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Let’s talk cash-back credit cards. Many of my friends and family members want to know how I travel so much, but when I start explaining the various 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, so today I want to go over the top cash-back credit cards.
Many of the best travel credit cards allow you to earn cash back on your purchases, but you’re usually forgoing better value redemptions to do so. So in this guide, we 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:
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for travel
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for gas, select US streaming services and at US supermarkets
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card: Best for office supplies
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for pairing with Ultimate Rewards credit cards
- Chase Freedom: Best for rotating bonus categories
- U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card: Best for flexible bonus categories
- Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card: Best for online shopping
The most valuable redemption for your miles on this card is a statement credit that covers a travel expense. Since redeeming miles for straight-up cash back isn’t the best option, I’ve left these cards off the list.
Likewise, some credit cards have specific membership requirements. The following cards can be good options, but I’ve left them off this list due to their membership requirements:
- Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card: 2% on all purchases with no annual fee (must have 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% 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 US military base purchases annually and 2% on the first $3,000 on grocery purchases annually with no annual fee (must be a USAA member)
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.
What Is the Best Cash-Back Credit Card for You?
Given these factors, it can be quite challenging to determine if a card would make a good addition to your wallet. As a result, I’d recommend using the process of elimination. Start by looking at the four factors above and figure out which is most important to you. Then, start whittling away at the contenders. If you abhor annual fees, cross off cards that require an upfront investment. If you crave simplicity, ignore cards with confusing rotating bonus categories or convoluted redemption schemes. By focusing in on the perks that mean the most to you, you’ll be able to quickly narrow the list down to one or two contenders to earn a spot in your wallet.
So, which cash-back cards should be included on your initial list?
|Card||Bonus Rates||Flat-Rate Cash Back||Annual Fee|
|Citi Double Cash Card||2% on all purchases (1% when you make purchases, 1% when you pay your bill)||2%||$0|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||4% on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores||1%||$95 (waived the first year)|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express card||3x points on dining, travel and select streaming services (points are worth 1 cent apiece)||1%||$0|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||6% on purchases at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%) and on select US streaming subscriptions; 3% on transit and at US gas stations||1%||$95 (see rates & fees)|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||5% at office supply stores*; 2% on gas and restaurants**||1%||$0|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5% on all purchases***||1.5%||$0|
|Chase Freedom||5% on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories each quarter||1%||$0|
|U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card||5% on your first $2,000 in purchases each quarter in two categories you choose; 2% on your choice of another category you choose||1%||$0|
|Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card||3% cash back on gas or your choice of one of five other popular categories, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and unlimited 1% on all other purchases (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)||1%||$0|
*On the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account year.
**On the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account year.
***3% on the first $20,000 in spend your first year. After that, 1.5% on all purchases.
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 was #1 on my list of 10 commandments for travel rewards credit cards).
That’s it. There are no categories to keep track of and no bonuses to sign up for. To actually get your hands on the cash, you have to wait until your cash rewards balance reaches $25. You then have four options:
- Request a check for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Redeem for a statement credit to your card account for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Redeem for a gift card in set denominations from the available inventory.
- Redeem for a credit to your linked Citi savings or checking account or to a checking account from which you have paid a Citi Credit Card bill at least two times.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks of the card is a lack of a sign-up bonus, and it also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. Still, 2% cash back on everyday purchases with no limits can be a pretty solid value proposition (not to mention a very simple way to get started in the points and miles hobby). See our full card review for more information.
Other strong options for flat-rate cash back:
- Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card — 1.5x points (1.5%) on non-bonus spending and 2x (2%) on travel and dining, $95 annual fee, earn $50,000 bonus points after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card — 1.5% back on every purchase, no annual fee, earn a $150 cash bonus when you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months
- Chase Freedom Unlimited — 1.5% back/1.5x on every purchase, no annual fee, earn 3% back/3x on all purchases up to $20,000 in spending in your first year (then 1.5%/1.5x)
- Discover it® Miles — 1.5 miles on all purchases, no annual fee, Discover will match your miles at the end of your first year
Welcome bonus: $300 back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great choice for eating out as well as for purchasing tickets to a variety of events due to its 4% back on dining and entertainment. Plus, the card offers 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on everything else.
The card does have a $95 annual fee, but it is waived the first year. There are no foreign transaction fees, plus the card features extended warranty protection and price protection. See our full card review for more information.
Another strong option for dining:
- Uber Visa Card — 4% back on dining (plus 3% back on airfare, 2% back on online purchases and 1% on everything else), no annual fee, earn $100 after spending $500 in the first 90 days
Welcome bonus: 30,000 points (worth $300) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
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. You’ll earn 3x points on dining, travel (from Uber to gas stations to flights to hotels) and select streaming services, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
This is a relatively straightforward card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. But, it does stand out for offering cellphone 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.
Welcome bonus: $250 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months
Another card with some intriguing bonus categories is the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. You’ll get 6% cash back on purchases on select US streaming subscriptions and at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending at supermarkets each reward year, then 1%) plus 3% cash back at US gas stations and on transit, and 1% cash back everywhere else. These earnings accumulate as reward dollars and can be redeemed for statement credits when you have a rewards balance of at least $25.
The card has a $95 annual fee, but offers return protection, extended warranty protection and purchase protection. It charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee (see rates & fees) though, so while it’s a great option for use in the US, you’d be better off with some of the other options if you frequently travel outside the country.
Welcome bonus: $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
If you’re looking for a business card that offers solid value from a cash-back standpoint, the Ink Business Cash Credit Card is a terrific option. You’ll earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on phone, internet and cable services each account year. You’ll also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account year plus 1% cash back everywhere else. Plus, the card has purchase protection, extended warranty protection and primary car rental coverage when renting a vehicle for business purposes.
All of this is available without an annual fee, though there is a 3% foreign transaction fee for purchases made abroad. However, if you have a a card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can actually convert the cash-back points from the Ink Cash to much more valuable Ultimate Rewards points. This would essentially double the value you’d get from your spending, as TPG pegs the value of these points at 2 cents apiece. See our full card review for more information.
Welcome bonus: 3% cash back on the first $20,000 you spend in your first year
The Chase Freedom Unlimited normally offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which isn’t bad for non-bonus category spending. And, a new sign-up bonus was recently added that will provide 3% cash back on the first $20,000 you spend in your first year. If you spend $20,000 in your first year, this bonus is worth $300.
Like the Freedom, the Freedom Unlimited’s points are usually worth 1 cent apiece toward cash back — but become more valuable when paired with a card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points. This is because then you can redeem your points for travel at a better rate or transfer them to partners for potentially even more value. Since TPG values Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, you’ll approximately double your return if you also hold a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points. Although the Freedom Unlimited doesn’t have an annual fee, it does impose a 3% foreign transaction fee. See our full card review for more information.
Welcome bonus: $150 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
The Chase Freedom offers a standard 1% cash back on all purchases, which (obviously) isn’t that exciting. However, this earning rate jumps to 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter at merchants in the card’s quarterly bonus categories. Previous quarters have awarded bonus points on mobile wallets, gas stations and cable purchases or Walmart and department stores, giving you a variety of options throughout the year.
The Freedom’s rewards actually accrue as points that are worth 1 cent apiece toward cash back; you can choose to deposit the cash into a bank account or apply it as a statement credit. However, this card becomes even more lucrative when it’s paired with a card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. If you link that card to the same Chase online account as the Chase Freedom, you can actually transfer the cash-back points from the Freedom to convert them into much more valuable (and transferable) Ultimate Rewards points. While the conversion is a manual process, it essentially means that you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at a variety of merchants throughout the year.
Since the bonus categories are capped at $1,500 each quarter, here’s a comparison of how much you can earn if you max out purchases at these merchants each year:
- With an Ultimate Rewards card: $1,500 per quarter x 4 quarters x 5 points per dollar = 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $600 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)
- Without an Ultimate Rewards card: $1,500 per quarter x 4 quarters x 5% cash back = $300
As you can see, holding a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points doubles your return. The rewards never expire as long as your account is open and active, and the Freedom carries no annual fee. The card has purchase protection and extended warranty protection, but also has a 3% foreign transaction fee. See our full card review for more information.
Another great option for rotating bonus categories:
- Discover it Cash Back — Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year., no annual fee, Discover will match cash back on all purchases for your first year of card membership
Welcome bonus: $150 bonus after making $500 in eligible net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card offers 5% on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases each quarter on two categories you choose from a selection of categories. You’ll also earn 2% on one everyday category that you can choose from a selection of categories. You’ll have to select your 5% and 2% categories each quarter — if you don’t, you’ll only earn the 1% that you’ll earn on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee, which is pretty amazing considering you’ll earn 5% on some of your purchases.
Welcome bonus: $200 bonus after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.
The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card offers 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.
Meanwhile 3% bonus category options like travel or dining are useful, many people have those categories well covered on other cards. But 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. This card has no annual fee.
Many people believe that “cash is king” and don’t want to waste their time with travel rewards programs. While I do disagree with their immediate dismissal of the points and miles world, there’s no doubting that earning cash back on your credit card can be simpler and easier to quantify. 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.
What to learn more about each of the cash back cards described in this article? Check out the links below:
- Citi Double Cash Card
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Freedom
- U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
- Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card
- 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 Sarah Silbert.
Featured photo by Eric Helgas for 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.
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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 14.74% to 25.74%
- $95 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees