Best cash-back credit cards for January 2021
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Sometimes you don’t need your credit cards to award you airline miles so you can fly to an exotic location in first-class. Now more than ever, non-travel redemption options are valuable and necessary for many cardholders. In general, TPGers may prefer transferable points and using your rewards to travel. But for many, cash back is king — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, cardholders may be even more interested in cash back, with so many putting travel on hold and looking for other ways to maximize their rewards. Today, I want to go over the top cash-back credit cards you can use to maximize your everyday purchases.
The Points Guy’s best cash-back credit cards for 2021
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for gas, supermarkets, and select streaming in the U.S.
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for beginners
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for intro APR
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and takeout
- American Express Cash Magnet® Card: Best for low APR
- Capital One Spark Cash for Business: Best for business cash back
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card: Best for small business spending
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Best for online shopping
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for balance transfers
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for commuters
Compare cash-back credit cards
|Credit Card||Best for||Sign-up Bonus/welcome offer||Annual fee||Cash back rate|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||Gas, supermarkets, and select streaming in the U.S.||$250 statement credit after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.||$95 (see rates & fees)||6% cash back on purchases at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each calendar year, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
3% on transit and at U.S. gas stations
1% on everything else
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Beginners||Earn up to $300 cash back: Earn 20% back on eligible purchases at Amazon.com on the card in the first 6 months, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months of account opening.||$0 (see rates & fees)||3% cash back on U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1%)
2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
1% on everything else
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Intro APR||$200 bonus after spending $500 in their first three months||$0||Unlimited 1.5% cash back|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and takeout||$300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening.||$95||4% cash back on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores|
|American Express Cash Magnet® Card||Low APR||$150 statement credit once you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.||$0 (see rates and fees)||Unlimited 1.5% cash back|
|Capital One Spark Cash for Business||Business cash back||$500 cash back after $4,500 in spending in the first 3 months of account opening||$95, waived the first year||Unlimited 2% cash back|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||Small business spending||$750 cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.||$0||5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores, on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year
2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
1% cash back elsewhere.
|Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card||Online shopping||$200 cash bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening||$0||3% cash back in the category of your choice monthly (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings)
2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined bonus category spend each quarter; then 1%)
1% on everything else
|Citi Double Cash Card||Balance transfers||N/A||$0||2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you make purchases, 1% when as you pay your bill)|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Commuters||20,000 points worth $200 with $1,000 in spending in the first 3 months of account opening.||$0||3x points on dining, travel, gas stations and select streaming services
1x on everything else
The information for the Wells Fargo Propel Amex and Capital One Savor Cash Rewards cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Deeper dive into the best cash-back credit cards
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: Best for gas, supermarkets, and select streaming in the U.S.
Welcome offer: $250 statement credit after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months.
Cash back rate: Earn 6% cash back on purchases at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit and 1% cash back everywhere else. Terms apply.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)
Why we chose it: Another rewards 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.
Apply here: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for beginners
Welcome offer: Earn up to $300 cash back: Earn 20% back on eligible purchases at Amazon.com on the card in the first six months, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months of account opening. You’ll receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
Cash back rate: Earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per calendar year; then 1%), 2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% on everything else
Annual fee: $0 (see rates and fees)
Why we chose it: Beginners to the rewards game will appreciate the Blue Cash Everyday’s no annual fee and simple rewards structure. You’ll also get 0% intro APR (see rates and fees) on purchases for 15 months from the date of account opening, then a variable APR, 13.99% to 23.99%; see rates and fees). While it’s certainly not as lucrative from an earning perspective as the Blue Cash Preferred, it is a great option for those just jumping into the cash back game for the first time.
Apply here: Blue Cash Everyday Card
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for intro APR
Sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after spending $500 in their first three months
Cash back rate: Earn 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% cash back on Lyft through March 2021, 3% cash back on dining and drugstores, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: In addition to a great bonus and earning structure, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a 0% APR introductory period for 15 months on new purchases (14.99%–23.74% variable APR applies after). This way, you can earn cash back while financing large purchases — just make sure you’re paying off your balance before the end of the intro APR period to avoid paying interest.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is also a great card to pair with your existing Chase credit cards to earn cash back on non-bonus spending — in fact, it makes up one-third of the Chase Trifecta. If you have an Ultimate Rewards credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can combine rewards and take advantage of 25% to 50% Chase travel portal redemption bonuses 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.
Apply here: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and takeout
Sign-up bonus: $300 bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Cash back rate: Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else.
Annual fee: $95
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. Meanwhile, entertainment will earn you 4% on a long list of purchases, including concert tickets, movie tickets, sporting events, theme parks, certain tourist attractions and more. Right now, you’re probably not attending many events like that, but you will again once the threat of COVID-19 subsides. This card also currently earns 4% back on select streaming services (through April. 30, 2021) and 5% back on Uber Eats (through Jan 31, 2021).
Apply here: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards
Amex Cash Magnet Card: Best for low APR
Welcome offer: $150 cash bonus (via statement credit) once you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Cash back rate: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Annual fee: $0 (see rates and fees)
Why we chose it: The Amex Cash Magnet is a straightforward cash-back credit card that is great for beginners or those looking to earn cash back on non-bonus spending. The unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases is standard for similar no-annual-fee credit cards. Another draw to the card is the potential for a low annual fee. You’ll get 15 months of 0% intro APR on purchases (see rates and fees), and a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR applies after (see rates and fees).
Learn more: Amex Cash Magnet Card review
Apply here: American Express Cash Magnet
Capital One Spark Cash for Business: Best for business cash-back
Sign-up bonus: $500 bonus after spending $4,500 in the first three months from account opening.
Cash back rate: 2% cash back on all purchases
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Why we chose it: The value in the simplicity of cash-back business cards can’t be overstated. While transferable points can be more valuable, it can be incredibly time-consuming to extract that extra value. Also, when it comes to travel credit cards, the rewards can often only be used for travel — and you might not be doing a lot of that right now. Sometimes your business might need that extra cash for other expenses.
What makes this card even better is it earns an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase. You don’t need to juggle multiple cards as you try to maximize specific bonus categories. Simply swipe the Spark Cash and enjoy a straightforward return on every purchase.
Apply here: Capital One Spark Cash for Business
Ink Business Cash Card: Best for small business spending
Sign-up bonus: $750 cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Cash back rate: 5% 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 anniversary year. You’ll also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year and you’ll get an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: This is a very rewarding small business credit card with a large sign-up bonus and generous bonus categories — all with no annual fee. If you max out your bonus spending in both 5% and 2% categories, that ends up being $1,750 in cash-back earned each year. For a no-annual-fee credit card, that’s great potential for earned rewards. Of course, if you’re pairing this card with a Chase Ultimate Rewards card (including all other Chase Ink Business cards), your rewards could be more valuable when used for travel as that $1,750 turns into $3,500 in potential travel cash back value.
Apply here: Ink Business Cash
Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card: Best for online shopping
Sign-up bonus: $200 cash-back bonus after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.
Cash back rate: 3% cash-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 Preferred Rewards program‘s top tier — Platinum Pro. If your spending habits change throughout the year, the Bank of America Cash Rewards card should definitely be on your radar.
Apply here: Bank of America Cash Rewards
Citi Double Cash Card: Best for balance transfers
Sign-up bonus: N/A
Cash back rate: Earn 2% cash back — 1% when you buy and another 1% as 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 gives you 1% cash back 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. Cardholders can now convert the cash back they earn to ThankYou Points via a linked ThankYou card such as the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi Premier® Card. The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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 sign-up bonus with this card, but the long-term value it offers still makes the card worth it in my eyes.
Apply here: Citi Double Cash
Wells Fargo Propel: Best for commuters
Welcome offer: Earn 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Cash back rate: Earn 3x on dining (eating out and ordering in), gas stations, transit, travel and select streaming services; 1x on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Why we chose it: Though the Wells Fargo Propel technically earns points, not cash back, these points are redeemed at a fixed-value, making the card similar to others on this list. It’s a great card for beginners. You don’t pay an annual fee, plus you earn 3x on several common spending categories.
While points and miles gurus might get frustrated with points that are only worth 1 cent each, beginners won’t have to memorize award charts or research transfer partners to maximize a redemption.
Apply for: Wells Fargo Propel American Express
Cash-back credit 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:
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 4% on eligible gas (on up to $7,000 per year; then 1% thereafter), 3% on restaurants and eligible travel purchases and 2% at Costco. The card has no annual fee if you have a paid Costco membership.
- Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card: 2% on all purchases with no annual fee (must have a specific Fidelity account).
- Sam’s Club Mastercard: 5% on gas (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% thereafter) and 3% on dining and travel. The card has no annual fee. You must have a Sam’s Club membership and visit Sam’s Club location to redeem. Cash back is 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. Earn 2% on the first $3,000 on grocery purchases annually with no annual fee (must be a USAA member).
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature: 5% return on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% back on restaurants, gas stations and drug stores (must be an Amazon Prime member).
The information for the Fidelity Rewards Visa, Sam’s Club Mastercard, USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card and Amazon Prime Rewards 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.
Research methodology: How we choose the best cash back credit card
Choosing the best cash back credit card for you can take a lot of research and become really overwhelming. At TPG, we try to make the research process as simple as possible. We spend hours combing through the credit cards available from our partners and from outside our network, comparing them to see which cards offer the best return for readers. Here are a few of the factors we look at when choosing the credit cards on our best cash back cards guide:
- Cash-back rates – First and foremost, we look at which cards can help you earn the most cash back in top spending categories such as groceries, gas, and everyday spending.
- Sign-up bonus – What kind of sign-up bonus cards offer is another factor we consider when choosing our cards. While having a bonus isn’t a requirement to make the list (hello, Citi Double Cash Card), a sign-up bonus can greatly increase the overall value of a card in its first year.
- Annual fee – We make sure we include cards that have no annual fee and some that do come with an annual fee in exchange for higher rewards rates. Whether your budget can justify paying an annual fee or not, you’ll find a great card for you in our guide.
- 0% APR periods – Many top cash back cards come with a set period of time when new purchases, balance transfers or both come with a 0% APR intro period. For anyone looking to consolidate debt or finance a large purchase, these cards are excellent ways to earn money while saving on interest rates.
- Pairability – We also consider how these cards fit into a larger credit card strategy. Can you convert your rewards to transferable currencies within the card family? Does it compliment the spending categories of other cards? These are questions that help determine how “pairable” a card is with others.
How do cash-back credit cards work
Cash-back cards reward you a percentage (usually somewhere between 1% and 5%) of each purchase. Those rewards are pooled into an account as cash back, which you can then use as a statement credit or deposit into your bank account. Cash back offers a more straightforward way of earning and redeeming rewards compared to points and miles.
Rather than having to keep up with point valuations and transfer partners, you always know what you’re getting with cash back in terms of value and redemption options. However, this can also mean that cash back is more limited. Points and miles can often be redeemed at a far greater value than just 1 cent per point. But if you’re looking for an easy way to earn rewards that can be used for anything, cash can be the best option.
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 (1% when you make purchases, 1% as you pay your bill). A flat-rate card is great for everyday spending because you don’t have to juggle specific bonus categories. Still, it does limit your earning potential in popular categories such as dining or travel.
Tiered: Similar to most travel credit cards, these cash-back cards offer higher bonus earnings for specific, static categories. For example, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on one set of 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 purchase. 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 Flex 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 you enroll 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 cards allow you to choose the category (or categories) that you earn your bonus rewards 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. The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card is one example of such a card.
The information for the Discover it Cash Back card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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 equally 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 carefully read the terms and conditions of the rewards program, so you know how (and when) you’ll actually get the funds.
- Additional perks: A third factor involves the additional card perks and features. 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. Some cash-back cards don’t charge an annual fee, but others do. It’s critical to crunch the numbers to see if the card’s earning rates offset the annual fee.
What credit card gives the most cash back?
While there is no single cash back credit card that gives you the most cash back everywhere you spend your money, there are credit cards that can help you maximize cash back in various spend categories. Here are a few examples:
- U.S. supermarkets: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – 6% cash back on up to $6,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1%
- Gas: Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card – 3% on the category of your choice (one of the choices includes gas stations) for up to $2,500 per quarter in combined purchases including 2% categories; then 1%
- Dining out and entertainment: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card — 4% on dining and entertainment
- All categories: Citi® Double Cash Card – 2% cash back on all purchases. Earn 1% as you make purchases and 1% as you pay them off.
How to maximize cash back credit cards
1. Maximize your spending categories
One of the simplest ways to get the most out of your cash back credit card is by maximizing your bonus categories. If you have a Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, then you should make sure that it is at the front of your wallet on every trip to the grocery store for a hefty 6% cash back at the register. And if you only have a credit card that earns flat-rate cash back like the Citi Double Cash Card, then you can’t go wrong using your card on all everyday expenses for a sizable 2% cash back (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay) on your transactions across the board. And if your card earns bonus cash back on categories that rotate throughout the year, then be sure to check the latest calendar for your quarterly savings.
2. Pay your card in full and avoid fees
This is a given regardless of what type of credit card you have. But if you want to make the most out of your cash back credit card and ensure you’re maximizing your savings, then keeping a balance on your card is never a good idea. As always, use your card only insomuch as you have the money to pay it off every month on or before the due date.
3. Bonus cash back offers
Issuers may offer additional cash back rewards for spending on select purchases. Amex Offers and Chase Offers likely come to mind as eligible cardholders are able to opt into rewards not typically offered for that particular card. These offers could range from an additional few percentage points of cash back at your local Starbucks to extra savings on your Amazon spend just in time for the holidays. Offers are targeted to your specific account and there is no limit to the number of offers you can add to your card at one time.
4. Opt for a no-annual-fee card if you’re a low spender
While getting a credit card with an annual fee can seem daunting, the higher rewards rates do offset the annual fee in most cases. But if you aren’t going to be putting much on your card in a given calendar year anyway, then you won’t be able to maximize your cash back with a card that has an annual fee. If you currently have a credit card with an annual fee that you aren’t able to maximize anymore given changes in your spending habits, then you can always call your issuer and ask if there is an option to downgrade to a no-annual-fee alternative.
Are cash back credit cards worth it?
In short, yes. Cash back credit cards can be a valuable addition to your wallet. While we tout points as the most valuable currency out there most of the time, it’s never a bad idea to have a cash back credit card in your collection that can earn rewards in your most frequent spend categories.
At the end of the day, cash back credit cards are only worth it if you spend more than the cost of holding the card itself. If the cost of the card is $0 and you pay off your statements in time every month, then you’ll always end up in the green with your savings. If the card does have an annual fee, then tracking the amount you save vs. the cost of holding the card every year will help you determine if that specific cash back card is worth it for you.
How much cash back you could earn with top cards
To put it into perspective, let’s look at how much cash back you could earn in the course of a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spent $4,643 on groceries, $3,526 on dining, $2,094 on gas and $3,050 on entertainment in 2019. Using those figures, let’s take a look at how much you’d earn in the first year with three of our top cards in these categories (not including sign-up bonuses):
|Credit Card||Annual cash back earnings|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||$407.16|
|Citi Double Cash Card||$266.26|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||$252.59|
The credit card rewards game isn’t all or nothing when earning miles or cash back. You can have a card for each or even a card that does a little bit of both.
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.
Additional reporting by Hayley Coyle.
Featured image by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy
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