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The Best Cash-Back Credit Cards of 2018
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 to consider this year.
The list of the best cash-back credit cards below consists of products that offer the best return on unrestricted cash redemption. Many of the top travel rewards credit cards out there also allow you to earn cash back on your purchases; however, if you decide to redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for statement credits, that doesn’t exactly equate to getting maximum value from your redemption.
Here are the Best Cash Back Credit Cards:
- Best for Dining and Entertainment: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best for Varied Cash-Back Categories: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
- Best for Bonus Cash Back: Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Best for Gas and Groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Best for Quarterly Bonus Cash Back: Chase Freedom
- Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back: Chase Freedom Unlimited
- No Foreign Transaction Fees: Capital One Quicksilver Card
- Best for Cash Back When You Buy and When You Pay: Citi Double Cash Card
- Best for 5% Bonus Cash Back on Quarterly Categories: Discover it® Cash Back
- Best for Gas and Groceries with No Fee: Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card
Many issuers also market options like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card as cash-back cards. However, the most valuable redemption for your miles on both of these is a statement credit that covers a travel expense. Since redeeming miles for straight-up cash back isn’t the best option, I have left these off the list.
Ranking Methodology: Best Cash Back Criteria
So 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.
How to Know if a Cash-Back Card is a Good Fit 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 up-front 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?
Welcome bonus: $500 back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Capital One recently relaunched this card, boosting its bonus on dining to 4% up from 3%, and adding 4% on entertainment as well. This makes the Savor a great choice for eating out as well as for purchasing tickets to a variety of events. In addition to the excellent 4% return on dining and entertainment, the card offers 2% back on groceries and 1% back on everything else. Its sign-up bonus of $500 back after spending $3,000 in the first three months is one of the best among cash-back cards, too.
The card now has a $95 annual fee (previously there was no fee), but it is waived the first year. There are no foreign transaction fees, so you can take the Savor card when you travel to earn 4% back on food and entertainment purchases abroad.
Welcome bonus: 30,000 points (worth $300) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
This recently launched 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, 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. (The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by ThePointsGuy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)
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 Cash 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 cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV 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. Thanks to those strong bonus categories, this card would rank even higher — but it’s a business card instead of a personal card so not everyone will be able to get it.
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 the Ink Plus (no longer accepting new applicants), Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred, 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 these points at 2.1 cents apiece.
Welcome bonus: $200 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 at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%) plus 3% cash back at US gas stations, 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. It also charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, 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: $150 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. You’ll also earn an additional $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within the same three-month period.
This card 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 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 starting at 2,000 points ($20). 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 $630 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 more than doubles your return. The rewards never expire as long as your account is open and active, and the card carries no annual fee.
Welcome bonus: $150 back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months, plus earn a $25 bonus after you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a consistent 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make, but like the regular Chase Freedom, the points you earn can also be converted into fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points if you also have a card like the Sapphire Preferred. Here’s how that would translate to rewards if you spend $10,000 per year on the card:
- With an Ultimate Rewards card: $10,000 x 1.5 points per dollar = 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $315)
- Without an Ultimate Rewards card: $10,000 x 1.5% cash back = $150
Once again, by using the Freedom Unlimited with an Ultimate Rewards-accruing card, you’re more than doubling your return. This also doesn’t factor in the bonus points you can earn by shopping through the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, making this a great addition to your wallet.
Welcome bonus: $150 after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.
Another great option for traveling outside the US is the Capital One Quicksilver Card, as it too waives foreign transaction fees. You’ll also enjoy unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
The great thing about this card is the simplicity. You don’t need to worry about bonus categories or spending thresholds. It’s just a 1.5% return on all your spending. You also have the flexibility of getting your cash back as a statement credit or check, and you can do this on demand or on a specific schedule that you dictate.
Welcome bonus: N/A
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. You use the card and get 1% when you buy, 1% as you pay, and it also has no annual fee.
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, 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).
9. Discover it® Cash Back
Welcome bonus: N/A
Another great cash-back option is the Discover it Cash Back. It (pun intended) doesn’t get a ton of press since it doesn’t have a maximization option like the Freedom, but the card does offer a standard earning rate of 1% cash back on all purchases. Also, enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year.
What makes this card especially appealing is the promotion for new cardholders. During your first year of cardmembership on the Discover will match cash back on all purchases. This bumps the standard earning rate to 2% and the bonus category earning rate to 10%, though they will fall back down to the regular 1% and 5% levels after your first 12 months. This is (essentially) a sign-up bonus, though exactly how rewarding it is depends entirely on how much you spend.
You also have a number of options for putting your hands on the rewards:
- Gift cards or instant eCertificates from partners — starting at $20
- Charitable donation to select charities — starting at a penny
- Credit to your account — starting at a penny
- Electronic deposit into any account you designate — starting at a penny
- Pay with cash-back bonus at select online retailers — starting at a penny
Like the others on the list, this card carries no annual fee. However, it also imposes no foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the US, making it a great option if you’re looking to keep earning cash-back when you travel abroad.
Welcome bonus: $200 in cash back rewards after you spend $500 in the first 90 days of account opening
This no-fee card earns you 1% cash back on non-bonus purchases, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% on the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. Unlike the Blue Cash Preferred Amex, it doesn’t have an annual fee, so it could be a good alternative if you want to earn a bonus on gas purchases while keeping costs down. You can redeem cash-back rewards as statement credits, and you’ll get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem into a Bank of America checking or savings account.
The Best Cash-Back Credit Cards:
Here is a review of the best cash-back credit cards with full details of Bonus rates, cash back rates, and annual Fee.
|Card||Bonus Rates||Flat Cash-Back Rate||Annual Fee|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||4% on dining and entertainment and 2% at grocery stores||1%||$95 (waived the first year)|
|Wells Fargo Propel Amex||3x points on dining, travel and select streaming services and 1x on everything else; points are worth 1 cent apiece||1%||$0|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||5% at office supply stores*; 2% on gas and restaurants**||1%||$0|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||6% cash back on purchases at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%) plus 3% cash back at US gas stations, and 1% cash back everywhere else||1%||$95|
|Chase Freedom||5% quarterly bonus on up to $1,500||1%||$0|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5% on all purchases||1.5%||$0|
|Capital One Quicksilver Card||1.5% on all purchases||1.5%||$0|
|Citi Double Cash Card||1% when you make purchases, 1% when you pay your bill||1%||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||With the Discover it card, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in accordance with Discover’s 2018 Cashback Calendar after enrollment.; Discover will match cash-back for first year.||1%||$0|
|Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card||2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale/gas purchases each quarter||1%||$0|
*On the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account year.
**On the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account year.
***On up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%
My mother-in-law believes that “cash is king” and doesn’t want to waste her time with travel rewards programs. While I do disagree with her 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.
All credit card photos by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy
This cash back card has a focus on dining and entertainment where you can earn unlimited 4% cash back in those spending categories. You can also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
- No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
- No foreign transaction fees
- Access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that