The best cash-back credit cards of 2019
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Many of my friends and family members want to know how I travel so much, but when I start explaining the strategies of multiple credit cards, transferable points and online shopping portals, their eyes inevitably start to glaze over. Fortunately, many card issuers provide simpler reward options.
Today I want to go over the top cash-back credit cards.
While many of the best travel credit cards allow you to earn cash back on your purchases, you’re usually forgoing better value redemption options to do so. In this guide, we’ll mainly consider cash-back credit cards where getting cash back is the redemption that provides the best return. Let’s get into the details of each of our top recommendations.
The best cash back credit cards of 2019
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for travel
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for gas and groceries
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for pairing
- Chase Freedom: Best for rotating bonus categories
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Best for online shopping
- Discover it® Cash Back: Best for your first credit card
Comparing our top cash-back credit cards
|Credit Card||Best for||Bonus cash back rate||Annual fee:|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express card||Travel||3x points on dining, travel and select streaming services||$0|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Flat-rate cash back||2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you make purchases, 1% when you pay your bill)||$0|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and entertainment||4% cash back on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores||$95*|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||Gas and groceries||6% cash back on purchases at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% on transit and at US gas stations||$95 (see rates and fees)|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Pairing||1.5% cash back on every purchase||$0|
|Chase Freedom||Rotating bonus categories||5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories each quarter||$0|
|Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card||Online shopping||3% cash back on gas or your choice of one of five other popular categories, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and (up to $2,500 in combined bonus category spend)||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||You first credit card||5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories each quarter you activate||$0|
*Annual fee waived the first year
Best cash back credit cards
Welcome bonus: 30,000 points (worth $300) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x points on dining, travel and select streaming services, plus 1x on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card effectively earns cash back, since points are worth 1 cent apiece toward statement credits, travel, gift cards or charity donations. This is a relatively straightforward card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. But it does stand out for offering cell phone protection and the ability to boost the value of your point redemptions toward airfare to 1.75 cents per point if you have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card and spend at least $50,000 on it in a year. In that case, you’re effectively getting up to 5.25% back on your spending, which is very solid for a card with no annual fee. See our full Wells Fargo Propel review for more information. The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Apply Here: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Welcome bonus: N/A
Rewards rate: Earn 2% cash back — 1% when you buy, and another 1% when you pay your bill each month.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: One of the simplest and most rewarding cash-back cards out there is the Citi Double Cash Card. This card essentially gives you two opportunities to earn cash back: 1% when you buy and then another 1% as you pay. You only need to make the minimum payment each month to earn the second reward, but remember that paying your balance in full is always strongly recommended. And as of Sept. 22, 2019, cardholders can now convert the cash back they earn on the card into ThankYou Points via a linked ThankYou account. This converts into an effective 2x ThankYou Point earning rate on all purchases. TPG values ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, meaning this card would effectively get at 3.4% return on all purchases. Unfortunately, you won’t earn a welcome bonus with this card, but the long-term value it offers still makes the card worth it in my eyes.
Read our full card review.
Apply Here: Citi Double Cash Card
Welcome bonus: $300 back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else.
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Why we chose it: If you spend a lot on dining and entertainment, you can’t get much better than the Capital One Savor. Dining encompasses restaurants, cafes, bars, fast food joints, bakeries and more, and entertainment will earn you 4% on a long list of purchases that includes concert tickets, movie tickets, sporting events, theme parks, certain tourist attractions and more. Because Capital One doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees on the Savor, you’ll also earn those amazing bonus rewards when you’re traveling abroad. Don’t forget that you’ll also get 8% on tickets at Vivid Seats using your Savor card through May 2020.
Read our full review of the card.
Apply Here: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
Welcome bonus: $250 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 6% cash back on purchases on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending at supermarkets each reward year, then 1%), 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% cash back everywhere else.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees).
Why we chose it: Another reward credit card with some intriguing bonus categories is the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. This is a great all-around cash-back card because it earns solid rewards on categories that don’t always get a lot of love from other cards. When Amex added streaming services and transit to this card’s bonus categories, it got a major bump in value in my mind. Just remember that it charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee (see rates and fees), so while it’s a great option for use in the U.S., you shouldn’t use it when you’re traveling abroad.
Read our full review of the card.
Apply Here: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Welcome bonus: $150 back after you spend $500 in purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card to pair with your existing Chase cards to earn rewards on non-bonus spending — in fact, it makes up one-third of the Chase Trifecta. If you have an Ultimate Rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can combine rewards and take advantage of Chase’s travel portal redemption bonus and transfer partners. Since TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, you’ll get a 3% return on all non-bonus spending when you pair the Freedom Unlimited with a Chase Ultimate Rewards card.
Read our full review of the card.
Apply Here: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Welcome bonus: $150 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases on rotating quarterly bonus categories each quarter you activate. For Q4 2019, the categories you’ll earn 5% cash back in are department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay purchases.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: If you don’t mind keeping track of quarterly categories and spending caps, you can get a lot out of the Chase Freedom. The bonus categories chosen are typically seasonally-appropriate and easy to maximize. For example, in Q4 of 2019, you’ll earn 5% on Chase Pay, PayPal and department stores — which is useful for the holiday shopping season. While you can only earn $300 in bonus rewards annually with this card, that turns into 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred. Then, you can redeem those points at a higher rate through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or transfer them to travel partners for added value.
Read our full card review.
Apply Here: Chase Freedom
Welcome bonus: $200 bonus after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.
Rewards rate: 3% back in the category of your choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement and furnishings) and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined bonus category purchases each quarter (then 1%). You can change your 3% category once a month.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: Having the option to get a 3% bonus on online shopping across a wide variety of retailers is terrific. Plus, depending on your banking relationship with Bank of America, that 3% return can go as high as 5.25% back if you qualify for the top tier of the Preferred Rewards program. If your spending habits change throughout the year, the BofA Cash Rewards card should definitely be on your radar.
Read our full card review.
Apply Here: Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card
Discover it® Cash Back
Welcome bonus: Discover will match the cash back you earn during your first year with the card.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 you spend each quarter on rotating categories (activation required), then 1% on all other purchases. For the fourth quarter of 2019, you’ll earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com (up to $1,500 this quarter after activation).
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: The Discover it® is a great option for your first credit card. It’s easy to get approved for, and you can earn a decent amount of cash back if you keep up with your rotating categories each quarter. With the cash back match at the end of your first year, you can earn up to $600 in total cash back by the end of your first year just by maximizing bonus category spending.
Check out our ultimate guide to Discover cards for more details.
Cash back cards that require a membership
Some credit cards have specific membership requirements. The following cards can be good options, but I’ve left them off the main “best cash-back cards” list due to their membership requirements:
- Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card: 2% on all purchases with no annual fee (must have a specific Fidelity account)
- Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card: 3% on all purchases the first year with a waived annual fee, then 2.5% in subsequent years with a $99 annual fee (must be an Alliant Credit Union member)
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 4% on gas (up to $7,000 per year; then 1% thereafter), 3% on restaurants and travel and 2% at Costco with no annual fee with Costco membership (must have Costco membership, must visit Costco location to redeem annual cash-back reward, may need to make a purchase at Costco to obtain the cash-back reward)
- Sam’s Club Mastercard: 5% on gas (up to $6,000 per year, then 1% thereafter) and 3% on dining and travel with no annual fee (must have a Sam’s Club membership, must visit Sam’s Club location to redeem, cash back capped at $5,000 annually)
- USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card: 5% on the first $3,000 on combined gas and U.S. military base purchases annually and 2% on the first $3,000 on grocery purchases annually with no annual fee (must be a USAA member)
Common types of cash back credit cards
With so many cash-back card options, it can be hard to narrow down which card might be right for you. To start, I would take a look at which type of cash-back card you want. Here are a few common types, and the advantages of each:
Flat-rate: These are cards that earn the same rewards rate across all spending. An example is the Citi Double Cash because you’re earning the same 2% across all categories. A flat-rate card is great for everyday spending because you don’t have to juggle specific bonus categories, but it does limit your earning potential on popular categories such as dining or travel.
Tiered: Similar to most travel rewards cards, these cash-back cards offer higher bonus earnings for specific, static categories. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on certain categories, 3% on others, and 1% on non-bonus spending. While these cards are excellent for maximizing rewards for categories you spend a lot on each month, you won’t necessarily earn bonus rewards on every purchases. These are best to pair with a flat-rate or complementary tiered card.
Rotating categories: Rotating category cards typically offer 5% cash back on certain categories that shift every quarter. The Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back are both examples. While 5% is an excellent bonus rate, keep in mind that these cards typically limit your bonus earning to $1,500 each quarter and you have to activate new categories each quarter.
Choose-your-categories: A newer cash back category that has sprung up in recent years is the choose-your-categories cash-back card. These are cards that allow you to choose the category (or categories) that you earn your bonus rewards in each month. I personally love these cash-back cards because they allow you to customize your rewards structure in a way other cards do not. This type of card is great if your spending habits change throughout the year.
How to choose a cash back credit card
What things should you look for when you’re comparing credit cards that offer cash back? Here are some factors to consider:
- Earning rates: How much cash back will you earn? Is it consistent across all purchases, or does the card restrict the best rates to specific types of purchases? Since cash back by definition provides you with money to go back in your wallet, there isn’t any way to truly “maximize” the points or miles you earn. Instead, be sure to evaluate the exact earning rates compared to your typical spending patterns.
- Ease of redemption: Not all cash-back cards are created equal when it comes to actually getting the cash in your hands or bank account. Some post rewards automatically to your statement, while others earn you points/miles that can then be redeemed for cash back or for statement credits to offset specific purchases. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the rewards program carefully so you know how (and when) you’ll actually put your hands on the money.
- Additional perks: A third factor involves the additional perks provided on the card. Does it incur foreign transaction fees? What about coverage and added protection for your purchases or trips? These benefits can add significant value to a card.
- Annual fee: A final aspect to consider is any possible annual fee. The majority of the cards below don’t charge an annual fee, but there are a handful of cash-back cards that do. It’s critical to crunch the numbers to see if the annual fee is offset by the earning rates on the card.
Maximizing cash back rewards
Cash back sometimes gets a bad reputation in the travel rewards game because it’s not as easy to maximize. While you can’t redeem cash back for the same value as Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points, cash back is still a valuable tool.
For starters, cash back is great for beginner travelers. You don’t have to spend a lot of time researching the best redemption options, and your cash back is flexible as far as what you can redeem it for. Maybe you only travel once or twice a year, and want to use your credit card rewards for more than just your vacation fund. Cash back can be deposited into a high-yield savings account to build up your emergency fund. You can invest your cash back for long-term gains and an early retirement nest egg.
Even if you’re a frequent traveler, a cash-back card can help you build a cash fund for spending money to use while you’re abroad. Unlike travel rewards, there is no pressure to use cash back to book award flights or hotel stays. You can redeem cash back to pay for your ski rentals this winter, or use your cash back to splurge on that new Away luggage you’ve been eying. Overall, cash back can be more flexible than travel rewards points and programs.
Many travelers ignore the world of cash back credit cards in favor of cards that earn points and miles. However, my cash back cards have played an integral role in my overall credit card strategy, helping me offset the cost of travel expenses that points and miles don’t cover. Plus, there’s no doubt that earning cash back can be simpler and easier to quantify — something casual travelers and beginners can both appreciate. Cash back has a lot to offer rewards seekers, and you typically don’t have to worry about high annual fees accompanying the cards. Hopefully, this list has given you some food for thought if you’re just getting started in the hobby or plan on adding a cash-back card to your wallet.
- Best gas credit cards
- Best credit cards for groceries
- Best credit cards for entertainment spending
- Best Credit Cards for Everyday Spending
- Best dining credit cards
Additional reporting by Katie Genter and Benji Stawski.
Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred, please click here.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best currently available credit cards for cash back, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
WELCOME OFFER: $250 Cash Back Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $250
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: New! Earn 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services and 3% cash back on transit. Plus earn 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
- Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
- New 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- New 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
- 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations. 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
- Over 3 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017 and 2018.
- Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.49% to 25.49%
- $95 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees