Celebrate the New Year by activating your Q1 5% cash back categories

Jan 1, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. 

Happy new year! Today is the first day you can start earning 5% cash back on first-quarter bonus categories with your rotating cash-back credit cards. Issuers including Chase, Citi, Discover and U.S. Bank all offer cards with 5% cash-back categories that can change each quarter. While this type of rewards structure takes a bit more effort to keep up with, it offers a way to maximize rewards on specific categories that you may miss out on with other credit cards.

Remember, you have to enroll in the new categories each quarter in order to receive 5% cash back. Activating new categories is a simple process that can be done online through the issuer’s website.

As we ring in the new year, issuers start to switch over from holiday shopping-themed categories. This upcoming quarter, the categories are actually pretty varied across cards. Here’s a quick rundown of the first quarter bonus category offers from each issuer:

The information for the Citi Dividend, U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature 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.

Chase Freedom


To kick off 2020, Chase Freedom cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent at gas stations, on select streaming services and on internet, cable and phone services.  Streaming services includes favorites like Netflix, Hulu, Sling, Spotify and YouTube, but the new HBO Max (scheduled to start in 2020) and Disney+ are not on Chase’s official merchant list. 

Keep in mind that if you also have a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll really be earning 5x Ultimate Rewards points — which are worth 2 cents each according to TPG valuations.

Here’s how to activate your 5% cash back:

  • Head to the Chase bonus activation page.
  • Enter your last name, last four digits of your card number and your billing zip code. If you don’t have your card on hand, you can log into your Chase account to retrieve these digits.
  • Click “Activate Now” to register.
  • If you have multiple Chase Freedom cards, make sure to register each one.
  • Save a screenshot of your activation, just in case there are any issues later.

You can also register through your Chase Mobile App.

Discover it Cash Back

Now through the end of March 2020, you’ll earn 5% cash back at grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS, with a $1,500 cap in purchases after you enroll. These categories do not overlap with the Freedom, meaning you can easily maximize both cards and their respective bonus categories. Grocery stores is a great everyday spending category for earning cash back, and Walgreens and CVS are nice additions during the winter when cold and flu season is at its peak.

Rewards will be added to your account within two billing periods. You can enroll by logging into your Discover account online or in the app, navigating to the cashback bonus tab and clicking “Activate Now.”

Citi Dividend

While this card is no longer open to applications, existing cardholders can still enjoy its rotating 5% cash-back category offerings. The Citi Dividend’s first-quarter categories are supermarkets and fitness clubs, which make sense considering January is prime-time for people to join fitness clubs and start new healthy eating habits. Some gyms allow you to prepay your membership for an entire year, which means you could earn 5% back on an entire year of a fitness membership instead of committing and only earning 5% in the first three months.

According to the terms and conditions, superstores like Walmart and Target, wholesale clubs and a list of specialty stores like bakeries or drug stores do not qualify as a supermarket.

Keep in mind that though there is no quarterly cap on rewards like with most other rotating category cards, there is a $300 cap in the total cash back rewards you can earn annually with this card. If you split that up equally across quarters, it’s $1,500 in spend every three months. But you can earn the full $300 in the first month if that’s how you choose to allocate your card spend.

You can activate these new categories by logging into your Citi Dividend account.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature operates a little differently than your typical rotating cash-back credit card. Rather than be assigned two or three different categories each quarter, cardholders can choose two categories each quarter from U.S. Bank’s eligible list to earn 5% cash back (with a $2,000 cap per quarter in combined purchases).

The current list cardholders can choose from includes:

  • TV, Internet and Streaming Services
  • Home Utilities
  • Select Clothing Stores
  • Cell Phone Providers
  • Electronic Stores
  • Gyms/Fitness
  • Fast Food
  • Ground Transportation
  • Sporting Goods
  • Department Stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Movie Theatres

You’ll also choose a 2% cash back category each quarter. Choose from gas stations, grocery stores or restaurants.

Many of those 5% categories aren’t covered by other cash-back cards (including other rotating cash-back cards), which is a huge advantage to this card. Plus while you can switch categories, you can theoretically just reactivate the same categories each quarter to earn consistent rewards on the same categories. While U.S. Bank retains the right to change its list of categories, it typically stays the same throughout the year.

You are required to reactivate your categories each quarter, even if you elect to keep them the same. To activate, you can either call the number on the back of your card or log in to your account at usbank.com/cashplus.

Bottom line

Using rotating cash back credit cards is a great strategy for earning bonus rewards in specific categories throughout the year — just as long as you can keep up with the categories and remember to activate the offers each quarter.

First quarter categories are active from now through March 31, 2019. If you haven’t already activated your bonus categories, login to your account online or through your issuer app so that you aren’t missing out on 5% cash back rewards.

Featured image by Rafa Elias/Getty Images

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