the Citi® Double Cash Card is worth considering.
With that, the Citi® Double Cash Card also has an advantage if you’re looking to open one of the best balance transfer credit cards. New cardholders get a Citi® Double Cash Card (then a Citi® Double Cash Card APR).
Completing a balance transfer with a credit card can save you lots of money on interest in the long run, as long as you’re careful. Here’s Insider’s guide to balance transfer pros and cons that can help you decide if a balance transfer is worth it.
The Citi® Double Cash Card doesn’t offer a whole lot of other benefits, so it makes the most sense if you’re specifically after a generous balance transfer offer (or want a card that earns Citi ThankYou points to boost your stash — yes, you can combine the points from this card with other ThankYou points-earning cards like the Citi Premier® Card).
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Fair or Average Credit
If you’re new to credit or working on building (or rebuilding) your credit score, it’s quite possible you’ll fall into the “fair” credit range. Fair or average credit is defined as any FICO score between 580 to 669 on a 300 to 850 scale, and unfortunately, there aren’t as many good options for earning credit card rewards if that’s where your score lands.
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (and other eligible Capital One cards) currently get cardholders up to six months of Uber One monthly membership (offer ends November 14, 2024). With this promotion, you can get perks like $0 delivery fees on eligible Uber Eats orders and member exclusive discounts.
A handful of credit cards for fair or average credit do come with decent earning rates, albeit without a welcome bonus. The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is among the best of the bunch, offering 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases (except for hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, which earn 5% cash back), with no caps.
Opening and using credit cards responsibly can actually help improve your credit score over time.
As with many cards geared toward those with lower credit scores, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card charges an annual fee (Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card). But, like other Capital One cards, it doesn’t add any foreign transaction fees to international purchases, so it’s a safe bet to use abroad.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Lower Credit Scores
If you have a bad credit score or a limited credit history, you may not be approved for some of the other cash back credit card options outlined in this article. In that case, the Discover it® Secured — one of the best secured credit cards on the market — could make the most sense.
This is one of the best secured credit cards because you can earn bonus cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 each quarter — and Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
Since it’s a secured credit card (meaning you put down money as a refundable deposit to “secure” your account), it’s easier to get approved for this card. With the Discover it® Secured, automatic reviews start at seven months to see if Discover can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Students
Applying for a credit card when you’re still in college can be a little tricky because most students don’t have a long credit history or high credit score. Student credit cards are more accessible because they typically only require fair or average credit to get approved.
The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great choice if your spending habits are typical of many college students. It earns 3% cash back on dining (including restaurants, bars, cafes, and lounges), at grocery stores (except superstores like Walmart and Target), entertainment (such as movies, professional sporting events, and amusement parks), and popular streaming services (like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+).
It also earns 5% cash back on car rentals and hotels booked through Capital One Travel, 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases, and 10% cash back on Uber and Uber Eats purchases through November 14, 2024. All other purchases earn 1% back.
These earning categories make the Capital One SavorOne Student card ideal for spring break and summer vacations.
This card comes with built-in travel and purchase coverage you don’t often find on student credit cards, including price protection***, extended warranty***, car rental insurance***, roadside dispatch***, and travel accident insurance***. There are no foreign transaction fees to worry about, so if you’re heading out on a study-abroad program or plan to travel during your summer breaks, using your card won’t result in extra charges.
Best Cash Back Credit Card for Bank of America Customers
On the surface, the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card doesn’t particularly stand out. It earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases and comes with a welcome bonus of Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card — a decent return, to be sure, but not more compelling than similar cards.
But the card has one feature that can make it a lot more appealing if you’re already a Bank of America customer. Bank of America Preferred Rewards members can earn 25% to 75% more cash back with this card, depending on their rewards tier. Effectively, Preferred Rewards members at the highest level can earn 2.625% cash back on all purchases, which is hard to beat for a no-annual-fee card.
Bank of America Preferred Rewards tiers are Gold (25% more rewards on eligible Bank of America rewards credit card spending, or effectively 1.875% cash back), Platinum (50% more rewards, effectively 2.25% cash back), and Platinum Honors (75% more rewards, effectively 2.625% cash back).
The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card can also be a good choice if you’re looking for an intro APR offer. New cardholders receive a Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card, followed by a Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card APR.
Other Cash Back Credit Cards We Considered
We evaluated dozens of cash back credit cards and chose 13 of the very best in the most broadly useful categories for our list. Several other cards were on our shortlist, and they’re all very good in their own right, but for various reasons, they didn’t quite cut it.
Here are some of the cards that didn’t make it, and why:
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card— While it offers a bigger welcome bonus and slightly stronger rewards rate than its sibling, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, it also charges a Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card annual fee. You’d have put a lot of spending on the card to justify the extra cost, so for most folks, the no-annual-fee version is a better deal. Here’s our Capital One Savor card review.
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card — This card is good for choosing your own bonus categories, but you’ll only earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, versus two 5% cash-back categories of your choice on the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card. That said, if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, this card could be a lot more lucrative. Read our Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card review to find out more.
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card — This card is a decent choice if you’re looking for a card that earns 1.5% cash back on most purchases, but other cards, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card, offer opportunities to earn more rewards and benefits. That said, Quicksilver Cash Rewards cardholders can get up to six months of Uber One membership (offer ends November 14, 2024). You can find side-by-side comparisons in our Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards credit card review.
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express — This is a decent option if you want a card with no annual fee that earns bonus rewards on groceries, gas station purchases, and online retail purchases, but the 3% cash back it earns at US supermarkets only applies to the first $6,000 spent each calendar year (then 1% back). To compare, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an unlimited 3% on groceries worldwide, plus on dining, entertainment, and eligible streaming. Here’s our Blue Cash Everyday Amex card review if you want to learn more.
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card — If you’re an Amazon Prime member, earning 5% cash back at Amazon and Whole Foods with this card is hard to beat (and 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores is nothing to sniff at, either). But if you’re not a Prime member or don’t spend a lot at Amazon, other cards are probably a better pick. Check out our Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card review for a closer look.
- U.S. Bank Shopper Cash Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card — This brand-new card from US Bank earns up to 6% back on purchases from two eligible retailers you pick every quarter, including Walmart, Amazon, and Target. However, the 6% rate is capped at $1,500 in cash back combined per quarter (then 1.5% back), and there’s an annual fee of U.S. Bank Shopper Cash Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card. Read our US Bank Shopper Cash Rewards card review for all the details.
About Cash Back Credit Cards
Cash back credit cards can be an easy way to break into the world of credit card rewards. They come in a few different types:
- Flat rate — These cards earn the same rate of cash back on all purchases. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% back on most spending (the Freedom Unlimited also offers bonus cash back on eligible travel, dining, and drugstore purchases).
- Select bonus categories — Many other cash back cards offer bonus cash back (more than 1%) on select spending categories. For example, with the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn 4% back on dining, streaming services, and entertainment, and 3% back at grocery stores.
- Rotating categories — A few cards, including the Chase Freedom Flex℠ , offer bonus cash back on a selection of spending categories that changes every quarter of the year. These cards have a cap on how much bonus cash back you can earn each quarter — with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ , you’ll earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%).
- Some cards are starting to offer yet a fourth format for delivering cash back rewards: pick your own bonus categories from a list of options. These cards include the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card and the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card.
If you’re willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there’s value in having both cash back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you’re willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation.
If you’re trying to put money back in your wallet, our top recommendations are to transfer your cash back to a bank account or use it to reduce the amount owed on your credit card statement.
On the other hand, if you’re hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Rewards points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for things like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency “miles,” they aren’t miles with a given airline program.)
Read Insider’s points and miles valuations to find out what your credit card rewards are worth.
How to Use a Cash Back Credit Card
Remember that a credit card — cash back or otherwise — won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
Cash back cards vary greatly in their return rates — you can earn anywhere from 1% to 6% back. Even better, many cash back cards have no annual fee, so you don’t have to pay for the privilege of earning rewards.
If you’re new to rewards credit cards and aren’t interested in earning travel points or miles, a cash back card is the best option for you. With cash back cards, 1% back will always be 1 cent back, no matter what, and you can use your cash back to lower your monthly bill or transfer it to your checking account, among other options.
The best cash back credit card for you depends on your spending habits and if you prefer a flat rate of cash back on all spending or earning bonus cash back on specific types of purchases. Flat-rate cash back cards are best for those who don’t want to keep track of multiple bonus categories and just want a simple earning structure.
But if you really want to maximize your rewards earning, choosing a card that earns bonus cash back in categories where you spend a lot — like groceries, dining, or gas — can make a huge difference in your rate of return.
How to Choose a Cash Back Credit Card
The best cash back card is different for everyone. To find the best one for you, you’ll want to look for a few things:
- The cash back rate for your common spending categories. Extra cash back for gas isn’t much use if you don’t drive. Consider how you intend to use this card, and look at the rate for those spending categories.
- How you redeem your cash back. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re earning. Is it statement credit? Cash? Points? If points, can they be combined with or transferred to other cards you have, or brands you like?
- The annual fee. An annual fee may make or break your choice. Are you willing to pay one? And more importantly, can you afford it comfortably — or will it be effectively wiped out by the cash back you’ll earn in a year?
We don’t mention the APR because the rate only applies if you’re carrying a balance on your credit card. We recommend applying for a cash back credit card intending to pay off the balance in full each month. For other categories of credit cards, like balance transfer cards, the APR might be a more important consideration.
If this all sounds too complicated, you can’t go wrong by using the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, which has no annual fee and a flat earning rate of 2% cash rewards on purchases.
Cash back credit cards are often best used in combination with cards that earn points to create a complete credit card portfolio that takes advantage of multiple types of rewards. If you’re trying to decide whether to open a cash back credit card, whether as your first card or one of many, bear these pros and cons in mind:
Pros of cash back credit cards:
- They rarely carry annual fees
- There are no restrictions on how you can redeem and spend the cash
- You can earn airline and hotel status by booking with cash (but not points)
Cons of cash back credit cards:
- They rarely offer large sign-up or welcome bonuses
- Cash back is generally less valuable, dollar for dollar, than points
If you have a cash back credit card or are considering opening one, you’ll want to make the most of it. Keep the following steps in mind to get the most value from your card:
Always pay the balance in full. Credit card cash back or points aren’t useful if you’re carrying a balance and paying interest charges each month. To make the most of rewards, use your card responsibly: Spend only the money you have and pay your bill in full each month.
Read up on rewards rates for different spending areas. Some cash back cards offer elevated rewards rates on specific spending areas, like restaurants, gas stations, or supermarkets. Some of these cards even change those areas from quarter to quarter, meaning you’ll want to stay on top of where your card earns the most and when. If you’re using this card for every purchase, you don’t need to be as diligent, but if you’re using your card as one of many you’ll want to be sure you know how to maximize rewards.
Make sure to redeem your cash back. It might be tempting to let your cash back pile up just to watch the total tick up, but it’s more useful if you redeem it. You can generally apply the cash to your card balance or get it deposited in your checking account, and either one is a fine option.
Consider opening a “sister” card. As mentioned above, in some cases, you can transfer cash back to a points-earning card on which your rewards are worth more. Chase cards are an example of this: If you hold a cash back card like the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and a points-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer cash back earned on the Freedom Flex (which is technically earned in Chase Ultimate Rewards Points) to the Sapphire Preferred, and unlock more redemption options. This strategy isn’t required to make the most of your cash back card, but it can help take rewards to the next level.
For rates and fees of Discover it® Secured Credit Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of Discover it® Cash Back, please click here.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Read our editorial standards.
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Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Trip Delay Insurance, Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance, and Cell Phone Protection Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company. Global Assist Hotline Card Members are responsible for the costs charged by third-party service providers. If approved and coordinated by Premium Global Assist Hotline, emergency medical transportation assistance may be provided at no cost. In any other circumstance, Card Members may be responsible for the costs charged by third-party service providers. Extended Warranty, Purchase Protection, and Baggage Insurance Plan Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss or Damage Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.
***Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply. Refer to your Guide to Benefits for more details. Travel Accident Insurance is not guaranteed, it depends on the level of benefits you get at application.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply